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Wednesday, March 20, 2019
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    INDIANAPOLIS - In the week since his death, much has been written about Birch Bayh's time in the U.S. Senate, and his place in the pantheon of American history. This is all rightfully so, and Bayh's impact rivals that of any Hoosier to serve in our nation's capital in any capacity.

    But before he was serving Hoosiers in Washington, he was a farm boy from Vigo County serving Hoosiers in Indianapolis over four terms as a state representative. None of the obituaries give this time at the Statehouse more than a passing mention, and only then because because he served for a term as the Speaker of the House.

    I suspect this is for a few reasons. First, for most Hoosiers, the Indiana General Assembly has never been as visible as its federal counterpart. This was particularly true in the era Bayh served when the legislature only met for a barely more than two months every other year. Second, this lack of visibility and interest means there is little widely available material on the Indiana General Assembly prior to the last decade or so. Researching the goings on in our legislative bodies requires access to newspaper archives and session journals, which can typically only be found at a library. And third, none of Bayh's state legislative work product compares to authoring Constitutional Amendments or Title IX.

    But while it may be true that Bayh's time writing state law in the 1950's gave little hint of the historical magnitude to come when he started writing federal law in the 1960's, what does emerge is the beginnings of his legacy as one of the most brilliant and naturally gifted politicians our state has ever seen.

    That brilliance began to emerge during his senior year at Purdue when he was elected class president. Shortly after he graduated in 1951, he won a state public speaking competition. The national competition held in Chicago that December was won by a young woman from Oklahoma named Marvella Hern. Bayh may have lost the competition, but he won the girl; they were married less than a year later and moved to the family farm in Vigo County. More than just a spouse, she was a "political partner" that he credited with his early success. The two began laying the groundwork to launch his electoral career, and he would later tell a reporter, "Marvella is a tremendous asset. We decided to work together on my candidacy and formed a family team." 

    When they decided he would run for one of the three Vigo County state representative seats in 1954 at the age of 26, Rep. Walter Maehling took the aspiring young pol under his wing and helped show him the ropes of campaigning. He couldn't have asked for a better mentor: Maehling had just finished his second term as the House minority Leader, and had been elected to represent Vigo County in the previous six elections. The student quickly became the master, however, going door to door throughout the county with Marvella to talk with voters. 

    But Bayh's relentlessness in connecting directly with voters didn't always have a pleasant ending. After failing to find one particular precinct committeeman at his house on several occasions, Bayh finally decided one afternoon to wait in the driveway until the man came home. He fell asleep with his head on the steering wheel, and awoke after dark with a flashlight shining in his eyes and a gun in his face. As Bayh recalled, "He ordered me off his property. I couldn't see any point in arguing with a double-barreled shotgun, so I left." Nonetheless, on Election Day, the retail campaigning paid off: As popular as Maehling was, the charismatic Bayh earned 69 more votes and led the Democratic ticket countywide.

    Bayh's first session in 1955 saw him co-author five bills that would become law, though he took the lead on none and none were particularly memorable. It was on the House floor that session, though, where his star began to shine. 

    After one particular speech, the Indianapolis News ran a story under the blaring headline, "Bayh's Home Rule Fight Wins Praise." It began: "It doesn't take the politicians anytime at all to get a political career on its way. Rep. Birch Bayh ... drew high praise from Democrats and Republicans for his defense of the home rule resolution in the House Tuesday. Less than 24 hours later, comment was heard that young Bayh...may be in the running for higher offices than the General Assembly in future years."

    When Maehling announced he would step down from the Minority Leader post in 1956, Bayh quickly capitalized on the reputation growing around his political and oratory acumen. At 28 years old, and with only one term under his belt, he won a four-way race to lead the Democratic caucus. It wasn't a particularly enviable job: President Eisenhower won Indiana in a landslide in 1956, and his coattails gave Republicans a 76-24 majority in the Indiana House.

    Bayh again saw limited legislative success in the 1957 session, with another five relatively routine measures becoming law (including three he primarily authored, two of which focused on local matters in Vigo County). But two things happened after his second session that would broaden his view on writing laws. First, in the fall of 1957, he enrolled at Indiana University School of Law to begin formal training in the legal profession. Second, the Democratic wave that swept over the country in the fall of 1958 washed up on his doorstep. Indiana Republicans still controlled the governor's office, the majority of statewide offices, and the State Senate, but Democrats suddenly had a 79-21 advantage in the House. At the age of 30 and just halfway through law school, Bayh was unopposed within his caucus and became the Speaker of the House and the leader of a legislative supermajority.

    In his eloquent opening remarks of the 1959 session, Speaker Bayh mused, "To some degree at least, the title is misleading, for I will do less speaking on pending legislation than anyone else in the House." He was correct as his name wasn't on a single bill (as is typical for the chamber's leader) and he isn't recorded as giving another floor speech that session. 

    But he also used that maiden speech to set the tone and agenda for the session, focusing for one of the first times in his legislative career on broad statewide reforms. Before laying out the priorities of the Democratically-controlled House, he began with a call for bipartisanship in the midst of divided government: "The division of power between the two political parties of the state puts the test squarely before us. Are we competing as two warring parties interested in our own spoils of office, or will we strive to outdo each other in better government, better legislation, and better service to Hoosiers? Let's work together now and we'll argue about who contributed the most after the session is over."  

    By the time the session was concluded a few months later, Democrats had achieved most of the priorities laid out by Bayh. His success and rapidly rising star made him a popular speaker on the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner circuit that spring, giving him the opportunity to travel the state and form political alliances that would pay off when he ran for U.S. Senate just a few years later. As part of his stump speech, he enumerated the Democratic wins despite divided government: a new K-12 school funding formula; higher minimum salaries for K-12 teachers and college professors; new supplemental unemployment benefits; a new flood control program focused around the White River and throughout the Wabash Valley; and new comprehensive probation program to address juvenile delinquency. These represented nearly all of the goals he had mentioned in his first speech, failing only to reform the property tax system and to repeal Indiana's Right to Work law.

    He wouldn't get a second chance on those issues from the front of the chamber. After the 1960 election, Democrats lost more than half their seats and were back in the minority with only 34 members; Bayh was again elected minority leader. But his legislative focus was decidedly different: Where his pre-Speakership bills were entirely narrowly focused and parochial, in the 1961 session the bills he authored began to tackle statewide issues in big ways. He saw measures he wrote become law that reformed the way property taxes were assessed; that organized the Department of Education and further altered the school funding formula; that tackled the growing problem of narcotics on a number of fronts; and - foreshadowing his Senate career - that ratified the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which gave D.C. the right to vote in presidential elections.

    When the session ended, Bayh assessed where things stood: At just 33 years old, he had already served four terms as a state legislator, including two as the Minority Leader and one as the Speaker. Having just graduated law school, he was already emerging as one of the most influential bill writers in the Democratic caucus. He had used his leadership positions and his reputation as one of the best politicians on the Democratic bench to build a statewide network of support. He had a wife who not only supported him, but provided him with keen political advice. Their son, Evan, was now in grade school, which gave them more time to contemplate that run for the higher office that had been predicted since that home rule floor speech in his first term.

    They decided he would forgo another term in the state legislature and instead challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Homer Capehart, who was seeking an unprecedented (for Indiana) fourth term. But Bayh would first have to secure the Democratic nomination, and Indianapolis Mayor Charles Boswell was seen as the prohibitive favorite to win at the state convention because of the large Marion County delegation. 

    But Bayh had two things going in his favor ahead of the June 1962 convention. First, he drew on his experience with retail campaigning, logging what he estimated was over 70,000 miles in sixteen months to personally meet with convention delegates. Second, he had the support of new governor and old ally Matthew Welsh. Welsh had been elected Senate Minority leader at the same time Bayh became the House Minority leader in 1957; helped shepherd Bayh's Speakership agenda through the upper chamber in the same post in 1959; and then relied on Bayh to help push his own agenda through the legislature when he became Governor in 1961. 

    Despite the initial underdog status against Boswell, Bayh won so convincingly that the Indianapolis mayor left the convention a half hour before the votes were tabulated, conceding the race to reporters while getting into his car. Throughout the fall, Bayh would continue to draw on the campaign style he had perfected in his early legislative races and the run-up to the convention. All the handshaking and lapel grabbing paid dividends: When the votes were counted on November 6, he had pulled off an historic upset, ousting Capehart by just under 11,000 votes, or 0.6%.

    From here, Bayh's story is well known. In hindsight, it's hard to imagine he would have achieved as much success - either politically or legislatively -without the experience he gained during his meteoric rise int he Indiana General Assembly. And yet, until now the story of who he became as a U.S. senator has greatly overshadowed the story of how he became a U.S. Senator, the latter having been largely confined to the dusty pages of old books and microfilm. Our state and nation owe much to the late Senator; he, in turned, owed much to the Indiana General Assembly that helped turn a farm boy into a modern day Founding Father.

    Foughty publishes at Capitol&Washington.


    GNAW BONE, Ind. – Eight years ago, Hoosier Republicans gathered for their annual spring dinner and heard an endearing speech from First Lady Cheri Daniels, who talked about her love for the Indiana State Fair ranging from hand milking cows to flipping pancakes.

    It was a prelude to a potential presidential run by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, whose political career was one of distinct decorum. He never ran a negative TV ad, nor did he vilify his opponents. Several weeks later, the Daniels family decided against a White House bid (who could blame them?), a decision that if you line up a chain of hypotheticals (the governor could have won the GOP nomination, could have defeated President Obama, could have tackled historic entitlement reform) might have clipped the atmosphere that produced President Donald Trump and the coarsened political environment we stew in today.

    Thus, we summon Monty Python’s Flying Circus and John Cleese’s famous catch-phrase: And now for something completely different.

    That would be Monday night's Republican Spring Dinner, 2019 version. It featured two of President Trump’s ultimate insiders: Corey Lewandowski and Dave Bossie. The former was the first Trump campaign operative. Bossie led Citizens United and became Trump’s deputy campaign manager in 2016. 

    It was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that brought Bossie's conservative advocacy group enduring fame (or infamy), with a landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision responsible for unleashing torrents of dark money into the American political system. When I write about last year's $110 million U.S. Senate race (compared to races waged by Sens. Evan Bayh or Dan Coats that were more in the $5 million range) Bossie was the shadowy dark angel.

    Lewandowski and Bossie weren't squirting milk or flipping flapjacks. They were promising jihad and flipping the theoretical bird. “The president is going to dismantle whoever the Democrats put up,” said Bossie. “I believe in operation chaos. I’m going to impact every Democrat right up through the convention. I hope they pick Bernie Sanders, then you’re going to see capitalism versus socialism.”

    Moderated by Marty Obst, an operative close to Vice President Mike Pence who heads his advocacy political action committee, Bossie and Lewandowski tore through the American political landscape like Fujita Scale 5 tornado. They dropped s-bombs, conjured Trump on the "Billy Bush weekend,” revisited "Lyin' Ted" Cruz, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort (now a convicted felon), described former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page as a "freaky lookin' dude," and paid homage to the "hero" Mike Flynn.

    With the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia collusion investigation reportedly “imminent,” Bossie made it clear he wants the entire thing released. “We demand the Mueller report be made public,” Bossie said to a smattering of applause. “We deserve to see. We’re going to see the two sets of rules. One set of rules for Donald Trump and one for everybody else.”

    In their view, the Deep State has been at work. “Trump was never supposed to win. This was never supposed to be uncovered,” Bossie declared. In his view, the “this” was a “treasonous” coalition of the FBI from Director James Comey, Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein to Andrew McCabe, Peter Stzrok and his lover Lisa Page, along with former CIA Directors John Brennan and James Clapper, all ignoring what they called the “crimes” of Hillary Clinton. At one point, Lewandowski declared, “Rod Rosenstein is a bad guy. They abuse their power because they don’t like our politics. If you think that Comey and Clapper and Brennan and Barack Obama didn’t know about it, you’re naive.”

    “If I did it to them, it would be treason,” Lewandowski continued. “Trump was never supposed to win. This was never supposed to be uncovered. That’s what’s going on.”

    Not only do they believe Rosenstein, the Republican deputy FBI director who ordered the Mueller probe days after Trump fired Comey, is a villain, but former national security advisor Flynn “is an American patriot and a hero, and they did a number on him.”

    Describing Flynn as a “hero” was an odd twist placed before Vice President Pence’s Indiana GOP. Flynn was fired by President Trump just weeks after taking office for lying to Pence over contacts he had with the Russians during the Trump transition, which was headed by the future veep. 

    Strange times, indeed.

    Bossie brought up the “Billy Bush weekend,” in reference to the October 2016 “Access Hollywood”  tape that surfaced, many believing it would doom the Trump campaign after the billionaire was heard talking about grabbing women by their privates.

    “We’re going into that debate … everybody says it’s over and the candidate went on stage and delivered a massive blow,” Bossie said of the debate where future First Lady Melania Trump showed up wearing a fuchsia pussy bow. “We brought in all the women who had accused Bill Clinton before." This would include Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick. "It upset the whole entire Clinton operation. It was so effective. It was 99.9% Donald J. Trump. Cory and me did .01%.” 

    Trump is already setting a confrontational tone, telling Republican National Committee donors that "Democrats hate Jewish people" and saying in a Breitbart News interview, "I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad. But the left plays it cuter and tougher.” 

    That, folks, is what's in store for 2020 should President Trump survive the Mueller probe. 

    The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.
  • Craig Dunn: Hate crime bill, the GOP and LGBT

    KOKOMO – You can massage your message in caucus all you want, but it will never change the fact that the real reason that the list of proposed hate crimes was stripped out of Senate Bill 12 was because one of those hate crimes enumerated was against the LGBTQ community.  

    Many in the fundamentalist Christian community in Indiana believe passionately that any recognition of the existence of the LGBTQ community is tantamount to governmental acceptance of a lifestyle that they find to be abhorrent, unnatural and against the commandments of the Holy Bible. In addition, these people believe this is just another sinister piece of legislation that will continue to chip away at their cherished beliefs and ultimately be used to impair their religious freedoms.

    How do I know this? I read their views on a daily basis. Over the last few years, I have built a tidy sum of Facebook friends who represent a fairly wide spread of political beliefs. Many of the people who I consider to be close friends share the belief that SB12, which originally contained a list of groups protected by the legislation, will be turned against the community of Biblically faithful. Yes, these are the same people who had a conniption fit over the RFRA legislation. I respect their views, but I certainly don’t agree with them.

    Opponents of hate crimes legislation are quick to tell you that there are already laws on the books that protect everyone, not just a few listed groups. They will also tell you that judges may take hate into consideration when they consider sentencing. Both of these are true, but they are disingenuous at best and fail to recognize the realities of our modern criminal justice system that rarely sees criminal offenses go to trial. Instead, crimes are bargained down to lower offenses and the judges may not get to apply any additional considerations.

    The fact is that there are some crimes that are exclusively motivated by hate and they need to be dealt with as such.  

    As I drive around this great state, I frequently see rail cars, overpasses and abandoned buildings with graffiti spray-painted on them. Each of these acts of vandalism is a crime. However, you simply cannot say that spray-painting an overpass is the moral equivalent of painting a swastika on a synagogue. Defacing a synagogue is a heinous act and must be treated by our laws as such.

    If I haul some fallen limbs over into my next door neighbor’s front yard and light them on fire, I have certainly broken existing laws. If that wood happens to be a cross and if my neighbors happen to be black, then I believe that it is a far different crime and worthy of its own consideration.

    There is a difference between assault committed against a random victim and assault committed against someone solely because of their race, nationality or sexual orientation. I know, the physical act of the crime is the same, but there is a significant differentiation that should be spelled out in statute.

    The opponents of hate crimes legislation spend lots of time and energy parsing words and legalese to defend their position. Most of these opponents fail to express the true underlying reason for their opposition. This reluctance extends into the bowels of the General Assembly. The truth looks very ugly when the thin veneer of legalese is stripped away. I believe that the average opponent of hate crimes legislation would be just fine with a list that included crimes against someone committed solely because of race, religion, nationality or gender. The elephant in the room is the adamant stance of the religious right against recognition of the LGBTQ community as a unique class of people. Simply put, this is RFRA 2.0 and the cast of characters and usual suspects is the same.

    Gov. Eric Holcomb has bravely gone where many fear to tread. A significant element in the Republican Party is completely and vehemently against hate crimes legislation. This is a battle that Gov. Holcomb does not have to fight. His sky-high job approval ratings and personal popularity give him a virtual lock on a second term in 2020. Why in this world would the governor spend political capital on an issue that is far more popular in the Democrat Party than among his political base? 

    The answer is simple. Great leaders lead whether it is popular or not. Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing to do. Gov. Holcomb knows and embraces the fact that he is governor of everyone in the state and, as such, must lead his people in the proper direction, whether or not they want to go there.

    Indiana is one of only a handful of states that does not have hate crimes legislation on the books. Even Texas, that rock-solid Bible Belt bastion of believers, has hate crimes legislation that lists the protected groups. No one would accuse Texas of slipping into some trap set by the godless, liberal army of Satan that won’t rest until each of our children has been grabbed and forced into government-promoted homosexuality. No, the good ole boys and gals in the Lone Star State still cling to their Bibles and recognize what’s right is right and what’s wrong just ain’t Texan.

    If the Hoosier State is to be recognized as the best state in our country to locate a business, work, raise a family and pursue life, liberty and happiness, we simply must shed the political manacles which bind us to petrifying sameness. It is not enough in these highly competitive economic times to point to a great tax structure in an effort to attract good employers. Businesses are looking for the moral equivalent of a Happy Meal. They want the burger, fries, shake and the toy in the box. They demand it and they will get it from someone. If we truly want to recruit great corporations to our state, we will need to recognize the realities of the world we live in. This is not a masked attack on conservative Christian values or just another step in a degenerative progression into the abyss.  It is merely what is good and what is right.

    I don’t normally look to the Indiana legislature for examples of courage or leadership. Many key legislators spend their careers being spooked by political shadows real and imaginary. Individually, the overwhelming number of Republican legislators know what is right. They are good people, people of honor and integrity.  

    Unfortunately, our political system rewards those who make the most noise and the noise of opposition is definitely louder than the noise of change. In time, I believe that my grandchildren will study Indiana government and read about the heroes of change within the Republican Party who put people above politics. Gov. Holcomb is one of those heroes. Here’s hoping that other heroes will step forward out of the shadows of the insecure and into the light of the morally brave. 

    Dunn is the former Howard County Republican chairman.
  • Rich James: Hate bill creates strange bedfellows
    MERRILLVILLE — Talk about strange bedfellows. The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus and Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb are in lockstep on a bias crime bill.

    The Democratic legislators have joined Holcomb in his quest to have the Indiana House restore a list of protected classes to a bias crime bill. Such a bill would give victims substantially more standing in court.

    The bill would protect all Hoosiers regardless of race, religion, sex, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry, age or sexual orientation.

    Those classes were in the bill until a private meeting of Republican senators took them out and made the legislation rather generic.

    Let there be no doubt that what the senators wanted out of the bill was the term “sexual orientation.” It all brings me back to when Mike Pence was governor of Indiana and desperately fought the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community.

    He even went on television and embarrassed himself while trying to appear unbiased.

    It’s no wonder Pence ended up being a pawn for Donald Trump who is one of the most prejudiced presidents in the history of the country.

    If legislators ignore the governor and the black Democrats and pass a meaningless bias crime bill, Indiana will remain one of five states in the nation without a bias crime statute.

    We can be thankful Holcomb is governor or Indiana wouldn’t have a chance to join the 45 other states who care enough about their residents to have adopted a bias crime bill that means something.

    Holcomb continues to amaze Democrats who often see him as one of their own on key issues. 

    Rich James has been writing about politics and government for 40 years. He is retired from the Post-Tribune, a newspaper born in Gary.
  • Linda Chezem: Shiny objects and felons for the homestretch
    MARTINSVILLE – “Round and round it goes, where it stops, nobody knows” is a line from the “Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour.”  

    Kris Kristofferson sings a mighty fine song about not knowing where she stops. Sometimes not knowing where it stops is OK. But for law and policy, not so much! Our Spidey Sense should be tingling as the Indiana General Assembly works on its second-half pass. Other than knowing sine die will happen, who knows what we will have when the lawmakers stop? We do not know what the final version of a bill will be. Which of the shiny object bills will go to the governor? What will the consequences be if those bills are signed into law?

    “Shiny object” is a label for a bill that seems to accomplish something that sounds good to the public but either does nothing, costs more than it’s worth, or is detrimental in some way no one considered. For example, Senate Bill 36 is a shiny object bill that passed with a vote of 40 yeas and 9 nays to create an Indiana felony registry.  

    How can anyone expect a legislator to vote against something that voters believe will “protect” them from felons? The appearance of doing something against crime gives shine to the bill, but the public does not know the extent of the information already available from Indiana courts’ case management system, Odyssey. Never mind the fact that Odyssey already provides more detailed information than the proposed registry will.

    I disagree with the recent letter to the editor of the Indianapolis Star that alleged “the intent of Head’s registry is to weaponize felony records in the service of public shaming.” A more likely and more fair assumption is that Sen. Randy Head was asked to carry the bill and he was acting in “good guy” mode.   

    I really do not believe the thought of weaponizing felony records would even occur to most people, politicians or otherwise. Indiana legislators (with maybe a couple of exceptions) are not nefarious folk, plotting against the interests of Hoosier voters. The ones I know and talk to are hardworking and sincere about doing good for the rest of us.

    The House could do better to understand who pleads guilty to felonies these days and why those pleas are entered before setting up a new shiny object. Felony pleas are not just entered from robbers, murders, rapists, and bad actors.  

    In Indiana, for someone with an alcohol or drug abuse problem or a mental illness, accepting a guilty plea may be their only path to access treatment services. Failure to examine the unintended consequences of the registry could be exacerbated by the passage of another shiny object bill that is seemingly unrelated.  House Bill 1615 amends Indiana penalty for animal abuse from a Class A misdemeanor to a Level 6 felony (I.C. 35-46-3-12). 

    If both bills become law, it is likely that guilty pleas to felonies by people suffering from the mental illness of hoarding (Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) will increase. Cruelty to people with disabilities is not acceptable, and stigmatizing those defendants with mental illness by listing them on a felony registry is not innocuous.    

    Do not misunderstand this comment. I am not in favor of animal abuse. I would never put my dog in a pet purse where it cannot freely move its limbs. Nor do I think a felony registry should prey on the mentally ill. Anecdotally, I know that many of the 500 or so animal abuse and neglect cases that are filed in Indiana each year involve hoarding. 

    A felony registry is a poor use of taxpayer funded resources. If SB36 is intended for employers to use as a subterfuge to refuse to hire former offenders, it makes a joke of the “ban the box” Senate Bill 312 and the executive order signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb in 2017. Actually, this whole discussion leads to questions beyond my allotted word count.  

    Indiana needs a good study of mental illness and the justice system. Many of the published studies that I have reviewed were based on a funding agenda that impeded their usefulness. Those studies are not valid to inform effective legislation and policy for the justice system. So, we stumble from shiny object law to shiny object policy. The real people who are trying to live in this justice system fantasy land are set up for failure. Throwing money at the justice system problems is foolhardy because there will never be enough money without a more informed approach to the systems. The lack of understanding of the role of mental illness and drug abuse in the justice system costs us all, big time. The combined effect of SB8 and HB1615, although seemingly innocuous, would bring unintended cruelty toward vulnerable populations of the mentally ill and drug and alcohol dependent.  This surely does not reflect the kindheartedness of Hoosiers. 

    Simply ditching the felony registry and  HB1615’s felony penalties would provide not only a kinder and better use of resources but lend integrity to the “ban the box” policy promoted by Gov. Holcomb. 

    Chezem is a former Indiana Appellite Court judge and practices law in Martinsville. She writes on legal and agriculture issues for HPI. 
  • Jack Colwell: Trump's reelection chances improve
    SOUTH BEND  — President Trump has been looking better. This isn’t leading to some joke about more yellow in his unique hairdo. Nor is it satire. The president’s chances for reelection have been looking better. Not great. Better.

    It’s true. His approval ratings, though certainly not sparkling, improved in polls after his State of the Union address, mistakenly thought by many Democrats to be a disaster for Trump.

    And it wasn’t just an overnight bump in ratings. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted at the end of February showed Trump with an approval rating of 46%.

    OK, disapproval was higher, 52%.

    But remember when Trump’s approval ratings were below 40%? And some pundits thought he was left with nothing but a base that was chipping away? That he couldn’t climb beyond support by just a third of the voters?

    The NBC/WSJ poll showed approval had climbed from 43 to 46% since January and disapproval had declined from 54 to 52%.

    Most significant of all, the poll found that 88% of Republicans approved of the job Trump is doing. If Republican support remains so high – and Democrats wrangle and rupture over a Green New Deal or hard feelings from the primaries once again – Trump could win a second term.

    Prediction that he will win reelection? No. Just saying that he could.

    Trump faces serious woes with the work of Robert Mueller, investigations by House committees and continued revelations from Michael Cohen, his long-time fixer. A new poll showed Cohen is regarded by most Americans as more truthful than the president.

    Yet, even if investigators find that “smoking gun,” will his base believe it? And would over 80% of Republicans, even though many don’t condone his personal conduct, still find it better to vote for him rather than for a Democratic nominee allied with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and socialism?

    Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster participating in the bipartisan NBC/WSJ survey, concluded: “It’s 45-55 against the president at this stage of the game.” Kind of like Trump’s chances in some 2016 forecasts.

    Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster also participating for NBC/WSJ, noted: “As long as these economic numbers look like this, that always keeps an incumbent president in the race.”

    An analyst for Sabato’s Crystal Ball, projecting the Electoral College results that decide the presidency, found that the race starts with 248 electoral votes at least leaning Republican, 244 at least leaning Democratic and 46 votes in the toss-up category.

    It could be close.

    The NBC/WSJ poll also asked a question that sheds some light on why Trump improved in ratings after the State of the Union address and on the reason for his strategy of denouncing socialism and blaming it for the chaos in Venezuela.

    When asked the least desirable characteristics for a presidential candidate, the voters offered almost no objections to an African-American or a woman and not much concern about a person who is gay or lesbian. The most objectionable characteristics by far were being over 75, with 62% citing that as negative, and being a socialist, with 72% turned off by that.

    As Nate Silver, guru of electoral results prognosticating, put it: “Socialist goals (e.g. greater income redistribution) are often quite popular. But ‘socialism’ as a brand or label is really unpopular.”

    Really, really, really unpopular with the Republicans Trump will need to keep in his camp in order to prevail again in the Electoral College, even if he again loses the popular vote nationally.

    Trump looking better? Well, he had been. But a new sampling, a Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday, showed he could be slipping again after the Cohen revelations. His approval was down to 38% in that poll.

    Still, it showed Republican approval solid at 82%, a key to possible Electoral College survival. 

    Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.
  • Morton Marcus: Happy news about Indiana workers
    INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s another bundle of happy news about Indiana’s workers. This time it covers a 10-year span, including both the recession and the recovery. We’ll compare Indiana’s labor force in 2007 with 2017. Yes, it would be more interesting to use 2018 data, but they are being checked and prepared for distribution.

    Happy item #1: Of Indiana’s 92 counties, 88 have seen their number of unemployed persons decrease by a combined total of 30,700.

    Happy item #2: Only four counties (Hamilton, Porter, Hendricks, and Boone) saw the number unemployed increase. So small were these few increases that they totaled only 1,100 persons. It was also these four counties that led the state in increased employment and increased labor force. Were these small increases in the number unemployed just a timing factor as many people flocked to these counties where job growth was so plentiful?

    Happy item #3: The number of employed Hoosiers increased in 50 counties by 178,300. Boone had a 26% increase, Hamilton 25%, Steuben 24.8%. Also enjoying increases of 15% or more were Gibson, LaGrange and Decatur. 

    Question #1: Was the state’s economy healthy when 42 counties saw a decrease in the number of employed persons? Five counties (Orange, Jay, Blackford, Owen and Warren) each had losses of 15% or more in the number employed. Most people will be able to tell you what happens in a growing county. Is it worth examining what happens in places where the number employed is decreasing?

    Happy item #4: The labor force in 43 counties grew by a total 160,200 persons. This increase was less than the 177,000 growth in the number employed. This means the number unemployed in those counties fell by 16,800.

    Question #2: Why did the labor force in 49 Indiana counties decline by a total of 47,400? Did these people move where the jobs were available or did they give up on finding a job, and why?

    Happy item #5: The rate of unemployment statewide fell from 4.6% to 3.5% and declined in 89 Indiana counties. Porter, Warren and Switzerland alone had higher unemployment rates in ’17 than in ’07.

    Question #3: Do counties matter? Should we focus on the state as a whole and not worry about disparities among counties? Labor is mobile, can adjust to changing conditions, and is not constrained by county lines. Perhaps a regional approach is more consistent with reality. 

    Question #4: Does such thinking neglect fundamental aspects of worker preferences? Does the labor market reflect family and community ties? 

    Happy item #6: Our Indiana economic or workforce regions are composed of counties. Therefore, regional data are easily aggregated from available county data.   

    Question #5: Are our Indiana regions based on administrative fatigue rather than the best model for forming regions?

    Discuss these questions with a stranger. They are guaranteed to build friendships. 

    Mr. Marcus is an economist. Reach him at Follow his views and those of John Guy on “Who gets what?” wherever podcasts are available or at 
  • Michael Hicks: Lessons from an economic conference
    MUNCIE  — I spent much of last week at the policy meeting of the National Association of Business Economics in Washington, D.C. The theme of the conference was the dual considerations of promoting global economic growth and domestic economic security. So, it should come as little surprise that discussions of short-run economic projections, trade wars, tax cuts and the underlying factors that cause economic growth dominated the agenda. 

    I’m not a business economist, but I was heartened by how much focus on the longer-term growth seemed to worry most of the crowd. American business seems to suffer perennial critiques of its focus on short-run profits, but the talk last week among business economists was almost wholly about the absence of solid long-run economic growth. I could not visit all the talks, but found two elements very intriguing, and worth sharing in this column.

    There was a lot of discussion about the debt, the deficit and recent tax cuts. Nearly all the speakers warned about continued deficit spending, but were split on how much deficit reduction should come from tax cuts and entitlement reforms. Nearly all favored some of both. 

    Paul Krugman argued that the current very low interest rates made case for more borrowing on some key items like infrastructure improvement. He pointed out that Japan’s debt-to-GDP ratio was more than twice ours. He noted that as long as we borrowed in our own currency the drag of debt repayment was less than the benefit of infrastructure spending. He did acknowledge the political difficulty of this point, along with dismissing Modern Monetary Theory, which has been used to argue a free lunch in deficit spending. 

    Nearly all the macroeconomic discussion centered around the current very slow economic growth, which has averaged just 2.2% since the end of the Great Recession. The very real puzzle over slow wage growth also lacks a consensus opinion. At least two speakers, including Alan Greenspan, attributed the current rise of populism on the left and right to the astonishingly slow economic growth that has gripped us for more than a decade. 

    The trouble with these macroeconomic musings is the lack of data from which to draw robust conclusions. Theory is important, but not conclusive. That is far less a problem in micro economics, and I thought the discussions of economic growth most interesting when micro economists outlined their research.

    The condition of state budgets was an interesting session. Many states are struggling with revenues after nine years of growth. While a small share of states face deep structural problems with pension debt, nearly everyone struggles to add money to education or health care. That is uniformly disappointing after nine years in economic recovery. 

    A session on manufacturing outlined how slow productivity growth has been in the post-recession years. This has caused employment to grow in the short run, but makes sustained employment growth in factories highly unlikely. That should be cause for concern across the Midwest. 

    My favorite session was the one from which I learned the most. It featured Susan Dynarski and Susan Helper, two well-known economics professors who research human capital. They spoke mostly about post-secondary educational outcomes. Dynarski rebutted much of the current belief in a “college bubble.” She explained how and why college attendance and graduation levels were too low, and that the U.S. failed to make college access sufficiently available to lower income students. It was a very refreshing antidote to many of the popular, but data-starved arguments that the U.S. has too many college graduates. 

    I continue to argue that since nearly all wage and employment growth is accruing to college graduates, that should be an obvious point. Dynarski framed the discussion differently, pointing out how much human capital was left on the table through unequal college access. It was a strong point, clearly supported by her research and others. Susan Helper added a helpful rebuttal to the falsity of “too much education.” 

    Explaining that nearly every job benefits from more formal education, she used the agriculture example. Today, the majority of farmers in the world are barely literate, often producing only a few hundreds of dollars of food each year. In the most agriculturally productive country on earth, most farmers have a bachelor’s degree, and master’s degrees are common. Education can improve productivity in any profession. My hour spent listening to these women made the trip well worth my time. 

    I left the conference believing that there was much agreement among economists on the concerns of the day, and surprising consensus on remedies. I’m equally convinced that there’s no political agreement on the problems, much less the solutions. That has me expecting much more of the same in the years to come. 

    Hicks, PhD, is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and the George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University. 
  • Brian Howey: Mayor Pete going nationwide

    NASHVILLE, Ind. – At 9 Sunday evening, Mayor Pete truly goes nationwide. That’s when Pete Buttigieg is featured on a televised CNN town hall, live from Austin, Tex.

    The South Bend mayor is attempting one of the most audacious political paths in history, which would be jumping from leading a city of 100,000 population, a $360 million budget and a thousand employees to the presidency with a $4 trillion budget and millions of workers. 

    Most politicians aiming for the White House have a statewide or urban political base. Buttigieg has skipped that step, though his unsuccessful 2010 run for Indiana treasurer is the source of an early chapter in his book “Shortest Way Home.”

     “The very first time I put my name on the ballot for office, fully one million people had voted for the other guy,” Buttigieg notes. “I had received a priceless if humbling course of education, a fitting conclusion to a decade of learning.” 
    Ten weeks after that defeat, fate would intervene. Four-term mayor Steve Luecke announced he would retire and Newsweek would name South Bend No. 8 in a story titled “America’s Dying Cities,” explaining: “What is particularly troubling for this small city is that the number of young people declined 2.5 percent during the previous decade, casting further doubt on whether this city will ever be able to recover.” 

    The river city reaction on Facebook was one of doom and gloom, except for one classmate, who said, “If you live here, quit complaining and do something to fix this town.”

    Buttigieg realized an opportunity along with the risk of possibly losing two races in the span of a year. “The city’s needs matched what I had to offer,” he writes. “The city was fearful of losing its educated youth, and I was a young person who had chosen to come home and could encourage others to do the same. Its politics were mired in the struggle between two factions of the Democratic Party, each with its own candidate in the race. I belonged to no faction and could arrive without strings attached. And the administration struggled to generate economic growth and maintain confidence in the business community, I had a professional background in economic development and was fluent in the language of business. 

    “This didn’t just feel like an opportunity; it felt like a calling,” he said. “When he announced his candidacy, he cited the Newsweek article, declaring, “This is not an occasion for denial, it is a call to action.” 

    He won a five-way Democratic primary and the general election, commencing eight years of executive leadership. 

    How did he do? 

    Census numbers showed population increases after decades of contraction. He had once pondered blowing up the empty 25-story Chase Tower, but there’s a new owner and $30 million in investment and another hotel going into the vacated College Football Hall of Fame. The Studebaker complex ruins are now occupied by high tech and aerospace firms.

    Like any city, South Bend has plenty of urban problems. Asked how he took on a murder rate that in 2015 was 29th highest in the nation, Buttigieg explained, “Gun violence starts with a shockingly small group of people ... you can find connections with those people, almost all of them young, almost all of them men. With today’s social network technology, you can literally figure out who is friends with who, who respects who, who listens to who. We can kind of predict who those 200 people are in a 100,000 (person) city, who are most likely to shoot somebody. 

    “We literally bring them into a room ... we basically we say, ‘We need you alive, safe and out of jail. Here’s what will happen if you let us guide you to social services. Here’s what will happen if you are associated with the next homicide in the city.’” That approach brought the 2018 homicide total to 12.

    There were thousands of abandoned homes and confronting that finds the crux of Buttigieg’s leadership. “We had so many vacant houses in South Bend, nobody could tell me how many we had,” he explained. “We started methodically analyzing data. There was a goal almost childlike in its simplicity: I went out there and said, ‘We’re going to (raze) a thousand houses in a thousand days.’ To be honest, I didn’t know completely how we were going to get it done. The moment I did that, I had a political sword dangling over my head.”

    At Day 500, he was way behind and he knew it. On Day 1,000, “We were at 1,122.”

    So Sunday night Mayor Pete brings that style to America on CNN. A Morning Consult Poll gives him a 1 percent chance of nomination. 

    He told me at his IUPUI book reading, “We were trying to keep our expectations low just because I’m not famous compared to most of the others. A lot of these early states don’t know me, but the events in these early states have exceeded my expectations in terms of attendance. As I watch the faces rise and fall and the groups I’m speaking to, I can tell a lot of my message, especially the generational message, seems to be resonating.”

    On Sunday, Mayor Pete’s message will be going nationwide.

    The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.
  • Rich James: Moving Gary casinos is a good endeavor
    MERRILLVILLE – This isn’t exactly what Gary legislators Earline Rogers and Charlie Brown envisioned when they introduced casino legislation almost 25 years ago. But the casino legislation pending today may accomplish many of the same goals.

    The casinos were intended to pull Gary out of a financial depression and employment crisis. But the two casinos at the city’s far northwest side at Buffington Harbor never pulled in enough gamblers to achieve Gary’s goals.

    But the current proposal to move one of Gary’s licenses to a land-based site – likely along the Borman Expressway – and move the second to Terre Haute may accomplish some of the goals of the early 1990s.

    A land-based casino along Indiana’s busiest highway should bring in the kind of money the city of Gary needs to help get out of financial ruin.

    While it might result in economic growth around the casino and hotel, it won’t bring economic development to downtown Gary as originally hoped.

    But it could bring tremendous economic development to Buffington Harbor on Lake Michigan with the creation of an intermodal operation involving rail, air, water and highway for the transportation of goods.

    The value of such a development should not be overlooked. Few locations in the country have such a mixture of transportation modes in one location.

    What is impressive about the casino proposal is that it is sponsored by Sen. Mark Messmer who lives in Jasper, far from Northwest Indiana.

    It is refreshing to see that a legislator from southern Indiana cares enough about Gary to take a stand. While things have passed the Senate, they still must win the approval of the House.

    Already, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has said he is opposed because the legislation is an expansion of gambling. Bosma’s stand reminds me of decades ago when downstate legislators were opposed to most things that would be a positive for Northwest Indiana.

    Hopefully the House will go along with the proposal.

    Messmer said, “It will help our existing casino operators be more competitive and will maximize our ability as a state to benefit from increased gaming revenues to our general fund, without increasing the number of licenses and staying within the caps that were established in 2013 for the number of positions at each facility.”

    State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, said the $300 million land-based casino will provide 400 new jobs.

    And, jobs were what Rogers and Brown were focused on when they launched the push for casinos.

    Making Indiana casinos more attractive should help ward off the coming competition from Illinois, Melton said. 

    Rich James has been writing about politics and government for 40 years. He is retired from the Post-Tribune, a newspaper born in Gary.
  • Jack Colwell: Birch Bayh's Electoral College challenge
    SOUTH BEND – Former Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana, author of the 25th Amendment on presidential disability, an amendment now in the news, almost brought about another constitutional change that would have abolished the Electoral College. What a difference that would have made.

    “In the future, the American people – rather than the faceless, undemocratic Electoral College – should choose the two highest officials in this land,” said Bayh back in 1977 as he spoke at a Senate hearing on his proposed amendment to provide for the direct popular election of the president and vice president.

    There was bipartisan support then. Bayh, a Democrat who came close at times in over a decade of trying to get the two-thirds vote in the Senate needed to send the proposal on for ratification by the states, had the backing then of such prominent Republicans as Bob Dole and Howard Baker.

    But filibusters or the threat thereof, mostly by senators from small states and in particular southern states wanting to keep clout in the Electoral College, always halted the proposed amendment.

    Some Democrats, including South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, in his candidacy for the party’s presidential nomination, now urge another try to replace the Electoral College with a direct popular vote. Buttigieg notes that Bayh came close, a sign that it’s possible.

    Chances of a bipartisan effort now, however, are remote. The reason is that the danger Bayh warned of in 1977 – “electoral roulette” bringing election of a president who actually lost in the total popular vote – has happened twice since then.

    In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won by more than a half-million votes over Republican George W. Bush in nationwide voting, but Bush won the presidency in the Electoral College when Florida was found in a Supreme Court decision to have gone his way. In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton won more than five times bigger than Gore had in the popular vote, by 2,868,686 votes over Republican Donald Trump. As we know, Trump won “huge” in the Electoral College.

    So, since that “electoral roulette” has spun twice in favor of a Republican, what are the chances of Republicans in Congress now joining in a bipartisan two-thirds vote in the House and Senate to send repeal of the Electoral College on to the states for ratification?

    The reason for bipartisan support back when Bayh almost pushed through his amendment was that nobody knew then which party might win the most votes and still lose in the Electoral College, where each state has a number of electors equal to members in its congressional delegation.

    After all, it had looked in 1960 as though Republican Richard Nixon might get the most votes and still lose to Democrat John Kennedy. Nixon finally fell short by just 112,827 votes nationally. So, Kennedy just barely won in both the popular vote and with electors.

    Before the Electoral College became so defined now as a Republican institution, Donald Trump in 2012 labeled it as “a disaster for democracy.” Trump mistakenly thought it would lead to President Barack Obama winning reelection unfairly in the Electoral College. The theory was that black voters would swing enough support to Obama in some big states to enable him to win, even though a vast majority of American voters had turned against him.

    Partisan political advantages aside, one of the most persuasive reasons to abandon the Electoral College is that if no presidential candidate gets a majority of the electors, selection of the president goes to the House of Representatives. And each state has one vote.

    A strong independent candidate winning a state or two could send the selection to the House in an era of crumbling congressional approval. Electoral roulette? That would be Russian roulette, playing with a gun pointed at democracy. 

    Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.

  • Michael Hicks: Some unpleasant news on education spending
    MUNCIE — Indiana’s General Assembly is working through some details on the final education budget, and there are issues that merit discussion. Be warned, this column is likely to leave most folks a bit flustered. Facts are unfriendly to badly informed opinions. 

    I begin by noting that the State of Indiana does not pay teachers. The State of Indiana funds K-12 education, and school boards pay teachers. It is critical to be clear about this, and not submit to the temptation of silly retail politics. This is important because school boards make decisions that affect teacher pay. For example, almost four out of every 10 school corporations in Indiana are so small that overhead costs eat a disproportionate amount of state funding. In these places, consolidating corporations would free up money to keep local schools open and pay teachers better. 

    Most other teacher pay decisions are likewise part of a school board’s job. Statewide, the data are clear; there is no teacher shortage. However, in many school corporations, finding and keeping the teachers those schools need is very difficult. Folks, if your school corporation is too small to attract the teachers you need, the problem isn’t in Indianapolis, it is at your school board. That is the place to start the pay and budget discussion.  

    It is worth noting the overall issue of teacher pay. The best data I have seen concludes that Indiana teachers are paid less than the average in surrounding states. It is almost certain that some of this is erased after comparing teachers in similar communities, but it does raise some important questions. Most importantly, it is nearly impossible to compare salaries between public sector occupations. For example, an Army second lieutenant makes less than $29,000 in a nine-month salary. That is about $6,000 less than the starting wages for a teacher. 

    Whether or not Indiana teacher salaries are too high or too low is nearly impossible to determine. Moreover, I don’t think it is the real issue. The real issue is how the state is allocating resources on developing human capital. Getting the state better aligned on these issues will have to wait until the next budget session, but it is worth reviewing some ugly budget issues that are coming to pass this year. 

    This biennium budget is designed for the 10th year of economic expansion, the longest on record. Yet, we seemingly have real budget struggles. How can that be? One possible answer is that we tax ourselves too little, but I’ll save that for another column. Another answer is that we are spending far too much remediating the ill effects of poor education, and too little preventing poor education. 

    To help figure this, I’ll compare the budget for 2010 and 2017, which is after the changes to the tax laws that began in 2008, through the most recent year of data that is available. I adjust for inflation using the consumer price index. Over this time, per student spending on K-12 rose 0.45%. That amounts to about $5.19 per student in extra spending each year. Per student spending on higher education declined by 11.4%, or roughly $93.60 per year. Over the same time spending on the big three poverty programs, Medicaid, TANF and other cash assistance, rose by a whopping 42%. At the same time, the number of people in poverty declined by 67,000 people. On a per capita basis, these programs rose in cost by 52.7%, or $183.8 per year. 

    Moreover, the current budget allocates large increases in funding to Department of Child Services, ostensibly to deal more effectively with the opioid crisis. There is also more funding for community and technical education based on little more than the dubious claim of a worker shortage, especially in low wage jobs. So here comes the indelicate revelation about this spending. 

    Nearly all spending on Medicaid, TANF (welfare), other cash assistance programs, DCS, FSSA and much of CTE training addresses some form of the same problem; too little basic education. 

    Spending more money on education will not be a panacea, as legislators well understand. Still, it is a lot cheaper to help fix the problems of poverty by better educating three- to eight-year-olds than it is to wait until they are adults and barrage them with public assistance and training programs designed for jobs, not careers. 

    In roughly four months from now, the US will be in its 10th year of economic expansion. This should be a time of innovative and forward-looking public policy. It should be a time when we tackle our most vexing problems with budgets full of tax revenues. This should be a time of investment in the very distant future where we have resources enough to make sure every kid can read, every high school graduate is college ready, and career opportunities (not simply job opportunities) are available to every adult. 

    This is my budget wish for the next biennium. 

    Michael J. Hicks, PhD, is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and the George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University. 
  • Morton Marcus: The self-righteous can be wrong
    INDIANAPOLIS – I spend too much time with old folks like me, folks who interpret the world through fantasies born of their experiences. They and I have hardening of the intellect as a result of inadequate interactions with the diverse people of our communities.

    Take the self-righteous conservatives and liberals with whom I associate and identify. They (we) think they (we) understand today’s world because they (we) lived in yesterday’s world.

    Conservatives view the world through cataracts that cloud the subtleties of life. Liberals wear lenses that put halos around strangers. But both “know” the truth and have inflexible remedies to cure all ailments.  

    Take the imbalance between the demand for labor and the supply of labor. In the 19th Century version of economics, an imbalance cannot exist; wages will adjust so that supply and demand come into balance and blessed equilibrium will prevail.

    If this holy state does not exist, according to 20th Century economics, it is the result of “sticky wages.” That is the failure of employers to raise wages and/or the failure of workers to lower their expectations. 

    More recent thinking of conservatives and liberals blames government. Governments fail to educate workers to the needs of business today. Public schools fail to inculcate “business-friendly” values among students, such as punctuality, deference to authority, and good grooming. Public transit doesn’t get low-paid workers to employment opportunities. Governments impose health, safety, and environmental rules that kill jobs. Simultaneously, governments fail to enforce health, safety, and environmental rules to protect workers and the general public.

    In addition, government is weak in yielding to the demands of business/labor. Business subsidies are freely given under the fiction that business operates in the public interest. Labor subsidies are governmental payoffs for votes; how else can one explain a minimum wage?

    This mismatch between jobs and workers could be solved by business accepting responsibility. Employers (public and private) do not offer much training for new hires. Our society operates on the premise workers are responsible for being “work-ready” at the time of employment.

    Consider the teacher: He graduates with an education degree plus a few hours of classroom experience and is tossed into a teeming pot of teen hormones without any protection. Mentors are few, guidance is scarce. He is responsible for any further education or specialization.

    Employers’ expectations are often unrealistic. Most are unwilling to change how they recruit their workforce. Similarly, they decline to pay either the taxes for public education or the fees/wages to support private training. Unions and other collectives could provide such training in many fields, but organizational inertia dominates the dynamic labor market.  

    Fresh eyes connected to open minds are what we need for the many boards and committees operating under the name of workforce development. 

    Mr. Marcus is an economist. Reach him at Follow his views and those of John Guy on “Who gets what?” wherever podcasts are available or

    OXFORD, England – On Thursday, Jan. 24, the State Senate voted 31-17 to pass Senate Bill 132, which would make it a graduation requirement for high school students to pass the same civics exam given to immigrants to the United States. The bill now faces consideration in the House. (Full disclosure: My dad, John, a state senator, was a cosponsor.)

    Senate Democrats, in unified opposition to the bill, raised concerns that instituting another graduation requirement, without any supporting resources, wouldn’t have the desired effect. Instead of more knowledgeable citizens, the argument goes, this mandate would only encourage “teaching to the test” and erect another barrier to graduation for students in under-resourced rural and urban schools.

    These concerns are valid, and they counsel against Senate Republicans’ bid to require testing without any supporting provisions. However, the need to boost civics education is too important for Indiana Democrats to sit on the sidelines. With some tweaking, it’s the perfect cause for Democrats to champion.

    SB132 has started an important conversation. We’ve all heard the statistics: Only 26% of Americans can correctly identify the three branches of the U.S. government; apathy and disengagement are ubiquitous. Report after report from organizations on the left and right alike have been sounding the alarm, and as polarization has increased, it has only grown louder. Against this background, a bevy of states have turned to civics education, with 17 requiring a test and eight requiring a minimum score for graduation – all since 2015.

    Republicans would like Indiana to become the ninth – but their proposal needs work. As is, SB132 won’t do much to instill robust habits of citizenship; and it will hurt graduation rates, most acutely in already struggling schools.

    A better policy would follow two principles. First, civics learning should be experiential as well as fact-based. The current bill would only require students to memorize answers to a set of predetermined questions about U.S. history and governmental structure. Facts are essential, but making students cram for a single test won’t by itself make them more engaged citizens.

    Instead, we should incorporate exercises in defining and solving community problems. Effective civics education must combine the basic understanding of government with an understanding that our own actions as citizens are the basis of that same government. There’s room for flexibility here: Imagine the formative effects of having teams of students research an issue and discuss it with government officials. Knowledge without experience is impotent; experience without knowledge will be ineffective.

    Second, civics must be meaningfully supported by the state. Additional resources are required, and potentially assistance with content development and skill identification – both services provided by the Colorado Department of Education, for example. 

    Teaching the responsibilities of democracy is a basic state duty, but also a sound investment. A citizenry that is more knowledgeable, more engaged, and more willing to stand up for the greater good will make for a better Indiana.

    Democrats were right to oppose SB132’s additional mandate on our schools. But now they must be proactive in proposing a better approach. Civics knowledge is simply essential, and there’s a strong case from the left for better civics education.

    This issue reflects a concern for the underpinnings of democracy, a concern which Democrats have embraced with gusto. Consider HR1, U.S. House Democrats’ symbolic first bill, which advocates redistricting efforts, campaign-finance reform, and increased voter access. Given that recent Republican dogma points away from all those issues, the Democrats can increasingly claim to be the party of democracy. All of this is good policy, and as polls increasingly demonstrate, good politics.

    But there remains room for a big push on civics education. As a recent report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress stated last year, proper civics education is necessary for students “to become informed and engaged citizens.” Civics education is a natural fit.

    Prominent Democrats such as Barack Obama and Pete Buttigieg have highlighted the importance of engaging my generation, not just for party, but for country. Some of the most inspiring recent political movements have been driven by our nation’s youth. Look no further than the gun reform and voter registration efforts spearheaded by a small group of Florida high school students that spread across the country. Taking on civics will say to youth: “We believe you have something to add. We believe you matter.”

    Indiana Democrats are right to strongly support teachers and schools, but this can’t stand in the way of all proposals for civics education. Instead, they should embrace the issue and propose a flexible yet demanding civics plan. All Hoosiers will benefit when they do. 

    Jay Ruckelshaus is a Rhodes Scholar from Indianapolis and a graduate student in politics at the University of Oxford. 

  • Michael Hicks: Poor policy weakens Indiana's economy
    MUNCIE – As 2019 begins anew, economists suggest a softening national economy.  Industrial production is in decline and retail sales dropped in December. Consumers even shifted their purchases to Walmart, signaling lowered expectations about the economy.  Much of Europe is sliding into recession and China may already be in a slump.  The sole unambiguous piece of good news is found in the unemployment rate, but that is a lagging economic indicator.  

    The spate of worrisome news could signal the beginning of a recession, but I think it is more likely a return to trend. But, the problem is that the trend has been very unkind to the Hoosier economy.  A return to trend is not good news for Indiana.  Let me explain. 

    U.S. economic growth in the post-recessionary period averaged 2.25%, while Indiana lagged a full 0.2% behind the nation as a whole. This may seem like a minor difference, but this difference over a decade amounts to a significant and alarming relative decline in the Indiana economy.  Small growth rate differentials matter, and with the average Hoosier now earning less than 87% of the typical American, we should be very worried about stagnating long-term economic growth.

    Looking back at the recovery period reveals a turning point sometime between 2014 and 2016.  From the five-year period after the end of the Great Recession through 2014, Indiana grew about 15% faster than the nation as a whole.  Our personal incomes grew very fast during this time, closing the per capita income gap faster than at any other time in our state’s history.  By 2015, all that relatively fast growth ended.

    Indiana’s economy shrank in 2015 and has struggled to regain its economic footing. From 2015 through second quarter 2018, Indiana’s economy grew one full percentage point slower than the nation as a whole.  From 2013 to 2018, Indiana’s personal income growth also stalled, widening its gap with the nation as a whole by more than 30%, or more than three percentage points. In 2018, Indiana clearly underperformed the nation as a whole in GDP and employment growth. In 2018, manufacturing employment stalled, signaling a likely slowdown in employment growth across the state in the months to come.   

    Let me speak plainly; the recovery from the Great Recession is leaving Indiana behind.  Maybe the most poignant and alarming piece of data is the very poor composition of job growth. As I’ve noted in recent columns, the share of workers with a college degree in Indiana has now slipped beneath that of Kentucky. This heralds a longer period of stagnation in the years to come, and is surely among the reasons why Indiana’s economy diverged from better national growth mid-way through this recovery.  

    This leads to some important questions about the role of public policy in our current condition. Let me begin by ruling out such minor shocks as tax rate changes, the Healthy Indiana Plan or the RFRA controversy.  Moreover, these years saw the Regional Cities Initiative that boosted economic conditions in parts of the state. 

    It is safe to conclude that much of the declining economic prospects can be attributed to the structure of our economy, which has failed to shift into more productive sectors employing better-educated workers. One potential culprit in the lagging Indiana economy has been the shift in our human capital policies. Our slack attention to bettering educational outcomes has surely contributed to slower employment growth among better-educated workers.  So how did this happen?

    Between 2014 and 2016, there was a radical change in the mission of our workforce training agencies and the state’s largest community college. With little fanfare or public debate, the mission of these groups changed from focusing on the needs of the student to targeting the needs of business. In practice that meant just a few vocal businesses. 

    This change likely violated the intent of the Federal Workforce Investment Act, which provides funds for increasing earnings, skill attainment and enhancing the productivity of the nation. The results have been dismal.  Since this change, Indiana’s employment profile has skewed heavily away from formal education. Thus, in a decade when more than 80% of new jobs nationwide have gone to college graduates, Indiana has seen only 17% of new jobs going to college graduates. 

    This emphasis on deferring formal education to meet the short-term needs of business has also infected the K-12 system and threatens to engulf Indiana’s colleges and universities. It need not have been so.  Back in 2015, I welcomed Governor Pence’s call for more vocational education in schools. But, what was designed as a wise policy to prepare more students for a productive life at work ended up causing the state’s school board to weaken curriculum requirements.  This has left us with a workforce less prepared to withstand automation-related job disruption.  Indiana is moving in the wrong direction, quickly.  We will pay the price of this for a generation. 

    Let me say it plainly. Our educational policy shifts were not merely unwise but wholly uninformed. By focusing on the needs of just a few vocal businesses at the expense of students, we have significantly weakened the state’s economy. Since that shift, Indiana’s economy has grown at about 55 percent of the national rate. 

    By softening the educational requirements in high schools, and by promoting jobs of today rather than careers for the future, we may well have squandered the opportunity for rapid growth during the longest recovery in US history. The status quo is not working. Our human capital policies won’t change themselves. It is time for the General Assembly to undertake a thoughtful and informed review of our human capital policies.  It is also time for employers and households to make it clear to elected officials that the long-term interests of Indiana lie in a well-educated, and well-trained workforce.

    Hicks, PhD, is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and the George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University.

  • Rich James: Mayor Snyder and truth
    MERRILLVILLE – I hate to see anyone go to prison, including former Portage Mayor James Snyder, even though I’ve never really cared for the guy. Even though I have no love for Snyder, he does have a family and those are the people who will suffer the most when he is incarcerated.

    And yes, he will go to jail. That’s what happens to mayors who violate the public trust. And, for all those who love attacking Democrats, it should be noted that Snyder is a Republican.

    I first talked to Snyder in 2011 when he was making his bid for mayor against incumbent Democrat Olga Velazquez. Shortly after taking office, Velazquez had hired former FBI special agent Mark Becker as police chief. Becker had a reputation throughout Northwest Indiana as a bright, no-nonsense law enforcement agent. He had spent a good deal of time in Gary fighting gangs and drugs.

    Becker performed well in Portage, but he and law enforcement became a key issue in the campaign between Velazquez and Snyder. Snyder leaned on scare tactics in an effort to turn the city against Velazquez. Toward the end of the campaign, Becker’s future came into question.

    I asked Snyder if he would consider retaining Becker as police chief. After all, there was no one in the department with more expertise in law enforcement. Snyder hemmed and hawed and finally said he would grant Becker an interview. I didn’t believe Snyder at the time and he proved me right.

    A couple weeks after the election, which Snyder won by fewer than 300 votes, the mayor-elect said he would not grant Becker an interview and that Becker would not continue as police chief.

    Yeah, Snyder lied to me. But there is nothing illegal about an elected official lying to a newspaper man. No, it’s not illegal, but it says something about the ethics of the man. It’s too bad the people of Portage didn’t recognize that before electing Snyder mayor. 

    Rich James has been writing about politics and government for 40 years. He is retired from the Post-Tribune, a newspaper born in Gary.
  • Morton Marcus: Hoosier achievement lauded
    INDIANAPOLIS - Nelson Pneumatic, local chair of Nerds for Numbers, called me late last week. “I’ve got great news,” he said. “Indiana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew faster in the second quarter of 2018 than GDP did nationwide.”
    “Wow,” I replied. “Did you tell the Governor’s office? They’ll want to issue a proclamation.”
    “I’ll do that later,” he said. “I wanted you to know first so you can start baking some humble pie. It shows the General Assembly is the ever-wise entity that, by lowering business taxes, is working for working Hoosiers.”
    “By how much did we beat out the other 49 states?” I asked.
    “Oh,” Nelson sighed. “You won’t see the glory of Indiana as reflected in the data.”
    I repeated my question.
    “Well,” he hesitated. “The national rate of growth was 1.9 percent, but Indiana topped that at 2.0 percent.”
    “You’re telling me Indiana’s triumph was 0.1 percent,” I laughed. “That just statistical sliver.”
    “Well,” he countered, “that sliver was equal to $371 million of the state’s $369 billion GDP.”
    “Ok,” I tried to slip over that one. “Where did we rank among the 50 states?”
    “We ranked 16th in GDP growth rate,” Nelson was triumphant. “And Indiana also exceeded the national GDP growth rate for the year-over-year period, second quarter ’17 to the same quarter ’18.”
    “Wonderful,” I tried to sound enthusiastic. “And what were those figures?”
    Silence. After a few unnatural moments he said, “5.4 percent for the nation and 5.6 for Indiana, without adjustment for inflation.”
    “Oh,” I said. “So for the year, we’re 0.2 percent up on the nation. Impressive!”
    “Spoil-sport,” was Nelson’s retort.
    “Now,” I said trying to move along. “About the Indiana legislature ‘working for working Hoosiers?’ In the second quarter of 2018, compensation of employees was down to 51.5 percent of the state’s GDP from 52.2 percent two years earlier. We’re in 38th place, below the nation’s 52.8 percent, well behind the leaders (Vermont, Minnesota, Maine, and Missouri), all at 57 percent or better.
    “Isn’t that what counts?” I continued. “State GDP adds up the value Hoosier workers create, but they’re getting a declining share of GDP.”
    “Workers are less important as machines and software replace human muscle and experience,” he answered. “It’s nothing more than a continuation of the industrial revolution that started in the 18th century.”
    ”Yes,” I agreed. “Unions made a difference in manufacturing wages and benefits. However, we still undervalue the work done by most workers. We’re a century behind in our thinking about what’s important.  
    I continued: “Look at Indiana manufacturing. It’s 14.2 percent of the jobs, earning 23.0 percent of compensation. The average earnings in manufacturing in 2017 was $77,235, more than double the $42,781 average for non-manufacturing.”
    “So you’d pay manufacturing workers less,” Nelson concluded.
    “No,” I said, “I’d rather see non-manufacturing workers paid more.”
    Mr. Marcus is an economist. Reach him at Follow his views and those of John Guy on “Who gets what?” wherever podcasts are available or at
  • Jack Colwell: Mayor Pete's hometown power base
    SOUTH BEND – How South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg would fare in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary in Indiana is uncertain. Voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and other states will determine before then whether he is a viable contender. But one thing is certain: Buttigieg, if still an active candidate when Hoosier Democrats vote, would run away with the primary vote in his home area.

    That was demonstrated by the enthusiastic response for the mayor this week at the first book signing for “Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future.”

    A capacity crowd of 800 packed the Great Hall of Century Center to hear the mayor and buy his book. They applauded long and loud when the moderator for a conversation about the book mentioned his presidential prospects.

    The most significant sign of enthusiasm for Buttigieg was the willingness of those who bought the book to wait in line for up two and a half hours to have the mayor sign it.

    Attendees all bought the book. They had to in order to attend. The price of admission was $30, same as the price of the book, and everybody attending was handed a copy.

    Actually, sales topped attendance. Many bought additional books.

    The fondness for the mayor in his home area also was shown by frequent applause as he talked of the stories in the book about South Bend and about himself.

    “I hope that the book gives an understanding not just of me but of our community, of our city, of what it’s been through and of where it’s headed,” Buttigieg said. Where he sees it headed – and describes that in his appearances around the country and on national TV – is one of reasons for his local popularity. South Bend area residents like to hear the city, in the past described as dying, described now as vigorous and growing.

    His popularity will be tested in the upcoming mayoral primary. Buttigieg this week endorsed James Mueller, his former chief of staff, for the Democratic nomination for mayor in a nine-candidate race.

    It’s hard to transfer popularity. That’s been shown time and again. Endorsements by a popular political figure often seem to have little effect with voters.

    There is some risk for Buttigieg. Not to the extent that a loss in the primary by his endorsed candidate would keep Buttigieg from carrying the area overwhelmingly if he is a viable presidential primary contender. But if the mayor’s choice loses, it would be noted in evaluations nationally.

    There also is danger that backers of some of the other mayoral nomination candidates not endorsed could be less enthusiastic in support of Buttigieg.

    The mayor clearly regards Mueller as the person he would like to see carry on his work in South Bend. Mueller, 36, was part of the city administration until leaving to devote full time to the mayoral campaign. He, like Buttigieg, is intellectual – has a doctorate – and is a South Bend native who came home and serves in city government.

    They were in the same class at St. Joseph High School in South Bend. Mueller is no sure bet for mayor, no doubt a reason that Buttigieg decided to make the endorsement rather than just help Mueller behind the scenes, as he had been doing.

    With Mueller lacking in name recognition at the start of the campaign, there was no consensus frontrunner. Former St. Joseph County Democratic Chairman Jason Critchlow appeared to be off to the best start in the mayoral nomination race in terms of early organizing. Now Mueller has enhanced name recognition, recognized as the mayor’s choice to carry on his programs.

    It is certain that Buttigieg is popular in South Bend. Very popular. It will be interesting to see if the throngs who waited for up to two and a half hours for him to sign copies of his books will now sign on to the candidacy of his choice as the next mayor. 

    Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.  
  • Rich James: Aguilera, Prince prompt big mayoral showdowns
    MERRILLVILLE — It has been three decades since Lake County has had one of those in-your-face Democratic mayoral primaries. One has to look back to the contests between Mayor Robert Pastrick and challenger Bob Stiglich for the last heated race in East Chicago.

    In Gary, one has to look back to the last few challenges to Mayor Richard Hatcher, who finally was defeated by Thomas Barnes in 1987.

    Look no further.

    A Gary politician and one from East Chicago have lighted fires under the politically stagnant landscape in Northwest Indiana. Within minutes of the close of filing last Friday, John Aguilera filed for East Chicago mayor against incumbent Anthony Copeland, the city’s first black mayor, who is seeking a third term.

    Aguilera long has been a popular Hispanic politician in a city that is majority Hispanic. He served from 1994 to 2000 as a Lake County councilman and then spent six years as a state representative. He ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer last year. While Aguilera promises to be a formidable opponent for Copeland, Jerome Prince promises to be an even stronger opponent for Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

    Prince has been one of the most prominent Gary politicians over the last two decades. Prince served as a city councilman from 2000 to 2008. From 2008 to 2014, Prince was a Lake County councilman representing Gary. Most significant for Prince is that he has been chairman of the Gary Democratic Precinct Organization since 2016. Prince currently is in his second term as Lake County assessor. Prince has served virtually without controversy in each of his elected positions. He didn’t draw an opponent in his reelection for county assessor.

    While Freeman-Wilson has been a fairly popular mayor, the city has amassed millions of dollars of debt under her leadership. Freeman-Wilson also has lived with a financially top-heavy administration while the city’s population has plummeted. The unemployment rate in Gary has remained high as the crime rate continues to be the city’s largest obstacle to attracting business to the city.

    The fact that there are eight challengers, including three women, is expected to be a benefit for Prince. 

    Rich James has been writing about politics and government for 40 years. He is retired from the Post-Tribune, a newspaper born in Gary.
  • Michael Hicks: Housing demand in Indiana communities
    MUNCIE – A year ago, my Center colleagues and I met with staff from Accelerating Indiana’s Municipalities to consider several different issues facing Indiana over the coming years. Among the leading issues they asked us to study was housing. That is the genesis of a housing study published by Ball State last week. The results will be surprising to many Hoosiers.

    Our study examined more than 20 years of home prices, construction costs, and other factors that influence new home construction across all Indiana counties. The chief finding of the study is that the traditional economic factors of supply and demand explain nearly all new home construction in Indiana’s counties. In short, in a world where markets often do not work well, housing is a place where markets set home prices and quantities very effectively. 

    The problem is that many folks don’t like those market outcomes. This will be especially hard for many groups who have been arguing that there is a shortage of housing in many corners of the state. That view is mistaken and it doesn’t take sophisticated economic models to debunk the notion of a housing shortage in Indiana. After all, the U.S. Census reports more than 300,000 vacant homes across our state. There are enough vacant single-family homes to house almost one-third of all Hoosiers. 

    The truth is that Indiana has the exact opposite of a housing shortage. The excess supply of homes in the state are a meaningful economic drag on communities. In particular, the excess stock of housing suppresses the value of existing homes. This has become the real housing problem both in Indiana and across much of the Midwest. There are decades of economic research on the issue. 

    The excess in homes is largely caused by outmigration in many places. The problem is actually so acute that in 62 of Indiana’s 92 counties, the average home is worth less than it would cost to rebuild. In those counties, new speculative home construction has essentially stopped. In fact, in only 12 Indiana counties is it clearly profitable to build a new speculative home. That is why across the state, new home construction remains around half of what it was in the two decades before the Great Recession. 

    Now, many Realtors will argue that these vacant homes don’t matter, because they aren’t really part of the real estate market. No one, they argue, will buy them. They are about half right. No one is likely to buy them, but they are part of the real estate market just the same. The problem is that they have a zero (or lower) value. Of course, if these homes were located in downtown Chicago or Atlanta they’d be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each, and would attract an equal amount of renovation dollars. That no one will buy them speaks forcefully about their value, and sadly the value of other homes in those counties. That offers a tough reckoning for much of our state. 

    Of course, not all the news is bad. One factor that likely keeps housing less expensive in Indiana is the absence of very restrictive land-use policies like those that afflict parts of California. This will continue to act as a magnet for younger households, as long as the other fundamentals are strong. 

    To be clear, home prices reflect fundamental factors of supply and demand. Our study describes how factors such as school quality, low crime rates and nice neighborhoods influence home prices. We also estimate how large the effects of population change, the size of the county, negative or positive price shocks and labor market conditions contribute to new home construction. We also provide maps of other issues of importance, such as vacancy rates, and rental market conditions. 

    Our study also makes policy recommendations. We believe municipal governments should understand the fundamentals of housing before embarking on efforts to subsidize new construction. We also think that stabilizing middle-class communities and eliminating blight should be a growing focus of state and local government. 

    Mostly, we argue it is important to stick to fundamentals. Low housing values are likely due to underlying problems within communities. Fixing these problems will most likely solve most housing woes. However, some places may need additional resources to fix the problem. We recommend a broad reform of TIF that would make it less costly to communities, but more available for addressing housing problems. We also argue that the state’s property tax rules likely contribute to rental shortages and the astonishing oversupply of vacant homes. This may be remedied by public policy, but it’ll take a summer study commission to fully evaluate alternatives. 

    Housing is a tough, emotional issue across much of Indiana. Still, for most places the problems have been misdiagnosed. Housing markets work very well, and housing fundamentals determine both price and quantity of new housing stock. If housing market results aren’t doing what you want in your neighborhood, its best to focus on the fundamentals: schools, amenities and community characteristics. 

    Michael J. Hicks, PhD, is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and the George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University.
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  • Gov. Holcomb talks about redistricting reform
    “I want to see more evidence of where our legislative districts are gerrymandered. How is it that Republicans have 89% of the county commissioners and the GOP has a majority of county sheriffs, a majority of statewide elective offices. Those are not gerrymandered.” - Gov. Eric Holcomb, when asked by the Anderson Herald-Bulletin's Ken de la Bastide if he would support an independent redistricting commission. Holcomb added, “This has long been the jurisdiction of the legislature. I’m very open-minded if we can make the system truly fair. I want to see that proposal.” 
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  • Huston's advice to Trump is to dump Pence, add Haley to the ticket

    Vice President Mike Pence once headed the Indiana Policy Review think tank. On Friday night, members heard a former aide to President Nixon suggested President Trump should replace him on the 2020 ticket with former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley.

    "My political advice to the president would be that he replace Pence with Nikki Haley," said Indianapolis attorney Tom Huston. "I don't think Pence adds anything to the ticket. He's already said that Pence is going to be on the ticket. Now let me say, I don't like Nikki Haley. But I do think she would bring something to the ticket that would be valuable to him to win reelection." Huston headed the Young Americans for Freedom, a group of young conservatives, before joining the Nixon administration as a speechwriter, then became a special projects aide and forged the controversial "Huston Plan" designed to confront domestic terrorism during the Vietnam War era. Huston was the featured speaker about the state of modern American conservatism.

    President Trump publicly asked Pence to stay on the ticket right after the 2018 election, but media reports had him questioning Pence's loyalty and what he would bring to the reelection bid. Some believe Nikki Haley, the former United Nations Ambassador and South Carolina governor, could help Trump attract female voters. - Brian A. Howey, publisher

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