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Sunday, November 19, 2017
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  • 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.
  • LaPORTE – Remember how the character George Bailey in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” was given the gift of being able to see how events would have unfolded in his hometown of Bedford Falls if he’d never been born? Well, we’re now given the “gift” of wondering what if the U.S. attorney or the Marion County prosecutor had taken up the issue of former Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Bennett’s allegedly criminal behavior in a grand jury in 2014?  Several of us, including Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott, practically pleaded in November 2013 for a grand jury to be convened, only for those pleas to fall on deaf ears including many in our own party.  How different would the political landscape look in Indiana today? It’s a question worth pondering as that timeless movie favorite starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed plays again for appreciative audiences.  Would the Legislature look a little bit more like Bedford Falls than Pottersville next year?  Would we have a few more Democrats who might have survived close races in the house of representatives and state senate? I suggest that’s the case.
  • LaPORTE – Democrats in recent cycles have won plaudits for our ability to use a good ground game to mobilize key supporters and get them to the polls. We’ve perfected the art of early voting and even in Indiana, which makes registration so difficult (30 days prior, no same-day registration), we still tend to do pretty well in our ability to urge our supporters to cast an early vote. Micro-targeting has helped as we have brought more and more young people, minorities and single women into the fold who could best be described as our base.Then why the complete, unmitigated disaster that harkened back 20 years to a similar tsunami in 1994 that swamped our candidates and left us searching scorched earth for any hopeful signs in the face of massive losses? Missing this year was a broad economic message to enthuse supporters and convert reasonable-minded independents. In my own county, we’ve used a straight party message or Punch 10 to help motivate voters and give them a reason to come out and support Democrats but were unable to link it this year to any overriding populist message at either the state or national level.
  • LaPORTE – Recent news that the Indiana Toll Road’s operators, Spain’s Cintra and Australia’s Macquarie Group Ltd,. are threatening a bankruptcy filing and that various banks and hedge funds are lining up to protect their interests in bankruptcy court should have Hoosiers scratching their heads in wonderment. Remember the unmistakable promises by our governor at the time, Mitch Daniels, who bragged that his sale (er, 75-year lease) of the toll road to a foreign consortium was the “best deal since Manhattan was sold for beads” and that if the road went belly up, the state could simply take it back. Tell us, where in the fine print is it written that bondholders, banks and lienholders now have to take a back seat to the State of Indiana as we reclaim “our” toll road?  Perhaps, you can spare a minute and give your friend, Attorney General Greg Zoeller, a call and let him know where in the agreement the state’s interests somehow trump those of the bondholders.
  • LaPORTE – In the immortal words of the late President Ronald Reagan, “There you go again!” Predictably, Bill Waltz of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce recently sent a letter to the editor to papers around the state this past week warning that talk of big business “paying its fair share” is all wet and that hard-pressed middle class homeowners need to pick up a greater share of the tax burden. Really, Bill? The legislature’s upcoming Special Commission on Tax Restructuring needs to take a hard look at how many big businesses are skating on their obligations to help fund state government and passing that obligation on to already hard-pressed Hoosiers. It’s not enough that under policies pushed by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, quality of life indexes show us dead last or nearly so for things like child protection, public schools, or our quality of infrastructure like roads and bridges.  Nah, let’s see if we can’t achieve levels of infant mortality, stunted learning and decaying roads and bridges more likely to be found in a third world country.
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  • Rokita revives residency issue against Messer
    "What's best for our family is living right here amongst our constituents, amongst our neighbors in Brownsburg, Indiana. You only have to look to [Richard] Lugar [and] Evan Bayh to see how the Indiana electorate treats someone who doesn't really live in this state and has lost touch." - U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita to WIBC’s Tony Katz, in reference to his criticism of U.S. Senate primary opponent Luke Messer, who moved his family to Washington while he serves in Congress. Messer told Katz, "The Hoosiers I talk to put their family first and they respect that a member of Congress would put their family first too.“ Sens. Lugar and Bayh lost Senate bids in 2012 and 2016 with residency one of the issues that came up during the campaign.
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  • The slitherly slope and redemption
    Here are some thoughts on the “Pervnado” that is sweeping Hollywood, Capitol Hill, newsrooms and statehouses, though things at the Indiana Statehouse have been quiet.

    Does it make a difference when a decades-old allegation comes up that the perpetrator apologizes? Particularly if there’s no specific evidence? We’ve watched Kevin Spacey, Sen. Al Franken and comedian Louis C.K. seek some measure of atonement for their inappropriate behavior, while Republican Alabama U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore, who has been accused of pedophilia, has not and remains defiant? Ditto for comedian Bill Cosby.

    As any crisis communicator will tell you, coming clean and being contrite is the better long term strategy even if one takes big losses in the short-term. And Americans have a penchant for redemption, as past controversial figures ranging from Muhammad Ali, Jane Fonda, Kobe Bryant to Barney Frank and even Presidents Clinton and Nixon eventually were restored some degree of trust and popularity.

    Is it inconsistent for U.S. Rep. Luke Messer to call for the resignation of Sen. Franken for one ribald photo and an inappropriate and slithery pass a radio personality Leanne Tweeden, while President Trump escapes a similar assessment despite a dozen or so similar complaints and the Billy Bush “Access Hollywood” tape?

    Just asking, as we watch many powerful figures tumble down the slithery slope.  - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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