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Tuesday, April 24, 2018
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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 –  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.
     
  • MERRILLVILLE - I had to chuckle when I first saw the television ad designed to boost the political stock of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. The ad does so by attacking Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan for allegedly raising taxes and blocking Rauner’s agenda. This could be a tough year for Rauner who likely will face a primary challenge, which is the last thing a sitting governor needs. He also will have a stiff challenge from a Democrat in the fall. That likely will be from J.B. Pritzker, who like Rauner is a billionaire businessman.  Pritzker started his own TV ads last year. Featured in the ad for Rauner are the Republican governors of three of the states bordering Illinois – Wisconsin, Missouri and Indiana. The three governors – including Indiana’s Eric Holcomb - all “thank” Madigan for driving people out of Illinois into Indiana, Wisconsin and Missouri.
  • MERRILLVILLE – With the advent of the new year, politics quickly took center stage in Lake County. And while it is a big political year, particularly on the county level, much of the focus will be on the Democratic primary for sheriff. The sheriff’s office dominated politics last year with the conviction of Sheriff John Buncich on public corruption charges involving kickbacks on towing contracts. Buncich will be sentenced later this month. Upon Buncich’s conviction, a host of candidates began lobbying Democratic precinct committeemen for the right to fill the remainder of his term. County police officer Oscar Martinez won the precinct caucus last fall and now will have to face the electorate in the May primary election. And there will be challengers – perhaps many of them. One who has been campaigning heavily since the precinct election in Schererville Police Chief David Dowling, who finished second in the caucus. Martinez isn’t resting on his precinct victory. Martinez, in an unheard of move by a sheriff, bought full-color billboards across the county over the holiday season. Featured on the billboards was Martinez himself in full uniform cautioning county residents to have a safe holiday season.
  • MERRILLVILLE – When Santa makes the rounds Sunday night and Monday, he undoubtedly will have forgotten the following gifts: President Donald Trump: Truth serum. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott: Something bigger and better. State Rep. Scott Pelath: A run for governor. State Rep. Charlie Brown: A seat on the Lake County Council. Gov. Eric Holcomb: Unlike former Govs. Mike Pence and Mitch Daniels, the ability to see that Lake County highways are plowed. The city of Valparaiso: A mayor who cares as much as retiring Mayor Jon Costas.
  • MERRILLVILLE – Sometimes one gets the feeling that Lake County Republicans aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer. One gets the feeling that they enjoy playing second fiddle to Democrats who rule the roost. One gets the feeling that Republicans aren’t bothered by the fact that they haven’t won a countywide office since the late 1940s, except for one a decade ago that actually saw Democrats elect a Republican. One gets the feeling that Republicans are content to hold a township or town office here and there. One gets the feeling that Republicans have rejected the openings Democrats have afforded Republicans to advance themselves.
  • MERRILLVILLE – State Rep. Charlie Brown was one of the early supporters of Richard G. Hatcher’s bid for Gary mayor in the 1960s. Hatcher won in 1967 and the two men have remained close over the last 50 years. Brown announced a couple of weeks ago that he wouldn’t seek reelection to the Legislature next year. Brown has represented the 3rd District since 1982. The district’s make-up has changed over the years as Gary’s population has plummeted from a high of almost 180,000 to less than 80,000 today. The district has changed to now include parts of Hobart, Lake Station and New Chicago, as well as part of Gary. The Hatcher-Brown political presence may not be ending. Ragen Hatcher, the mayor’s daughter, has said she will run for the seat Brown has held for 35 years. And will Brown be supporting another Hatcher? Brown said, “I will be supporting Ragen Hatcher because of my love and devotion to the Hatcher family, because there are only a limited number of females in the Democratic caucus and there aren’t that many attorneys either.”
  • MERRILLVILLE – Only in Indiana. Only in Indiana does the Legislature attempt to pull the state out of the Dark Ages but just gets half the job done. Indiana is the last state in the union to bar the sale of carry-out alcohol on Sunday. It isn’t a religious thing but shows the collective power of package liquor stores around the state. The package stores now have a monopoly on the sale of cold beer and they don’t want to be open on Sunday. But studies show Sunday is the second busiest shopping day of the year and grocery stores would like to be able to sell alcohol. The Sunday prohibition may be about to end, based on the recommendation of the Alcohol Code Revision Commission, which has been studying the state’s liquor laws for several months. Unfortunately the commission stopped a bit short when it made its recommendation to open things up for Sunday sales.You will be able to pick up beer at the grocery store on Sunday, but it won’t be cold. Nope, this is Indiana where change comes very slowly.
  • MERRILLVILLE – School referendums to increase property taxes in Hobart and Hammond were approvedTuesday. But I have to wonder what the outcome would have been if more than 14% of the registered voters had turned out. There was nothing else on the ballot to lure voters to the polls. You have to think that those who voted were either adamantly for or against the extra money for the school systems. The state law requiring the referendums for extra school funding is full of holes. As Hammond Supt. Walter Watkins pointed out, schools have suffered from a loss of funding from the state-mandated tax caps, increased costs for health care and ongoing increases in energy and fuel costs. 
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  • Former Sen. Coburn endorses Mike Braun
    "I am pleased to support and endorse Mike Braun, Indiana Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. Like myself, Mike is a social & fiscal conservative who supports term limits. As a successful businessman, Mike brings the very knowledge and background that is badly needed in our U.S. Senate today. Mike's opposition to deficit spending and pork barrel projects together with his proven leadership abilities will make him a highly effective U.S. Senator." - Former Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, endorsing Mike Braun for the U.S. Senate Republican nomination. Braun said, "I'm beyond honored to have earned the support of one of my idols in the U.S. Senate, Tom Coburn.”
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  • A changing tide on medicinal marijuana
    CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has changed his mind on medical marijuana. He writes Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a hardliner against pot, saying, “I feel obligated to share the results of my five-year-long investigation into the medical benefits of the cannabis plant. Before I started this worldwide, in-depth investigation, I was not particularly impressed by the results of medical marijuana research, but a few years later, as I started to dedicate time with patients and scientists in various countries, I came to a different conclusion.”

    And that conclusion? “Not only can cannabis work for a variety of conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and pain, sometimes, it is the only thing that works. I changed my mind, and I am certain you can, as well. It is time for safe and regulated medical marijuana to be made available nationally. I realize this is an unconventional way to reach you, but your office declined numerous requests for an interview, and as a journalist, a doctor and a citizen, I felt it imperative to make sure you had access to our findings.”

    Gupta’s special report on “Weed 4: Pot vs. Pill” airs at 8 p.m. Sunday. It comes as James Higdon writes about “Legal Marijuana’s Big Moment” coming when former Republican House Speaker John Boehner “flipped” on the topic and became an adviser to a medicinal marijuana group. As the late John Lennon might have put it, strange days, indeed. - Brian A. Howey, publisher

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