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Wednesday, December 12, 2018
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Wednesday, July 31, 2013 3:35 PM
LOGANSPORT - It is more than slightly ironic that the Indiana State Board of Education is hiring its own consultant to do what it could be doing collaboratively with its state school superintendent – improve education.

It would be nice if board members and a state school superintendent from different parties could be on the same page when it comes to the importance of education in this state, but state education reform has become so politicized that politics takes priority. The irony of the current Tony Bennett controversy involving a grade change for Christel House, the charter school funded by one of Bennett’s biggest campaign contributors, represents one of the worst kinds of academic fraud there is. Forget the NCAA hammering some college for giving a football player a D- in a math class he should have failed. What Bennett and his staff did for Christel House pales in comparison. He violated a public trust for the sake of a private school run by a campaign contributor.

Think about this for a minute: If the Indiana State Board of Education had really been holding Bennett accountable like it is holding Glenda Ritz accountable now, the Christel House controversy may never have happened in the first place. But the board didn’t.
  • ZIONSVILLE - History fascinates me because it is often a juxtaposition of irony. Man claims to build an unsinkable ship and the Titanic cascades to the Atlantic floor on its maiden voyage. Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both die on July 4, 1826 on the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Declaration of Independence, with the former's last words: "Thomas Jefferson survives" (in fact, he had been dead for five hours). Americans witnessed a fascinating contrast this week with the death of President George H.W. Bush at age 94. His final rites came on Thursday in Texas. On Friday, we are likely to wake up to tectonic grind of scandal, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia collusion probe reaches what some are describing as the "endgame" that has the potential to render President Trump into the same historic designation of Bush41, that of a one-term president, though for very different reasons. Earlier this week, Mueller filed a sentencing statement on former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, recommending no prison time because his cooperation stands to impact three criminal cases in formulation. A second such filing is expected on Friday for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. In tandem, they are precursors as to what lurks in the future of this presidency. It would be impossible not to see these stories as a sign of our times.

  • SOUTH BEND – Long before all the recent tributes to George H.W. Bush, before all those nice things said about him after his death, he was moving up quickly and deservedly in the ranking of presidents. Not up there among the ones historians traditionally rate as the greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, the two Roosevelts and Thomas Jefferson. But the 41st president, defeated for re-election and leaving office with low approval, has climbed well into the top half in the ranking of presidents on lists of evaluations by historians. Sure, much of the high praise now for Bush, for his civility, decency, upholding of presidential dignity and ability to achieve bipartisan agreements at home and coalitions abroad, is enhanced by comparing with the present. But before there was a President Trump in the White House for comparison, Bush was moving up in esteem as historians evaluated what he did in a single term.
  • BLOOMINGTON – Patriotism has been on a lot of people’s minds lately. French President Emanuel Macron recently criticized President Trump and other world leaders for their “us versus them” view of patriotism. “By putting our own interests first,” he said, “with no regard for others, we erase the very thing that a nation holds dearest, and the thing that keeps it alive: Its moral values.” Meanwhile, just ahead of the midterm elections, the New York Times noted that two clashing visions of patriotism were heading to the polls. President Trump and Republicans saw patriotism as “conspicuous displays of respect for the traditional expressions of America — the flag, the military, the Pledge of Allegiance.” Democrats, by contrast, saw it as protecting the norms and institutions of our democracy. I don’t entirely buy this distinction, at least when it comes to partisan labels. I’ve known plenty of Democrats who consider it patriotic to honor the flag, the military, and the Pledge. And I’ve known a lot of Republicans who value our democratic traditions.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Charlene Curio is a journalism student on her first off-campus interview. “Why do you write this weekly newspaper column?” she asks. “To introduce Hoosiers to their state,” I respond. “It was an idea of newspaper editors at a dinner in 1990 that became reality the next year. As I traveled the state I realized folks everywhere knew little about Indiana’s economy and population. Newspapers then, as today, focused on local sports, crime, and politics. They didn’t provide much information about the state and how what happens in one region compares to other areas.” “What should Hoosiers know about Indiana they don’t already know?” Charlene asks. “Where were you born?” I ask her. “In Indiana,” she replies with neither pride nor embarrassment. “And that’s the answer 68% of the people living in Indiana would give to that same question,” I tell her. “There are only 10 states with a higher percent of persons living in their state of birth. The top five are Louisiana (78%) followed by Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Mississippi. Altogether, 59% of Americans live in their state of birth.”
  • LEBANON, Ind. – Indiana has become, from a functional standpoint, a one-party state. The most conspicuous stats with U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly’s defeat is Republicans control 9 of 11 congressional seats, have super majorities in the General Assembly and all of the Statehouse constitutional offices. But mine down further is to discover how abjectly out of power Democrats are beyond the big cities of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend, Gary, Hammond, Kokomo, Bloomington and Lafayette. On the city front, Democrats control 54 out of 117 city halls. At the county level, the impotence is striking. Of 1,399 county posts (these are prior to the Nov. 6 election) - assessor, auditor, clerk, commissioners, councilmembers, recorder, and treasurer - Democrats control just 268 offices, or an anemic 20 percent. Republicans control 1,130. Out of 242 commissioner seats, Democrats have a mere 34. Of 523 council seats Democrats control just 139. They hold just 22 assessor seats, 18 auditors, 20 clerks, 18 recorders and 17 treasurers. The list doesn’t include sheriffs, prosecutors and coroners, but my bet is those offices would present a similar trend. If you see a Democrat official at a county courthouse, quickly grab your phone and take a photo. Like glaciers and American-made sedans, they are disappearing relics.

  • LaPORTE – While State Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-Michiana Shores) and I certainly have been on opposite sides of various political issues over the years, if ever there was an issue on which Hoosier Democrats and Republicans ought to be able to “lay down arms” and join together, it’s his proposal for a badly needed bias crimes statute for our state. While Indiana has had definitions of what constitutes “bias” on the books for years, there really hasn’t been a statute that gave prosecutors the tools to impose greater sanction on offenders. In fact, it’s become an embarrassment to the state’s economic development community that, as we pitch for new-age, high-tech job creators to locate here, Indiana is only one of five states without a bias crimes statute. The proposal, to be co-sponsored by Sen. Bohacek and Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette), finally provides tools to county prosecutors to add “bias” as an aggravating factor in sentencing individuals convicted of “trespass” or “intimidation” or any existing statute that might result from a hate crime. For example, Alting points to Indiana State Police statistics for his home town of Lafayette, where there were actually eight different hate crimes committed just in 2017.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Griffith’s effort to pull out of Calumet Township and join either St. John or North Township has become a three-ring circus. Griffith residents – with a state law clearing the way – voted in September to leave Calumet Township. The Griffith folks made the decision because they said they were paying too much to support the township’s poor relief operation and getting few benefits back. And, a very smug Griffith Town Council said they planned to join either St. John or North Township. Whatever they wanted, they would have, the council suggested. So, they turned to St. John Township because it would be the least expensive option. Instead of rolling out the red carpet – which is what Griffith expected – St. John told Griffith to back off. St. John said it had much to think about before welcoming Griffith. And St. John said it didn’t think it could get things done before Griffith’s self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31.
  • MARTINSVILLE – As a crossroads of the nation, Indiana has been surprisingly oblivious, even impervious, to political and social changes. That resistance includes writing ethical standards for office holders, state and local. Dr. Maury Kramer once explained his observations about Hoosier resistance to change with a comparison between settlers and pioneers. Now, several years down the road, his observations applied to the public ethics in Indiana are spot on. Growing up with parents who participated in community activities, being a precinct committeemen and going to political rallies at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, l did not know about political corruption as a kid. It was not until I started practicing law in southern Indiana when I was told how $5 and a pint could vote.  Even then, ever an optimist about honesty and inclusion, I worked for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970’s. I tried cases in the 1980’s that involved local officials profiting from bribery.  On the Court of Appeals, I saw cases from around the entire state that involved allegations of bribery and other official misconduct. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – Some Hoosiers will find delight in this week’s column because it shows the government sector in Indiana. Another segment of our population will see more evidence of government services going down the drain. Dataphobes in both groups will read no further shrinking. Between 2007 and 2017, our increase in private non-farm (PNF) jobs rose by 5.6%, half the rate of growth in the U.S. (10.8%). While nationally state and local government jobs (S&LG) rose by 1.1%, Indiana had a 1.8% decline. Those percentages translate in jobs important to families and citizens of every town. Nationally, the PNF sector added 16.4 million jobs, while Indiana added 181,000. However, while the U.S. added 210,000 jobs in S&LG, Indiana lost 7,300 jobs. Yes, there was a great recession in those years, but we did not see “our share” of the private sector recovery despite being “a state that works.” Our incentives, foreign junkets, Eastern Standard Time, lower than thou business taxes, even our treasured backwardness were not enough to lure more private sector jobs.
  • NASHVILLE, Ind.  – Indiana Republicans are at their historic apex. They control 107 out of 150 General Assembly seats (and almost all of the rural seats), nine out of 11 congressional offices, and all of the Statehouse constitutional positions. The maps drawn in 2011 make Democratic gains (only four seats in the General Assembly) virtually impossible as we saw in this wave election year when Democrats picked up at least 38 U.S. House seats. Beyond the big cities, Republicans hold a majority of city and county offices across the state. With Vice President Mike Pence in office, Hoosiers such as National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, Medicaid/Medicare’s Seema Verma, Health and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams, Ted McKinney and Anne Hazlett at the Department of Agriculture control wide swaths of the federal government (Verma and Azar in tandem control 26 percent of the federal budget). At the political level, freshman U.S. Sen. Todd Young was just selected to head the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which funds campaigns across the nation. President Trump, though in somewhat mocking fashion the day after the election, asked Pence if he would stay on the GOP ticket in 2020 (Pence agreed).

  • KOKOMO – ANTIFA plots insurrection! Police officers gunned down! Unrest in the streets! Bombs mailed to politicians!  Reading recent headlines, a person might be inclined to think that we are living in the most dangerous domestic environment in our country’s history. Former Nixon speechwriter and Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan recently said as much. Today’s volatile domestic turmoil acknowledged, there once was a much more threatening time to our republic. That time was the extremely dangerous years of 1969-1970. Nearly 4,000 domestic bombings, 28 police officers shot by snipers and numerous groups, such as the Weather Underground, actively working to destroy our nation and daily riots in the streets shook our nation to its core. Among the buildings bombed in New York City were the Marine Midland Building, Chase Manhattan Bank, Standard Oil, General Motors, the Criminal Courts Building, an Armed Forces Induction Center, the United Fruit Company and the Federal Office Building at Federal Plaza. President Richard Nixon was alarmed by the potential existential threat and called upon one of his youngest and brightest minds to get a handle on the problem and recommend presidential action. That young, up-and-coming dynamo was a Hoosier, Charles “Tom” Huston of Logansport. That such an important task as coordinating the White House response to a vital national security problem should be entrusted to the 29-year-old Huston was testament to the young Hoosier’s meteoric rise as a leading light in the American conservative movement.
  • OMAHA, Neb.  – There was a “pink wave” in Indiana. When the gavels drop on Organization Day next week, there will be 30 women in the General Assembly out of 57 who filed for primary races. Nationally, a record 110 women (at this writing, with four races still undecided), will be joining Congress, making up 20 percent of its ranks. There were 200 women who filed for congressional primaries, with 94 winning crowded primaries. According to Forbes Magazine, previously, the most women who had advanced were 167 in 2016, according to records kept by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. A record 19 women won Senate primaries and 13 women were nominated for gubernatorial races. The “pink wave”  was fueled by several issues, including the way President Trump treats women (verbally, as well as his brief relationship with porn star Stormy Daniels and others), and issues such as the immigrant family separations. Many Republicans and evangelicals no longer seem to care about the president’s extramarital conduct with women, but many Hoosier and American women do, prompting them to run. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Julia Nelson (R-Delaware County) never set out to be the first woman elected to the Indiana General Assembly. A long-time suffragette, Nelson was 56 years old in 1920 when women first had the right to vote in Indiana. She chaired the Delaware County Republican Women’s Club that year in order to encourage women to utilize their new right (and to encourage them to vote Republican when they did). Then on Saturday, Oct. 30, 1920 — just days before the November 2 election—incumbent State Rep. J. Clark McKinley (R-Delaware County) suddenly died. Local Republican leaders quickly made the decision to reward Nelson’s efforts by running her in McKinley’s place and by that evening she was officially a candidate for office. Barely 72 hours later, they were celebrating the accomplishment of sending the first woman to the General Assembly. Because it is unclear if Nelson’s name actually replaced McKinley’s on the ballot, or if party leaders merely decided she would be the recipient of McKinley’s votes, most sources today consider her only to be the first woman to serve in the General Assembly, and not the first to be elected (since McKinley was the original candidate). But newspaper articles from 1920 make it clear that at the time they considered her to be the first elected.
  • SOUTH BEND – This is Trumpiana. The state, with new name or old, resisted the blue wave that swept across much of the nation on Tuesday. The wave, near a tsunami in some states, brought Democratic control of the U.S. House and flipped seven governor offices from red to blue. Rolling across neighboring Michigan, it propelled Democrats to significant victories there, almost pulling under long-popular Republican Congressman Fred Upton in Michigan’s 6th District. But the wave stopped at the state line in Michiana. No blue water seeped across. Indiana was the Red Sea. Trumpiana. With the decisive defeat of Sen. Joe Donnelly and easy reelection of all seven of the state’s Republican House members, Trumpiana’s congressional delegation stands at nine Republicans, only two Democrats. Those two surviving Democrats couldn’t lose, running in House districts stacked with as many Democratic voters as possible in gerrymandering. Republicans control all offices elected statewide and retain overwhelming majorities in both houses of the state legislature, leaving minority Democrats with about as much power in the legislative chambers as they would have if they stayed home.

  • INDIANAPOLIS  – You probably noticed the 2018 elections are over, except in states where recounts are proceeding or in bars, diners, and family rooms where pride and disbelief are in conflict. Now what? If we want to restore integrity and responsibility to government, redistricting is imperative. If we understand the need for fair taxation and meaningful regulation, redistricting is the first big step. If we are to pass the environment to future generations as our greatest asset, redistricting is urgent. Across this land legislatures are less responsive to the electorate than to the moneyed men and women. Public service has become private enrichment in too many cases because legislators can, and do, choose their voters. Congressional district boundaries are redrawn following a census of the population every 10 years. Cities, towns, counties, school corporations and other governmental units follow suit in most instances. Political power is supposed to follow the people as they move and add to their families.

  • FORT WAYNE – The U.S. Senate election in Indiana was perceived to be a pivotal showdown for control of that body. It was supposed to be another test of the Republican-lite strategy employed by Evan Bayh to carry Indiana, a method he conceived after watching his father fall in an upset to Dan Quayle in 1980.  What is hard to remember, even for those who remember that there were two Bayhs, is that the time span from 1980 until now is the same amount of time between Truman’s transition to Eisenhower and 1980. Things change, even in Indiana. Since Evan Bayh was crushed by Todd Young in 2016, the question lingered: Would Joe Donnelly become the new Evan Bayh?
  • INDIANAPOLIS – President Trump conducted a sprawling 90 minute presser Wednesday afternoon, basking his his victories, even though he lost the House. “The election’s over,” Trump said. “Now everybody is in love.” Well, everyone except CNN’s Jim Acosta and NBC’s Peter Alexander who the president assailed and then revoked the former’s credentials. President Trump talked of a “a beautiful bipartisan-type situation” as i Nancy Pelosi was the new Kim Jong-Un. “Now we have a much easier path because the Democrats will come to us with a plan for infrastructure, a plan for health care, a plan for whatever they’re looking at, and we’ll negotiate,” Trump said, adding, “From a dealmaking standpoint, we are all much better off the way it turned out” than if the GOP House majority had held. When pressed on potential Democratic House investigations, Trump suggested that if those were to pop up, he would respond with a “warlike posture.” Asked if there were any cabinet shakeups in the works with Attorney General Jeff Sessions sitting on a speculation bubble, Trump deflected. Less than two hours later, Trump tweeted: We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States. He will serve our Country well....”
  • EVANSVILLE – If you wondered what it felt like at the exhaustive conclusion of a First World War offensive, having moved just six inches closer to Berlin at the cost of four months and tens of thousands dead, Tuesday’s election results probably felt somewhat like that. The key differences are of course that no one is dead, we live in relative comfort, the war actually did end, and you will never make it to Berlin. Following the highly anticipated 2018 midterms, neither Republicans nor Democrats perceive much incentive to adjust their approach, victory and defeat having been almost perfectly apportioned to validate the most powerful forces within any institution, those militating toward the status quo. On the one hand, Hoosier Republicans managed to hold onto their congressional seats and kept their super majorities in the state legislature, despite some of the strongest challenges from Democrats in years. Meanwhile the national GOP took small gains in favorable Senate races (including Indiana with Senator-elect Mike Braun) and fended off high-profile governor challenges.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – As much as I’d like to hear just one more Mike Braun or Joe Donnelly attack ad, a part of me is relieved that it is all over. The election results are in and Hoosiers soundly repudiated Donnelly and will send political newcomer, Mike Braun, to Washington, D.C. This serves to realign the political stars and return Indiana to its solid Red State status. Prior to this U.S. Senate election, I felt very comfortable that Braun would win. My official prediction was a 3% plus win for Braun. My reason for this confidence was that after serving as Indiana senator for six years, Donnelly rarely showed up in excess of 43% in the pre-election polls. My general rule for incumbent politicians is that if you can’t get to 48% in the polls before the election, don’t count on the undecideds breaking your way. Did you really believe that after months and months of expensive political ads that 9% of the voters were truly undecided? I didn’t. People lie to pollsters; it is a fact of life. My general rule is that 60% of undecideds tend to break for the challenger.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – The joy of the Internet is serendipity, the act of finding something of interest you were not looking for. It is the same joy we find in the public library or a book store wandering the stacks. Recently, I found a list of the “Prettiest Towns in Every State”, presumably published by Architectural Digest. Since it was on the Internet, I could not be sure it was published by AD, a magazine that describes itself as “the international design authority.” My suspicions were raised when I read that the prettiest town in Indiana was … wait for it… Porter in Porter County of Northwest Indiana. Porter is OK and popular with those who like the ribs and ambiance at Wagner’s. But prettiest town in Indiana? Not by a long shot. Yet, this got me thinking about the long battle for clean air and water in Northwest Indiana, which led me to dwell on the battle over climate change.
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  • Lugar, Bayh warn Senate about emerging scandals
    "As former members of the U.S. Senate, Democrats and Republicans, it is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security. We are on the eve of the conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation and the House’s commencement of investigations of the president and his administration. The likely convergence of these two events will occur at a time when simmering regional conflicts and global power confrontations continue to threaten our security, economy and geopolitical stability. It is a time, like other critical junctures in our history, when our nation must engage at every level with strategic precision and the hand of both the president and the Senate. We are at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake, and the rule of law and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld. Regardless of party affiliation, ideological leanings or geography, as former members of this great body, we urge current and future senators to be steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy by ensuring that partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest." - 44 former U.S. Senators, including Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh from Indiana, writing a Washington Post op-ed article warning current senators about the emerging scandals involving President Trump.
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  • Weird scenes inside the White House
    The Nick Ayres saga fallout continues to be just ... weird. Vanity Fair's  Gabriel Sherman reports that last Friday, President Trump met with Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence, and out-going Chief of Staff John Kelly to finalize the CoS transition. A press release announcing Ayers’s hiring was reportedly drafted and ready to go for when Trump planned to announce Kelly’s departure on Monday. But Kelly was pressing for top aide Zachary Fuentes to get the job, Trump got pissed and leaked the story on Saturday. Ayres began getting calls from the press about his net worth estimated to be between $12 million and $54 million.

    Ayres then insisted he only wanted the job for several months. Sherman: “Trump was pissed, he was caught off guard,” a former West Wing official briefed on the talks said. By Sunday, Ayres not only bolted the Trump gig, but the Pence job, too, deciding to head back to Georgia. So by year's end, Trump and Pence will both be on their third chief in less than two years.

    This all comes amid rampant speculation that with scandal, House Democrat investigations and a tariff-bruised economy all looming over the horizon, who would want to work for a guy like Trump, where loyalty is a one-way street, allies get thrown under the bus, and careers can be tainted forever after folks wallow in Watergate or get the Kremlin Kramps. Trump and Pence had lunch on Monday. Wonder what was on the menu? Crow, perhaps?
    - Brian A. Howey, publisher.
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