• Atomic! Myers cites 'scandals'; Pete's debate; Vape threat
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Nashville, Ind.

    1. Dr. Myers comes out swinging

    Here are your Friday power lunch talking points: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Woody Myers came out swinging against Gov. Eric Holcomb with an op-ed citing recent "scandals" in the administration. "It’s time for accountability. It’s time for scandal-free leadership," Dr. Myers said, citing the July resignation of Department of Social Services Associate Director Todd Myer and Indiana National Guard Adj. Gen. Courtney Carr in August. "In the short two months since my announcement that I’m running for Governor, Hoosiers have seen numerous scandals and missteps by our state government that have me very worried about the direction Indiana is headed.” 

    Myers called emails Meyer sent to a DCS intern "cringe-inducing" and criticized Gov. Holcomb for simply accepting Gen. Carr's resignation instead of firing him. "He will reportedly retire with full benefits," Myers said. "He should have been fired." Myers also cited the ILearn test scores noting that two-third of Hoosier students failed the test. "At least $45 million wasted as school districts contend they cannot be sure the test is an accurate measure of anything - student, teacher or school performance," Myers said. "Where is the oversight? Where is the leadership? Where is the outrage from our legislature?"

    2. Did Mayor Pete make inroads?

    Last night’s third Democratic presidential debate looks like it did little to change the pecking order. Joe Biden didn’t screw up (though we learned about his “record player”), Elizabeth Warren still appears to be ascending, Bernie Sanders continues to wow his base, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg? He got some good lines in, but didn’t have that catalytic moment that can launch a movement. His top lines: “When I first got into this race, I remember President Trump scoffed and said he'd like to see me making a deal with Xi Jinping. I’d like to see him making a deal with Xi Jinping." On health care: "The problem, Sen. Sanders, with that damn bill that you wrote, and that Sen. Warren backs is that it doesn't trust the American people. I trust you to choose what makes the most sense for you, not my way or the highway.” As for the quirky Andrew Yang and his weird $1,000 sweepstakes, Mayor Pete said, "It's original, I'll give you that.” 

    3. Trump protects innocents from ... vape

    In the midst of a mass shooting rampage, President Trump moved decisively against ... flavored vapes. The death toll from that is five, far below the mayhem that has afflicted our schools, churches, malls, nightclubs, and festivals. With HHS Sec. Alex Azar by his side, Trump said, “We have a problem in our country. It’s called vaping, especially vaping as it pertains to innocent children.” As for that other problem afflicting our "innocent children" we (nor those in Congress) have no idea what type of gun reforms this president supports.

    4. China exempts soybeans

    In what the Wall Street Journal  describes as a "goodwill gesture" in the trade war, China is exempting soybean tariffs. It came after President Trump delayed his latest round of tariffs for a couple weeks. Trade talks are due to resume in October, and Politico  reports that key top Trump aides are seeking ways to deescalate, fearing real damage to the economy.

    5. Federal deficit hits $1 trillion

    The U.S. Treasury Department announced the federal budget deficit is now more than $1 trillion, up 19% so far this year. And this is in a good economy. What will that look like in a recession? Or a severe recession? And this: Nary a peep from the vanishing deficit hawks that once roosted in the Grand Old Party.

    Have a great weekend, folks. If Purdue can beat the Buckeyes, maybe the Hoosiers can, too. It's The Atomic!
  • HPI Interview: Banks says Trump, Congress need to step up on gun reform

    INDIANAPOLIS – In last week’s Howey Politics Indiana edition, my column “Of celphalopods and CEOs” called out the lack of spine Congress and the White House have shown in reaction to an epidemic of mass shootings that have created a jittery nation.

    That afternoon, I sat down with Republican U.S. Jim Banks at Sahm’s Place. The questions I had were along the lines of is this the “new norm” in American life, where people fear assaults at schools, universities, malls and bars? I had also called the growing cohesion among mass shooters in fringe websites as a virtual “guerrilla war.”

    Banks is considered a Republican rising star, moving from Whitley County Republican chairman, to the Indiana Senate, and now Congress. Still young at age 40, with a military tour in Afghanistan under his belt, many consider him to be on a future gubernatorial track and beyond. He didn’t dismiss interest in a future Statehouse run, but he could also have a future in House leadership.

    Banks agreed that it is time for Congress and President Trump to “rise up” and confront the myriad of security challenges facing the population, as Congress and President George W. Bush did in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Those efforts essentially halted foreign terror strikes on American soil. Today, the threats are overwhelmingly homegrown in a nation awash in an array of lethal weaponry.

    Appearing with House Whip Steve Scalise last month in Columbia City, both said that the U.S. needed to focus on existing laws. Scalise was severely wounded in an armed attack on the Republican congressional baseball team two years ago, so I wanted to know what he meant by that.

    Banks did not dispute the assertion of a “guerrilla war” unfolding in the population’s midst. Did he see that as hyperbole? “No, I don’t think so,” Banks said. “Look, I’m a father and each one of these shootings is deeply emotional for me and for anyone else who watches them. I want to do anything I can to from my position to address them and keep them from happening again.”

    Both of us doubt that Congress or the White House can come up with a silver bullet security solution. Banks believes it will take a consortium of federal, state and local officials, along with other interests ranging from school corporations and local police, to bring this crisis to an end. In the aftermath of the Dayton and El Paso atrocities, some three dozen potential mass shootings had been prevented by the monitoring of social media and tips from the public.

    But Banks also believes congressional leaders and President Trump need to step into the challenge this month after Congress returned on Monday.

    Here is our interview with Rep. Banks:

    HPI: Is this the new norm, that Americans are going to have to endure mass shootings two, three, four times a month? There have been dozens of such incidents this year.

    Banks: No. It’s not the new norm. It shouldn’t be the new norm. Our political leaders have to rise up and do something about it. I agree with your column today that’s what is not happening. Many of these incidents happened over the August recess, so we’ll go back into session next week and fully expect to see the Senate take something up. I don’t expect them to take up what passed out of the House, which was a very broad background check measure, but I suspect the Senate to debate and move something that will come back to the House. I don’t know what that will be or what it will look like. The president has spoken out and will continue to speak out, but it’s unclear what he wants.

    HPI: It seems the president is having trouble staying on a policy course. If you’re in the Senate or House and you’re a Republican, that’s a problem if you don’t know where he’s coming down, right?

    Banks: Right. The president has to use the bully pulpit and talk about what we can do. That’s where I fall on this issue. As an ardent supporter of the 2nd Amendment, how do we protect 2nd Amendment rights and due process? Each one of these mass shootings has exposed areas where current law has been enforced. That is even the case in the most recent shooting in Odessa. Last year, Republicans passed the Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) bill which went a long way; obviously it didn’t fix all of these situations but it went a long way to fix the background check system so that different layers of law enforcement are talking to each other through the NICS system. That was one piece of the puzzle. Now we have to do more to fix existing laws. That’s clearly where it gets complicated.

    HPI: I’m not convinced that Congress can fix this. Red flag laws will have more impact on suicides than mass shootings. That’s still important. To me, the problem is we’re a nation absolutely awash in guns. Other counties have mentally ill people, but we have more mentally ill people getting ahold of AR-15s, shooting up bars and malls.

    Banks: Indiana passed the red flag law in 2005. We’re one of 19 states that have it. We’re the most red state to have the red flag law. You’re right, it hasn’t solved it. Indianapolis is ranked one of the most violence cities in the country. It doesn’t solve violence. It will address some of the mental health issues, but it won’t solve mass shootings or violence on the streets. So the debate in Washington will be ... there’s one legislative bipartisan proposal that would be a national red flag law. Sen. Lindsey Graham has a bill that would give states money to incentivize red flag laws. There’s the Pelosi bill that moved through the House and is in the Senate that is a broader expansion of background checks and it does a lot of other things too. This is societal, this is cultural. I don’t know in my heart how Congress solves it. I do believe there needs to be an emphasis on enforcing the laws that we have, addressing the mental health challenges in this country. That’s got to be a collaborative effort from local, state and federal governments to figure that out. I know a lot of us are committed to that. When we get back from the August recess that needs to be a conversation that we have.

    HPI: I invite friends down to my cabin for target shooting. A friend showed up with an AR-15 and after he fired off about the 17th round, I found it unnerving. I can make the case that civilians shouldn’t have that kind of firepower. You were in the military and handled that kind of firepower. Would you consider an assault weapon ban?

    Banks: My philosophy as a conservative, as an ardent supporter of the 2nd Amendment, also a veteran who carried essential weapons in Afghanistan, it’s very difficult for me to see if you banned them, how that would prevent any of these individuals who in many of these cases found loopholes to purchase them, make them or acquire them, and breaking the law in the process, would solve the mass shootings.

    HPI: Should we be focusing on the availability of ammunition?

    Banks: I don’t see that either. That’s where this is complicated. Take guns away from law-abiding gun owners, or people not intent on breaking laws to begin with ... I don’t see in my heart how that works. At the same time, whether it is for protection or recreation why these people acquire these weapons who are following the law, who are law-abiding citizens, punishing them in the process while allowing criminals to acquire them doesn’t solve the underlying societal issues that we face. That’s the conversation we face.

    HPI: What about buy-backs for assault weapons. There’s been some success in Australia and New Zealand on that course.

    Banks: I don’t know how that works.

    HPI: All I know is this nation has more guns in the civilian population than the rest of the world combined.

    Banks: It’s probably always been that way.

    HPI: When you appeared with Rep. Scalise, you said that we should concentrate on enforcing the laws we already have. It seems that various police departments, and even schools and universities are looking at various social media to see who might be making threats. CNN reported shortly after El Paso and Dayton that there had been more than two dozen potential mass shootings prevented in this manner. In high school, every class had that handful of students we called “crazy.” It’s just that in those days they were smoking weed in the restrooms or blowing up toilets with M80s and not gunning down fellow students and teachers. Then that gets you into the whole profiling dilemma.

    Banks: That’s where there’s a lot of room to explore monitoring social media. Did 8Chan pop back up?  Or was it taken off line? There’s room for more efforts to be more vigilant online to identify these people and expose these situations before they happen. That’s why I was pleased that after the El Paso shootings – was he the guy on 8Chan? – these online networks where these violent people congregate and collaborate, that those outlets are shut down. I think there is room for that. Civil liberties should be protected, but many of these mass shooters have given warning signs online. He had given every indication he was going to do something and nobody followed up on it. The FBI was alerted and they didn’t follow up on it. The lack of enforcement and the lack of followup by agencies like the FBI show negligence in the process.

    HPI: I’ve described this as a virtual guerrilla war, that there will be more cohesion among the crazy people. Do you see that assertion as hyperbole? Am I being too emotional when I describe it as such?

    Banks: No, I don’t think you are. Look, I’m a father and these shootings are deeply emotional for me and for anyone else who watches them. I want to do anything I can to from my position to address them and keep them from happening again.

    HPI: I had two sons in middle school when Columbine happened and as a parent, that was alarming. Now it’s become the norm. As Mayor Buttigieg says, we’re in the second generation of kids growing up with the specter of mass shootings in schools. Now it’s the university systems, and malls, and concerts. This isn’t the America I thought it would become. After Sept. 11, Congress and President Bush took some very wise decisions, creating DNI, the Patriot Act. Have we had any successfully perpetrated foreign terror attacks since 2001? That’s why now people are saying, after Sept. 11, Washington acted with some real effect and now we have a situation and there doesn’t seem to be any effort or viable answers. So that’s why I’m asking, is this the new norm?

    Banks: I agree. There is room here for political leaders to rise up and address these catastrophes and do something about it. Now is the window of opportunity. We go back into session next week. Leaders on both sides are prepared to make this subject a key discussion. The president is showing a willingness as well. Hopefully in September you’re going to see more action than words.

    HPI: Let’s turn to the Pentagon. President Trump is shifting $3.6 billion in Defense funds to build the border wall. Yet the Republican Congress refused to fund the wall when it held both chambers. Is the president right to now divert from Crane and Hulman Field?

    Banks: Yes. The Supreme Court ruled that he is. Yes, Republicans failed to appropriate dollars for the border. Now the Democrat-led majority has resisted all efforts to negotiate any deal to appropriate any dollars for the border wall. That’s what led the president to declare the national emergency. Fortunately, Secretary Esper is responsible in his approach in identifying dollars that have less of a short term consequence. Both the Indiana projects are important, the shooting range in Terre Haute and the railcar hub at Crane. It’s a rail spur (Chris Crabtree interjects that Crane is the most rail intensive facility in the U.S. military). It can wait.

    HPI: Do you worry that President Trump is side-stepping the appropriations authority of Congress?

    Banks: I don’t like that. I’ve said that before when the president declared the national emergency. In this situation, I don’t think he has a choice. If the Congress refuses to act, which we’ve seen, especially in this Congress to be the case, especially addressing the humanitarian crisis on the border. In my district, in my polling, the border and immigration was the No. 1 issue in my district among all voters, general election voters.

    HPI: And you said that 70% support the wall?

    Banks: The president has a 70% approval rating in my district, and immigration, building the wall, addressing border security was the No. 1 issue, more than two to one over health care. I’m from northeastern Indiana, so we’re a long way from the border. The president has a lot of support for building the wall, especially here in Indiana. While both of the two military construction projects are important and I support both of them, they can both wait for the next fiscal year to be funded and I don’t think you’re going to find a lot of opposition to that.

    HPI: Trump passed on a deal where he could have gotten $22 billion to build the wall in exchange for a deal on the Dreamers. Was that a mistake?

    Banks: I don’t recall that. I recall the opposite. In this last go-around the president was offering to negotiate a compromise with Speaker Pelosi that would do just that. I believe the president showed a willingness for a deal that would provide a long term permanent status for Dreamers in exchange for dollars for the border and Pelosi said “no” over and over again. That’s my perspective.

    HPI: Not only do we have a border problem, the president seems intent on limiting legal immigration. As you tour the 3rd District, aren’t employers telling you we need more workers? There are 70,000 unfilled jobs in Indiana. Shouldn’t we be increasing legal immigration in order to fill those jobs with highly qualified, degreed people?

    Banks: I’m not opposed to that. The Republican legislation I supported last year would have ended the visa lottery that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and replace it with a more merit-based approach, for which I find broad support among Republicans and Democrats through an Ameri-based approach that would take into account workforce needs of our local economy. That would do that. The version the president introduced might be a decrease to begin with and that number would fluctuate moving forward. We did just base a bill out of the House that would end the per country cap on high-skilled visas. I think every country was capped at 7,000 and countries like India have the type of skills and labor that meet some of our workforce needs.

    HPI: Why cap them?

    Banks: That’s where they are right now. We would eliminate the caps. That’s the kind of common sense immigration reform that has bipartisan support. I think the biggest mistake I see in Congress on immigration questions is when we throw all these proposals into the same basket, you can never get to 218 votes. You’d see bills last year that would have 190 or 200 votes but could never reach majority because on one end or the other you would lose votes on minor issues. If you took a lot of these pieces out, we could pass bills that would have bipartisan support, like the Ameri-base bill. I think you would see that pass and the president sign it.

    HPI: This past month you’ve been out in farm country. What is your message to farmers and manufacturers about the trade war with China?

    Banks: I can understand their anxiety. What I hear from most farmers I talk to is they support the president, they understand this president is tackling what I refer to as the greatest existential threat America faces today in the bad practices of China. They understand that China has started this trade war and not America. They understand that 30 years ago China began a trade war with the United States that no president had confronted. We all want the trade war to end, but the farmers, who I have to say are the best economists I know, understand that short term pain can be long term gain in our economy.

    HPI: Do you have confidence that President Trump is taking the disciplined approach needed to get a successful conclusion? This past month he’s gone from calling President Xi an “enemy” to slapping on more tariffs, suggesting even higher tariffs. It seems like he’s winging it.

    Banks: I don’t think so. Although that’s the Trump approach ...

    HPI: Which is only he knows what victory looks like in the end ...

    Banks: Two and a half years into this, we’re kind of used to Trump using this approach, whether it’s with Kim Jong Un or this emerging deal with Afghanistan. In many ways that’s his strategy. It appears he’s erratic on the surface. The Chinese are clearly keeping their eyes on November 2020. They’re just trying to wait him out. When Joe Biden says that China isn’t a threat, when Pete Buttigieg says the president is on a fool’s errand, these are concessions to the Chinese that in my view are suggesting that if they take over the White House, they’ll be more than happy to let the Chinese run over us. It takes a concentrated focus on addressing the China threat from restricting university research that we’ve seen time and time again infiltrated by Chinese espionage to federal government pensions that have gone into adversarial Chinese companies. There are a lot of bills in the scope of that subject. I appreciate the president’s focus in spite of what Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg have said. This is not a fool’s errand. We have to attack the China threat every way we can or my daughter is going to pay the price for it.

    HPI: So you’re confident the tariffs are the right way to accomplish this?

    Banks: It’s part of it. It’s one key way to put pressure on the Chinese. This is why the military buildup is important, too. What China is doing with unmanned and underwater systems that leap frog the U.S. in hypersonic research, where Indiana is playing a big role in trying to confront that as well. Economically and militarily this is all part of what’s unfolding in Washington at this point to address this threat. We’ve never had this conversation before.

    HPI: When Mike Pence was in Congress, he predicted that by mid-century, we’d probably be in a military conflict with China. Now, we’re starting to get hints of that. Is that likely to happen? Or are our economies so intertwined that a military conflict would simply be absurd?

    Banks: It could. I hope that it won’t. That’s why the projection of American strength both militarily and economically is the key way to head it off. That is what Trump is trying to do with tariffs, to address Chinese trade practices or IT theft. What China has done to wreak havoc on the American economy is unquestionable. Stealing our military secrets over and over again, from the F-35 to the Chinese stealing another platform, what they do is they raid ... they dial into our supply chain. They are able to steal our secrets.

    HPI: Are we doing that to them? We invented much of the high tech components and it seems the Russians and Chinese are using them to attack us. Are we returning the favor?

    Banks: It doesn’t appear so at this point.

    HPI: Why aren’t we?

    Banks: The Chinese have developed hypersonic technologies we don’t have. They are finding other ways to leapfrog us militarily. Their long term, savvier approach puts us at a moment of truth to do something about it, or whether we turn a blind eye to it like other previous administrations have. I hope we ratchet up pressure. I hope there will be a resolution and get back to a zero/zero sum trade and free trade in China, which is not what we have today, and certainly not before the tariffs. I give the president high marks for his approach, whether it appears to be erratic on the surface. The Chinese economy has taken a far more drastic hit than the American economy has. Negotiations are to resume in early October and hopefully we can see a strong resolution for farmers and manufacturers.

    HPI: Last time I was with you, we talked about the Indiana defense sector, which had been in decline in recent years. Give me an overview on what’s happening there.

    Banks: I don’t have a statistic on how much it’s improved, but we work on a daily basis with key defense leaders in the state like AM General, Raytheon, Rolls-Royce, Allison Transmission and Cummins in the central part of the state. They have all benefited from the military buildup and larger defense budgets. Indiana has been able to capitalize on that because of our base with the defense industry. But it’s still not where we were 10 or 15 years ago and it’s going to be a long process. The governor has been very focused on the defense industry in the state, too. We appreciate the partnership we have with Gov. Holcomb.

    HPI: When I talked with Rep. Walorski a few years ago she noted the decline in military investment and contracts. So that trend is being reversed?

    Banks: Trump has reversed it over the last two fiscal years. But keep in mind we saw a decline in the previous 10 years. Now we’re seeing a rebuilding.

    HPI: Anything you want to add?

    Banks: We’re going to lose a lot of clout with Susan (Brooks) leaving. But we have a great team of Indiana members on both sides of the aisle, with Pete Visclosky in his position as chairman of Defense Appropriations, he’s really good when we get into these discussions. He works very closely with Indiana defense-related businesses. My office has always enjoyed partnering with him on those issues. Now you have (Jim) Baird on Agriculture, (Greg) Pence on Transportation, (Larry) Bucshon on Energy and Commerce, a very powerful committee, Jackie (Walorski) on Ways & Means, another very powerful committee, Trey (Hollingsworth) on Financial Services, and I’m on Defense and Armed Services. So we have this incredible delegation working closely together to better the state.

    HPI: Does the delegation still meet regularly?

    Banks: It’s not a regularly scheduled meeting, but maybe once a month or every other month formally, but we are constantly working with each other. We have a very strong delegation, and Susan leaving takes a piece of that away, but we will continue to rebuild.
  • HPI Horse Race: Merritt seeks to climb his 'Mt. Hogsett'

    INDIANAPOLIS – Three times in the last two decades, the winning Indianapolis mayoral nominee advanced to the City-County Building’s 25th Floor with around 92,000 votes.

    That was the case when incumbent Mayor Joe Hogsett dispatched little-known Republican Chuck Brewer in 2015, when Mayor Greg Ballard defeated Melina Kennedy in his 2007 reelection, and in Mayor Bart Peterson’s 2003 reelection over Republican Greg Jordan. The big upset came in 2007 when Ballard took advantage of a catalytic anti-tax fervor and upset Peterson 50.4% to 47.2% with 83,239 votes.

    For State Sen. Jim Merritt, the Republican nominee challenging Mayor Hogsett, getting to 92,000 votes is his summit. Or as Merritt put it when he talked with HPI Tuesday afternoon, “It’s my mountain. It’s slippery and steep, but I’m climbing it.”

    Merritt knows what it takes to pull off an upset. He was chairman of Greg Ballard’s stunner over Peterson in 2007. Today he faces a race against Hogsett in which he faces, perhaps, a five-to-one money disadvantage. Hogsett began the year with $3.2 million and had $3.8 million cash on hand last April, while Merritt posted $267,000.

    Hogsett told HPI on Monday, “I’m going to be very competitive. I’ve got to tell you, I’m most proud of the grassroots support in the pre-primary filing. We did have a lot more individual donations and, surprisingly, lower average donation than my opponent did.” So Hogsett, who has been running campaigns since 1988 when he managed Evan Bayh’s historic gubernatorial breakthrough, believes his support is widespread.

    1967 was last time first term mayor lost

    You have to go back to 1967 to find a first-term Indianapolis mayor who wasn’t reelected. That’s when IPS School Trustee Richard Lugar defeated Democratic Mayor John Barton, setting off the Unigov era that brought a generation of Republican leadership to the city. Since then, Lugar and Mayors Bill Hudnut, Stephen Goldsmith, Peterson and Ballard have all served at least two terms.

    Merritt is trying to make history by becoming the first sitting member of the Indiana General Assembly to move eastward down Market Street and up about 22 floors to claim the mayor’s office. He’s trying to do it in a city that is 58/42% Democrat over Republican. It is a steep mountain, though Republican Mayor Lloyd Winnecke is thriving in Democratic Evansville, as are Democrat Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry and Republican Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett, all ruling in cities dominated by the other party.

    Hogsett believes that “local government has more effect and direct impact than any other level of government. I’m told the voter turnout in 2015 was down 19%. Now that’s the bad news. It’s bad news for so few people determining the important office as mayor. But I do have reason to believe, beyond the field organizing efforts made and expanding, we’re well poised to see an uptick in turnout because unlike 2015, with the establishment of early voting sites.”

    Hogsett believes the five early voting sites and the fact that Marion County has opted for the electronic poll books that will allow any voter to vote in any precinct will gin up turnout. “We as a campaign are trying to take advantage of that,” Hogsett said.

    Merritt is candid about the “mountain” he faces. “We won’t have $4 million. I set the bar to raise $1 million and that’s still my goal,” he explained. “I don’t know what’s going to happen on Oct. 15, but we will be at our goal.”

    “I do believe the mayor, I don’t think it’s arguable, the mayor has a lead,” Merritt said of polling. “The challenge is Nov. 5. I feel very good about going door to door, in congregations and churches, at festivals, that we have a very good plan. I do believe he’s surmountable and I do believe I am going to win.”

    A survey of 400 likely Indianapolis voters conducted for Indy Politics by Mason Strategies had Hogsett leading Merritt 55% to 27%, in August, with Libertarian Doug McNaughton at 4% and another 15% undecided.

    Merritt, like Republican Fort Wayne nominee Tim Smith, is using Indianapolis-based Prosper Group to conduct his campaign social media and digital advertising. “We have been very busy with our digital outreach in July and August,” Merritt said. He said his campaign polled in February and June. “We have been putting most of our funds toward communications.”

    Hogsett, too, is extending his message across a wide variety of platforms. “We’re taking advantage of the technological change. We ID targeting voters, and whether they need to be registered or persuaded. We are obviously communicating on every available platform. Our campaign has opened up predictive dialing. We can make three or four more phone calls. You’re talking to people you have reason to believe are ready.”

    Thus, the Hogsett/Merritt race appears to be hinging on two key areas, crime and infrastructure.

    Hogsett and infrastructure

    Both crime and infrastructure posed challenges for Hogsett heading into 2019. The former federal district attorney campaigned in 2015 as a classic law-and-order candidate. Since his election, Indianapolis has been setting homicide records. And a series of severe winters and a lack of long-term planning on street and bridge maintenance extending back to the Ballard and Peterson administrations left the city in 2018 with a virtual crisis atmosphere as the number of potholes exploded.

    Hogsett responded by pushing through a $400 million capital infrastructure plan. “The difficult winters and the deferred maintenance was a problem,” Hogsett said, noting that he responded in two ways. There was the short-term investment “driven by council, a $400 million infrastructure program that targets road resurfacing, rebuilding bridges and sidewalks and streets. It passed unanimously.”

    In the current 2019 operating budget, the council unanimously approved in the fall of 2018 the reestablishment of an Indianapolis Street Maintenance Department. “Not being critical of Mayor Goldsmith, but there was a lot of privatizing,” Hogsett explained. “It helped him fund his budgets. But when you’re having to out-source all of your day-to-day maintenance, particularly with winters, you’re at the mercy of private contractors. You’re just one of many clients.” Hogsett said the brutal winter of 2017-18 exposed the shortfalls of deferred maintenance.

    He has established a 36-person maintenance department with half a dozen six-man crews that will respond quickly to new problems. “I do know that many people have shared anecdotally with me that when roads deteriorated, they thought we responded to it better, quickly and more efficiently,” Hogsett said.

    In addition to roads, he is modernizing street lights with LED technology, with the savings allowing an additional 27,000 lights to be installed. That, Hogsett believes, will help deter crime.

    He has also proposed a regional cooperation component that would send parts of income taxes of those commuting into Indianapolis to pay for roads. “We’re not increasing anybody’s taxes,” Hogsett said. “Every county would receive every penny, but we’re increasing a capture, then distributing to each community based on vehicle miles traveled.”

    He said that Westfield Mayor Andy Cook, Zionsville Mayor Tim Hawk, Lebanon Mayor Matt Gentry, and Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness have been “discussing these issues for the better part of a year.  “We haven’t reached any final answers,” Hogsett said. “My argument to my fellow mayors is that with this proposal, you’re all winning. Even if Marion County receives 50% of that fund, your residents who depend on jobs in Indianapolis, when they hit potholes, blow tires and bend rims, this will make their lives easier.”

    On crime, Hogsett said that under his leadership, the City-County Council has appropriated nearly $4 million for crime reduction programs. “Overall, violent crime has gone down in 2018 and 2019,” Hogsett said. “We still have too many homicides. But it’s something where our investments are starting to pay off. We have hired over 300 new police officers over the last three and a half years, a net of 150 new officers. The added officers have allowed us to move to a community-based beat system and allowed IMPD to become more flexible.”

    Merritt’s pitch

    Merritt addresses the public safety issue and infrastructure by saying, “We are constantly talking about safety, feeling safe, being safe and keeping people safe as mayor. We need a comprehensive approach to infrastructure. The mayor is more patch, patch, patch.”

    Merritt vows to be a “24/7 mayor” who will hire a “24/7 deputy mayor for public safety right by my side.” He said that Hogsett brings a “district attorney mindset” to the crime fight, when the city needs “a law enforcement” experience.

    He said that IMPD “needs a new training facility and a helicopter.” The Republican said that IMPD brass “from the chief on down needs to be out in the field to keep current.” He vowed to look at crime “in a completely different way. Once this city becomes unsafe and known around the world for that, conventions will dry up and people will move out. We’re not there yet.”

    On infrastructure, Merritt vowed to hire a “leader at DPW who knows infrastructure, either with a background in civil engineering, or a civil engineer. You need someone who understands pavement and snow removal. Missing two snows this past winter was inexcusable.”

    Merritt promises a “complete analysis” of “all neighborhoods and city streets. Then we can have an asset management plan on how we take care of our streets for the next 25 years. It won’t be this patch, patch, patch.”

    The senator believes he has the relationships in the legislature to get the job done. “We will be working with the General Assembly to get a more fair allocation from the gas tax,” Merritt explained. “What does this mean? It means that six lanes of Keystone repaved a mile won’t be funded like two lanes in Wheatfield a mile long. We will ask for a fairer plan.”

    He defended his infrastructure plan that would include a toll lane for arterials such as Binford Boulevard. He advocates creating a toll lane for those willing to pay for express travel in and out of the city. “People didn’t realize it was optional,” Merritt said. “You’ve watched Mitch (Daniels) throw out ideas. I’m trying to get creative and innovative, and that would create a lane for people from Fishers traveling Binford.”

    Merritt says of his the relationships at the Statehouse, “No one is more prepared to be mayor of Indianapolis than I am,” he said. “No one has gone from the legislature to be mayor of Indianapolis. I am ideally suited to understand Washington, the capital markets and the legislature. I can say to the legislature and governor that a financially healthy Indianapolis means a solid and healthy Indiana.”

    He said that his Senate district overlaps those of House Speaker Brian Bosma and Deputy Ways & Means Chairman Todd Huston. “I’ve known Brian since we were in Young Republicans together,” Merritt said. “I have a good relationship with (Ways & Means) Chairman Brown. I work with Chairman Mishler and Holdman in the Senate. I believe I can communicate the message more than anyone in Indianapolis.”

    Merritt said of his campaign this year, “I’m thrilled with the education I’ve gotten. I grew up here, I’ve been in all four corners. I’m glad I’ve learned a lot about my home city.”

    Asked what he has learned, Merritt mentioned the many “food deserts” and vowed to bring resources to various underserved neighborhoods. “If we can load a lot of trucks for hurricane victims, we can find a system to sell food in underserved neighborhoods,” he said. “What we need is creativity.”

    HPI Analysis

    With a little less than two months to go, Hogsett appears to have a commanding lead and far more financial resources than Merritt. What Merritt needs to break through is one of those “catalytic” events like the tax increase Mayor Peterson sought in 2007 that ignited a visceral political reaction in the streets and then the polls. In mayoral politics, sometimes that can be a high profile crime or something within the administration (i.e. the 1996 Meridian Street police brawl that doomed Mayor Goldsmith’s gubernatorial campaign against Lt. Gov. Frank O’Bannon).

    Unlike Chuck Brewer in 2015, Merritt is an establishment Republican with deep ties to Gov. Eric Holcomb, the State GOP and the General Assembly. So there may be some additional resources at his disposal than are currently recognized. But if he is to scale his “mountain,” he will need the kind of event that shakes up the electorate. If that doesn’t occur, Hogsett will likely coast to a second term. HPI Horse Race Status: Likely Hogsett.

    Hogsett launches new TV ad

    Mayor Hogsett’s reelection campaign launched a new TV ad today, touting “Back to back balanced budgets” along with “$400 million in investment, 150 new police officers” and a “criminal justice campus which could be his greatest achievement.” 
  • Atomic! Trump approval 38%; Gun meeting; Gender wave

    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. Trump's anemic approval

    Here are your Tuesday power lunch talking points: The new ABC/Washington Post  poll puts President Trump’s job approval at 38% among likely voters, and 40% among registered voters. That’s down from 44% in July. What has happened since the July survey? A spate of lethal mass shootings with Trump wavering on any legislative action, what looks to be a prolonged trade war with China, and the Hurricane Dorian/Alabama Sharpie farce. Just 35% approve of Trump’s handling of the China trade war. Among crucial independent voters, Trump is completely underwater, with 36% approving and 58% disapproving. Trump’s Real Clear Politics approval/disapprove composite stands at an anemic 43/53.9%. A politician with job approval in the 40% range or below is an endangered species.

    How about some historical context? Presidents who won reelection in the television age all had much better first term approval measured by Gallup than Trump, with Presidents Harry Truman at 45.6%, Dwight Eisenhower at 69.6%, Lyndon Johnson at 74.2%, Richard Nixon at 55.8%, Ronald Reagan at 50.3%, Bill Clinton at 49.6%, George W. Bush at 62.2% and Barack Obama at 49.1%. And the losers? Presidents Jerry Ford stood at 47.2%, Jimmy Carter at 45.5% andGeorge H.W. Bush at 60.9%. President Trump is in a class all by himself.

    2. Trump and guns

    President Trump meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Whip John Thune, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and MinorityWhip Steve Scalise today to discuss the fall agenda. This is a key meeting as Republicans try to figure out where Trump is on gun reform issues. He has been hard to pin down and McConnell won’t move any legislation unless he knows Trump will sign it. An ABC/Washington Post Poll released Sunday revealed 86% of Americans support red flag laws, 89% support expanding federal background checks, and 56% back a ban on military assault weapons. President Trump, Wayne LaPierre is on Line 1.

    3. Donato continues the IGA gender wave

    The female gender wave in Indiana General Assembly caucuses continued Monday night with Cass County Councilwoman Stacey Donato winning SD18 to replace the retiring Sen. Randy Head. By the fifth round, Donato faced off against Flora Town Councilman Jake Adams and former Miami County Sheriff Tim Miller. She ended up winning the final ballot with 42 votes. She joins new State Reps. Dollyne Sherman and Ann Vermillion who replace retiring Reps. Dave Frizzell and Kevin Mahan.

    4. Clark Judge pleads guilty

    Clark County Judge Andrew Adams pled guilty to a battery resulting in bodily injury charge stemming from an early morning confrontation at an Indianapolis White Castle on May 1. Adams admitted he kicked Brandon Kaiser during the altercation and got a 365 day suspended sentence. A separate Marion County Grand Jury indicted Kaiser and Alfredo Vazquez for their alleged roles in the altercation that ended in gunfire, wounding Adams and Clark Judge Brad Jacobs. From a political standpoint, Judge Adams is the last elected countywide Democrat in Clark County. Judge Adams is also facing action from the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications and The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended him. So elected Democrats in Clark County are an endangered species. This case also brings to mind an admonishment made by countless judges: Nothing good ever happens after a night of heavy drinking at a strip club in a White Castle parking lot at 3:30 in the morning.

    5. A  spy extraction

    The CIA had an asset close to Russian President Putin’s inner circle. But the New York Times  and other media are reporting that he had to be extracted over fears thatPresident Trump might reveal his identity. NYT: As American officials began to realize that Russia was trying to sabotage the 2016 presidential election, the informant became one of the CIA’s most important — and highly protected — assets. But when intelligence officials revealed the severity of Russia’s election interference with unusual detail later that year (2016), the news media picked up on details about the CIA’s Kremlin sources. CIA officials worried about safety made the arduous decision in late 2016 to offer to extract the source from Russia. CNN: The decision to extract the informant was driven “in part” because of concerns that Mr. Trump and his administration had mishandled delicate intelligence.

    Thanks for reading, folks. It’s The Atomic!

  • Atomic! Pence moneyfall; Banks eyes gun reform; Kelly at Sinai
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. The financial Pences

    Here are your Monday power lunch talking points: Tom LoBianco's forthcoming book "Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House”  is bringing new light to the Pence family's troubled finances. Mike and Karen Pence lost a $1 million inheritance from his father, then lost another $700,000 when the family convenience store chain, Kiel Brothers, went bankrupt in 2001. Add in the State of Indiana spending $21 million to clean up contaminated Kiel Brothers sites, and brotherU.S. Rep. Greg Pence failure to honor a $3.8 million personal guarantee for the bankrupt Home Federal Bank, and this is a family financial demolition derby.

    The powerful Pence Indiana brand was developed on talk radio and then a 12-year congressional career, not through financial prowess. LoBianco writes of a stunned Karen Pence on election night 2016 when Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton, citing sources that Mrs. Pence rebuffed her husband that night (this was also reported by "Moneyball"  and "The Big Short"  author Michael Lewis), and then during a Secret Service briefing the following day, when she said, “What are we going to do Mike? We don’t have any money! Who’s going to pay for my inaugural gown?” The Trump inaugural committee ended up paying for two inaugural gowns.

    Why does this matter? LoBianco and other sources continue to report a growing rift between the staffs of President Trump and Vice President Pence. One can only imagine where that stands after the controversy surrounding Pence's stay at Trump's Doonbeg resort in Ireland, something Pence COS Marc Short said Trump "suggested," before the president dismissed the assertion. The big parlor game in DC and Indy is whether Pence remains of the ticket with Trump in 2020. Trump has repeatedly said he will seek reelection with Pence, but LoBianco reports that Trump was once again asking about a ticket change during his August vacation in Bedminster. And why would anyone think the transactional Trump might renege on a personnel commitment?  One can imagine what Trump thinks of the Pences squandering $1.7 million. Trump, too, has lost a lot of money, but has always rebounded. Trump and Pence will have lunch together on Tuesday. 

    2. Banks calls for gun reforms

    U.S. Rep. Jim Banks told Howey Politics Indiana that American culture of mass shootings "is not the new norm, it shouldn't be the new norm"  and said that it's time for Congress and President Trump to act. Asked about the HPI column analysis ("Of cephalopods & CEOs") last Thursday, Banks said. "Our political leaders have to rise up and do something about it. I agree with your column today that’s what is not happening. Many of these incidents happened over the August recess, so we’ll go back into session next week and fully expect at some point to see the Senate take something up. I don’t expect them to take up what passed out of the House, which was a very broad background check measure, but I suspect the Senate to debate and move something that will come back to the House. I don’t know what that will be or what it will look like. The president has spoken out and will continue to speak out, but it’s unclear what he wants." HPI asked, It seems to be the president is having trouble staying on a policy course. If you’re in the Senate and House and you’re a Republican, that’s a problem. If you don’t know where he’s coming down, right? Banks responded, “Right. The president has to use the bully pulpit and talk about what we can do."

    3. Overwhelming support for gun reform

    An ABC/Washington Post Poll  released Sunday reveals 86% of Americans support red flag laws, 89% support expanding federal background checks, and 56% back a ban on military assault weapons. Republican support for red flag and background checks is more than 80%.

    4. John Kelly at Sinai Forum

    Former general and President Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly kicked off the 66th Sinai Forum in Michigan City Sunday and called for more dialogue while chiding Congress and the White House for staying in a perpetual election cycle. “When all is said and done, there’s generally a lot more said than done,” Kelly said. “We have to talk to each other simply as Americans and in terms of what’s good for our country. We have to get back to a culture that if I disagree with you, I don’t hate you.”

    5. Legal marijuana coming to the Bluegrass State?

    Politico's Cannabis newsletter debuts today and there was this nugget from Kentucky: Democratic state Rep. Nima Kulkarni said most Kentuckians support marijuana legalization and expects the Bluegrass state to eventually legalize the substance. While the state is home to a flourishing hemp program, it has yet to change its marijuana laws. But medical marijuana legalization bill HB 136 racked up 52 co-sponsors  in the last legislative session and advanced in committee — a first for any sort of medical marijuana legislation in the state. From the Indiana perspective, Illinois and Michigan have passed recreational reefer, Ohio is on the verge, and now Kentucky may be in play. The Holcomb administration, however, has taken a hard line position here.

    Have a great week, folks. It's The Atomic!
  • Atomic: Irish ire; Pence did what? 'Bama double down; Eric the normal
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. Pence’s traipse through the Old Country

    Here are your Friday power lunch talking points: He did what? Vice President Pence’s return to the Old Country didn’t go to his script. First there was the Doonbeg controversy, where Chief of Staff Marc Short said President Trump “suggested” he stay at his resort there despite the bizarre logistics (motorcades, traffic jams, 140 mile flights for meetings in Dublin on the other emerald side). Trump threw Pence under the tour bus, saying, “I had no involvement, other than it’s a great place. It wasn’t my idea for Mike to go there.”  Paging Nikki Haley: Call your office.

    Then came Pence's praise for Brexit, which was excoriated in the Irish press. Irish Times  columnist Miriam Lord concluded that the vice president, a “much-anticipated visitor,” turned out to have “shat on the … carpet.” Never before - either figuratively or literally - has a former Indiana governor or current veep been suggested to have exerted a bodily function in a diplomatic setting. The Cork Examiner’s political editor, Daniel McConnell, said that Pence "humiliated" his hosts, writing, “The cheek of him coming here, eating our food, clogging up our roads and then having the nerve to humiliate his hosts.” Then Pence was on to London, meeting with embattled PM Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street. It came after Johnson's Brexit power play was rejected by his party, his brother and Winston Churchill III, all in humiliating fashion. Pence delivered a message from President Trump: “He told me this morning, he said, ‘You tell my friend, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, that we’re ready to go to work on that free trade agreement just as soon as you’re ready.” Johnson responded by joking about how Americans chlorinate our chickens.

    The crisis in all of this comes to The Onion, the political satire website, which has to make up more fantastic material than normal  because the antics from Trump and Pence veer wildly outside what we've ever experienced.

    2. That Alabama hurricane

    Alabamans were alarmed when President Trump tweeted over the weekend it was in Hurricane Dorian's crosshairs. Except ... it wasn't. It was based on an early, days old cone. It sent NOAA officials scrambling to tamp down the threat. Trump responded with his now famous sharpie cone, extending Dorian into Alabama which in reality was ... fake news. On Thursday, our president was doubling down: “In the one model through Florida, the Great State of Alabama would have been hit or grazed. What I said was accurate! All Fake News in order to demean!” Sheesh. How does The Onion  top that one? Mayor Pete Buttigieg called the Alabama double down "literally pathetic,"  adding, "I don't know if he felt it necessary to pull out a sharpie and change the map, I don't know if one of his aides felt they had to do that to protect his ego. No matter how you cut it, this is an unbelievably sad state of affairs for our country."

    3. Holcomb acting normal in Japan

    Gov. Eric Holcomb is in Japan, where he and the Indiana delegation appear downright normal. Holcomb began his Asian trip by meeting with Aichi Prefecture officials. "Indiana & Aichi Prefecture share similar strengths in manufacturing," Holcomb tweeted. "With the support of Aichi businesses like  @ToyotaMotorCorp, @ToyotaForklift, @AisinGroup, Toyota Tsusho, Nippon Steel & DENSO, #Indiana ranks 2nd in the US for manufacturing by GDP. The Central Japan Economic Federation represents over 17,000 companies. This meeting is a great opportunity to share the Indiana success story with prospects and partners. Over 70 companies from Aichi Prefecture are investors in Indiana. This is a great opportunity to thank them for their continued partnership and find ways for increased investment in our state." 

    4. 130,000 jobs created in August

    The U.S. Labor Department said 130,000 jobs were created in August, below the 150,000 projection. There were 164,000 jobs added in July, but as we know from earlier this year, these projections are often revised downward. Wall Street Journal: Manufacturers added 3,000 jobs last month, extending a weak run amid the U.S.-China trade war, but other sectors continued to steadily add employees. Average hourly earnings rose by a seasonally adjusted 3.2% in August, unchanged from July. The unemployment rate remained at 3.7% last month, unchanged from July. 

    5. Coats coming back home again

    Former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats returns to the Hoosier State and will address the Indiana Economic Club at noon Sept. 24 at the Indiana Convention Center. It will be the former senator's first public event in his home state after he stepped down from the Trump administration on Aug. 15. Coats will also appear at a retirement event
  • Horse Race: Buttigieg's best hope is if Biden falters


    MICHIGAN CITY – Ted Kennedy whiffed on the question of why he was running for president way back in 1980. Hillary Clinton could never sum up the overall rationale for her candidacies in 2008 and 2016, beyond it was her turn and it was time for a female president.

    And Joe Biden this past week? He was asked the question in Iowa and responded, “I think it’s really, really, really important that Donald Trump not be reelected. Could I die happily not having heard ‘Hail to the Chief’ play for me? Yeah, I could.” 

    Out on the campaign trail, the rationale goes something like this: He’s running to save the soul of America, as he said during his campaign kickoff video. He seeks to restore the middle class in an era where artificial intelligence and off-shoring jobs has crimped its vision of an expansive American dream. And, Biden wants to unite the country.

    New York Times reporter Mark Leibovitz puts the rationale into this context: “Remarkably, after all this time, Mr. Biden stumbles to come up with a clear answer.” 

    So, there is an emerging sense that Biden’s frontrunner status is built on name recognition and the perception that he can defeat President Trump without the frilly free-stuff-for-the-masses trappings that has tended to describe the leftward Democratic presidential field. The Quinnipiac Poll last week had Biden defeating Trump 54-38%. But even on this front, there is data that Trump is at Hooveresque historic vulnerability. That same Quinnipiac Poll had Trump confined to 40% support or lower, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg led 49-40% in a head-to-head with the president.

    Last night, Biden appeared to have a blood vessel burst in his left eye while participating in CNN’s town hall on climate change. A broken blood vessel in the eye, also known as a subconjuctival hemorrhage, can be caused by several things, including high blood pressure, bleeding disorders, blood thinners, or even excessive straining. But it brings on the specter of health problems dogging the 76-year-old candidate’s campaign.

    Thus, at the Labor Day milepost, the opening for Pete Buttigieg is tied to the fate of the frontrunning Biden. If the former vice president and current gaffe-machine loses his grip on the rationale as the logical challenger to embattled President Trump, then a nomination lane that seems obscure and extremely narrow now opens up for the other four top-tier candidates, including Indiana’s Mayor Pete.

    Buttigieg has one huge attribute at this stage of the race: He raised a whopping $25 million from a significantly gay donor base in the second quarter FEC report. That’s the proverbial double-edged-edged sword. He went from a mayor who just happened to be gay, to a gay candidate who kissed his husband on stage at the April South Bend campaign kickoff. And then husband Chasten became a social media star in his own right. The problem is that this show didn’t play well in South Carolina, where 61% of that critical state’s electorate is African-American. Given their evangelical backgrounds, many of those voters take a dim view of gay candidates.

    Mayor Pete has a race problem. The Charleston Courier and Post polling has seen Buttigieg go from zero support with black voters, to then 6%, and back to 2% this summer.

    Buttigieg became the so-called “flavor of the month” in May when he began registering in double digits in several state and national polls. But after the June police-action shooting in South Bend, he has faded into the mid-single digits. It’s enough to station him at the tail end of the so-called “top tier” of candidates that includes Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. It’s qualified him for the single-stage Sept. 12 debate in Houston. But Sanders and Warren and are drawing big, enthusiastic crowds, and Warren seems to be best positioned to take advantage of an opening if the perception of a weakened, drift-and-gaffe Biden becomes prevalent.

    Buttigieg’s race problem goes beyond South Carolina. On Aug. 21 on the south side of Chicago, Buttigieg drew an overwhelmingly white audience in a historically black African-American neighborhood. At one point during the rally, he acknowledged the disparity: “Find the people who don’t look like most of you in this room and let them know they have the chance, not just to support this campaign, but to shape it.” 

    Buttigieg’s race dilemma finds its roots in Indiana, where he has yet to pick up a significant endorsement. He fired the black South Bend police chief in his first year in office, saw his police force fall into single digits on the minority-hiring front when the city is 26% black, then came the June police-action shooting of a black man by a white officer, triggering a couple weeks of protests and emotional meetings that played out on the national stage. Any chance of appealing to black voters appeared to be in jeopardy following that sequence. During the first presidential debate, Buttigieg when pressed on the disparity between his city’s police force and the population confessed, “Because I couldn’t get it done.”

    “If he couldn’t corral a 100-member police department, how will he corral the Defense and State Departments,’’ said Len Gleich, who heard the mayor in Hanover, N.H., to the New York Times.

    The mayor hasn’t been endorsed by an African-American South Bend councilman or woman, or anyone in the Indiana General Assembly’s Black Caucus, or anyone from the NAACP or the Urban League. It is a gaping hole in a traditional Democratic resume. Buttigieg leapfrogged over the creation of an Indiana base, going from mayor to DNC chair candidate, and now a presidential contender without the normal ribs of traditional home-state support. 

    Buttigieg responded to the police-action shooting by meeting with the Rev. Al Sharpton, with black parishioners in Charleston, and came up with the “Douglass Plan” to address what he calls “historic and ingrained” racial divisions afflicting the nation.

    The mayor has resources to try and position for the proverbial lightning strike if Biden falters. He’s opening up 20 Iowa field offices in 20 days with 100 staffers, and another 14 in New Hampshire. “Labor Day for us is really going to be a turning point,” said Buttigieg campaign manager Mike Schmuhl. “It’s when we’ll flip the switch.” 

    Buttigieg noted on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today that a field office opening in Iowa City drew 800 people.

    So, the switch has been flipped and Buttigieg will attempt to position for an opening. The odds are against him, but this is the era of Trump, when anything is possible and anything can happen. But without a tide of African-American support, the Buttigieg campaign looks more like a cabinet post audition than a presidency in the making.

    Buttigieg’s climate plan

    Mayor Buttigieg’s presidential campaign released an innovative plan to bring Americans together behind urgent action to address the threat of climate change and meet the greatest challenge of our time. Buttigieg’s plan channels all of our energies into a national project—one that unifies every American, from big cities to rural communities, around this urgent threat and seizes the tremendous opportunity of a new era of climate action. “For too long Washington has chosen denial and obstruction as we’re faced with the imminent catastrophic effects of climate change,” said Buttigieg. “But the timeline that compels us to act isn’t set by Congress, it’s being dictated by science. Climate change impacts not only our coasts, but also farmers, small businesses, homes, and communities across our country. My plan ensures that no community is left behind as we meet the challenge of our time with the urgency and unity it demands.” The Buttigieg campaign puts the climate plan’s price tag between $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion. The mayor’s plan tackles the climate change crisis head on: Build a clean electricity system with zero emissions and require zero emissions for all new passenger vehicles by 2035; transition all new trucks, buses, ships, and planes by 2040, and all industrial, manufacturing, and agriculture by 2050, to net-zero emissions. Buttigieg touted his plan at a CNN town hall Wednesday night. 

  • Horse Race: Holcomb reelect faces personnel issues

    INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb begins a four-nation Asian trade tour this week, heading to Japan and South Korea, and then China and India Sept. 22 to Oct. 5. “Markets are more connected now than ever before, and we’re proud to support a growing global dynamic economy in Indiana,” Holcomb told the NWI Times. “That growth is evident in our business sector, with 1,000 foreign-owned companies throughout Indiana employing 21st Century talent in communities all across our state.”

    His campaign announced the return of senior leadership, with Joe Elsener returning as deputy campaign manager and political director, Mindy Colbert as finance director and Matt Huckleby as deputy campaign manager. “After witnessing what Joe, Mindy and Matt could do in 2016, I can’t wait to see the unstoppable fundraising and political operation they’re going to lead going into 2020,” said Kyle Hupfer, campaign manager of the Eric Holcomb for Indiana campaign. 

    The wildcard for Gov. Holcomb’s reelection comes on the personnel side of the administration following news of the real reason Department of Child Services Associate Director Todd Meyer resigned following what was described as “creepy” emails he sent to an intern. 

    This comes in the wake of Jim Brown’s resignation at Veterans Affairs and Adj. Gen. Courtney Carr’s sudden exit at the Indiana National Guard. The Holcomb administration had been remarkably stable during its first three years. It’s too early to tell if this is a trend, or an aberration. Whether it becomes a staple of Holcomb’s 2020 reelection bid is too early to tell, though Democrats appear ready to take it on.

    Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody flagged it as a trend. “Another week, another disgraced Holcomb administration official accused of inappropriate conduct and betraying the public trust,” Zody said. “Holcomb’s hand-picked hire to turn around the agency resigned in disgrace just one year later. Did the administration fail to vet Meyer or was his hiring just a political favor? Either way, the governor looks like a lightweight after staking DCS’s turnaround on Meyer’s hire. It’s just the latest example of a culture of cronyism fueled by little to no accountability and where the governor allows perpetrators to quietly slink away without facing consequences for their actions. All while the number of child deaths is on the rise in Indiana.”

    Dr. Woody Myer did not talk about the Todd Meyer case this past week as he campaigned in Vigo County on Labor Day, though he mentioned the Brown and Meyer cases during the HPI Interview in August. “Todd Meyer was brought in to clean up the legal components of DCS, to hire lawyers, to use his prosecutorial background to fix those entities, to fix the component of what wasn’t working,” Myers said. “He seems to have been asked to leave suddenly with no explanation from the state as to what that was all about. The position was created for him to do that job, so we know there was something going on, and we have an obligation to find out.” 

    When HPI pressed the Department of Personnel on the Meyer resignation (after being referred there by the governor’s office), Deputy Director Mikka Jackson said in a statement, “Todd Meyer was not suspended, demoted, or discharged; he resigned, and there are no formal charges pending. The statute does not require a public employer to create and publish a statement about the reason for another person’s decision. The individual may or may not choose to speak for himself.”

    Holcomb did publicly address the Meyer situation, saying that he is “not welcomed in state government.” Holcomb told WTHR-TV’s Sandra Chapman, “Disgusted by what I read, beyond disappointed. It was, in fact, handled appropriately. This was brought to the attention of the agency on one day and was followed up all the way up the chain and he resigned the very next day as the investigation was starting. When it went to the state personnel (department) it was deemed that the communication was inappropriate, and therefore he would be ineligible to work as a state employee.”

    In the wake of Attorney General Curtis Hill’s sine die party actions, Holcomb had called for a “zero tolerance” policy of sexual harassment and assaults in state government. He also called for Hill to resign, which the attorney general conspicuously has refused to do and is indicating he will seek reelection.

    Meyer, the former Boone County prosecutor, told WTHR-TV, “I should not have communicated in the manner I did. I am sorry for doing so and I apologize. I have learned from this mistake such that it will never happen again. These messages were intended to be received in a positive and friendly manner, but I now recognize they were not, and I understand. As soon as this matter was brought to my attention I spoke with my wife and children, we discussed the situation in its entirety, and we are learning and moving on from it.”

    Holcomb also addressed the Carr resignation coming in the wake of a lawsuit filed in Marion County, telling WRTV’s Kara Kenney, “After reviewing the lawsuit and being briefed by my team, I felt it was in the best interest of the state and for himself that he resign and I am grateful that he took that recommendation to heart and made the decision to do so,” Holcomb said. “We are going to take our time and get it right. We want to make sure that any and all matters at the Indiana National Guard are addressed. We are under no timeline.”

    Carr is facing a lawsuit from a former Indiana National Guard contractor Shari McLaughlin alleging Carr had an affair with a subordinate, and when McLaughlin spoke out, she was subjected to intimidation and retaliation. According to WRTV, McLaughlin said she reached out to Holcomb’s office starting in October 2017 via phone and through the website but was never able to get a meeting. McLaughlin’s attorney said they sent a letter to the governor’s office in April 2019 asking the office to preserve any records in the Carr matter.

    The Meyer case actually developed on the day HPI traveled with Holcomb to Clark County on July 16, calling his administration the “Dream Team.” The Holcomb administration and DCS did not explain why Meyer left. 

    Asked about the low turnover, Holcomb said, “A lot of people said when we started, a lot of people thought, first executive order, Jim McClelland, he’ll give it a year. Or Earl Goode, tail end of his career. They are staying involved because they are part of not just making history, but they are seeing the state transformed.” (That was in reference to Drug Czar McClelland, who is in his third year with the administration, and the governor’s chief of staff, Earl Goode.)

    Is this a significant political problem for the governor? At this point, no. Every administration has had personnel issues and controversies. It all comes down to how such cases are handled. Is it a potential opening for Myers? Possibly, particularly if more such cases arise.

    Myers campaigns in Terre Haute

    Walking in Terre Haute’s Labor Day Parade on Monday was like a homecoming for Myers, a Democratic candidate for Indiana governor in 2020 (Trigg, Terre Haute Tribune-Star). An Indianapolis native, Myers said he has deep family roots in Vigo County, and spent many summers in Terre Haute as a child. His relatives include members of the Tyler, Ross and Redmon families in the Lost Creek community. “We made a lot of new connections today,” Myers said as he prepare to ladle ham and beans to the crowd gathered in Fairbanks Park for the annual Labor Day celebration. Myers’ platform has focused on education, jobs and healthcare. “Education is hugely important in our state and we’re not doing anywhere near as well as we should,” Myers said. Teacher salaries have not increased at the same rate as in other states, he said, and legislators need to direct more funding to teachers and the education system. “We got to make sure that the kids that are in public education — which is 93% of Indiana’s children — are getting 93% of the attention, 93% of the money, 93% of the effort, and that’s not true today,” he said.


    5th CD: Ruckelshaus passes on run

    The open 5th CD race continued to take shape on Thursday with State Sen. John Ruckelshaus announcing he will seek reelection rather than mount a congressional race, while Indiana Treasurer Kelly Mitchell is in, filing FEC paperwork earlier this week. It brings the Republican field looking to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks to three. Mitchell is joining Noblesville pastor Micah Beckwith and former legislator Steve Braun in the race. Ruckelshaus said in a statement, “I’ve had occasion this summer to reflect on my relationship to Indiana and how I can best serve the community I love so dearly. I was humbled to receive encouragement to run for Congress from across the district, and indeed, across the aisle, as many Democrats and Republicans alike thought I should give it a shot. It was gratifying to hear that the brand of politics that is my DNA – committing to bipartisan solutions and giving everyone a seat at the table – is endorsed by so many of my constituents.” But Ruckelshaus said, “It soon became clear that a run for Congress would be more about politics rather than focusing on the substance of the issues that I believe we need to address. Therefore, we have ultimately decided that the best way to continue serving my community is to stay in the State Senate.” Mitchell and Braun did not release statements after filing FEC documents. The field is likely to grow, as former state senator Mike Delph told HPI on Monday that he continues to travel the district, but a decision won’t come until after the November municipal elections. Delph said he did not want to detract from mayoral campaigns. Hamilton County businessman Terry Henderson is also looking at a bid.

    DCCC reacts to Mitchell candidacy

    The IBJ reported that Indiana Treasurer Mitchell has released a campaign kickoff video, but it was not posted on YouTube, nor was it covered in her hometown newspaper or any other media, which is a strange way to begin a congressional campaign. She filed paperwork with the FEC in late August.  DCCC did, with spokesperson Mike Gwin saying, “Job Killing Kelly Mitchell worked to threaten over 100,000 good-paying Hoosier jobs, and now she thinks she deserves a promotion to Congress. Hoosier middle-class families are already struggling as the cost of their health care and daily lives keep rising. The last person they need representing them in Congress is a politician like Mitchell who fought in court to kill good-paying jobs in Indiana and who would go to Washington and back the Republicans’ disastrous health care repeal plan that would raise health insurance costs and jeopardize protections for people with pre-existing conditions.”

    8th CD: Bucshon on town hall threats

    U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon told the TriState Homepage that he holds town halls in non-election years on the advice of Capitol Police due to security risks. “I do these town halls in off-election years because in election years it turns into more of a security risk and the Capitol Police have said because of the intensity in the last couple of years, during an election year – last year – they recommended we don’t do these large events,” Bucshon said. “I like to do these, I thought we had a good discussion. I expect people to agree and disagree and I heard a lot from my constituents, which is the intent for me to hear what they have to say.” Bucshon is the only delegation member who has conducted a series of town halls during the August recess this year. Several members have participated in agriculture roundtables and U.S. Rep. Greg Pence has also had several public appearances.

    General Assembly

    HD39: Hinton seeks rematch with Torr

    Mark Hinton announced his candidacy for the Democrat nomination for HD39 representing Carmel. The seat is held by Republican Rep. Jerry Torr, who defeated Hinton 57-43% in 2018. 

    Presidential 2020

    Tensions mount between Trump, Pence

    Tom LoBianco in Political Wire: “On the surface, Trump and Pence insist they have a great relationship and are working closer than ever to win reelection in 2020. (They’ve consistently beaten back rumors that former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is in the running to replace Pence on the 2020 ticket.)” “But behind the scenes, tensions have been mounting among Trump, Pence and their top advisers ever since the GOP’s resounding losses in the 2018 midterms. In the weeks afterward, Trump asked aides about replacing Pence on the ticket, and he asked again for their thoughts on Pence during his August vacation at his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., according to Trump advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about private discussions with the president.” LoBianco is author of the forthcoming biography of Pence, “Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House.”

    Pence’s Doonbeg fiasco

    Vice President Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short said the veep is staying at President Trump’s Doonbeg Irish resort on a “suggestion” from POTUS even though its 180 miles away from Dublin. But Wednesday, Trump said, “I had no involvement, other than it’s a great place. It wasn’t my idea for Mike to go there.”
  • HPI Horse Race: Mayor Henry faces new challenge in Smith

    FORT WAYNE – Democrats have controlled Fort Wayne City Hall for five elections following Mayor Paul Helmke’s exit in 1999, with incumbent Mayor Tom Henry seeking an unprecedented fourth term. But Henry faces a new breed of Republican in businessman Tim Smith, who won the nomination by defeating long-time Councilman John Crawford in the GOP primary last May. Smith used social issues such as abortion to separate himself from establishment Republicanism, relying on the conservative Indiana Policy Review network while bringing along a new breed of voter. His campaign appears to be feeding on a large network of smaller donors.

    Henry is relying on his own brand, an extensive family network embedded in many Summit City institutions, and a thriving downtown. Both Henry and Smith are using modern data and digital campaign techniques, though Henry has been up on broadcast and cable TV for much of August.

    Thus, Smith is a very different challenger than past Henry foes who have included Matt Kelty, Paula Hughes and Mitch Harper. His biggest challenge may lie in whether his social media campaign can make up for the decline of established media (i.e., newspapers, local network TV affiliates and WOWO) which are all in decline, particularly with the death of conservative radio host Charlie Butcher a year ago. Butcher was a galvanizing force for Fort Wayne conservatives, and has not been replaced with anyone approaching his stature.

    Another hurdle for Smith comes from Washington, where President Trump dominates all things political, particularly in GOP circles. One Fort Wayne observer told HPI that even a conversation about Fort Wayne politics struggles to keep off the Trump topic just minutes in. Smith does have a common component in Indianapolis-based Prosper Group, which is handling his digital campaign, as it did for Donald Trump in 2016.

    Henry acknowledges he is facing a different kind of challenge. “This is going to be a lot more difficult in many ways,” Henry told HPI at the IDEA convention in French Lick in late August. “I’m running for a fourth term. I don’t think it’s ever been done in Fort Wayne. It’s going to be an interesting challenge. My opponent is well-funded and very aggressive, although he has never held a public office.”

    Henry believes his role in the renaissance of downtown Fort Wayne that includes the new Promenade Park and plans to extensively develop the three rivers network will carry him to victory in November.

    “His biggest challenge is right now Fort Wayne is hitting on all cylinders,” Henry said of Smith. “Our unemployment is down, our crime is down. We’re taking care of the infrastructure and there’s significant investment. Homes are selling in 48 hours. The city is doing very well and it’s going to be hard for him to get his head around an issue to defeat me. So, he’s going to be looking for things that may not be an issue now, but he’s going to try to make it an issue.”

    Smith believes he has some openings. Violent crime is a nightly news staple. There is also a dysfunctional trash pickup contract (backed by the Republican council majority) that has forced the city to use its own employees on some routes that were routinely missed.

    Smith, who managed Mayor Paul Helmke’s 1991 reelection bid and was a finalist for the state auditor vacancy when it opened up under Gov. Mike Pence, told HPI Wednesday afternoon that he is “in the same position I was in the primary at this time, which is the underdog. And I’d say many in Fort Wayne think Tom Henry is going to win, just like John Crawford was going to win the primary.” Smith defeated Crawford by 14%. “I feel incredibly positive about where I stand.”

    Henry believes that when the dust settles, more than $2.5 million will be spent on this campaign. “We’ve been concentrating on social media over the past several months,” Henry said. “That has helped with fundraising and put us into position to use television and other components of the media in the next 70 days. It takes a lot of money. We’re up on TV now, he has not gone up. Our thinking is he’s going to wait until the last five or six weeks and then pour money in.”

    Nick Lauritsen, Smith’s campaign manager who has worked for U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Virginia’s Ed Gillespie, told HPI the campaign is currently introducing the GOP nominee to voters. “Crawford was up on TV the night after November election,” Lauritsen said of the primary sequence. “We didn’t go up on TV until March 30. We’re talking to voters about Tim’s experience and how he plans to leverage his business experience. As we go up with contrast messages, that message will echo on digital.”

    Henry’s vision

    The thrust of Henry’s campaign is downtown development. “I’m looking to invest heavily in our downtown. I think the downtown is the heart of every city. If you don’t have a captivating, exciting downtown area which is hospitable and entertaining, people are not going to come to your city. They’re not going to come and live in a neighborhood if there’s nowhere to go. You’ve got to have a downtown that is inviting. That’s what we’ve invested so much in the last 10 years and it is beginning to pay off. I would be foolish not to continue that.”

    It was announced Wednesday that Ruoff Home Mortgage is moving its headquarters to downtown Fort Wayne. However, John Perlich, spokesman for Mayor Henry, told the Journal Gazette the city still does not have a formal economic development agreement with Ruoff, and “no plans are final.”

    Henry also believes that the city is poised to weather a recession. “A lot of us feel the economy is going to slow down,” Henry said. “I’m going to make sure we have good access to capital and have a cash balance to sustain ourselves through a period that might put a lot of other communities in jeopardy.”

    Henry won the Democratic mayoral primary on May 8, 2007, with 82.4% of the vote against token opposition. He defeated the Republican Matt Kelty in the November election, with 60% of the vote after the Kelty campaign imploded on ethics issues. Henry won a second term in 2011, defeating Republican Paula Hughes 49.9% to 46%. In 2015, Henry won a third term, defeating former Republican legislator Mitch Harper 56.8% to 43.1%.

    Smith’s issues

    Smith believes Henry is vulnerable on the crime issue. “It wasn’t more than a generation ago that annual homicide rates in the Summit City were in single digits. A five year stretch in the mid-1980’s saw an average of 14 homicides a year,” the Smith campaign website says. “By the 1990s, Fort Wayne’s homicide rate climbed to average 24 homicides a year. The most recent five years, from 2016 through 2018? An average of over 40 homicides every year!”

    The campaign website adds: “The increase in violence is not simply a product of contemporary culture. But our culture, the culture of family, businesses, and non-profits in Fort Wayne can either ignore the statistics and accept the status quo or we can rise up as a community to re-claim the joy of public safety and of our family’s security.’

    Smith uses FBI statistics to paint a challenged picture for the city. “Violent crime is up 17% since he took office,” he told HPI Wednesday. “We have 46 murders per capita, which puts us in a very bad spot. You’ll learn we have 360 unsolved murders. The mayor is on TV saying ‘Fort Wayne is a safe city.’ I’ve knocked on over 10,000 doors and that’s not what I hear. We’ve had murders on every side of town. We’ve had live gunshots at our Krogers and Walmarts. We had a shooting at the end of a high speed chase at the Children’s Zoo.”

    Smith said he will put in place community-oriented policing. “We have so many unsolved murders, though we have witnesses, we know who the shooters are. Witnesses don’t come forward due to a lack of trust. You rebuild trust the old-fashioned way. You have those relationships, officers working smaller territories, parking their cars and getting out into the communities.”

    Smith is also planning to move 50 police officers from desk jobs to the streets, saying that will bring a $4 million “optimization” of public safety resources.

    The Republican nominee is also advocating “zero-based budgeting,” explaining that in his corporate experience, “Starting at zero is what we do in private business where every dollar spent must be justified (not just new dollars). This confirms that every dollar budgeted is actually necessary; it challenges bureaucratic inertia.”

    The campaign adds: “Zero-based budgeting is not enough by itself. If zero-based budgeting is joined by zero-based regulation, then private sector employers gain a measurable advantage in the market because every regulation – like every dollar – is reevaluated, and those deemed unnecessary are eliminated. An advantage in the market leads to additional sales, additional employees, more pay, and more opportunities. Let’s start over with city ordinances – eliminate the unnecessary regulations that are onerous to our residents and choking to our employers.”

    Smith said he will run a government with “business principles” and not the standard “run government like a business” because government lacks a profit motive. He leads more than 1,000 employees and contractors. “Every year, I have to start from ground zero,” he told HPI. “I have to justify every expenditure. You find new ways to save, more efficient ways to spend, find better partners.” 

    He noted that Henry recently renegotiated the city employee health contract, saving $4.5 million. “In business, we do this every year,” Smith said. “It’s one of the most expensive line items. Tom Henry didn’t do it until his 11th year in office. If Tom Henry makes that change in his first year, taxpayers would have had $50 million to redeploy.”

    Smith plans to paint Henry as a career politician, noting that he first ran for the Fort Wayne City Council in 1983. “That’s 10 consecutive elections,” Smith explained. “This is a race for a person running for his 40th year, to an outsider who wants to provide business principles.”

    The Republican said that debt under Henry had doubled to $1.2 billion.

    Smith said the city has lost 40,000 jobs in the last four decades, though he notes, “I don’t lay those all at the feet of Tom Henry.” He says he’s running because his children and their friends “are moving to greener pastures” in Indianapolis, Dayton, Cleveland and Chicago. 

    Working in the “specialty insurance space,” there are 7,000 such employees in northeastern Indiana and northwestern Ohio with a $7 billion value. “Here’s how a mayor attracts business,” Smith said. “It’s data, IT and analytics. If we don’t have those three things, we are dead in the next 10 years. The mayor of Fort Wayne should be talking to small- to mid-sized IT, data and analytic firms and saying, ‘Do you want access to 7,000 employees and $7 billion? They will come. They will move to Fort Wayne.” He said that defense and aerospace contractors and the auto-parts suppliers can be lured to the region.

    “We need a mayor to sell Fort Wayne as a value proposition,” Smith said.

    Henry fatigue?

    Asked about seeking a fourth term and whether there is “Henry fatigue,” the incumbent responds, “I think there is a certain portion of the city that feels that way, but interestingly enough, because our city is doing so well, they hear about these wonderful projects like Promenade Park and we’ve got a few more coming up, I think there’s a lot of excitement over the next thing to come along. We’ve spent years pulling this together and now it’s coming to fruition.”

    Henry is a Democrat who has been able to pull support from businessmen who tend to vote Republican for Congress, governor or president.

    While Smith is adding new voters, stressing social issues like abortion in his primary victory, he may have alienated Crawford’s supporters. The councilman has not endorsed either candidate at this point. When HPI asked Henry if the abortion issue ever comes up with voters, he responded, “Never.”

    Smith defeated Crawford 56.39% to 42.15% in the May primary. He said that through his fall campaign, be believes he can bring Crawford’s supporters back into the GOP fold.

    So, Smith’s challenge will be whether he can unite the GOP, including the Crawford wing, and change the dynamic from what’s going well in Indiana’s second largest city to what isn’t, and open up an era of “business principles” in government.  HPI starts this race leaning toward the Democrat, but most observers we’ve talked to believe this could easily move into the tossup zone and beyond once Smith’s homestretch media kicks in. HPI Horse Race Status: Leans Henry.

    Indianapolis: Merritt issues crime plan

    Republican mayoral nominee Jim Merritt unveiled his anti-crime proposal on Wednesday, vowing to flood neighborhoods with police units in the wake of homicides. Mayor Hogsett’s campaign called it a “stop and frisk” plan.

    Merritt explained, “A Merritt Administration will create a Metro Homicide Unit that brings together experienced homicide investigators from the seven surrounding law enforcement agencies, ATF, the FBI and the prosecutor to assist in solving homicides. We will bring the specialties of the police department to bear on the homicide problem, including the vice unit, the gang unit, the narcotics unit, the violent crimes unit, and the officers who work where the murders occurred. We will empower our officers to stop and question everyone moving about in the neighborhood where the crime occurred. We will also include the prosecutor’s office and the marshal’s office in the process to ensure a full view of the crime and the criminals. We will implement targeted and unannounced warrant sweeps to gather and collect wanted criminals within a two-mile radius of any murder that takes place. We will conduct immediate interviews of those arrested and share information gathered with the Metro Homicide Unit,” Merritt explained.

    Hogsett campaign spokesman Heather Slager responded, saying, “Over the last four years, Mayor Hogsett has returned IMPD to neighborhood-based beat policing, invested in grassroots organizations tackling the root causes of violent crime, and worked to build community trust. We know these strategies are working, as overall violent crime was down in 2018 and many indicators, including criminal homicides, are trending down in 2019. It is incredibly disappointing to see Sen. Merritt stand up today and pay lip service to police-community relations while promoting a ‘stop and frisk’-like strategy. These plans would turn back the clock on years of progress and create a culture of fear harmful to neighborhoods and officers alike.”

    Merritt began his proposal by calling Mayor Hogsett’s response to the city’s homicide rate by saying, “The silence coming from the mayor’s office has been deafening. This is unacceptable.”

    Merritt acknowledged that African-American residents are disproportionately affected by violent crime. “During the campaign, I have learned about the disparity within our city,” he said. “While I am creating a plan to get our city on the right track, failing to address this specific issue is a disservice to our city. Out of the 159 homicides in 2018, 118 of them were African-Americans – and 83 cases are still unsolved. When he ran for mayor, Joe Hogsett touted his law enforcement background and told us he would keep our city safe, and yet his record is one of abject failure.”

    According to Merritt, the only people who currently feel safe in our city are the criminals. “People’s homes have been violated. A score of teen lives cut short. Fear prevails in many of our neighbors’ eyes. This isn’t acceptable,” Merritt said. “My administration will make it clear: If you are a criminal, you have no place in our city.”

    Merritt’s plan to combat violent crime includes using proven law enforcement practices previously abandoned and getting back to grassroots crime prevention programs that work. “The communities most affected by this violence have a distrust of law enforcement. This is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed,” he said. “People should not be in fear when officers are called to help in any situation. We need members of our community to connect with our officers and engage with them outside of a law enforcement capacity through community events.”

    Slager of the Hogsett campaign added, “While chest-pounding and battle plans to invade neighborhoods with swarms of traffic stops may make Sen. Merritt feel like he’s tough on crime, Indianapolis residents know that empty talk and half-baked ideas won’t address the systemic issues affecting too many in our city.”

    New Hogsett ad

    Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s reelection campaign is airing a TV ad touting the administration’s capital improvement programs. The ad highlights the repairing of streets as well as adding 27,000 new LED street lights. “Building a better city with more work to do,” Hogsett said in the ad’s tagline. Hogsett’s campaign has spent at least $1 million in TV ads thus far this cycle.

    Merritt, Hogsett debate

    Mayor Hogsett and Sen. Merritt debated last week The candidates disagreed strongly on a topic of upmost importance to voters: How to pay for fixing and maintaining the city’s 8,000 miles of roads. Hogsett earlier this year introduced a regional plan that pools future income tax revenue from a nine-county area to pay for infrastructure improvements throughout the region. Mayors in cities surrounding Indianapolis, particularly those in Hamilton County, have balked at the idea, saying the plan unfairly creates winners and losers. Hogsett defended his plan, saying he believes his idea is a compelling one and provides a solution without creating a new tax, such as a commuter tax, which also has been an unpopular proposal. He wants to see his plan “fully vetted” but said he’s open to discussing other ideas. “The truth is every day nearly 200,000 people get up and drive into Indianapolis from outside of our county,” Hogsett said. “They go to work, and when they drive home that night, they take their income tax home with them. That is fundamentally unfair to the residents of Marion County.” 

    Merritt has proposed adding optional toll lanes on commuter-heavy roads such Binford Boulevard and Fall Creek Parkway. The toll lanes would give drivers traveling downtown from the suburbs an express lane if they are willing to pay for it. Thursday night, he said the toll lanes could create new funding to help address the city’s infrastructure problems. “I see that as a real possibility for the future of our infrastructure,” he said. Both candidates agreed poverty is an issue facing the city, where 20% of the population is affected by it. Sen. Merritt said it’s important to discuss food deserts and food insecurity when talking about poverty (IBJ). He was critical of Mayor Hogsett’s plan to combat food insecurity in Indianapolis, which involves using public funds to transport people to grocery stores via Lyft. 

    Merritt called for a “robust” program in which food is delivered to people’s homes, saying “Lyft is decaying neighborhoods.” He also proposed the idea of creating a food tax increment financing district to help those who are struggling. Meanwhile, Hogsett said quality education is the ticket to pulling people from poverty. He touted his Indy Achieves Promise Scholarship, a new program sponsored by the city that provides financial aid to low-income students from Marion County who attend IUPUI or Ivy Tech. Horse Race Status: Likely Hogsett 
  • HPI Analysis: Americans face unsettled future on Labor Day

    MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. - The trifecta of plagues afflicting an unsettled America were all evident as we headed toward Labor Day. Americans were witnessing massacres, an epic Category 5 hurricane and the death of a young California Angels pitcher due to fentanyl and oxycodone, yet another reminder of the opioid scourge that has yet to be quelled.

    It comes as the Real Clear Politics  composite national right/wrong track stands at a sour 36.3/56.7%. President Trump's RCP  composite job approval stands at 42.8 approve and 54.1% disapprove. Recent presidential election polls revealed he could not register above 40% against any of the top five Democratic contenders. Despite a robust economy and record low unemployment, President Trump is not benefiting from these economic tailwinds and, in fact, a new round of tariffs he imposed on China today further enmesh American farmers and manufacturers in a trade war likely to extend beyond the 2020 election.

    Yet another mass shooting occurred on Saturday in Texas, killing seven and injuring 19 in a traffic stop rampage stretching from Midland to Odessa. It was the 17th such incident in the U.S.in 2019, culminating in a bloody August where 51 people were killed.

    It has ignited another wave of calls for universal background checks, assault weapon and high-volume magazine bans, and national red flag laws. But Washington remains inert. President Trump appears to be siding with NRA leadership despite polls showing 90% back universal background checks and a Fox News Poll had 75% backing an assault weapon ban.

    Hoosier Republicans appear to be embracing a national red flag law after the Indiana version has averted hundreds of potential violent cases. But Republicans like U.S. Rep. Jim Banks and Larry Bucshon suggested that current laws are not being adequately enforced and that background checks would not have prevented the atrocities in El Paso and Dayton.

    It has posed this question: Do we just accept a culture where an evolving guerrilla war can be expected to kill and maim hundreds of Americans every year?

    The entire southeastern Atlantic coast is mesmerized by Hurricane Dorian with its stunning 175 mph winds, a Category 5 monster that could spread damage from Miami to Nags Head. It could be the third consecutive year where a Category 4 or 5 storm has made landfall or terrorized U.S. populations.

    It comes after July was the hottest month on record (replacing July 2016) as climate change has created a scenario of more intense and slow moving storms, high volume rainfall events, and wildfires afflicting the vital Amazon Rain Forest as well as the inter-mountain U.S. West.

    If Dorian makes landfall as a major hurricane, this would be the third consecutive year a Category 3 or stronger hurricane has made a U.S. landfall. Harvey, Irma and Maria were major hurricanes at landfall in 2017, followed by Category 5 Michael in 2018 that impacted the Florida Gulf Coast.

    The last streak in the U.S. was from 1959 to 1961, nearly 60 years ago.

    Finally, autopsy results from the death of 27-year-old Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs revealed he perished due to an overdose of alcohol, fentanyl and oxycodone. It came during a summer where Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma have faced legal repercussions measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars in damages. In 2017, an estimated 70,000 Americans died due to opioid overdoses and in Indiana, 29.4 Hoosiers per 100,000 died from opioid overdose.

    All of these portend a volatile 2020 election cycle in an election that could join 1800, 1860, 1932 and 1980 as consequential pivot points in the fragile American democracy experiment.

  • Could ransomware assaults on counties jeopardize 2020 elections?

    INDIANAPOLIS – Twice this summer Indiana counties have faced cybersecurity assaults, with LaPorte County actually paying $132,000 in ransom to sophisticated hackers. LaPorte County Commissioner Vidya Kora said the payment was made with the virtual currency Bitcoin after FBI experts weren’t able to unlock the county’s data. 

    In Vigo County, a ransomware attack targeted a software vulnerability in 129 of the county’s 489 computers, according to Government Technology. By the end of the month, 95% of the county computers were running again.

    GT reported: “The county’s information technology personnel are now sending analytical information to the FBI to help it discover patterns in the ransomware attack, said Jeremy Snowden, director of the county’s information technology department. ‘[The FBI] are putting together information in the back end to see if it relates to similar attacks of this nature,’ Snowden said, adding it is standard protocol to contact the FBI and others, including the Indiana Secretary of State’s office, after such an attack.”

    But it begs the question, what if randsomware hit counties during an election? It is Russian President Putin’s dream to disrupt and discredit a U.S. election. Targeting a handful of counties in several critical states could do that.

    Howey Politics Indiana asked Secretary of State Connie Lawson’s office about this potential vulnerability, particularly after 22 Texas municipalities were hacked for ransom this past week. Sophisticated hackers are targeting counties and cities, many operating on tight, shoestring budgets.

    “Cybersecurity is something our office takes very seriously, and we are continuing to equip counties with updated security techniques and train staff in the latest cyber trends,” said Ian Hauer, spokesman for Sec. Lawson. “The good news is that our election systems are not connected to the Internet or a county-wide network on Election Day, and therefore cannot be hacked remotely. Poll workers monitor machines closely, and e-pollbooks, which contain voter information, are working from a mirror system and are not connected to the Statewide Voter Registration System.”

    Hauer said that in the event of a power outage or similar delay, “The e-pollbooks can restart and reset securely, usually in a matter of minutes. Electronic voting machines have their own failsafe, a paper record within the machine that can be audited in the event of an outage.”

    Hauer added, “Finally, Indiana has introduced risk-limiting audits to the voting process, which allows the non-partisan Voting System and Technical Oversight Program to verify the results of an election and check for any anomalies. We continue to work with our partners at every level of government to ensure the integrity of Hoosier elections.”

    On Monday, Reuters reported that the U.S. government plans to launch a program in roughly one month that narrowly focuses on protecting voter registration databases and systems ahead of the 2020 presidential election. These systems, which are widely used to validate the eligibility of voters before they cast ballots, were compromised in 2016 by Russian hackers seeking to collect information. Intelligence officials are concerned that foreign hackers in 2020 not only will target the databases but attempt to manipulate, disrupt or destroy the data, according to current and former U.S. officials.

    “We assess these systems as high risk,” said a senior U.S. official, because they are one of the few pieces of election technology regularly connected to the internet, according to Reuters. The Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, a division of the Homeland Security Department, fears the databases could be targeted by ransomware, a type of virus that has crippled city computer networks across the United States, including recently in Texas, Baltimore and Atlanta.

    “Recent history has shown that state and county governments and those who support them are targets for ransomware attacks,” Christopher Krebs, CISA’s director, told Reuters. “That is why we are working alongside election officials and their private sector partners to help protect their databases and respond to possible ransomware attacks.”

    “Our thought is we don’t want the states to have to be in that situation,” said a Homeland Security official. “We’re focused on preventing it from happening.”

    That attack, dubbed “NotPetya,” went on to damage global corporations, including FedEx and Maersk, which had offices in Ukraine where the malware first spread. The threat is concerning because of its potential impact on voting results, experts say.

    “A pre-election undetected attack could tamper with voter lists, creating huge confusion and delays, disenfranchisement, and at large enough scale could compromise the validity of the election,” John Sebes, chief technology officer of the ESET Institute, an election technology policy think tank, told Reuters. 

    FRENCH LICK – Steve Braun is back on the congressional stage, this time in the 5th CD where he actually lives. The former legislator and brother of U.S. Sen. Mike Braun ran in the neighboring 4th CD in 2018, was considered a favorite with a significant money advantage as a self-funder, but was upset by State Rep. Jim Baird.

    Braun filed his FEC paperwork this week, joining Republican Micah Beckwith in the race, though Indiana Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, businessman Terry Henderson, former senator Mike Delph and State Sen. John Ruckelshaus are currently weighing bids.

    Braun raised $1,241,320 for his 2018 race, which included an $830,000 loan from himself. But the frontrunner made two mistakes. His campaign sent out the “arm and a leg” direct mail piece that was controversial because Baird had lost an arm while fighting in the Vietnam War. He also underestimated Baird’s support in the 4th CD farm community, which the farmer quietly worked.

    Baird had less than half the funds Braun did – $564,244, of which $250,000 came from a loan from himself – but used a grassroots campaign to clip Braun by a little under 6,000 votes, or by 36.6% to 29.5%.

    Beckwith kicked off his campaign on Aug. 15. “By God’s grace, America is still the shining city on a hill,” Beckwith said at his kickoff rally in Noblesville. “But let us not become complacent, let us not fall asleep. For the future of liberty and the future of American values rest solely in our hands to protect, to preserve and to pass on to our children and our children’s children. We come together to unite around a common cause. A cause that is just and noble. A cause that demands good men and women rise up. We come together to unite around Freedom. I am ready to boldly stand for those freedoms that you and your family hold dear. I am Micah Beckwith and I am running for Congress!”

    In a Good Citizen Podcast, Beckwith talked about being a Millennial pastor. The Hillsdale, Mich., native said he studied constitutional issues at Hillsdale College as well as Huntington University. He grew up in an evangelical family and played in a Christian rock band. “They were very, very intent on the church and morality being the center of our nation,” Beckwith said of the constitutional framers. He said supporters have been telling him, “The Lord is opening a door in public life for you.”

    On the Democratic side, 2018 nominee Dee Thornton, Jennifer Christie, former legislator Christina Hale and Andrew Jacobs III, son of the late Rep. Andrew Jacobs Jr., have all filed. 

    Christie filed in June. “It’s time for new leadership and it’s time for a change,” Christie said. “We’re in it for the issues. There are issues we must deal with now,” mentioning climate change and health care. 

    This past week, Christie reacted to the wildfires devouring the Amazon forests in Brazil. “My husband and I spent years traveling throughout the Amazon region. The richness of the Amazon is profound in every way; the Earth is precious and unique,” she posted on Facebook. “The abundant diversity that has evolved over billions of years is burning before our eyes. Once gone, it can never be replaced. I cannot think of anything sadder than a species that would destroy themselves and the entire world for greed. That is us burning.”

    Thornton was at the IDEA convention in French Lick over the weekend and told HPI, “We kicked off our campaign in July, we had a great turnout and we’re organizing and mobilizing and getting read.” She noted that her 2018 campaign didn’t kick off until January of that year. “After the primary we only had about five or six months to get ready, so we’re starting early this time.”

    She raised only about $75,000 in her campaign against Rep. Susan Brooks while drawing 44% of the vote, but said it is a “daily activity” this cycle. “I feel real good about it in terms of where we are this year.” She did not say how much she has raised.

    Is the 5th a purple district? “I have lived in Hamilton County for 28 years and I’ve seen drastic change. It’s happening throughout the 5th District. It’s absolutely winnable. My campaign demonstrates a Democrat can get traction. But at the end of the day, it’s about voter turnout. We have to make sure that women vote.” 


    Myers recalls the Ryan White saga

    Democratic gubernatorial candidate Woody Myers recalled his role in the Ryan White case when he was Indiana health commissioner under Gov. Robert Orr. In an email to supporters, Myers explained, “Courage. It’s a trait every leader must have and is what I saw in a boy I had the privilege to know when I was Indiana State Health Commissioner. His story is still relevant today and helped shape the man and leader I am.” He recalled how White was diagnosed as HIV positive after a blood transfusion. After his illness became public, the Western School Corporation in Howard County sought to keep him from attending class after 117 parents and 50 teachers signed a petition. Myers was asked to weigh in. 

    “My answer was ‘yes,’” Myers explained. “I spoke with the local county health officer at the time, a physician, who knew our public health assessment that Ryan was not a threat to his classmates or teachers was correct. But he told me he did not want to go against those whose fear overshadowed science and some of the families opposed were his patients, so he would not approve.” Myers continued: “We did not play politics, rather at the State Board of Health we embraced Ryan, physically and publicly, and we used all avenues of communication to make sure everyone who would listen to the evidence knew that Ryan White was not the threat. The real threat was ignorance, and it was fear.” 

    He said when mother Jeanne White moved the family to a neighboring county, “Our team educated the teachers, the parents, and the public. Ryan’s new school system did the right thing; they welcomed welcome him with open arms.” Ryan White died of his disease on April 8, 1990. “Later this month, exactly 22 years after Ryan was accepted and supported by Hamilton Heights High School, a commemorative historical marker will be dedicated in Arcadia, Indiana, a ceremony Jeanne White and I will attend,” Myers said. “What I knew then and still believe today is that so many of our public health problems, problems with education, and with helping families that struggle could be solved if we had leaders with the courage to speak out, speak truth to power, run for political office, and serve the public instead of the political extremes.”

    Holcomb reacts to lower test scores

    Gov. Eric Holcomb reacted to the low test scores on the first ILearn testing regime that replaced ISTEP. Supt. Jennifer McCormick has indicated the test scores will be much lower than ISTEP.  “The results of the 2018-19 ILearn proficiency test are scheduled to be released next week. The results will show a decrease compared to the previously administered ISTEP+ test,” Holcomb said. “Since this is the first year of the ILearn assessment, I will ask Superintendent McCormick to support my request that the General Assembly take action to hold schools harmless so the test scores do not have an adverse impact on teacher evaluations and schools’ letter grades for the 2018-19 school year. This action will ease the transition to ILearn, which is a student assessment that allows Indiana to comply with federal ESSA requirements.” Holcomb added, “I appreciate the dedicated work of Hoosier educators. Bringing consistency and continuity to how we measure student progress and preparing students for post-secondary success is a shared and important goal.”


    Sen. Tallian to run for AG

    State Sen. Karen Tallian said Wednesday she will seek the Democratic attorney general nomination. “Curtis Hill has not been an advocate for Indiana citizens, and he has not brought integrity and reason to this office,” Tallian said. “While I have been proud to serve in the State Senate, a decade of Republican supermajority across three branches of government has made Indiana a state of extreme politics.” The attorney general has faced sexual harassment allegations, has ignored Gov. Eric Holcomb’s call that he resign, and faces a Supreme Court ethics review. Republican Zionsville attorney John Westercamp announced he will challenge Hill in the June 2020 GOP convention, and former congressman Todd Rokita is exploring a potential challenge. Tallian mounted a brief campaign for governor in 2015.


    2nd CD: Hackett to launch campaign

    Notre Dame adjunct law professor Pat Hackett is holding her formal campaign launch on her candidacy for the Democratic against Rep. Jackie Walorski. The event will take place Wednesday evening, August 28th at 6pm at the South Bend Civic Theatre. The event is free and the public is encouraged to attend. “I am running to reclaim the people’s voice in Congress and to help restore this nation’s core commitment to dignity and justice for all, not the few. This district deserves an actual representative whose purpose is to serve the constituents and not outside financial special interests. I look forward to engaging voters throughout the district and addressing the many serious concerns they have on issues such as our economy, health care, the corrupting influence of money in politics, climate change, gun violence prevention, immigration reform, and more. I am honored by the tremendous early support for our grassroots campaign and encourage people to join us and help restore real representation to the people of this district.” 


    Fort Wayne: Firefighters endorse Smith

    The Fort Wayne Professional Firefighters, IAFF Local 124 Political Action Committee will on Thursday endorse Republican Tim Smith in the upcoming mayoral election (Fort Wayne Journal Gazette). It’s the first time the union PAC has endorsed a mayoral candidate in 16 years. “As we have gotten to know Tim Smith over the course of this past year, we have come to appreciate his openness and honesty,” the PAC said in a news release. “We look forward to the opportunity to work with and for him in the near future.” Specifically, the union PAC believes Smith “will be a visionary for public safety, the community” and will be an effective city leader.

    Merritt calls for ‘holistic’ infrastructure

    Republican Indianapolis mayoral nominee Jim Merritt called for a “holistic” approach to infrastructure. “It’s August and there are still hundreds of unfilled potholes throughout our neighborhoods,” Merritt said. “You see work that is being done, like the Red Line; however, it has been poorly planned and is choking traffic and frustrating our drivers. You see bridges that have been closed for months or years. You see road building, not road maintenance. All of these things demonstrate that our infrastructure is deteriorating, not improving.” According to Merritt, the reason for these problems is that the mayor is more concerned with short-term political gain than long-term care for our city. “Mayor Hogsett has failed in managing our streets. He has failed in communication, both to our citizens and to stakeholders. He has failed in managing repairs and maintenance to protect and improve our roads. He has simply failed in leadership,” Merritt said. Merritt proposed a “holistic approach” to addressing these problems that includes three key components, transparency, sustainable funding, and long-term strategy.
  • Horse Race: Trump's bizarre week

    INDIANAPOLIS - Think about what has occurred this past week. Last Wednesday, President Trump talked of his unilateral trade war with China and said, “I am the chosen one,” before turning and looking up toward the heavens. He later said he was being “sarcastic.” Later at a Louisville AMVET appearance, President Trump awarded a Medal of Honor to veteran Woody Williams, then said, “Nothing like the Medal of Honor. I wanted one, but they told me I don’t qualify, Woody. I said, ‘Can I give it to myself anyway?’  They said, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea.’” He hasn’t been able to hold a policy position on gun reform and taxes.

    This past weekend, he began the G7 weekend threatening China and U.S. corporations who do business there “ordering” them to come home, called President Xi an “enemy” before saying he had “second thoughts,” and ended in by claiming a phantom phone call saying President Xi wants a deal (psst, Mr. President, Xi can wait you out). Meanwhile, the Chinese are matching tariff for tariff, paid for by American consumers. 

    He skipped an environmental meeting on the burning Amazon rainforest crisis. Trump pushed to include Russia in the next G7, this after President Putin has invaded two counties prompting his G8 explusion, and continues to assault U.S. elections (see Page 8). At a bizarre 68 minute press conference, Trump praised Putin and Kim Jong-Un.

    This emerging dynamic is cautionary after a 2016 blue wave ended up in the Trump election miracle. But at this point, given the whiplash policy, a president who appears unstable, and a reelect based on racial exploitation, this is a landslide in the making if ... IF ... Democrats can nominate a coherent and credible nominee. 


    Trump poll disapproval at 62%

    About 6 in 10 Americans disapprove of President Donald Trump’s overall job performance, according to a new poll released Thursday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which finds some support for the president’s handling of the U.S. economy but gives him weak marks on other major issues. Just 36% of Americans approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president; 62% disapprove. The numbers may be ugly for a first-term president facing reelection in 14 months, but they are remarkably consistent. Trump’s approval rating has never dipped below 32% or risen above 42% in AP-NORC polls since he took office. No other president has stayed within so narrow a band. Since Gallup began measuring presidential approval, Trump is the only president whose rating has never been above 50%. Still, several — Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — logged ratings worse than Trump’s lowest rating so far at some point during their time in office.

    Walsh to challenge Trump 

    Joe Walsh, the ex-suburban Chicago GOP House member turned conservative talk show host who once backed President Donald Trump, on Sunday said he will challenge Trump in the GOP primary (Chicago Sun-Times). “I’m going to run for president. I’m going to challenge this guy,” Walsh told ABC “This Week” host George George Stephanopoulos. His slogan in his very longshot 2020 bid is “Be Brave,” Walsh said. “We’ve got a guy in the White House who is unfit, completely unfit to be president and it stuns me that nobody stepped up,” Walsh said. Walsh, no stranger to controversy and incendiary comments, said he knows he is “opening up my life” by taking on Trump, running from the right and making the moral argument that Trump is unfit for office. “I’m going to pound Trump every single day.”

    Buttigieg draws white crowd in Chicago

    South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg held a self-described grassroots campaign rally in Bronzeville on Tuesday night, but the overwhelmingly white audience he drew to the event in a historic black neighborhood reinforced the difficulty the Democratic presidential hopeful has had in connecting with African- American voters (Chicago Tribune). Buttigieg did not acknowledge the makeup of the audience in his remarks or in answering questions from the 1,000 people at the sold-out event, but did touch on it briefly as he closed the hourlong rally with a plea for his supporters. ‘Find the people who don’t look like most of you in this room and let them know they have the chance, not just to support this campaign, but to shape it,’ Buttigieg said.

    Buttigieg unveils opioid plan

    Buttigieg laid out his vision to improve mental health care and battle the opioid and addiction crisis across the country, saying his comprehensive plan makes a true commitment to treating the mental health care crisis with the urgency it deserves, and offers a new approach to meeting our national challenge with community-based solutions. “For years, politicians in Washington have claimed to prioritize mental health care while slashing funding for treatment and ignoring America’s growing addiction and mental health crisis,” said Buttigieg. “That neglect must end. Our plan breaks down the barriers around mental health and builds up a sense of belonging that will help millions of suffering Americans heal.” Pete’s plan will result in: Preventing 1 million deaths of despair (to drugs, alcohol, and suicide) by 2028. Ensuring least 75% of people who need mental health or addiction services receive the care that they need, an increase of more than 10 million in Pete’s first term. Decreasing the number of people incarcerated due to mental illness or substance use by 75% by the end of his first term.

    Pence, Haley rivalry taking shape

    When top Republicans convened at the St. Regis resort in Aspen, Colo., last month for an exclusive donor retreat, several attendees said there was palpable tension in the room as the gathering’s two headliners prepared to speak: Vice President Mike Pence and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley (Politico). The assembled group of governors, high-dollar donors, and operatives were well aware that the two have big ambitions; to some it seemed as if Pence and Haley, who spoke on back-to-back days, were vying for their attention. Some in the audience found themselves parsing and comparing the two speeches and buzzed they were getting a sneak preview of a 2024 Republican primary. Others recalled something peculiar: Neither Pence nor Haley acknowledged each other in their presentations, even though they gave shout-outs to others attending the retreat. The Pence team has recently asked senior Republicans for updates on Haley’s outreach to donors. And with Haley embarking on a national fundraising tour, top Pence advisers blame her for persistent rumors that she will replace him on the Trump’s ticket in 2020. Tensions flared after Haley chose not to publicly repudiate a Wall Street Journal column in June urging Trump to put her on the ticket. 

    Trump approval sags in battlegrounds

    President Trump’s net approval rating has plunged in every battleground state since taking office in January 2017, according to Morning Consult’s tracking poll (Axios).  “If this economy falters, then I think he’s a goner,” a top Republican operative with access to well-funded polling and focus groups told Axios’ Jonathan Swan. “And I think the Senate will be in trouble.” “We have a growing issue in the suburbs,” the operative continued. “We’re doing miserably in the suburbs, for Senate races and Republicans. And Trump is doing even worse.” One opening: The operative said that a good number of the suburban voters say they feel positively about Obamacare, but don’t like what they’re hearing in the Democratic debates about abolishing private health insurance. 

    Trump approval +5 in Indiana

    According to Morning Consult, President Trump has a +5 approval in Indiana. But that’s down significantly from his 19% plurality in the 2016 election.

    Both parties seek to flip states

    Both parties are already zeroing in on non-obvious battlegrounds they hope to flip, Axios’ Alayna Treene reports (Axios). The Trump campaign has its sights set on four states the president lost in 2016: Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire and New Mexico. “We are trying to actively expand the map — aggressively,” one official said. “These four states in particular are all areas [Trump campaign manager Brad] Parscale is set on winning.” The official added that the campaign, which is planning to beef up its communications and rapid response team with additional hires before the end of the year, will soon be flooding these states with stories that don’t get a lot of attention at the national level — such as Trump’s work on opioids and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal. Dems hope to pick up Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Texas and Georgia, campaign aides and Democratic strategists say. “The midterms were a strong indicator of the Dem energy in these states, particularly in Arizona, Florida and Texas, and set the groundwork for us to flip them,” one Democratic strategist said. A Trump campaign adviser conceded that Arizona, in particular, will be tough for Trump to hold onto.
  • HPI Analysis: A history of Hoosier bolts out of the blue

    NASHVILLE, Ind. – The shocker. The gut punch. The thunderbolt out of the blue.

    That’s what Hoosiers went through on Saturday night and into Sunday morning when Colts quarterback Andrew Luck announced he was retiring – at age 29. It came just after he was honored as “Comeback Player of the Year” in 2018 following a miserable three-year stretch that included wounded shoulders and lacerated kidneys.

    In the world of competition, the sudden retirement be it by an athlete or a politician can be a body blow to fans and supporters. In the sporting context, Hoosiers have had four such blows in modern times. In the political realm, since Howey Politics Indiana began publishing 25 years ago in August 1994, there have been a handful of stunning decisions made by Dan Coats, Joe Kernan, Evan Bayh and Mitch Daniels that rendered supporters speechless while dramatically altering the landscape.

    There are similarities between sports and politics, ranging from the concept of self-preservation to whether the “fire in the belly” is still applicable. 

    First, let’s examine the wide world of sports. In May 2000, Indiana University fired basketball coach Bob Knight after he had been put on double-secret probation by President Myles Brand for explosive and insensitive conduct unbecoming to the university. It began a three-decade estrangement that may only just beginning to soften this past year with Knight purchasing a home in Bloomington this summer.

    There was Michael Jordan’s abrupt retirement from the Chicago Bulls following three NBA titles when he decided to pursue a Major League Baseball career with the Chicago White Sox. He never made it out of the Sox farm system, returned to the Bulls in March 1995 in a game against the Pacers in Indianapolis, and then added three more titles in 1996, 1997 and (most painfully) in 1998 after a thrilling semi-final series against Larry Bird’s Pacers.

    In 2012, the Indianapolis Colts found themselves unsure about the health of legendary quarterback Peyton Manning after a series of neck surgeries, and that March they let him go. I found out about the decision based on “circumstances” while on stage with pollsters Fred Yang and Christine Matthews at DePauw University. It was the proverbial punch in the gut. In hindsight, it was a fateful decision. The Colts cut Manning, receiving no compensation (imagine if they had picked up a handful of draft choices which could have been used to protect their next franchise QB), and allowing him to sign with the Denver Broncos, where he went to two Super Bowls in four years, winning one.

    The Colts’ decision came with the next generational quarterback, Andrew Luck, poised as the No. 1 draft pick. Past and present met in a Colts vs. Broncos game in 2015, with Luck prevailing over Manning 27-24. But it was the classic Pyrrhic victory, as Luck would suffer a lacerated kidney that contributed to his mounting history of medical malady that eventually wore him down.

    Luck explained his decision Saturday night after the crowd found out about his retirement from a tweet from ESPN’s Adam Shefter during a pre-season game at Lucas Oil Stadium against the Chicago Bears. Luck left the field with some in the crowd booing him.

    “For the last four years or so, I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab, and it’s been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and offseason, and I felt stuck in it,” Luck explained in an emotional post-game press conference. “The only way I see out is to no longer play football. I’ve come to the proverbial fork in the road, and I made a vow to myself that if I ever did again, I’d choose me, in a sense. It’s very difficult; I love this team, I love my teammates, the folks in our building, the folks in this building, the fans. It’s sad, but I have a lot of clarity in this.”

    There tends to be gloom and doom when the legendary figure passes from the scene. While Bob Knight’s successor, Mike Davis, took the Hoosiers to an NCAA Finals game a couple years after the transition, it’s been a barren three decades for a university that had won five NCAA titles in the previous four decades.

    But teams can survive the passing of greatness. The Chicago White Sox won a World Series title in 2005 after one of its greatest players, Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, played just a couple of months early that summer before missing the rest of the season. And many forget that the Tennessee Volunteers won a NCAA football title in 1998, the season after Peyton Manning graduated and was drafted by the Colts.

    In a political context, career decisions made by a powerful figure can reverberate for years. In the television age, the most explosive came on March 31, 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not seek a second, full term due to the horrific Vietnam War. It continued to set in motion a decade of riots, anti-war protests, scandal and, along with economic and energy shocks, malaise. The nation didn’t get back on an even keel until the 1980 election of President Ronald Reagan.

    For Hoosiers, there have been at least five Luck-type decisions that were impactful:

    Dan Coats in 1997

    One of the biggest showdowns in Indiana U.S. Senate history loomed in 1998. There was Republican Sen. Dan Coats, preparing for his third election in a decade (he’d been selected by Gov. Robert Orr to finish Vice President Dan Quayle’s term in 1988, won a special election in 1990 against Baron Hill and won once more in 1992, defeating Joe Hogsett). And there was freshly retired Gov. Evan Bayh, poised to reclaim the seat Rep. Dan Quayle had “taken” from his father, Sen. Birch Bayh, in 1980. 

    But in late 1997, Coats stunned the Hoosier establishment. He abruptly dropped out, saying that 18 years of constant fundraising had jaded him. He also was sensitive to the notion of term limits and said that 18 years were enough. Following that decision, Coats appeared at my NUVO office to go over the highlights of his congressional career. At the conclusion, he disappeared through the door, then returned moments later, saying, “I could have beat Evan Bayh.” 

    Joe Kernan in 2002

    In December 2002, popular Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan announced he would not seek the governorship in 2004. It was a decision that shocked the pundits and left his supporters incredulous. Modern LGs up to that point, from Robert Rock to Robert Orr to Frank O’Bannon always yearned to move to the top office. I will never forget the look on the face of Kernan supporters like Kip Tew when that announcement came down.

    Howey Politics reported in its Dec. 12, 2002, edition: The strange case of Joe Kernan took shape on Monday when he told the press and glum supporters that “it’s just time.” A day later, Kernan told another gathering of the press that he feared that in serving as LG and running for governor, he would do neither well. “If you’ve got two full-time jobs, you’re not going to be able to do either well,” he said. “And if I can’t do something well, I’m not going to enjoy it.” 

    Kernan also dismissed as speculation the idea that he feared running on the record of Gov. Frank O’Bannon, or that his relationship with the governor or governor’s staff had soured. “They will say whatever they’re gonna say,” he said of critics. Credible sources had told HPI that Kernan became upset with Gov. O’Bannon after he named Peter Manous as Democratic chairman in blind-sided fashion earlier that year. Kernan believed that as the next nominee, he deserved to make that selection.

    HPI reported further: In analyzing Kernan’s bowing out statements, there is a major lack of logic. The “it’s just time” statement was interpreted by one prominent Democrat as, “He just didn’t have the fire in his belly.” 

    Fate played a role in Kernan’s future when Gov. O’Bannon died after a stroke in September 2003. Kernan re-entered the race in late 2003 following a donnybrook primary showdown between former Democratic National Chairman Joe Andrew and State Sen. Vi Simpson. But he had lost 18 months of organizing and fundraising, and former White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels conducted one of the best statewide campaigns in history, ending 16 consecutive years of Democratic gubernatorial rule, and beginning a 16-year era of GOP governors that could extend to 20 years if Gov. Eric Holcomb is reelected in 2020. The Kernan decision was one of two in the past 20 years that has helped relegate Indiana Democrats into super minority status.

    Evan Bayh in 2006

    Ever since Bayh arrived on the political scene in his own right in 1984 campaigning for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wayne Townsend, he was viewed as a rising star with a national ceiling. In short order, Bayh won secretary of state and gubernatorial races in 1986 and 1988, was reelected by a landslide in 1992, and keynoted the Democratic National Convention in 1996. A presidential bid and a future address of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or at the National Observatory seemed to be in the cards.

    The 1996 keynote was illustrative of the bare-knuckled caliber of national politics. Bayh was expected to deliver his address in primetime. But behind the scenes, operatives of First Lady Hillary Clinton appeared to work to delay the address and were successful. Bayh wouldn’t take the stage until after the 11 p.m. newscasts in the Eastern Time zone began, depriving him of the kind of primetime exposure that launched the national careers of Bill Clinton in 1988 and Barack Obama 20 years later.

    After two terms of President George W. Bush, and two terms in the U.S. Senate, the year 2008 appeared to be Bayh’s time. He declared for president in early December 2006, but on Dec. 16 came the shocker. With Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama rising, along with Sen. John Edwards (the 2004 vice presidential nominee), Bayh didn’t see a viable path to victory.

    “After talking with family and friends over the past several days, I have decided that this is not the year for me to run for president,” Bayh said in a statement that dropped jaws across Indiana. “The odds were always going to be very long for a relatively unknown candidate like myself, a little bit like David and Goliath. And whether there were too many Goliaths or whether I’m just not the right David ... the odds were longer than I felt I could responsibly pursue. This path – and these long odds – would have required me to be essentially absent from the Senate for the next year instead of working to help the people of my state and the nation.”

    Bayh remained on the national radar for another couple of years, making Barack Obama’s veep short list, before the nominee opted for Sen. Joe Biden in August 2008. But the real closure to his presidential ambitions came in 2006. 

    Evan Bayh in 2010

    The penultimate political act of Evan Bayh began in September 2009 seated in the Oval Office. “Are you 100% sure?” President Obama asked. 

    “I’m 98% sure,” Sen. Evan Bayh responded. The news Bayh delivered to President Obama was that he probably wouldn’t seek reelection in 2010. This had profound national and Indiana implications. Bayh’s hold on the Senate seat once held by his father was seen as “safe” in his hands.

    Still, the pending decision was a secret. It wouldn’t be until President’s Day, Feb. 15, 2010, that Bayh would drop his bombshell. It came just hours before Indiana’s primary filing deadline. By then, former senator Dan Coats had opted out of retirement and into the race, setting up the showdown that many of us had expected in 1998. 

    Bayh had given only a tiny clue a few weeks before, ending a meeting with a group of Hoosier constituents on energy issues by saying, “Now I’ve got to go deal with a German ambassador.” That would be Coats, who had been envoy to Germany. On Feb. 15, current GOP national committeewoman Anne Hathaway heard the report and called up Coats with the news. Coats responded, “Anne, welcome to the age of bloggers.” When she called back 20 minutes later with an “It’s true!” message, a pregnant pause followed before Coats said, “I can’t believe it.”

    Bayh acknowledged he had procrastinated in revealing his decision, then began predicting a catastrophe for the Democratic Party in the wake of Scott Brown’s Tea Party-propelled capture of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts. “If you lose Massachusetts, and that’s not a wake-up call, there’s no hope for waking up,” Bayh told ABC News.

    In Indiana, the Bayh dominoes began to fall, with U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth hurriedly shifting to the Senate race, State Rep. Trent Van Haaften transitioning to Ellsworth’s 8th CD, and State Sen. Bob Dieg opting for the Van Haaften House seat. All would end up losing.

    Coats taking Bayh’s U.S. Senate seat helped the GOP take the majority. But more importantly, it signaled a shift in southern and rural Indiana. The 2010 cycle – followed by similarly devastating cycles in 2012, 2014 and 2016 – essentially routed Democrats out of congressional, General Assembly and county seats, as well as rural Indiana, where Republicans now hold 80% of county courthouse offices and 89% of county commission seats. Counties like Clark, Floyd, and Posey have turned into GOP courthouse bastions. There are no Democratic state senators south of U.S. 50. It has bolstered three consecutive cycles of GOP super-majority rule in the Indiana General Assembly.
    Bayh would try a Senate comeback in 2016, but the campaign of Republican Todd Young eviscerated his political brand in Indiana, and it’s quite doubtful Evan Bayh will ever run again in Indiana, let alone nationally.

    Mitch Daniels in 2011

    While Sen. Evan Bayh’s fateful 2010 decision inextricably altered the Indiana political landscape to the point where it’s now close to being a one-party state, it was Gov. Mitch Daniels’ May 2011 bombshell that may have had the greatest impact nationally.

    Daniels flirted with a 2012 presidential run, but he did it in reverse. Most presidential-caliber politicians get the imprimatur of their family first, then seek outside political support. There had been a steady drumbeat for him to challenge President Obama. Daniels was successful in steering potential GOP presidential rival Rep. Mike Pence into the 2012 gubernatorial race. But then came the Daniels family decision.

    It all ended on a Sunday morning when he announced in the IndyStar he wasn’t running. “Over the last year and a half, a large and diverse group of people have suggested to me an idea that I never otherwise would have considered, that I run for president,” Daniels explained. “I’ve asked for time to think it over carefully, but these good people have been very patient and I owe them an answer. The answer is that I will not be a candidate. What could have been a complicated decision was in the end very simple: On matters affecting us all, our family constitution gives a veto to the women’s caucus, and there is no override provision. Simply put, I find myself caught between two duties. I love my country; I love my family more.”

    Daniels believed he could have won the 2012 Republican nomination that eventually went to Mitt Romney. Daniels thrived in retail politics and connected with the common man, something Romney lacked. In retrospect, Daniels has told HPI on several occasions he wasn’t sure he could have defeated Obama (something with which I disagree).

    Obama won reelection with a number of economic telltales working against an incumbent president. What Obama did have was a state-of-the-art digital communications and fundraising network that allowed him to prevail.

    There are profound hypotheticals to this: What if Gov. Daniels had defeated President Obama? It takes on vivid meaning in the context of today: Had there been a “President Daniels,” would there have been a political opening to be exploited by Donald Trump in 2016?

    You can make a case either way. A President Daniels certainly would have moved to solve the intractable entitlement quandaries that will explode into American politics in the coming decade. As Daniels predicted in his 2011 CPAC speech, there’s the “red menace” of the debt crisis facing our nation. The looming insolvency of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are mathematical certainties; the political will of Washington to address them in meaningful and timely ways is uncertain at best and not evident at all in recent presidential election cycles. Under President Trump and in a booming, pre-recession economy, the federal debt and deficits are mushrooming into multi-trillion dollar liabilities that will be shouldered by coming generations.  

    A few days after Daniels bowed out, he cautioned the nation. “I’m moved to say this: I wish folks would pay more attention to the second half of the statement as opposed to the first. What I decided means very little. What happens to me means nothing. What America decides and what happens to the nation in the next few years means everything. I would just urge everybody – now that you know the decision – to spend a little time if you would to reflect on the real reasons that motivated me to think about maybe doing it in the first place.”

    In the second part of his statement, Daniels had said, “I am deeply concerned, for the first time in my life, about the future of our Republic. In the next few years Americans will decide two basic sets of questions: Who’s in charge here? Should the public sector protect and promote the private sector or dominate and direct it? Does the government work for the people or vice versa? And, are we Americans still the kind of people who can successfully govern ourselves, discipline ourselves financially, put the future and our children’s interests ahead of the present and our own? I am confident that the answers will reaffirm the liberty and vitality of our nation, and hope to play some small part in proving that view true.”

    Today, with President Trump waging a unilateral trade war with China that doesn’t appear to be well thought out or competently waged, with mushrooming debt and an ever-growing income disparity, the emergence of job-sapping artificial intelligence, along with the twin evils of opioid and mass shooting epidemics, the questions Daniels raised in his book, “Keeping the Republic,” are as vital as ever.

    Little wonder that so many key Daniels supporters still quietly ponder the “what ifs” of a 2012 Daniels presidential run, and their desire to see him step back into the political game during what appears to be an unfolding crisis for both the Republican Party and the nation. 

    And that’s the nature of the gut punch, the body blow, and the bolt out of the blue. 
  • Atomic! Gun culture; Arm the pastor; Trump approval 36%
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in French Lick

    1. The absurdity of our gun culture

    Here are your Friday power lunch talking points: In today’s American gun culture, it’s now unsafe to … go to a place of worship. The FBI and the Indianapolis MPD will be conducting “active shooter” seminars at the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. Baptist minister Markel Hutchins chairs the Atlanta-based civil rights group Movement Forward and tells WIBC’s  Eric Berman that churches, mosques and synagogues are “soft targets.” And the unforgettable line:  Nearly everyone in a church, synagogue or mosque has his back to the entrance. Except the pastor.

    Now some anti gun reform advocates suggest the simple solution: Arm the pastor, rabbi, priest or imam. Which is how absurd this atmosphere has become in America. President Trump and those members in Congress who won’t act on any kind of impactful gun reform have traded their zeal for an unrestrained 2nd Amendment to the point where our churches, malls, subways, nightclubs and any place the public gathers are under attack.

    2. Trump approval just 36%

    After a summer of racially-tinged MAGA rallies and an unwillingness to stick to any consistent or coherent policy position (i.e. taxes, background checks), an AP/NORC Poll puts President Trump's approval at 36% while 62% disapprove. Those are historically bad numbers. First term presidents don’t get reelected with their approval south of 50% and Trump is, well, near the South Poll.  This weekend Trump heads to the G7 Summit in France. Last year he showed up late, left early and made a spectacle of himself. What could possibly go wrong this time?  And a Morning Consult/Politico poll shows that 69% of all voters would at least partially blame Trump for a recession. 

    3. Manufacturing slows down

    Indiana is the most manufacturing intense state in the nation, so CNBC’s  report that the manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) was 49.9 in August, down from 50.4 in July and below the neutral 50.0 threshold for the first time since September 2009, according to IHS Markit. Of course, 2009 was in the heart of the Great Recession. “Manufacturing companies continued to feel the impact of slowing global economic conditions,” Tim Moore, economics associate director at Markit, said in a statement Thursday. “August’s survey data provides a clear signal that economic growth has continued to soften in the third quarter.”  Market Watch  reports that revised federal government jobs reports have been revised downward by 501,000 jobs.

    4. Trade war with China intensifies

    China intensified the trade war by slapping retaliatory tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. good. The China Finance Ministry also announced plans to resume tariffs on U.S. imports of automobiles and automobile parts, which will be aimed at the northern and eastern Indiana auto manfufacturing belt. The tariffs would be 25% or 5%, and would take effect on Dec. 15. This comes after Axios  reports that White House insiders are saying that a trade deal with China is "tough to improbable"  because of gathering national security concerns over Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea.

    5. Mayor Pete’s mental health/opioid plan

    South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign released his vision to improve mental health care and battle the opioid and addiction crisis. “For years, politicians in Washington have claimed to prioritize mental health care while slashing funding for treatment and ignoring America’s growing addiction and mental health crisis,” said Buttigieg. “That neglect must end. Our plan breaks down the barriers around mental health and builds up a sense of belonging that will help millions of suffering Americans heal.” Mayor Pete’s plan will result in: Preventing 1 million deaths of despair (to drugs, alcohol, and suicide) by 2028. Ensuring least 75% of people who need mental health or addiction services receive the care that they need, an increase of more than 10 million in Pete's first term.  Decreasing the number of people incarcerated due to mental illness or substance use by 75% by the end of his first term. 

    Have a great weekend, folks. The next weekly HPI  comes out next Tuesday. It's The Atomic!
  • Atomic! Buchon's Bloody 8th; Parkland proposal; The Chosen One
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. Bucshon's town halls

    Here are your Thursday power lunch talking points: Give U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon credit for conducting a series of town halls across the 8th CD this week. It's part of a congressman's job, to listen to constituents in a public setting. If a congressman or woman isn't prepared to do this kind of outreach; is afraid of the constituency,perhaps they are in the wrong line of work. Proponents and adversaries show up to ask questions, applaud if they like the answers and boo if they don't. Bucshon has a new twist, giving attendees green and red cards that can be flashed when folks agree or disagree with a point. The Terre Haute Tribune-Star's  Alex Modesitt reported the town hall in his city Wednesday night some times resembled a Christmas tree. 

    Bucshon was asked about the epidemic of mass shootings afflicting and unnerving America  these days. On background checks, Bucshon said: “First of all, you cannot legally buy a firearm from any federally licensed dealer without getting a background check. You can’t buy one from a dealer on the internet or at a gun show without getting one. The only way you can legally purchase a gun without a background check is through a private sale. ... And to be clear, none of these shootings would have changed if the background checks were any different.” Bucshon added, with Modesitt reporting "much to the chagrin of many in attendance," that nothing short ofrepealing the 2nd Amendment  and sending federal agents door to door to collect guns would be enough to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. “Everybody wants these shootings to stop,” Bucshon said. “But look at the shooting we just had in Philadelphia where they guy who used an AR-15 had a 30-page-long rap sheet. He didn’t go to the gun shop to buy that AR-15."

    Sooooo ... are we to just accept the virtual guerrilla warfare that has gripped our nation? 

    2. Parkland student proposal

    March for Our Lives, the group that sprang up after the Parkland, Fla., massacre, has proposed “A Peace Plan for a Safer America.” Key components: It would create a national licensing and gun registry; ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; implement a mandatory gun buyback program; and install a “national director of gun violence prevention” who would report directly to the president; raise the gun purchase age from 18 to 21, and create a federal “multi-step” gun licensing system that would include in-person interviews and a 10-day wait before gun purchases are approved. The license would be renewed annually. March for Out Lives has more than 100 chapters and has spent the past year registering new voters.

    3. What happened to the Tea Party?

    Speaking of town halls, whatever happened to Rick Santelli? In February 2009 the CNBC reporter launched what effectively became the "Tea Party" on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. While it was in reaction to President Obama's stimulus package, it became a rallying organization for conservatives fretting massive federal debt and budget deficits. Early proponents included Mike Pence and Todd Young. On Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office forecast that federal deficits will grow by $1.7 trillion between 2020 and 2029. This comes on Vice President Pence and Sen. Young's watch. They no longer have any fiscal credibility. Wall Street Journal: In total, deficits are now expected to rise $809 billion more  than the agency projected just a few months ago, bringing total deficits over the next decade to $12.2 trillion. “The nation’s fiscal outlook is challenging,” CBO Director Phillip Swagel said. “To put it on a sustainable course, lawmakers will have to make significant changes to tax and spending policies — making revenues larger than they would be under current law, reducing spending below projected accounts, or adopting some combination of those approaches.” HPI: The deficit hawks are silent. The Baby Boom is in full retirement and Mitch Daniels "red menace" still lurks.

    4. Honor and the 'chosen one'

    Sometimes we just let comments speak for themselves. On Wednesday, President Trump talked of his unilateral trade war with China and said, "I am the chosen one," before turning and looking up toward the heavens. Later at a Louisville AMVET appearance, President Trump awarded a Medal of Honor to Woody Williams, then said, "Nothing like the Medal of Honor. I wanted one, but they told me I don't qualify, Woody. I said, 'Can I give it to myself anyway?'  They said, 'I don't think that's a good idea.'”

    5. That Trump/Pence ticket

    Right after the 2918 mid-term elections, President Trump made it clear he will seek reelection with Vice President Pence. On June 19, Trump said that it's "100 percent" he will run with Pence. On Sunday, Trump again reaffirmed he will run with Pence: “I’m very happy with Mike Pence.” On Wednesday, former U.N. ambassadorNikki Haley dismissed specualtion that she will run with Trump. "Enough of the false rumors. Vice President Pence has been a dear friend of mine for years. He has been a loyal and trustworthy VP to the President. He has my complete support." But ... we wonder ... why does this topic keep coming up?

    Thanks for reading, folks. It's The Atomic!
  • Atomic: GOP gun capitulation; Mounting threats; South Side Pete
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. The GOP gun capitulation

    Here are your hump day power lunch talking points. President Trump and the Republican controlled Senate appear to have capitulated to the NRA’s embattled Wayne LaPierre. All it took was one 30-minute phone call to send Trump in full retreat on any measure of meaningful gun reform. “We havevery, very strong background checks right now, but we have sort of missing areas and areas that don’t complete the whole circle,” Trump told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “I have to tell you that it’s a mental problem. Democrats would, I believe, give up the 2nd Amendment.” You can easily envision LaPierre whispering these talking points into Trump’s ear. It's a bizarre pattern. Atrocity after atrocity, Trump meets with the families of victims, gives lip service to reform, then retreats when the hardliners get to him.

    This capitulation quickly spread to Capitol Hill. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise speaking at a fundraiser for Rep. Jim Banks in Columbia City, said, “What I would like to see is us to continue to focus on making the existing laws actually work,” said Scalise, who was critically wounded in an assault on the GOP congressional baseball team. “In many cases with mass shootings, we've seen people falling through the cracks that shouldn't have been able to legally buy a gun.” And Banks? “As Steve says, we need to enforce the laws that we have.”  Say what?

    The “laws we have” are not enough to prevent the hundreds of mass shootings that have afflicted this jittery nation just this year, prompting stampedes at anything that sounds like gunfire. Are Scalise and Banks suggesting that law enforcement isn’t up to the task? Or we should raise taxes to hire more cops? Or raises taxes to harden all of our schools? And that police officers really like the idea of responding a nutball with a battlefield-grade weapon can kill nine people and injure 27 in 30 seconds  outside a Dayton nightclub? And that the 75% of Americans who favor an assault weapon and high volume magazine ban and the 90% who want universal background checks are to be denied? It is dizzying logic and an abject lack of leadership  and fortitude that must be addressed at the ballot box in November 2020.

    2. Dozens of mass shooting threats

    On the day of Scalise and Banks bizarre logic, Indianapolis police arrested two students who brought handguns to school. A Florida man who was threatening a massacre was arrested in Indianapolis after he texted friends: “I’m thinking about shooting a church up  but I’m afraid how it will affect my family in the flesh when I’m gone. So I think I’m just gonna kill some people on the street and get away with it then kill myself.” CNN: More than two dozen people have been arrested over threats to commit mass shootings since 31 people were killed in one weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton earlier this month. HPI: So it seems that many police agencies are being very diligent in assessing threats and making arrests. But it's only a matter of time before someone acts without tipping anyone off. Then we will repeat this cycle. At some point, the political consequences of the status quo will kick in.

    3. Auto fuel standard end around

    President Trump is "enraged" by U.S. automakers after they signed on to a pact with California not to roll back auto emission standards. This is one of the scenarios where Trump is attempting to undo policy from the Obama administration, we guess, in spite. But the economic reality is that afterPresident Obama established the new 54.5 mpg fuel efficiency standards by 2025 in August 2012, American and foreign automakers have spent the last seven years engineering to the new standards. So you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why Honda, Ford, Volkswagen and BMW and, soon, Mercedes-Benz, have signed on to the California standards. Fiat Chrysler is reassessing. These corporations have invested and retooled to the higher standards.

    4. South side Pete

    Mayor Pete Buttigieg held a campaign event on the south side of Chicago in what the Chicago Tribune  described as a "historic black neighborhood." But the audience was overwhelmingly white. Buttigieg told the sold-out rally, "Find the people who don't look like most of you in this room  and let them know they have the chance, not just to support this campaign, but to shape it." Polls show Buttigieg is getting virtually no African-American support. Nor has he been endorsed by any South Bend or Hoosier African-American office holders or leaders.

    5. Recession? What recession?

    President Trump, Vice President Pence and Kellyanne Conway insist there is no threat of recession. But Politico  reports that acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told an elite GOP funding crowd in Jackson Hole that if the U.S. were to face a recession, it would be “moderate and short.” How would he know? Trump is also considering a payroll tax cut in another "What? Me Worry?" moment. Why not further crimp the soon-to-be-insolvent Social Security fund just as the Baby Boom goes into full retirement? Trump won't be in office when those amazon chickens come home to roost, bills payable to our kids and grandchildren.

    Have a great last half of the week. It's The Atomic!
  • Atomic: Pence &  fundamentals; Ag cross hair; Torch clutch
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. About those ‘fundamentals’ …

    Here are your Tuesday power lunch talking points: Vice President Mike Pence returned to the Detroit Economic Club (where in 2010 the one time fervent anti-Keynesian famously stressed the concept of free trade and eschewed government bailouts), blaming the news media for conveying economic uncertainty. "Despite the irresponsible rhetoric of many in the mainstream media, the American economy is strong, and the U.S. economic outlook remains strong  as well," Pence said. "Now, last week, despite some volatility in global markets, leading retailers also reported strong sales and earnings, and consumer spending posted its strongest reading since March." This comes in the face of a 20% decline in RV shipments and that yield-curve inversion on the bond market.

    The Terre Haute Tribune-Star’s  Howard Greninger talked to Hoosier economists: On this inversion, Indiana State Prof. Robert Guell explained, “It is a relatively solid signal of an economic downturn as signals go. It hasn’t been wrong, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be wrong now.” And Purdue Prof. Larry DeBoer explained, “This is all a measure of confidence. It is weird, in a way, because sometimes the markets act as a yield curve inversion causes a recession, but all it is really is a read on what they [investors] are really thinking."  National Association for Business Economics reported that 74% of its members are forecasting a recession by the end of 2021.

    Meanwhile the Trump administration is exploring a payroll tax cut to keep the economy rolling. After Trump’s economic team (Larry Kudlow, Pete Navarro) called for unbridled optimism on the Sunday talk circuit, Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway sought to allay fears: “The fact is, the fundamentals of our economy are very strong.” It echoes the late Sen. John McCain’s assertion in September 2008 … on the night before the Lehman Brothers collapse.

    2. Rep. Bucshon’s town hall

    U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon is doing town halls this week. His first came in Evansville Monday for 90 minutes. He was asked about his support of President Trump: “The reality is I don’t support him on everything. But, if you look at his agenda, it is a right of center conservative agenda, and that’s what I support as a congressman.”

    3. Septuagenarian torch clutch

    A national CNN Poll  shows Joe Biden leading with 29%, followed by Bernie Sanders at 15% and Elizabeth Warren at 14% (Mayor Buttigieg is a distant 5%). So the septuagenarians are leading the pack with the winner taking on the septuagenarian President Donald Trump. The concept of passing the torch to a new generation isn’t catching on.

    4. Ag cross hair

    On the agriculture front, Purdue Prof. Chris Hurt acknowledged President Trump’s trade war is impacting Hoosier farmers. “Agriculture is in the cross hair,” he said. “There is a lot of concern and discomfort among Indiana farmers. Farmers want access to the markets. President Trump has brought the trade issue to the forefront.” U.S.Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun are questioning a USDA crop report. “Given the unprecedented rains this spring, which brought flooding and soggy fields across the Midwest, and particularly in the Hoosier state, this latest estimate perplexes many farmers,” Young and Braun wrote in a Friday letter. Finally, a Purdue report reveals that  the value of top-quality farmland in Indiana has declined, continuing a five-year trend. The statewide average of the best cropland is $8,212 per acre, down more than 5%.

    5. Dander rising

    Respected Hoosier Ag Today  columnist Randy Truitt is taking the Trump administration to task. “Over my nearly 40 years as a journalist, I have seen a lot of political leaders say some really stupid things," Truitt writes. "This past week, however, may have been a new low.” Truitt explained, "First President Trump, who is in the White House in no small part because of the support of farmers, made fun of wheat producers and belittled wheat exports to Japan, 'They send thousands and thousands — millions — of cars. We send them wheat. Wheat. That’s not a good deal. And they don’t even want our wheat.' Like most Americans, I have become accustomed to his outlandish quotes and bold statements, but this one is just indefensible." As for USDA Sec. Sonny Perdue calling farmers "whiners," Truitt added, "This on the heels of a USDA report that many growers feel is grossly inaccurate and responsible for pushing market prices even lower. So if you, as a farmer, are feeling misunderstood, unappreciated, and disrespected, you have a right to be."

    Thanks for reading folks. It's The Atomic!
  • Atomic! Oaths & the U.S. guerrilla war; 67% favor assault gun ban
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Nashville, Ind.

    1. Time to grow a spine on gun reform

    Here are your Friday power lunch talking points: U.S. Senators take this oath: "I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United Statesagainst all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office  on which I am about to enter: So help me God." 

    Following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Congress and President George W. Bush took an array of security steps to defend Americans from foreign terrorists. We experience these every time we fly or go into a security sensitive area. These measures have been largely successful. In 2019, Americans are facing a virtual guerrilla war from domestic sources  ranging from white supremacists to nihilist and anarchists. Current members of Congress have abjectly failed to respond  to hundreds of mass shootings ... this year ... that have claimed 246 deaths and 979 wounded. That's a total of 1,325 victims, about a third of the 9/11 total. There is now palpable panic. In this wake, Americans are so insecure that they stampede at the sounding of a motorcycle backfiring on Times Square or a mall sign falling. It is time for Indiana members of Congress to fulfill their constitutional duty  to protect the population from domestic terrorists. Or they should step aside  and let someone else step up and make the tough decisions. 

    Fox News Poll: Two-thirds, or 67%, support a ban on “assault weapons.” That’s up from 60% in 2018. Support includes over half of those living in a gun-owner household (53%). Over half of independents (58%) and an overwhelming majority of Democrats (86%) favor a ban.  Republicans split 46-46%, which is a shift from 2018 when it was 41% favor vs. 56% oppose. Most Democrats (88%) and Republicans (75%) favor “red flag” laws, as do voters in gun households (77%). Universal background checks are favored by Democrats at 92%), Republicans (89%), and gun households (93%).

    It's time to grow a spine, congressmen, congresswomen, and senators.

    2. Indiana sees 12% opioid death decline

    National Drug Czar Jim Carroll was in Indiana and reported a 12% decline in opioid overdose deaths  in the state. The national decline was 4.2%. Carroll: “I came to learn was the way that you were training local doctors and local providers in some of the rural communities. How to be addiction doctors, how to help patients who have an addiction, instead of farming it out to another doctor, that might be an hour or two away.” Carroll said Hoosiers leaders are seeking a partnership with the feds. “That's one of the things we've done today is build that relationship,"  Carroll explained. "So that we can call it a shoulder so we can have easy dialogue, to make sure that we're working together to help people."

    3. Mayor Pete & polls

    An Iowa Starting Line-Change Research Poll  has Sen. Elizabeth Warren leading with 28%, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders tied at 17%, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 13% and Sen. Kamala Harris at 8%. Politico  reports that Mayor Pete now has 57 staffers in Iowa, but has yet to snag a single endorsement. Fox News Poll nationally: Biden 31%, Warren 20%, Sanders 10%, Harris 8% while Sen. Cory Booker, Andrew Yang and Mayor Pete come in at 3%. The Fox News Poll  shows Joe Biden leading President Trump 50-38%. Bernie Sanders leads Trump 48-39%, Elizabeth Warren 46-39%, and Kamala Harris 45-39%. It does not show a head-to-head matchup between the president and Mayor Pete.

    4. Hottest July in recorded history

    NOAA reports that July was the hottest month in recorded history. It calculated that the average land and sea surface temperature world-wide for the month of July was 62.13 degrees Fahrenheit. The previous record was July 2016. And 2019 is expected to be among the hottest five years on record.

    5. Brown County venue opens

    Ten years after the Little Opry was consumed by fire, the 2,017 Brown County Music Center opened on Thursday. I'll be on hand for the Aug. 24 debut concert featuringVince Gill. Coming soon will be Henry Lee Summer (Sept. 6) Tesla (Sept. 7), Art Garfunkel (Sept. 12), Breakfast Club (Sept. 13), Tanya Tucker (Sept. 19), Clint Black (Sept. 20), Gordon Lightfoot (Sept. 28), Gordon Bonham's Blues Band (Oct. 5), Home Free (Oct. 6), Josh Turner (Oct. 12), Duke Tumatoe (Oct. 17),George Thorogood & The Destroyers (Oct. 13) and Here Come The Mummies (Oct. 26).

    Thanks for reading, folks. We appreciate your readership. It's The Atomic!
  • Horse Race: As Dem INGov field winnows, Holcomb faces personnel issues

    INDIANAPOLIS – We may be about a month away from having the Indiana gubernatorial field set, with the most likely outcome being a Democratic challenge from Dr. Woody Myers to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is now facing some administration ethics and personnel issues.

    The potential Democratic field of three winnowed to two on Tuesday, when Indianapolis State Rep. Karlee Macer said she would not run. “The support I’ve seen from communities all across our state and the work Democrats are doing is nothing short of inspiring,” she said Tuesday morning. “While I stand ready to roll my sleeves up, and show our state what it means to be a Democrat, I will not be doing so in a bid for governor.” 

    That leaves Myers as the only declared Democrat. Myers reacted, saying, “Rep. Macer continues to serve her district well and her strong voice remains vital to our state. I’ve admired her work speaking out for labor rights and working families, especially during the Carrier and Rexnord layoffs. I know from experience that running for governor is a very personal decision that must take many factors into account. I know she’ll continue to be a great leader for Indiana.”

    The lone wild card is Democratic State Sen. Eddie Melton, who is conducting town halls with Republican Supt. Jennifer McCormick, but has yet to form an exploratory committee. His advisory team told HPI that a candidacy decision would likely come after Labor Day. We’d be shocked if Melton gets in. By the time he makes a decision, Myers will have a huge leg up in fundraising. He’s a potential self-funder, though he has said he will seek most of his funding from traditional Democratic sources.

    Neither Melton or Myers has much name ID statewide. But the biggest obstacle Melton faces is having to give up a safe Gary-based Senate seat to run in a primary where he will be at a distinct disadvantage. As we’ve surmised in recent posts, Melton’s move is a good way to get himself on the statewide radar for a potential 2024 race. If he runs in 2020 and gives up his Senate seat to then lose the primary to Myers, he’ll be an absolute non-factor five years from now.

    Melton reacted to Macer’s decision, saying, “Rep. Macer is a tremendous leader in our party. I have always enjoyed working with her in the legislature and have further enjoyed getting to know her better as we have travelled the state this summer. As a member of the Democratic Party, I look forward to continuing to work with Rep. Macer as we fight to improve the lives of Hoosier families.”

    As for Macer, like Myers and Melton, she has virtually no statewide name recognition and would have had to give up her seat. If she did that, Republicans might have a shot at increasing their House super majority. Her future is clearly in the House.

    Holcomb’s personnel issues percolating

    As for Gov. Holcomb, he was cleared of a potential ethics violation involving flights to Colorado and Arizona for a Republican Governors Association meeting that totaled about $50,000 paid for by Spectacle Entertainment, which had just purchased a Gary casino with the intent of moving it to Terre Haute. Inspector General Lori Torres said in a statement, “Although it is likely that the governor’s attendance at the RGA meetings, and therefore the flights, had some benefit to the governor and/or first lady, the OIG found no evidence to dispute the claim that the flights primarily benefited the RGA.”

    Holcomb has several personnel issues percolating. The Department of Personnel finally released a statement to HPI late last week on Department of Child Services Associate Director Todd Meyer’s July resignation. “Todd Meyer was not suspended, demoted, or discharged; he resigned, and there are no formal charges pending,” said Mikka Jackson of state personnel. “The statute does not require a public employer to create and publish a statement about the reason for another person’s decision. The individual may or may not choose to speak for himself.” 

    That doesn’t clear up why Meyer resigned. The DCS reforms are a critical component of Holcomb’s first term policy legacy, coming after former Director Mary Bonaventura resigned in 2018, citing a culture of neglect at the agency. Holcomb moved swiftly after that, convening a study of the agency which released 20 recommendations. Meyer was brought on to implement a number of those reforms.

    Normally when such a key staffer resigns, it’s to take another job and usually laudatory sentiments are expressed about the departing person; Meyer’s decision to leave remains shrouded in mystery.

    In the Aug. 8 HPI Interview with Dr. Myers, the former Indiana health commissioner, he said of Meyer, “He seems to have been asked to leave suddenly with no explanation from the state as to what that was all about. The position was created for him to do that job, so we know there was something going on, and we have an obligation to find out. I’m afraid we may be sitting on an abscess, on a set of problems on the surface that go far deeper.”

    Holcomb himself said in a July 18 HPI Interview that he was satisfied with the pace of reforms at DCS. “I am very proud of DCS personnel and leadership,” Holcomb said. “They are executing and implementing those recommendations with courage. It’s making a difference. Kudos for Terry Stigdon and her whole crew. They know I’ve got their back. It’s one of the toughest jobs one could imagine.” 

    The success of those reforms will be a key component to the governor’s reelection campaign and Myers can be expected to bring up the Meyer resignation and other aspects which he views as shortcomings of the reforms. 

    There is the upheaval at the Department of Veterans Affairs where Director James Brown resigned in December after reports that money was steered to agency employees rather than struggling veterans. It was reported that former senator Allen Paul may have violated state lobbying laws when he accepted more than $150,000 in a contract with the agency. The IndyStar reported that lawmakers have to wait a year after leaving office before they can become lobbyists and Paul failed to register as a lobbyist. Again, Myers mentioned this controversy during his HPI Interview.

    Then there was this Monday’s resignation of Adj. Gen. Courtney Carr following a lawsuit filed in Marion County Superior Court by contractor Shari McLaughlin. She told WRTV that there is a culture in the Guard where “everybody was sleeping with somebody that wasn’t their spouse.” 

    “There’s no way to trust if things are being done for the right reasons, in the right way, because everybody has blackmail on somebody else,” she said. McLaughlin claims she was subjected to retaliation, unwarranted write-ups, false accusations, and intimidation. “It just got worse and worse,” said McLaughlin. “I disclosed information that didn’t look good.” McLaughlin told WRTV she was surprised Carr quit. “I was shocked,” said McLaughlin. “It also struck me as odd that he’s retiring with full benefits.” McLaughlin called his retirement not even a “slap on the wrist.”

    This comes after Holcomb had announced “zero tolerance” of sexual harassment, intimidation and assault in state government. If McLaughlin is to be believed, there may be more news coming from the Indiana National Guard.

    Holcomb also has Attorney General Curtis Hill in office, despite his calls for Hill to resign following 2018 sexual harassment allegations made by State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon and three General Assembly staffers.

    After a relatively surprise-free three years in office, Holcomb is now facing some potential ethical challenges.  
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