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Saturday, June 23, 2018
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  • SOUTH BEND – With the nation split, angry and fearful even for safety of kids in their schools, with faith in institutions and the rule of law eroding, with the threat of trade wars and real wars from Korea to Iran and with a president relishing divisiveness as a sign of successful disruption, some Americans ask if these are the worst of times. Oft heard is the question: Have you ever seen it this bad? Yes. Worse. We would not have to go back to the Civil War to find a time when the nation was torn more by internal disagreements and filled with more trepidation. Just go back to 1968. That year is getting a lot of attention in TV documentaries and national publications because it now is the 50th anniversary of events then that shook the nation. The split in 1968 was worse because it involved a terrible war with casualties mounting in Vietnam. Escalation was bringing higher casualty counts rather than the victory promised by the Pentagon. Sentiment was growing that it was a no-win war with useless loss of limbs and lives.
  • SOUTH BEND – In almost any field other than politics, experience is valued. Would people facing surgery choose an experienced surgeon or one who never before operated? Would people facing a day in court choose an experienced attorney or one who never before handled a case? Would people facing a flood in their home choose an experienced plumber or a guy down the street who never had done plumbing work but promised to give it a darn good try? Many American voters these days seem to regard experience in politics and government as something negative in evaluating candidates. Even though seeing the difficulties encountered by newcomers unprepared for handling the tasks of government, often with disastrous results, the concept lingers that ignorance of government is smart, that boasting of not being a politician is a keen qualification for political office and that experience in public service is a disqualification. How this plays out in political campaigns today is shown in the race for U.S. Senate in Indiana. Mike Braun, the Republican nominee, served for three years as a state representative, winning elections to the Indiana House in 2014 and 2016 and resigning near the end of 2017 to make his U.S. Senate run. Does Braun cite this experience as he seeks the Senate seat? No. He hides it, stressing instead that he is a political “outsider,” a businessman, not a politician.
  • SOUTH BEND – President Trump has left town and TV ads by Republican Senate candidates attacking each other have disappeared. Questions remain. Q. Why did Trump fly here for a big rally in Elkhart right after the Indiana primary? A. Joe Donnelly. Q. The president took Air Force One here because he wanted to ridicule Donnelly as “Sleepin’ Joe” and “swamp person” in the Democratic senator’s home area? A. Right. Indiana’s Senate race is targeted by Republicans as crucial to hopes of retaining and even expanding their control of the Senate. They know Donnelly is vulnerable, a Democrat in a Republican-voting state that Trump won by a ton. Q. But why the hurry for Trump to bring his wrath against Donnelly so quickly after the primary election? A. Quick timing was due to those vicious TV attacks against each other by the three Republicans fighting to become the challenger to Donnelly this fall. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence came quickly to seek GOP unity against Donnelly after that primary election fight with Mike Braun, the winner, and Congressmen Todd Rokita and Luke Messer savaging each other. Braun was there to embrace Trump as his inspiration and to pledge foursquare Senate support.
  • SOUTH BEND – Indiana’s 2nd District will be a battleground this fall, certain to be targeted by Democrats nationally in the quest to capture enough Republican-held congressional seats to gain control of the House. Democratic congressional nominee Mel Hall, who won impressively in the primary election Tuesday, now challenges Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, who seeks a fourth term. She won by a ton in 2016 in a district solidly for Donald Trump. She will be difficult to upset. But Hall, a former corporate CEO with a moderate Democratic approach similar to that of Sen. Joe Donnelly, who once represented the district in the House, is an ideal challenger for a Republican-flavored area. He demonstrated fundraising ability and campaign skill in warding off two determined opponents in the primary and winning in all 10 counties of the district. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is certain now to focus top targeting on the 2nd in its “Red to Blue” effort to flip enough Republican seats to Democratic challengers to gain control of the House. 
  • SOUTH BEND – Mel Hall, front-runner for the Democratic congressional nomination in Indiana’s 2nd District, is taking no chances. He plans to continue an all-out campaign effort, including television appeals hitting the entire district, right up until the May 8 primary election. Smart. The former CEO of Press Ganey, South Bend-based collector of data on patient satisfaction for hospitals nationally, has five opponents for the nomination. Two wage determined campaigns. Although Hall and his campaign strategists exude confidence of winning, they want to take no chances that either Pat Hackett or Yatish Joshi, chief rivals for the nomination, could slip in front of the front-runner. In old-school political theory, however, Hall would be viewed as making a costly mistake. Old-school traditionalists would question why Hall, if he really is a confident front-runner, is “wasting” so much money on the primary election. 
  • SOUTH BEND  – A blue wave is forecast for November. That’s a safe political prediction – kind of like forecasting that it will snow in South Bend in December. But we don’t know for sure the accumulated inches of early-winter December snow. Nor do we know if that Democratic wave will be strong enough to sweep away Republican control of the U.S. House when voters go to the polls in November. Enthusiastic supporters of the three candidates with serious bids for the Democratic congressional nomination in Indiana’s 2nd District talk confidently of a powerful wave, set in motion by an unpopular President Trump, sweeping away Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski. And if Walorski, who won so big in 2016 in the 2nd, a district Trump carried by 20 percentage points, is upset? It would be part of a blue wave nationally likely to bring Democratic control of the House.
  • SOUTH BEND – Todd Young is the other senator from Indiana. NOT the one featured in all those TV ads with contradictory portrayal of either awful or wonderful. Nor is he cited nationally as facing the toughest Senate race in the nation –  costly, close and critical. Sen. Joe Donnelly, the Democratic incumbent seeking reelection, gets all that attention. Sen. Todd Young, the Republican who defeated Evan Bayh for the Senate in 2016, has four more years before he again faces the hot lights of election focus. But that doesn’t mean that Young isn’t making a mark in the Senate. He is. Quietly. Working on legislation. Working also on bipartisanship rather than attention-getting partisan bluster to win time on cable news shows. “I’m an independent-minded, center-right conservative Republican,” Young says. “But I went to Washington to get things done. Typically, that requires developing strong relationships with your Democratic colleagues.” He is co-sponsoring a bill with Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
  • SOUTH BEND - When Bobby Kennedy came to South Bend on Dyngus Day 50 years ago, a highlight was his appearance at the packed West Side Democratic & Civic Club in the heart of a large, vote-vital Polish-American area. But that wasn’t the only highlight of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s South Bend campaigning in 1968. Kennedy faced a tough, nationally-watched contest, a must-win test for him. Could he capture the Kennedy “magic,” the charisma of President John F. Kennedy, his slain brother? Could he win in a Midwest state like Indiana? Could he defeat another anti-war candidate, Sen. Gene McCarthy, who had a head start in seeking the presidential nomination? Could he also in a three-candidate race defeat Indiana Gov. Roger Branigin, a stand-in for Hubert Humphrey endorsed by the state Democratic organization and The Indianapolis Star, both then powerful politically? In stories ever since about Dyngus Day, the Monday-after-Easter event that spreads now far beyond Polish-American neighborhoods, accounts focus on Kennedy swaying the crowd at the West Side Club. He spoke greetings in Polish, sang a Polish song, hailed Revolutionary War contributions of Polish patriots and even brought along a genuine Polish prince.
  • SOUTH BEND – Will President Donald Trump bring his rally show to Indiana to insult Sen. Joe Donnelly, coining a belittling nickname and worse, while also ridiculing other Democrats running for House seats? Could he stay away? Would he be wanted by all the Republican nominees? Would he help them? Hurt them? Perhaps do neither? These are questions to ponder as Indiana braces for one of the most expensive Senate races in the nation, with money flowing to TV stations for political ads as fast as those St. Joseph River waters flowed at flood stage. Also, there will be some contested House races potentially important for control of that chamber. Even if the president’s approval ratings remain low nationally during the fall campaign, thus raising the question of whether he would help or hurt candidates for whom he campaigns, it seems unlikely that Trump could stay away from Indiana. Huge race. Huge national media focus. Huge domination of news cycles. Would Trump suddenly shy away from the spotlight?
         
  • SOUTH BEND  – So, you think you know who won those games so far in the NCAA basketball tournament. Some of you, thinking you’re better than Digger Phelps ever was as an analyst, proudly display wins on your tournament brackets. (Not all of us of course have “W” marked all over our pool entries.) At least you know which teams won, right? In many cases you saw the outcome on TV, maybe even in person. Newspaper headlines and stories proclaim the winners. You think you know who won. You could be wrong. Remember, we’re talking about the NCAA. History revisionists in the NCAA could declare that what you saw doesn’t count. 
  • SOUTH BEND – What difference does it make? How that question was answered in 2016 helped to elect President Trump. A decisive number of potential Democratic voters in key states decided it didn’t make much difference whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, each disliked for various reasons, was president. They stayed home on Election Day; Trump went to the White House. What difference does it make? How that question is answered this November could determine whether Democrats win control of the House and whether politically endangered Democratic senators such as Joe Donnelly in Indiana win or lose. Democrats, with a shot at control of the House, are divided still in many places, replaying the Bernie vs. Hillary saga. 
  • SOUTH BEND – The shooting at that Parkland, Fla., high school was a lucky break. It came just in time. Our poor gun industry has been facing tough times, with sales and profits down. The money-making deals between gun merchants, the NRA and Congress were becoming less lucrative for one partner, the gun industry. A New York Times story on the plight of the industry, warns that Remington, one of our oldest and largest gun makers, has been talking of bankruptcy. What is this country coming to? Well, that Florida shooter could have acted just in time to make our gun industry great again. The story on gun industry woes pointed out that sales go up when there is talk of tighter gun regulations and then plummet when the threat seems to disappear.
  • SOUTH BEND – Money isn’t everything. But it sure is something. I have often cited that political truism in analyzing campaign finance reports. Keep it in mind as we look today at money raised, spent and still on hand as reported by candidates for Congress in Indiana’s 2nd District. Most impressive in year-end reports to the Federal Election Commission is the fundraising of Mel Hall, former chief executive officer of South Bend-based Press Ganey. Hall did better in fundraising by far than the other two main candidates for the Democratic nomination. He even raised more in fourth-quarter contributions than Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, the Republican incumbent seeking a fourth term. The nationally influential Cook Political Report noted Hall’s successful fundraising Thursday in moving the 2nd District from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican” in its evaluation. It upgraded Democratic chances also in other districts where a Democratic challenger outraised a Republican incumbent. The other two main candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination are Yatish Joshi, owner of GTA Containers in South Bend, and South Bend attorney Pat Hackett.
  • SOUTH BEND – The endorsement of a candidate by a prominent political figure is kind of like the endorsement of a commercial product by a prominent celebrity. There usually is no solid proof that it was of monumental help, even though it seems to have a positive effect. There sometimes is a situation where it backfires and hurts. Jared Fogle became a celebrity whose endorsement still haunts Subway. There always is a quest by candidates and product marketers for praise in attention-getting endorsements. U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly will be praised and endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden at a fundraising event Friday in Indianapolis. That endorsement, though not with monumental effect, will help Donnelly in two ways. l It will raise money he needs for what will be one of the costliest election contests in the nation this year. In addition to getting the contributions from those attending, the Donnelly campaign also will profit from asking its supporters around the state to donate $20.18 to win a chance to personally meet with Biden. It will link Donnelly with one of the most popular Democratic figures, someone quite acceptable to Hoosier Democrats and not frightening to the independents and Republican moderates Donnelly must sway to his side in order to win in a red state President Donald Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points.
  • SOUTH BEND –  Here are key factors that will determine whether U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, the Indiana Democrat seeking a second term, will win in one of the costliest and most important election contests in the nation. Donnelly’s Image: Republicans will hammer hard to shatter Donnelly’s image as a moderate who reaches across the aisle for compromises. They will portray him as really a partisan Democrat who votes the party line, opposing the agenda of President Trump and supporting liberal causes, except in a few votes to trick Hoosiers into believing he is less partisan.
  • SOUTH BEND – Fake news is real. And ubiquitous. Through the air it travels, in squawk radio spiels, convincing the gullible of fake plots and conspiracies of which they become terrified. Over Facebook it spreads, prompting the recipients of biased and unfounded accounts to send them on to “inform” a multitude of others. In the mail it arrives, with an appeal to contribute to fight what is fake, something like our courts enforcing Sharia law. From the White House it tweets, dispatched by the tweeter-in-chief to claim that the real is fake and the fake is real. With fake news hither and yon, it becomes difficult to figure where the truth lies and where lies distort the truth. Which is exactly what purveyors of fake news want.
         
  • SOUTH BEND – Eric Holcomb is a better governor than Mike Pence. Polls show that Hoosiers agree with that. Pence was sagging in approval ratings and faced a tough race for reelection as governor back when he escaped to the national stage as the Republican nominee for vice president and then was elected to that office on the winning ticket with Donald Trump. Holcomb was elected governor in 2016 after a series of startling political developments: Named lieutenant governor to fill a surprise vacancy, selected as the Republican governor nominee after Pence was picked for vice president, and then winning over a Democratic front-runner amid the Trump tsunami in Indiana. He now is popular in the polls; a Politico/Morning Consult poll shows Holcomb with 53% approval, just 21% disapproval. Holcomb’s State of the State address shows why he is more popular as governor than Pence. His low-key, pragmatic approach, avoiding partisan rhetoric and divisive issues that appeal to some political base, was welcomed by the legislators with whom he must work to get things done.
  • SOUTH BEND – Many in America look with trepidation toward what will unfold in 2018. Anger grows in a nation divided into uncompromising camps. Threats arise from overseas. What of conflict in Asia? What of turmoil over rights here at home? The president, way down in the polls, simply is not believed by large segments of the population, especially the young. Well, that’s also the way it was as events unfolded in another year, 1968, half a century ago. Fears were realized in that year of trial for America, but the nation overcame the horrors of war in Vietnam, assassination of popular leaders, violence in the streets and questions about whether democracy could prevail. The good news is that if the nation could survive all that, it surely can overcome the divisive situation now, even if some of the present fears are realized. The president then was Lyndon B. Johnson, different than President Trump in many ways, especially in dealing with Congress. LBJ was a master of bipartisan compromise, winning passage of key legislation, including a civil rights act that had seemed to be a political impossibility. But Johnson sank in the polls as death tolls mounted in Vietnam. Many Americans, including young men of draft age, didn’t believe anything he said about a path to victory or a way out of the Vietnam quagmire.
  • SOUTH BEND – For the final time in 2017, Ralph the Republican and Donald the Democrat met Friday to sip coffee and argue politics at the place they meet almost every weekday morning. Ralph, there first, shouted a greeting as Donald headed to their usual table. R: Happy New Year, Donnie. Should be happy, what with our Republican Congress giving you a big tax cut. D: Yeah, Ronnie, with the deductions they’re takin’ away, maybe there’ll be enough to buy a bagel here some morning. R: Guess you don’t know economics. All the cuts gonna get the economy booming, more jobs, more money for everybody. D: Well, Ronnie, I know that trickle-down stuff never works. Look at what the Bush tax cuts did. R: If you wanna talk about failed economic policies, how about Obama? Slow recovery.
  • SOUTH BEND – The question was this: At a time of bitter partisan division, would a decisive number of voters in solidly Republican Alabama vote for a Democrat rather than a pedophile? The answer in Alabama was “yes.” So, what does the stunning election of a Democrat in a state President Trump carried by 28 percentage points mean for Indiana? Potentially a lot. But exactly what, a year from the crucial 2018 elections for the Senate and House, is far from certain. First of all, no pedophile, no horrible choice like Roy Moore, is likely to be the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate in Indiana. Sen. Joe Donnelly, the Democrat seeking reelection, still will face a formidable Republican challenge. But neither Donnelly nor Democratic nominees in Hoosier congressional districts need now to shudder at the prospect of Trump coming to campaign against them as very weak, very sad, so dishonest. They might welcome it if Trump continues with low approval ratings and the lack of political clout that he had in Alabama.
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  • Holcomb responds to SCOTUS ruling on Internet sales tax
    “A lot about our world and economy has changed in the 26 years since our nation’s highest court last ruled on this issue,” Holcomb said Thursday. “With the incredible evolution of technologies and the growth of internet sales, this Supreme Court ruling will help level the playing field between our Hoosier-based companies that operate retail stores and out-of-state companies that sell products and services online in our state. We’re taking a careful look at the ruling to better understand its implications for Indiana.” - Gov. Eric Holcomb, reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing states to collect sales tax from on-line retailers. Indiana passed a law in 2017 anticipating the rule, with the state expecting $77 million to come in from e-commerce annually.
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  • The First Lady's message
    American First Ladies almost always assume a role and much of it is messaging. For Nancy Reagan, it was “Just say no” to drugs. Betty Ford gave us a compassionate path to those savaged by addiction. Laura Bush was all about literacy. Lady Bird Johnson urged littered and dumpy America to clean up its act.

    And Melania Trump? She remains a mystery to most of us with her Sphinx-like mannerisms. But she is also a messenger, though often we don’t know what to make of her signals. Who can forget Donald Trump’s debate with Hillary Clinton right after we learned from the Access Hollywood audio that women will let rich tycoons do what he wants (“you can grab ‘em by the pussy”)? Mrs. Trump showed up wearing a pink Gucci pussy bow, creating even more of a stir when she shook hands with President Bubba. Perhaps she was trying to tell us it’s really OK to grab ‘em … or maybe it was a rebuke to his cheatin’ heart. We simply don’t know.

    After torrents of President Trump’s snide and vicious tweets, First Lady Trump decided to make bullying her prime issue, saying, “Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough. We must treat each other with respect and kindness.” Ya think?

    Then came McAllen, Tex., just hours after President Trump ended immigrant child separation with the stroke of a pen (after weeks saying only Democrats could). The former fashion model showed up wearing a cheap jacket on a muggy day reading “I really don’t care, do U?” as 2,300 kids were incarcerated by the U.S. government nearby and who knows where else.

    The First Lady’s flak told us “there was no hidden message,” but President Trump contradicted, saying his wife was flipping off the news media, saying she “has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!” Show up at the scene of U.S. policy that has truly disturbed folks across the spectrum, and tell us all you really don’t care, even as we learn the U.S. government has lost track of many of this tormented kids. Got it. Classy. -
    Brian A. Howey, publisher
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