GRIFFITH – This isn’t the Griffith I used to know. This isn’t the Griffith where I grew up, played baseball and graduated from high school.

No, this is a very different town from when there was nothing between our backyard on Cline Avenue and Kennedy Avenue but woods and a lake. Griffith residents voted Tuesday to cut ties with Calumet Township and hook up with St. John, North or Ross Township.

Griffith residents said they were tired of subsidizing poor relief for the people of Gary, who make up the bulk of Calumet Township. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law in 2013 to allow the town to secede from Calumet Township if the township’s assistance tax rate was more than 12 times the state average.

But, it is about more than just the $2 million Griffith residents are paying annually for Calumet Township poor relief. No, it also is a political and racist thing.

Republicans, who control the Griffith Town Council, pushed for the law allowing the town to secede. Republicans, who controlled the Legislature, gave the town the go-ahead.

I don’t think this would have happened with Democrats controlling the town. No, Democrats traditionally seek a solution when there is a problem. On the other hand, Republicans cut and run, particularly when race is involved. And yes, Griffith, which is largely white, got tired of paying for the poor relief for Gary, which is virtually all black.

Did some Griffith Democrats vote to pull out of Calumet Township? Sure. But voting to do so and initiating the referendum are two vastly different things.

What’s really unfortunate is that the Legislature knew what it was doing when it authorized the referendum. And legislators knew it was wrong.

The state should take over the payment of poor relief assistance, just as it did welfare payments several years ago. It wasn’t the fault of Griffith residents that Gary fell on hard times. And it wasn’t the fault of Gary residents that jobs at U.S. Steel, the city’s leading employer, dried up because of modernization.

It is an ugly situation that just got uglier with Griffith pulling out of the township. The Legislature could have prevented it all from happening if it had taken over the payment of poor relief statewide just as it did for welfare. Pulling out of a township wasn’t the answer. 

Rich James has been writing about politics and government for 40 years. He is retired from the Post-Tribune, a newspaper born in Gary.