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Wednesday, August 21, 2013 10:18 AM
Opponents of the effort to add a ban on gay marriage to the Indiana constitution say they will announce a new coalition Wednesday that comes with bipartisan firepower (Murray, Indianapolis Star). The kickoff for the coalition, called Freedom Indiana, comes as gay-rights groups and allies gear up for the fight next year in the General Assembly — and, if necessary, at the ballot box. Several groups will be joined at noon in Downtown Indianapolis’ Artsgarden by supportive companies, including Eli Lilly and Co. and Cummins. Also on hand will be a new campaign manager who is a veteran of Republican campaigns. Freedom Indiana will be run by Megan Robertson, the group said. She managed last year’s winning campaign of U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., an opponent of gay marriage, and was his communications director until recently. Robertson also managed Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s reelection campaign in 2011, was political director for U.S. Sen. Dan Coats’ 2010 campaign and has worked on other campaigns. She was not available for comment Tuesday. “She’s absolutely what we need, and she knows what to do,” said Rick Sutton, executive director of Indiana Equality Action, which lobbied unsuccessfully against the amendment before the legislature approved it in 2011. He will be the coalition’s president…The coalition will face off against supporters of the amendment as well as Indiana legislative leaders who are clearing its way and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican who has voiced support.
  • Crossroads GPS has purchased $20,000 worth of online advertising in support of Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., according to a forthcoming news release shared first with CQ Roll Call. The GOP super PAC’s buy is likely meant to bolster Bucshon’s re-election; some Republicans speculate that the two-term incumbent could face a primary challenge in 2014. The advertisement will appear on Facebook, as a pre-roll ad on YouTube and on other online sharing sites. The issue spot thanks Bucshon for supporting the Save American Workers Act, which would restore the “40-hour workweek.” A 15-second version of the ad was also produced. The race is rated Safe Republican by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call. CQ Roll Call reported in June that Bucshon could face a primary challenge, and the Club for Growth features Buchson on its “Primary My Congressman” webpage. The latest speculation on that front is that Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock is looking at a potential challenge after Gov. Mike Pence chose Dwayne Sawyer as state auditor (Howey Politics Indiana).
  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry wants to kill Obamacare dead, but Texas health officials are in talks with the Obama administration about accepting an estimated $100 million available through the health law to care for the elderly and disabled, POLITICO has learned. Perry health aides are negotiating with the Obama administration on the terms of an optional Obamacare program that would allow Texas to claim stepped-up Medicaid funding for the care of people with  One line of thinking as to why the Texas governor, who has honed his national image in no small measure by denouncing Obamacare, would make such a seemingly inconsistent move goes like this: Treating disabled and elderly people is less politically charged than a sweeping national law forcing people to buy health insurance. Perry recently decided against seeking reelection next year but is mulling a second presidential bid in 2016,Perry spokesman Josh Havens said in a statement that the governor has long sought to help people with disabilities. “Long before Obamacare was forced on the American people, Texas was implementing policies to provide those with intellectual disabilities more community options to enable them to live more independent lives, at a lower cost to taxpayers,” the statement read. “The Texas Health and Human Services Commission will continue to move forward with these policies because they are right for our citizens and our state, regardless of whatever funding schemes may be found in Obamacare.”
  • A new governmental panel that combines the efforts of more than 30 boards and commissions dealing with children’s issues is meeting for the first time Wednesday (Smith, Indiana Public Media). The Commission for Improving the Status of Children is made up experts and state officials involved in children’s issues, including the Department of Child Services director, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the state Health Director, the Attorney General and state lawmakers. Syracuse Republican Representative Rebecca Kubacki, who serves on the commission, says the panel has to ensure that it provides actual solutions rather than just discussing ideas and generating reports that no one reads. She says one way to do that is to focus on specific goals early on. “It’s like eating an elephant,” she says. “You take one bite at a time and really start to look at what has the most negative impact on our kids and starting working our way down from that.” Senate Minority Leader and commission member Tim Lanane says he’s already got issues in mind he’d like to see the commission tackle. “One has to do with the fact that now in Indiana, almost one out of four children live below the poverty level,” he says. “So how do we lift families, how do we lift children out of poverty in coming generations?” Kubacki says at the commission’s first meeting, she’s hoping to develop a list of top priority issues and begin generating ideas to combat the most critical.
  • A controversy which flared more than a year ago is setting up a primary battle for a Fort Wayne legislator next year (Berman, WIBC). Republican Representative Bob Morris took heat last February for a letter to fellow legislators accusing the Girl Scouts of promoting "radical policies" on abortion, sex education and homosexuality. Morris apologized five days later for what he said was the "emotional and inflammatory" tone of the letter, but stood by the substance of the charges. The controversy erupted after the filing deadline for the primary, and Morris cruised to reelection in November with 60% of the vote. But with filing for next year's primary four months away, attorney Michael Barranda and business owner Mark Hagar have both launched bids to unseat Morris. Barranda flirted with a third-party run against Morris last year after the Girl Scout dustup, saying voters needed a conservative alternative to "restore credibility" to the seat. He says his experience in nonprofits, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Republican Party sets him apart, and pledges to offer specific policy ideas, not just slogans. Hagar says Morris "left a lot of room" to have handled the Girl Scout situation better, but says that's not why he's running. He says as a businessman, he's concerned about federal interference in state affairs, and says he'd push legislators to take stronger stands asserting rights of gun ownership, privacy, and the First Amendment.
  • Republican Dwayne Sawyer, president of the Brownsburg Town Council, said he was grateful for the governor’s trust as he was sworn in as the state’s new auditor on Monday at a Statehouse ceremony (Price, Statehouse File). Sawyer, who worked in financial management solutions at Roche Diagnostics, Dow AgroSciences and Eli Lilly & Co., is the first black Republican to hold a statewide office in Indiana. Chief Justice Brent Dickson swore Sawyer in. The appointment fills the vacancy left by former Auditor Tim Berry who resigned to become the chairman of the Indiana Republican Party. Pence said he chose Sawyer to serve as auditor because he was the best person to serve as a steward of Indiana’s resources. He said Sawyer brings professionalism and integrity with him to his new position. “From his service and leadership in the Brownsburg Town Council, where he managed to budget an excess of $40 million, he led his community through a period of unprecedented growth and tax relief,” Pence said. Several hundred people attended the event, which featured comments from Pence and Sawyer. Secretary of State Connie Lawson – who also hails from Hendricks County – also took part.
  • Gov. Mike Pence’s legislative director will leave his office and join a political strategies company in the midst of an uproar about her former boss, the firm’s owners said Monday (Weidenbener, Statehouse File). Heather Willis Neal served as chief of staff to former state Superintendent Tony Bennett during the time he is accused of changing the state’s A-F grading system to benefit a charter school he had been touting. Neal participated in email exchanges that discussed making the controversial changes. After Bennett lost his reelection bid last year, Neal moved to the new Pence administration. Now, she’ll serve as president of the public affairs practice at Limestone Strategies, a firm co-founded by Cam Savage, who also worked for Bennett.
  • A trio of proposed tax and fee increases received varying receptions Monday when Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard presented his budget plan to the City-County Council (Murray, Indianapolis Star). The strongest opposition or skepticism greeted Ballard’s latest bid to spike the homestead property tax credit, which he calls outdated in the era of tax caps. The council rejected a proposal to phase out the credit last month, with some calling it a clear tax increase. Republican Aaron Freeman and Democrat Zach Adamson often disagree, but they both oppose that move — and both support Ballard’s other tax proposal, which also would raise taxes for some. That’s the mayor’s request to expand a police taxing district from the old city limits to the county line. It wasn’t expanded after the 2007 police merger…Ballard’s $1 billion city-county budget proposal for next year depends on those two tax changes to finance the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. Separate from the budget, the council also introduced a proposed storm water fees overhaul that would increase the amount paid by most property owners to pay for a backlog of neighborhood drainage projects. Monday, that proposal was being met by council members with a desire to learn more before committing…The real debates on all three proposals will happen in coming weeks in committees that will look at the numbers and any alternatives. Council President Maggie Lewis told The Star that the majority Democrats, who have a 15-14 edge, would look at the toll of the proposed increases together. She also hopes, she said, to examine the city’s reserve funds, public works money and other sources before asking residents to pay up.
  • The South Bend School Board is protesting the state’s school grading system (Harrington, WNDU-TV). On Monday night, they voted unanimously to reject the A through F evaluation system that was implemented under former State Superintendent of Schools Tony Bennett. They’re the second school board in the state to do so after emails revealed Bennett altered the grade of a campaign donor’s charter school last year.  South Bend board members say the current system evaluates schools on several factors, but focuses primarily on I-STEP scores. They’re concerned because it doesn’t take into account other aspects that might impact a student’s score on the exam, such as poverty, special needs or language proficiency. “It’s not a healthy way and it doesn't involve multiple measures overtime which is something we want to see, some type of triangulated data about how schools are doing,” said South Bend Schools Superintendent Carole Schmidt. The board’s vote won’t prevent it from being evaluated under the A through F grading system or impact funding, but they’re hoping it sends a message to state leaders. They want to see a new, more comprehensive evaluation model implemented as soon as possible. “We don't feel that the current ranking system of our schools reflects what's going on,” said board member Roger Parent. South Bend’s school board is the second in the state to denounce the grading system. Fort Wayne’s school board approved a similar resolution last week.
  • In about six weeks, Americans will have a new kind of open enrollment to consider (Wall Street Journal). Starting Oct. 1, people without health insurance can sign up for standardized coverage through new health-insurance marketplaces run either by their state, the federal government or a combination of the two—the centerpiece of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The coverage will take effect Jan. 1. And people with incomes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level—about $23,500 to $94,000 for a family of four—can receive financial help on a sliding scale to offset the costs. These marketplaces, also known as exchanges, will make shopping for health insurance easier than it is today, says Sarah Dash, a research fellow at Georgetown University who has studied the new marketplaces. "Consumers are going to get a much more transparent, apples-to-apples shopping experience." If you have affordable insurance through an employer, or if you have coverage through a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid, you won't be affected by the exchanges. Exchange shoppers will fill out a single insurance application, which will be used to "find out if they can get a tax credit on their premium, help with cost-sharing or if they're eligible for Medicaid in their state," Ms. Dash says. You can calculate your potential premium assistance with an online tool from the Kaiser  Family Foundation, which conducts health-care research. This first open-enrollment period will last six months, from Oct. 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014. It generally takes two weeks for a policy to go into effect after enrolling, so you'll need to sign up by Dec. 15 to get coverage starting Jan. 1. Many state call centers already are running. Visit or call 1-800-318-2596 for more information.

  • If state Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage) had another chance to vote on Indiana’s Stand Your Ground law, she would not vote for it again (Post-Tribune). Tallian told the audience at a Stand Your Ground rally Saturday at the Porter County Courthouse that in 2006, “When we passed this law initially, there was no discussion about it.” In light of recent incidents around the country, “We need to reevaluate this,” she said. She voted for the law because she was persuaded by the arguments that it wouldn’t change Indiana law, based on a 1877 case law that allowed a similar defense. “I don’t like that people have now twisted that” into a machismo of “you’re not going to make me move,” she said.
  • Gov. Mike Pence had his first Harley-Davidson motorcycle lesson Friday and plans to continue former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ annual fall charity ride (Fort Wayne Journal Gazette). “I’ll be heavily helmeted and padded,” Pence said, noting he rode as a kid but it has been a long time and his skills need polishing. He doesn’t own a Harley and will borrow one for the official ride. He joked it could be on his Christmas list, though. Daniels led the ride all eight years in office. It is free, although bikers are encouraged to make a donation to the Indiana National Guard Relief Fund. Through the years more than $30,000 has been raised. The annual event is coordinated by ABATE of Indiana and participation grew to 700 bikers. ABATE promotes motorcycle safety and also trains riders.
  • It was interesting to hear the take from NBC war correspondent Richard Engel on whether the U.S. should cut off aid to Egypt. It is something the Israelis, the Saudis and other U.S. allies would oppose. Once the aid would be cut off, the U.S. would lose leverage with the Egyptian military. - Brian A. Howey
  • Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday rejected the idea of a one-year hiatus on school letter grades because of testing interruptions and a scandal that has put their validity in question. “I don’t think we should take a time-out on accountability,” he said. “We grade our kids every day. We ought to be willing to grade our schools every year.” Computer errors in the spring plagued thousands of students taking the ISTEP test – a large part of the A-F grades given to schools every year. And then earlier this month the Associated Press revealed emails from then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett showing he and his staff frantically worked to improve the accountability grade of a key charter school from a C to an A. As a result, Bennett resigned as Florida education commissioner. Lawmakers earlier this year – before the Bennett scandal – already mandated a new grading system be established after concerns were raised by schools and other groups. But it is still being designed and doesn’t go into effect until 2014. That means Indiana schools will receive a grade under the disputed system later this year. But Pence told The Journal Gazette regardless of the circumstances it is not right to back away, noting that thousands of children are stuck in underperforming schools. House and Senate leaders have launched an independent, bipartisan review of the grading system, and Pence said he hopes that analysis will get to the bottom of the issues being raised. “I understand the anxiety that has been created,” he said.
  • A veteran lawmaker from New Haven will not pursue a 19th term in the Indiana House (Kelly, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette). Republican Rep. Phyllis Pond has served since 1978, often focusing on education issues that are near to her heart as a retired kindergarten teacher. “It was very hard decision. I really enjoy it. There are so many things that we have an influence on,” Pond said. “This will make a lot of people happy who want to run. I want to run but I think I should leave it for someone else now.” She said five or six people have contacted her about the House District 85 primary next year. Only one has made public his intention to run, Republican attorney Casey Cox. Filing doesn’t start until January. Pond, 82, has had pulmonary problems in recent years, forcing her to wear oxygen at all times. She conceded she is still deciding whether she can finish her full term, which ends in late 2014. Her doctor has expressed concern about her health being in the Statehouse in January and exposed to germs. Pond said she will decide whether she will resign early in the coming months. If that happens, a caucus of local precinct persons will appoint a replacement. “She has a lot of grit, spunk, such a good person and a solid Republican. We’ll miss her,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. “She’s been a great public servant for our area – very loyal and very effective.” Pond said she won’t endorse anyone in the race to replace her.
  • House conservatives say grassroots support is building for their effort to risk a government shutdown to defund ObamaCare (The Hill). Conservatives who back the strategy said their spines have been stiffened by support at town hall meetings. “I have not heard don’t shut down the government over ObamaCare,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) said, referring to meetings with his constituents over the recess. “I have heard this law is not ready for primetime and we need to do anything we can to stop it.” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) has held six events in his north Texas district so far in August, and is leaning toward backing the shutdown threat. He also said the federal government’s move this month to subsidize health insurance for lawmakers and staff required to enter ObamaCare’s exchanges is acting as an “accelerant” and “driving people into a froth” about shutting the government down over ObamaCare funding. “I'm hearing a lot of anger that is right beneath the surface, ready to erupt,” Burgess said. At one town hall, Burgess said support for the defunding threat was "virtually unanimous" when he asked for a show of hands. Republicans opposed to the effort believe President Obama and Senate Democrats will never agree to a bill that funds the government — but not the healthcare law. They warn their party would walk into a trap by adopting the strategy, and that Republicans will be blamed for a shutdown. But even some of these Republicans acknowledge their constituents are telling them to go all out in defunding ObamaCare. “I’m getting quite a bit about having a shutdown over Obamacare. I disagree with that,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla), who described his town halls as “challenging.”
  • Former House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich reprimanded his fellow Republicans in unusually harsh terms Wednesday, blaming GOP members of Congress for developing "zero" alternatives to President Obama's health care reform law. Gingrich, who was speaking at the opening session of the Republican National Committee's summer meeting, fielded a question about "Obamacare" and recalled that Republicans were able to block Bill Clinton's health care reform effort in 1994 because they had "a positive alternative approach" to health care (CNN). But Republicans today have nothing comparable to offer, Gingrich told nearly the 200 state party chairs, operatives and activists gathered in Boston for the conference. "I will bet you, for most of you, you go home in the next two weeks when your members of Congress are home, and you look them in the eye and you say, 'What is your positive replacement for Obamacare?' They will have zero answer," Gingrich said. Gingrich blamed the problem on Republican culture that rewards obstruction and negativity instead of innovation and "being positive." "We are caught up right now in a culture, and you see it every single day, where as long as we are negative and as long as we are vicious and as long as we can tear down our opponent, we don't have to learn anything," Gingrich said, acknowledging the "totally candid" nature of his remarks. "We have to do the homework." "This is a very deep problem," said Gingrich, who was recently named one of the hosts of CNN's political talk show "Crossfire."
  • It is almost impossible to find an establishment Republican in town who’s not downright morose about the 2013 that has been and is about to be. Most dance around it in public, but they see this year as a disaster in the making, even if most elected Republicans don’t know it or admit it (Politico). Several influential Republicans told us the party is actually in a worse place than it was Nov. 7, the day after the disastrous election.
    This is their case:
    • The party is hurting itself even more with the very voters they need to start winning back: Hispanics, blacks, gays, women and swing voters of all stripes.
    • The few Republicans who stood up and tried to move the party ahead were swatted into submission: Speaker John Boehner on fiscal matters and Sen. Marco Rubio on immigration are the poster boys for this.
    • Republicans are all flirting with a fall that could see influential party voices threatening to default on the debt or shut down the government — and therefore ending all hopes of proving they are not insane when it comes to governance. These Republicans came into the year exceptionally hopeful the party would finally wise up and put immigration and irresponsible rhetoric and governing behind them. Instead, Republicans dug a deeper hole. This probably doesn’t matter for 2014, because off-year elections are notoriously low-turnout affairs where older whites show up in disproportionate numbers. But elite Republican strategists and donors tell us they are increasingly worried the past nine months make 2016 look very bleak — unless elected GOP officials in Washington change course, and fast.
  • For charter school supporters, there were few better champions than Tony Bennett (Associated Press). As Indiana’s schools chief, he installed a school grading system that shortened the time it took to sweep aside a failing public school in favor of a charter. In Florida, he backed a bill — though unsuccessfully — that could have made it easier for parents to get charters in place at failing schools. He also pushed through a rules change that benefited both charter schools and traditional public schools by limiting how far any school’s rating could drop in a single year. Now, Bennett has them nervous. Russ Simnick ran a charter high school in Indianapolis from 2005 to 2008. Now senior director for state advocacy for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, Simnick said the Bennett affair could bolster the perception that charter school grades are vulnerable to political influence. But he said that’s not what happened. “He was not acting at the bequest of the charter school community,” Simnick said. “I think that’s been missed in this whole story.”
  • In another setback for President Obama’s health care initiative, the administration has delayed until 2015 a significant consumer protection in the law that limits how much people may have to spend on their own health care (New York Times). The limit on out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles and co-payments, was not supposed to exceed $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family. But under a little-noticed ruling, federal officials have granted a one-year grace period to some insurers, allowing them to set higher limits, or no limit at all on some costs, in 2014. The grace period has been outlined on the Labor Department’s Web site since February, but was obscured in a maze of legal and bureaucratic language that went largely unnoticed. When asked in recent days about the language — which appeared as an answer to one of 137 “frequently asked questions about Affordable Care Act implementation” — department officials confirmed the policy.
  • Shutting down the federal government will not stop President Obama's healthcare law from taking effect, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday (The Hill). "I'm for stopping ObamaCare, but shutting down the government will not stop ObamaCare," McConnell (R-Ky.) told a crowd at a healthcare center in Corbin, Ky., according to a local television reporter who attended the event. Republicans are divided over whether to threaten or force a government shutdown over funding for the healthcare law. Conservatives led by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) are pushing the party to embrace a possible shutdown, but establishment Republicans have sharply criticized the idea. Congress needs to pass legislation funding the government by Oct. 1 to avoid a shutdown. Supporters of the shutdown threat have been trying to build a grassroots campaign to pressure McConnell, who is facing a primary challenge from businessman Matt Bevin as he campaigns for reelection. The GOP leader had previously declined to take a position on the shutdown threat, though his aides have said it would not stop the law from taking effect. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently said closing the government would not stop the implementation of ObamaCare. Most of the law's implementation funding comes from sources other than annual spending bills, so the work of implementing it could largely continue even if the government were closed, according to the CRS.
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  • Sen. Todd Young's father passes away
    “My dad Bruce has passed away following recent health challenges. He was an incredible Dad who loved his family, modeled hard work, always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, and never lost his amazing sense of humor. I will always be grateful for his impact and example.” U.S. Sen. Todd Young, in a Twitter post on Monday.
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