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Wednesday, December 12, 2018
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  • 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.
  • LaPORTE – Rather than being diverted with esoteric debates about how many trillions of tax dollars a “Medicare for All” plan would entail, doesn’t it make more sense to see what can be done about protecting the Affordable Care Act from attacks and getting to universal coverage in other ways? While advocates of Medicare for All are certainly well-intentioned, undue attention is being paid to plans such as that which have little to no chance of passage by this Congress or any other in the near future. When one considers that the Affordable Care Act passed with just one vote to spare and is now under unceasing attack on multiple fronts including by our own Indiana attorney general, it would seem a more productive use of time and political capital to protect what has already been gained. With 400,000 additional Hoosiers are now covered under HIP 2.0 that was made possible by the Medicaid expansion of ACA, why jeopardize that by allowing critics to assail Medicare for All? Why not fight to protect the ACA with its pre-existing conditions protections and better coverage for those with serious and chronic conditions?
  • LaPORTE – While recent news reports of Attorney General Curtis Hill’s after-hours alleged misconduct are deeply troubling and cause for justifiable outrage, of equal concern to Hoosiers ought to be the question – who is our attorney general really working for? Is it big money corporate sponsors or average working Hoosiers? CBS News recently reported on a lavish retreat hosted on Kiawah Island, South Carolina in April that a dozen Republican attorneys general, including Hill, who have the final say in their states on what enforcement actions to bring or not, attended on the tab of various corporate interests who paid $125,000 each just to get to rub elbows, buy drinks and food and schmooze with them. Well-heeled corporate donors like those from Koch Industries, big tobacco, payday lenders, oil and gas interests and the NRA fork out big bucks to ensure that AG’s like ours stay compliant and supportive of their interests.
  • LaPORTE – Despite some wishful recurring thinking from my brethren on the other side of the aisle about some kind of Bernie vs. Hillary battle for the soul of the Democratic Party supposedly playing out, real insights by those who know organizing Indiana political campaigns realize that’s just not the case across much of Indiana. Unlike Hoosier Republicans, who it appears spent a good deal of energy fighting this past weekend at their convention about competing platform planks and do seem to have some real philosophical splits playing out between social conservatives and the more moderate wing of the GOP, most Hoosier Democrats understand we’re not in any position to have these arcane fights about who is sufficiently purist to pass any kind of label to be a Democrat. With control of the White House, both houses of Congress, the governorship and the legislature in Republican hands, most Democrats I speak with around the state are ready to come to Indianapolis this upcoming weekend with a needed show of support for our newly minted state ticket and to go out from there working to make some gains both in the partisan makeup of the legislature and in picking up another seat or two in Congress.
  • LaPORTE – There comes a time in every elected official’s career when they’ve got to stand up and do the right thing, politics or ideology be damned. The recent vote that extended the country’s debt limit while passing desperately needed hurricane relief was one such  vote and on that standard, Reps. Todd Rokita, Luke Messer and Jackie Walorski all failed the test miserably. It doesn’t take Democrats like myself to call them out. I leave that to one of their fellow Republican members of the U.S. House – Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas who serves as the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who said very clearly to his fellow members of the Republican caucus that a “yes” vote was absolutely needed for this country’s disaster and relief fund “to keep it solvent because FEMA is going through half a billion dollars a day” in Texas and would soon be forced to tend to suffering and flooding in Florida. Put simply, the GOP head of Homeland Security called a vote against this package “unconscionable.” As McCaul put it so well, “when I had people dying and hurting in my home state, it was my duty and moral obligation to help them.” Todd, Luke and Jackie oughta to look in the mirror and ask themselves how they are going to explain their votes the next time they see Chairman McCaul or any other members from Florida or Texas in the hallway.
  • LaPORTE – Governor Eric Holcomb’s recent appointment of LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo to a highly lucrative ($172,000 a year) prestigious cabinet appointment in his Administration could teach a thing or two to our president regarding the twin goals of quality political hiring – rewarding loyalty, yet insisting on absolute competence. First off, this president has shown that the loyalty he demands of subordinates is one-way and unrequited.  Trump’s failure to reward two of his most loyal surrogates, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is testament to how transitory and transactional he really is. Couple that with his inexplicable attacks this past week on the one Cabinet member, Attorney General Jeff Sessions,  most intent on carrying out the so-called Trump agenda – weakening voting rights, reduced civil rights enforcement – and you see a pattern developing that loyal service in support of The Donald’s agenda doesn’t carry with it any real rewards. Contrast that with the loyalty shown by LaPorte’s energetic mayor who committed early and fervently to Eric Holcomb’s U.S. Senate campaign and agreed to serve as the co-chair of his campaign committee, when the outcome of that GOP Senate primary to fill Dan Coats’ impending open seat was very much in doubt. Holcomb never forgot that loyalty and commitment that Blair Milo had demonstrated to him.
  • LaPORTE – It’s become self-evident since the election: Our presidential nominee was absolutely the wrong person to convey a message to working class families and hold together the traditional Democratic coalition that had carried us to success in years like 1992, 1996, 2008 and 2012. It’s time journalists like Frank Rich stop blaming the election loss on supposed ignorant “hillbillies” in rural parts of the country, including rural Indiana, who went for Donald Trump in droves. Rich’s recent article for New York Magazine was titled, “No More Sympathy for Hillbillies.”   It was author J.D. Vance’s ode to hillbilly culture and his up-by-the-bootstrap tale from rural poverty in Ohio and Kentucky that got many to thinking that working class whites were responsible for their own problems and were ignorant and uneducated in not being able to see what was coming with a Trump presidency. Much of the hillbilly analogy suggests that those folks down in the holler and many Trump voters were motivated by appeals to racism and too ignorant in their own misery to understand their own self-interest.
  • LaPORTE – Some of my friends on both coasts just don’t get it. They look at just how poorly Hillary Clinton fared among white, working class voters in the Midwest and tsk-tsk to me about how “racial appeals must’ve made the difference” and what a “shame it is that our base fell for blatantly racist appeals” etc. I keep telling them that my home county, LaPorte County, is a great example of why their theory falls apart and why the racially based appeals of the Trump campaign were not a deciding factor here.  Sure, with a small segment of the populace that may well be racist or support white nationalism, the dog whistles and not-so-subtle appeals might have some impact but not with the broad spectrum of white, working class voters who I genuinely believe are willing to overlook race or ethnicity if a candidate is believed to be “standing up for their interests.” Where’s the proof?  Right here.  LaPorte County voters, most of them white and blue collar, voted in overwhelming numbers to elect Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012 helping him to solid margins here while Trump beat Clinton by 3,000 votes in this county.
  • LaPORTE – Just because he didn’t win doesn’t mean John Gregg didn’t get it right.  In any other year, his campaign of inclusive, bottom-up populism would have carried the day and kept both our base of white, blue collar voters intact with younger and minority voters to help win Indiana’s governorship. But not this year. The Trump tide cruelly swept away all in its path. Take a look at the town of Kingsford Heights in LaPorte County that was expertly profiled in a front page piece in Sunday’s South Bend Tribune by veteran writer Virginia Black. The town, consisting of blue collar workers, is a mix of both white and African American voters that has reliably supported Democratic presidential nominees for decades. The town is a good example of where the Democratic presidential candidate’s message did not resonate with blue collar voters with its happy-talk insistence on “building on gains” of the Obama administration and which thought that focusing obsessively on the many missteps and offensive talk by Donald Trump would somehow carry the day. 

  • LaPORTE – Sorry, Fox News. That dog won’t hunt. In the hours after Hillary Clinton announced her choice of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) as her vice-presidential pick, certain voices on the right clucked that there might be resistance from factions within the Democratic Party to the supposedly “safe” choice of Tim Kaine vs. what some viewed as more “inspiring” picks like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). Fact is, once again, the talking heads at Fox have not done their homework. As former head of the Indiana Progressives PAC, I’m in a pretty good position to spot a “progressive” when I see one, and I have to say, as one who has followed Tim Kaine’s career, this is a guy whose progressive values were formed early and mainly through his religious upbringing as a Catholic in the Jesuit social justice tradition.
  • LaPORTE – State Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek) has emerged as one of Gov. Mike Pence’s chief surrogates, assigned mainly with the unenviable task of trying to paint the Hoosier economy as far better for ordinary working families than it really is. Hershman’s latest, a column he sent around to Indiana newspapers last week, is notable for its “whistling past the graveyard” optimism that could only be attained from surveying the Hoosier economy from the corner office suites of the most prosperous CEO’s in our state, or from one of the few counties like Boone and Hamilton where the “gilded age” reigns supreme as state government continues to shower largesse on the few while neglecting 80 to 85 other counties. For Hershman to wax rhapsodic about rankings from the likes of CEO Magazine, or to tout a business tax climate that is superior to other states, completely neglects the key indicator that his hero, former Gov. Mitch Daniels, said  success should be judged by: Did Indiana increase per-capital income during state Republicans’ tour of duty? The fact is that yes, Indiana “is a State that Works” but only for the very few at the top of the heap.
  • LaPORTE, Ind. – The notion that this hopeless narcissist and racist, Donald Trump, has just captured the nomination of his beloved Republican Party would certainly cause the consummate modest gentleman and country doctor – Doc Bowen – to roll over in his grave. For many of us Democrats growing up in Indiana, kindly Doc Bowen represented a gentle and courtly manner of Republicanism who, while having political beliefs different than our own, treated friend and foe alike with respect and civility. Contrast that with the pathetic spectacle we’ve seen in just the last few days as Donald Trump has chosen to hit a new low with his attacks on U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel of Southern California. Just when you’re confident that Trump has sunk as low as he can go, he chose in a fit of uncontained fury to attack the judge hearing one of the class action cases alleging fraud by the now-defunct Trump University.
  • LaPORTE – To hear giddy Republicans like Craig Dunn tell it, they think that Donald Trump is the second coming of Ronald Reagan in his appeal to white, working-class voters and his supposed ability to steal away “Reagan Democrats” this fall. As Lee Corso so often says on his ESPN College Gameday predictions, “Not so fast, my friend." There’s no question that Trump’s rather simplistic saber-rattling against admittedly weak trade deals has won him some initial converts, but I predict we will win at least  the necessary 40 percent of white working-class voters across the country most experts say is necessary to carry our presidential ticket this fall, in addition to the overwhelming numbers expected from African-Americans, Hispanics, women and younger voters. See, the problem for Republicans is that in the hard glare of reality and the brutal testing of a true general election campaign, either one of our Democratic candidates has a better record of standing up for working families to take to the voters than carnival barker Trump, and a far stronger record on Wall Street accountability and financial reform than Trump.
  • LaPORTE – Under the theory that even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then or that a  broken clock is right twice a day, the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity got it right for once; there’s no need to raise taxes in Indiana to fund roads.  Yes, we need to “prioritize existing funds better” as AFP urges, but we better also stop the loss of needed tax revenues by  putting a moratorium on further tax cuts scheduled in corporate, bank and individual income taxes. We also better look at a fairer distribution of highway and road dollars, as currently there’s a massive disparity between regions. The LaPorte County Commissioners released data in 2015 showing that the affluent suburbs around Indianapolis that make up the Greenfield INDOT district received $1.7 billion more in funds for state highways, interstates and roads over the past 10 years than the INDOT district in Northwest Indiana received. That’s how we end up with gold-plated highways like the Keystone Parkway in Hamilton County while roads and bridges are crumbling across Northwest Indiana.
  • LaPORTE — Many of us who disagreed with Gov. Pence’s disastrous  support of RFRA, which cratered his approval ratings and set up a very competitive race for governor, had to acknowledge his stand, while wrongheaded, was likely motivated by some sincere religious conviction. But his joining the paranoid, political parade this past Monday morning  of Republican governors mindlessly insisting on a halt to Syrian refugees seeking asylum in this country, was apparently made without any input or guidance from his department heads or law enforcement and smacks of raw political opportunism.  It was a craven act of political desperation of an elected official in a tight race for reelection that insults the intelligence of all Hoosiers. If the governor was sincerely concerned about the threat posed by these refugees, many of them widows and orphans escaping ISIS oppression, why not calmly and carefully convene his cabinet on Monday including his Superintendent of state police. Check with his director of Homeland Security. Nah. Forget that and breathlessly join up with Republican operatives hoping to score cheap debating points on the Monday morning news shows, rather than make good public policy.
  • LaPORTE – Like many Hoosier Democrats who are pleased that a unifying consensus has emerged behind our state ticket nearly a year before the 2016 elections, I rolled my eyes when a former staffer to Sen. Evan Bayh, Tom Sugar, announced about a month ago he was seriously considering running for governor. Knowing that Tom had served at the feet of Evan Bayh, Indiana’s political zen master and a man who is considered the father of the modern Indiana Democratic Party, many of us figured that he would take the soundings from his former boss and act accordingly. We thought he’d quickly realize that there was no visible means of support to a challenge to our likely nominee, former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg, and that Sugar would make a graceful exit while making a spirited push for his pet project, redistricting reform. We could not have imagined that in choosing not to run on Monday that he would unleash a bitter diatribe against not only the Indiana Democratic Party, but against all elected officials currently serving in the Statehouse.  Sugar showed with his statement why he certainly doesn’t have the temperament or demeanor to serve as an elected official and why he’s probably also done incalculable damage to his worthy pet cause, redistricting reform.
  • LaPORTE – First off, let’s be clear this column isn’t directed at Victor Smith, Indiana’s energetic director of commerce,  or the state’s new IEDC chairman, Jim Schellinger, both of whom are disciplined and capable cheerleaders for our state, genuinely seeking to aid Indiana’s business attraction efforts. Frankly, their time and inestimable talents would be much better spent focused on inducing new business to locate here, rather than being forced to decide which five regions are “losers” in the competition for ever more scarce state dollars earmarked for local economic development. It’s just they’ve got the unenviable job of presiding over grant awards, as a result of legislation backed by the governor and his brain trust who think it’s a good idea to pit regions of our state against one other. In an age when the legislature continues starving cities, towns and counties in Indiana of the revenues needed to provide basic services, much less expand and initiate creative measures, the Regional Cities legislation was a lousy idea designed to divert Hoosiers from the notion that their state government should support all regions of our state. Instead we are pitting one region against another, fighting for scraps from the state’s table.
  • LAPORTE — Smell what I’m smelling?   No, it’s not “napalm in the morning” or the smell of victory just yet.  What Hoosier Democrats are smelling these days is the real, live chance that we are going to be highly competitive next year with the state ticket that is shaping up. With Glenda Ritz’s decision this past week to seek re-election and to support John Gregg’s nomination for governor, followed quickly on the heels by Sen. Tallian’s decision to do the same, we’ve just averted a messy, intramural fight.  Every dollar raised can now go to electing John Gregg as the next Governor and adding to our numbers in the Indiana House and State Senate. Glenda’s done an outstanding job as State Superintendent and has built a network of educators around the state who are passionate in their resolve to see her re-elected.  Likewise, Sen. Tallian provides a much needed voice of reason and progressive principles in the State Senate and it’s only fitting that she serves much of the territory in LaPorte County once represented by the “conscience” of the State Senate, the late Anita Bowser who was an accomplished constitutional scholar. No, what we have witnessed in the past few weeks are party and labor leaders from around the state concluding that John Gregg gives us the best shot at re-taking the governor’s office and coalescing in pretty rapid fashion.
  • LaPORTE – Once it was different growing up in Indiana.  Mainstream Republicans, while they were never close to the teachers’ unions, tended to understand that the success of public schools was critically tied in to our state’s success. Whether it was a Richard Lugar who first got involved with Indianapolis public schools or Doc Bowen and then Bob Orr with his “A+” commitment to funding K-12, there was a broad, bipartisan consensus around supporting public schools. Toss in revered Republican lawmakers like State Sen. Virginia Blankenbaker from Indianapolis or the late Phyllis Pond from the Fort Wayne area, you could count on mainstream Republican support for funding our public schools. Not any more. Hard to believe that our current governor proposed only $200 million in new school money,  with nearly all of it directed at corporate-run charter schools as well as the state’s private school voucher program at the expense of traditional public schools. The governor’s budget guru back in January, Chris Atkins, was quoted  as saying the governor’s office was most concerned that some “high quality charter operators,” translated big bucks education corporations, “are not willing to look at investing here because of our charter financing system.”  Huh?  When did we have to start worrying about some out-of-state for-profit education firms needing subsidies?
  • LaPORTE - ESPN has a great series titled “30-for-30,” where the promo spots feature a narrator asking, “What if I told you?...” Well, what if I told you that a state agency, charged with protecting the interests of Hoosiers, actually endorsed the bid of an offshore equity fund to buy the Indiana Toll Road lease rights? And without doing its job to fully check on the financials of the bid or trying to leverage the best deal for Indiana? And what if I told you that same state agency, the Indiana Finance Authority (IFA), supported the offshore bid over a homegrown, viable Hoosier bid?  You wouldn’t believe it, would you? It’s not been a week and the Australian Financial Review is now reporting experts say the IFM bid of $5.725 billion is “nuts” and should set off “warning bells” about its “uncanny parallels” to the last Australian bid in 2006 that went bankrupt. The price offered was 32 times EBITDA, well above multiples being paid for similar infrastructure assets.
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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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