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Thursday, July 11, 2013 1:16 PM
MERRILLVILLE – You know the saying that if it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all. I suspect Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority have that feeling right about now.
That’s because it was announced last week that completion of a $166-million expansion project was being delayed – again. Rather than being ready at the end of this year, it now is estimated that the project, largely runway expansion, won’t be completed until September 2014 at the earliest.
Despite the delay, the Airport Authority will proceed with plans to attract a private investor willing to put up at least $100 million as part of a private/public partnership. The expansion project involves railroad relocation and remediation of polluted soil and groundwater to allow for runway expansion.
The irony is that the very thing that led to Northwest Indiana becoming an industrial giant is now blocking the area’s future. The land around the airport is among the most polluted in the country. And that obviously didn’t happen overnight.
  • MERRILLVILLE –  Indiana’s Republican Party reminds me of the gay who wants to come out of the closet but can’t quite bring himself to do it. Such was the case a week ago at the state convention in Evansville. The party voted overwhelmingly to include language in its platform that marriage is a commitment between a man and a woman – nothing less. The party defeated an effort by Gov. Eric Holcomb to support a “strong families” stance that says, “We support traditional families with a mother and father, blended families, grandparents, guardians, single parents and all loving adults who successfully raise and nurture children to reach their full potential every day.” Just when one thought Indiana Republicans were changing for the better with Gov. Eric Holcomb replacing Mike Pence, such was not the case when it came to the party platform. It was Pence while governor who embarrassed himself and the state on national television by remaining steadfast that marriage was between a man and a woman. Pence lost all credibility when he kept contending that despite the party’s stance, the state was open to all forms of marriage.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Newly elected Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez doesn’t exactly practice what he preaches. For a number of years, Martinez made a name for himself as part of a drug interdiction task force that cruised interstate highways in Lake County, particularly Interstate 65, which was a major route for drug couriers. Martinez seemingly had an uncanny ability for nabbing those hauling drugs through Lake County. So gifted did Martinez seem, that some came to question his ability to nab drug runners. Many came to believe that Martinez had a connection in Mexico that informed him as to when drugs would be flowing through the county, making it easier for him to nab couriers. And suddenly, Martinez’s party was over. “I was transferred out of the task force for political reasons…” Martinez said. “I couldn’t do something I loved doing and it was done without any regards to the health or safety of the people of Lake County.” Ironically, Martinez was moved out of the interdiction unit by Sheriff John Buncich.
  • MERRILLVILLE – I went away over the holiday weekend thinking I would get away from it all—whatever “it all” is. You know. No cell phones. No television. No distractions. Man, was I in for a surprise. We headed to a campsite along the Tippecanoe River. We were there a year ago and the river was beautiful and rolling along at a hefty pace. It was a force. It was a very different looking river this time. A kid could walk across it without getting his head wet or worry about drowning. Motorized boats traversed the river with caution. And because it was so shallow, there was hardly a fisherman casting a lure. And talk about hot. It seemed like the middle of July, not a day in late May. It was too hot to have much fun. Cooking on a hot fire added to the intense heat. And when the sun went down, not much of the heat went with it. Sleeping was a challenge. But, at least there was no communication with the outside world, no word about the daily lies and antics of Donald Trump. Or so I thought. And then Tennessee Trump wandered into our campsite.
  • MERRILLVILLE – My gosh they are getting old. Old as dirt, some would say. That is the complexion of elected officials in Northwest Indiana, particularly Democrats. And the area’s delegation to the General Assembly also is aging. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, who finally tired of driving twice a week up and down Interstate 65 to the General Assembly, didn’t give up politics. Brown, who is an octogenarian but sharp as a tack, ran for and won nomination to the County Council. Election in the fall is a given. Speaking of the County Council, incumbent Elsie Franklin, who is no spring chicken, won nomination for another term. And there is former Lake Circuit Judge Lorenzo Arredondo who lost a bid for attorney general in 2016. Arredondo, who is pushing 80, won the Democratic nomination for county clerk. Victory in the fall is pretty much guaranteed. Fran Dupey, who also is just on the short side of 80, retired as county commissioner a few years back. Since, she moved from Whiting to Schererville and won one of the three Democratic nominations for St. John Township Board. Victory in the fall isn’t a given.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Lake County Democrats didn’t help erase the county’s reputation for political corruption during Tuesday’s primary election. In fact, they made things worse. The Democrats nominated Oscar Martinez as their candidate for sheriff. In Lake County, that is tantamount to victory in the fall. Martinez has been sheriff since last fall when the precinct organization selected him to replace John Buncich, who was convicted of extorting money for towing contracts. The problem is that Martinez has a dirty past as well. Martinez worked a side job doing security at one of the casino boats in Lake County. His wife, Melissa did payroll for the boat and inflated the number of hours Oscar worked – and thus increased his paycheck by $10,000. That wrongdoing was pointed out in an election eve mailer sent by candidate David Dowling, who was considered Martinez’s biggest challenge.
  • MERRILLVILLE – There was a time in Lake County when it was understood that the sheriff was an administrator and didn’t need to be a cop. The chief of police ran the department and reported to the sheriff. Those were different times. Crime was different and so too were criminals. Times have changed since Leslie O. Pruitt, who wasn’t a law enforcement officer, was sheriff in the 1970s. Most thought Pruitt was a darn good sheriff. The sheriff today needs to be an administrator and a law enforcement officer. The sheriff runs the largest department in the county and administers its largest payroll. While fiscal mismanagement seems to be a way of life in Washington, D.C., it isn’t acceptable on the local level. And that’s why former Schererville Police Chief David Dowling is the most qualified to become sheriff.
  • MERRILLVILLE – I tend to agree with state Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, and other city officials that it would be unfair to strip elected Gary school board members of their power.  That’s what is about to happen when legislators meet in special session May 14 to take up matters that weren’t called for a vote on the final day of the regular session that ended in March. The legislation essentially would render the elected school board powerless. While I feel for Melton and others, Gary school officials have pretty much forced the state to take over. The Gary school board over the last three decades has been the most inept in the state and the election of new board members over the years hasn’t resulted in any real positive changes. The various Gary school boards have run the school system into the ground. Debt has risen to more than $100 million while school buildings have fallen into disrepair, some without hope of being saved. While debt and disrepair are bad enough, the real problem is the number of personnel employed by the school system.  When the city had some 185,000 residents, the school system was admired by others across the county. But as the population plummeted, the number of teachers and staff hired to run the schools remained virtually the same while the debt mounted. As income dwindled and the payroll stayed the same, less money was put into maintenance.
  • MERRILLVILLE –  While the race for Lake County sheriff is dominating the Democratic primary, it isn’t the only campaign of interest. Also drawing attention is the contest for county clerk, where two veteran and aging politicians are at odds. Incumbent Clerk Mike Brown can’t run again because of term limitations. He is running for sheriff and has the support of Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. Without an incumbent, former Lake Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Arredondo has filed for clerk. He retired from the bench in 2010. Yes, this is the same Lorenzo Arredondo who was the Democratic candidate for state attorney general in 2016.
  • MERRILLVILLE – There are some fairly uneducated voters in Indiana. Actually, it would be more accurate to call them dumb. And some of them make their homes in Northwest Indiana. For instance, let’s take a look at last Saturday at a meeting of Indivisible NWI - a grassroots, all-volunteer citizens group in Indiana’s 1st Congressional District. Speaking that night was U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, who is known by many as the “Mayor of Northwest Indiana.” The 30 or so in attendance at the Iron Workers Local 396 hall in Portage asked a host of questions about firearms, the South Shore Railroad extension and funding for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which President Donald Trump has cut from $300 million to $30 million. But there was one question that drew a chuckle from the crowd – and Visclosky as well. Actually, there should have been a few belly-laughs.
  • MERRILLVILLE – If Betty Dominguez wins the Democratic nomination for Lake County sheriff, she has Sheriff Oscar Martinez to thank. Martinez is helping Dominguez make a name for herself. But, hey, that’s how it works in Lake County. Dominguez stunned the Democratic Party when she filed for sheriff at the 11th hour. She doesn’t have a law enforcement background, but she is married to former Sheriff Roy Dominguez, who many thought would run himself. While few are giving Dominguez much of a chance of winning, they think her candidacy will split the Hispanic vote and help someone like recently retired Schererville Police Chief David Dowling win the nomination. One has to think Martinez is spending a good deal of time thinking about Dominguez. For one, it’s impossible to drive around the county and not see a full-color billboard with the Dominguez name emblazoned across the front. One easily could think the billboard was promoting Roy Dominguez, who was known to use the large lettering when he was running.
  • MERRILLVILLE – It’s about time that someone called out President Donald Trump and other politicians for what they truly are. I’ll give Trump a break and not call him the Lord of Lies. But he is the Master of Deception. And too many people are accepting deception as a way of life. It’s hardly what our founding fathers envisioned. We’ve been deceived in Northwest Indiana as well over the years. Remember when all East Chicago residents were promised new sidewalks by Mayor Robert Pastrick during a mayoral campaign?  And lo and behold, those who had one of challenger Stephen R. Stiglich’s signs in their yard didn’t get a new sidewalk. And how about the way former Gov. Mitch Daniels promised nine years ago to rebuild the Cline Avenue Bridge. Not only will it not be rebuilt to its former self, construction has yet to begin.
  • MERRILLVILLE - The city of Hammond ought to be David Dowling country, but Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. apparently didn’t get the memo. Dowling, who is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for Lake County sheriff, was born and raised in Hammond.  Dowling moved to Schererville where he served as chief of police before stepping down a few weeks ago to be a full-time candidate for sheriff. The Dowling name lives on in Hammond where his grandfather was mayor and his father was chief of police. Hammond, which is the largest city in the county, is important to the sheriff’s primary even though Gary turns out a greater Democratic vote.  But rather than backing a native son, McDermott is doing whatever he can to see that Sheriff Oscar Martinez wins the primary. 
  • MERRILLVILLE – Lake County government officials are scared to death to eliminate the gun shows that are held six times a year at the county fairgrounds. There’s never been a massacre at a school in Lake County, so what the heck. Lake County commissioners are content to allow the gun shows – which have one of the biggest loopholes in the country – to continue.  It apparently doesn’t matter that the loophole allows guns to end up in the hands of criminals.  Jerry Tippy of Schererville, the lone Republican county commissioner, said the shows will go on but there will be some changes. One of those changes, Tippy said, is to have an ATF agent present at the gun show “to verify the legality of all the purchases. To my knowledge, that hasn’t been done before.” Well, Jerry, it’s not going to be done now, either.
  • MERRILLVILLE – It’s easy to be critical of Gary, Ind. After all, it’s a city with a history of crime, a failing school system and old, decaying housing stock. Firing a shot at Gary is easy. It’s also cheap. No one knows that better than U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, who is a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Rokita, who represents Indiana’s 4th CD, lives outside Indianapolis. He grew up in Munster. I’m not terribly sure why he took a shot at Gary last week. Maybe it was because he thought it would garner the favor of the majority of Hoosiers. Rokita said Gary is a “sanctuary city” whose officials “harbor illegal immigrant criminals.” As it turns out, Rokita messed with the wrong woman, raising the ire of Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. 
  • MERRILLVILLE – I wonder sometimes why Indiana even bothers with campaign finance laws. Current finance laws outline what is legal in terms of candidates spending the money they raise. The laws talk about what’s legal, but say nothing about what’s ethical. In terms of what’s legal, the law pretty much says any expenditure related to a political campaign is OK. And if a candidate decides to bow out of elected politics, the law is clear on what he or she can do with the money left in their campaign accounts. Basically, the candidate can either give that money to a charity or another candidate. There was a renewed focus recently in terms of what’s ethical. It was reported that Portage Mayor James Snyder last year paid $15,000 to his wife for unspecified campaign services. He also paid $41,000 to two attorneys who are representing him in a public corruption case.
  • MERRILLVILLE – I suspect you can say it could only happen in Lake County. And, yes, we are talking about a heated Democratic sheriff’s primary that just got hotter. At first glance, the biggest loser is Sheriff Oscar Martinez, who has been in office since winning a precinct caucus last fall. The biggest winner is former Schererville Police Chief David Dowling, who finished second in the precinct caucus. And, at the heart of all the action is Betty Dominguez, whose husband Roy Dominguez was sheriff from 2003 to 2010 and likely would be running again this year if the sheriff wasn’t Hispanic. Betty Dominguez, who is a retired Lake County Court probation officer, entered the sheriff’s race on Monday. Her candidacy stirs Lake County’s diverse ethnic pot. Martinez hoped to be the lone Hispanic in the race and corner that vote. That no longer would appear to be possible. Betty Dominguez, who is almost as recognizable as her husband, would be expected to pull a substantial vote.  The other Hispanic in the race is county police officer Maria (Rosa) Trajkovich.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Sixty-five members of the Indiana House did the right thing last week when they essentially rendered the Gary School Board trustees powerless. A variety of school trustees for decades have failed to bring school spending in line with revenue. You can say the same for a handful of school superintendents over the same years. Legislation that now heads to the Senate reaffirms that state-appointed emergency manager Peggy Hinckley now holds all the school board’s former powers and classifies the elected school board as advisory. And, the board can hold only four public meetings a year. There are a host of reasons why it has come to this. For decades, a host of school trustees have failed to face the fact that families were leaving Gary in droves, causing a dramatic drop in school enrollment. Yet, for years, the school trustees failed to act on the fact that a massive decline in enrollment meant there were too many teachers and school buildings.
  • MERRILLVILLE – One can always count on a heated, in-your-face primary for Lake County sheriff every four years. As is usually the case, you can bet that the candidates collectively will raise and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. After all, the sheriff is the most powerful political figure in the county year in and year out. And he is the highest paid elected official in the county. There have been legendary races including John Buncich and Roy Dominguez. Although Buncich won, Dominguez later became sheriff. Jose Arredondo and Chris Anton won heated sheriff races in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Democratic precinct organization picked Rudy Bartolomei to become sheriff after Anton died in office. Bartolomei never got a chance to run for a full term when he was indicted and entered the federal witness protection program. Stephen R. Stiglich was picked by precinct officials in the mid-80s to replace Bartolomei and then won two terms of his own. He passed away several years ago.
  • MERRILLVILLE – That television commercial for Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner needs a bit of rewriting. The ad features the governors of three states bordering Illinois. The point of the commercial is that Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, a Democrat, is blocking Rauner’s agenda, which is resulting in businesses and jobs fleeing from Illinois to the three surrounding states. At one point, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb boasts that his state is growing union jobs faster than Illinois. Not so fast, governor. The fact of the matter is that Indiana is losing union jobs – lots of them. It has taken a while, but the state now is seeing the impact of the 2012 right-to-work law that was approved by the Republicans controlling the Legislature. Despite Republican denials, the law was intended to eat away at the number of union members in the state.
  • MERRILLVILLE –  The future of two long-time popular Lake County politicians headed in different directions over the last week. On the brighter side, former Lake Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Arredondo announced that he was running for county clerk in the Democratic primary. Arredondo retired as judge in 2010 after 24 years on the bench. He didn’t stay out of the limelight for long. Arredondo last year was the Democratic nominee for attorney general. He lost. No one, perhaps, knows the operation of the clerk’s office – which is one of the largest in the county – better than Arredondo because of his tenure as judge.  Additionally, Arredondo said that he knows each of the judges in the county’s massive judicial system. Clerk Mike Brown is prohibited from running again because of term limits. He instead is running for sheriff. Arredondo thus far is unopposed on the Democratic ballot for clerk. While one man in his 70s is vying for public office, another is headed to prison. Former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich this week was sentenced to 15½ years in federal prison on a public corruption conviction connected to bribes from towing company operators. For Buncich, 72, the sentence almost assures that he will die in prison. The sentence was imposed by District Court Judge James T. Moody, who has a reputation for being extremely tough when it comes to public corruption cases. Moody, who has been on senior status for several years, spends a great deal of time at a vacation home in Florida.
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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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