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Wednesday, December 12, 2018
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  • EVANSVILLE – If you wondered what it felt like at the exhaustive conclusion of a First World War offensive, having moved just six inches closer to Berlin at the cost of four months and tens of thousands dead, Tuesday’s election results probably felt somewhat like that. The key differences are of course that no one is dead, we live in relative comfort, the war actually did end, and you will never make it to Berlin. Following the highly anticipated 2018 midterms, neither Republicans nor Democrats perceive much incentive to adjust their approach, victory and defeat having been almost perfectly apportioned to validate the most powerful forces within any institution, those militating toward the status quo. On the one hand, Hoosier Republicans managed to hold onto their congressional seats and kept their super majorities in the state legislature, despite some of the strongest challenges from Democrats in years. Meanwhile the national GOP took small gains in favorable Senate races (including Indiana with Senator-elect Mike Braun) and fended off high-profile governor challenges.
  • EVANSVILLE – Following a quick and tense announcement Monday, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill signaled he would not be leaving office without a fight. Nearly all of the statewide elected officials have called for his resignation, along with numerous other high ranking Republicans such as Gov. Eric Holcomb, Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long. Assuming that Hill does not leave on his own, he may only be removed through one of two methods. First, he could be impeached by the House of Representatives and then convicted by the Indiana Senate, with a two-thirds vote required in each body.  Alternatively, Hill could be removed by a joint resolution of the General Assembly, which would also require a two-thirds vote in each body (Ind. Const., Art. 6, Sec. 7). Substantively, the Indiana Constitution specifies that removal can be sought by the Indiana legislature “for crime, incapacity, or negligence.” The phrase does not have a settled or clear meaning. The constitutional drafters were searching for a flexible standard that allows removal in a variety of situations. But they also wanted a standard that required some specific, demonstrable offenses for removal of state officers.
  • EVANSVILLE  – As 1,500 delegates and their friends descend on Evansville for this year’s Indiana Republican Convention, it will mark only the second time in modern history that the GOP convention will take place outside of Indianapolis. Here’s what you need to know about the state’s third largest city. Just as Indianapolis emerged in the 1980s from its negative reputation as “India-no-place” or “Naptown,” Evansville is now undergoing its own resurgence. The downtown alone has over $500 million in renovations simultaneously occurring, an unprecedented amount of investment. Simply put, Evansville’s downtown is poised for booming growth with renovations and new construction happening nearly everywhere you look. Some of this progress will present an unattractive annoyance – construction barrels, cleared lots and closed streets are common sights – but it all points to a promising renaissance. Tropicana Evansville, the state’s first land-based casino, opened 75,000 square feet of gaming fun in renovated space. Two new downtown hotels under construction will soon join the recently completed DoubleTree convention hotel, which rests next to the new Stone Family Center for Health Sciences, a collaboration for medical education by the University of Evansville, University of Southern Indiana and Indiana University.
  • EVANSVILLE – The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) debate revolves in part around a Constitutional question: Does the president unilaterally set immigration policy, or do such laws require congressional authorization? When President Obama lacked the votes to get DACA through Congress, he simply implemented it via executive order. In truth, DACA was headed toward a legal challenge that likely would have overturned the rule as unconstitutional. Congress needed to take it up one way or the other anyway. But this administration’s motives to end DACA, or at least sow confusion among those benefiting from it, most certainly find their roots in more than just constitutional concerns. The #MAGA crowd feels their American identity and financial well-being stretched and insecure. Immigrants make an easy culprit. We’ve witnessed similar tension at other points in our country’s history – the Civil War, waves of immigration at the turn of the 20th century, and the cultural revolution of the 1960s – but throughout those conflicts the question was whether white Christians would make more room for other groups at a table they still dominated. In those older conflicts new groups gained acceptance in exchange for cultural assimilation.
  • EVANSVILLE – As GOP attempts at federal healthcare reform continue to flounder, John Boehner added fuel to the fire last month with remarkably prescient prophecy about the chances of his former Republican colleagues successfully passing some sort of repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. “Now, they’re never – they’re not going to repeal and replace Obamacare. . . in the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever one time agreed on what a healthcare proposal should look like. Not once,” he said. Plenty of evidence backs Boehner up. Other than vague, occasional references to the free market, Republicans lack a comprehensive ideological approach to healthcare policy. That’s a sad reality for an industry representing one-sixth of the national economy. It’s time for Congress to embrace a new prescription for our national healthcare headache: Unleash the states. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb wants more flexibility at the state level and “greater control of federal health care dollars being spent in Indiana.” Holcomb often defends Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 and avoids offering too many specifics, but many believe he favors more free market reforms like reconnecting healthcare buyers with sellers and reducing perverse incentives.
  • EVANSVILLE – Each year the Indiana legislature prides itself on reducing the size and scope of government, yet each session, including this one, that same legislature grabs more power from the hands of local municipalities. The message from Indianapolis is clear: The Statehouse knows best and mayors and town councils can’t be trusted to do what’s in their communities’ best interests. It is time we fundamentally change our approach. Indiana’s Home Rule Act first passed in 1980 and generally grants municipalities the power to govern themselves as they see fit. The idea, modeled off the national principle of federalism, gives more choice, options, flexibility, and freedom to local leaders. Now those ideals are under greater attack than at any time since Hoosier home rule began. In recent years the Indiana legislature handcuffed municipalities from setting a local minimum wage or from regulating housing, agricultural operations, worker schedules, or plastic bags. A move to preempt local rules for services like Airbnb failed to get out of the Indiana House, but it was a rare setback for the never-ending march to scale back home rule. This year legislators successfully banned local zoning rules for certain utility poles and undermined so-called “good neighbor ordinances.”
        
  • EVANSVILLE – I remember the moment when Mike Pence’s challenge crystallized for me. In 2012, as he campaigned to succeed Mitch Daniels as governor, Pence traveled the state setting up listening sessions with small business owners, and his campaign team asked me to set one up in Evansville. He opened the discussion with an admission that Daniels already addressed most of the low-hanging fruit to improve Indiana’s business environment, but he asked what he could do to further improve state government. As folks around the table offered comments, everyone had plenty of constructive (and harsh) criticism for the national government, but they each struggled to identify concerns with Indiana. In short, thanks to the preceding eight years of Mitch Daniels’ leadership, Indiana was working well – really well, in fact – and Pence would have to work hard to get out from beneath his shadow. Pence’s place in history as governor, literally and figuratively, will forever be viewed next to Mitch Daniels.
  • EVANSVILLE – We have reached a great fork in the road in the history of the Republican Party. The party’s bombastic leader and president has a passionate grip on many voters, giving them control of all branches of government. The coattails of success extend beyond Washington and in Indiana helped keep Republican control of every office and body of state government as well as an overwhelming majority of the state’s municipalities. Faced with such success, many of our Republican friends decided to strike a deal with the devil and urge loyalty and unity with Trump. In their minds, a little immaturity on Twitter is a fair price to pay to finally rein in Democratic policies and get things done. Besides, they say, Donald Trump the candidate or Donald Trump the showman is different from the sane man who will actually govern. Nearly two weeks into the Trump presidency, we now know they are wrong. The unprecedented beginning for the administration included purposefully picked battles with the intelligence community, immigrants, and foreign allies; illegal executive orders; elevation of political advisers over military and foreign policy experts; gaslighting and lies; and a general chaotic and bumbling approach to executive organization. This presidency is everything we feared and it will only get much worse.
  • EVANSVILLE – The 2016 election was a resounding success for Indiana Republicans. Outgoing governor Mike Pence is the new vice president, Eric Holcomb will be the next governor, and Republicans won all other statewide races, including state education  superintendent. Like the federal government, the Indiana Statehouse is firmly controlled by Republicans. For the party brass and thousands of Republican political and policy advisors, the incentive will be to celebrate the victories, congratulate themselves on strategy, and rest on the laurels of a fresh victory. Undoubtedly, the Trump/Pence wave carried the day and is driving the Republican Party. So why should they ever again listen to Never Trump Republicans they might view as losers? That line of thinking would be a strategic blunder. Trump’s victory appears to be based more on a rejection of Clintonism and liberalism than an embrace of Trump’s ideology. Mitt Romney got 60.9 million votes and lost, while early returns show Donald Trump has 59.1 million votes and is winning. Trump also received less than McCain’s popular vote total in 2008 and came up short of Obama’s winning 2012 vote totals in all of the battleground critical swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio. Indiana Republicans didn’t ride a wave of Trump support. Instead, they rode a wave of anti-Clintonism thanks to Democrats staying at home.
  • EVANSVILLE – Most Hoosiers know little or nothing of Republican lieutenant governor candidate Suzanne Crouch. She hasn’t spent decades on the talk radio circuit like Mike Pence, she doesn’t have a family pedigree like Evan Bayh, and she hasn’t spent a lifetime building a statewide political network like Eric Holcomb. But she is good at one thing in particular: Governing. Policy wonks have long admired Crouch. She served for many years as vice chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, quietly toiling away at the nittygritty work of budgets and appropriations. As a state representative Crouch also advocated for legislation creating a new Transparency Portal which offers data and links for anyone to review state spending, revenues, salaries, contracts, and performance and accountability measures. In 2013, after the resignation of Dwayne Sawyer, Crouch was appointed state auditor and immediately set to work improving the transparency portal. Its success exploded and a number of government watchdog groups ranked Indiana’s portal as one of the best in the nation.
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  • Lugar, Bayh warn Senate about emerging scandals
    "As former members of the U.S. Senate, Democrats and Republicans, it is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security. We are on the eve of the conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation and the House’s commencement of investigations of the president and his administration. The likely convergence of these two events will occur at a time when simmering regional conflicts and global power confrontations continue to threaten our security, economy and geopolitical stability. It is a time, like other critical junctures in our history, when our nation must engage at every level with strategic precision and the hand of both the president and the Senate. We are at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake, and the rule of law and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld. Regardless of party affiliation, ideological leanings or geography, as former members of this great body, we urge current and future senators to be steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy by ensuring that partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest." - 44 former U.S. Senators, including Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh from Indiana, writing a Washington Post op-ed article warning current senators about the emerging scandals involving President Trump.
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  • Weird scenes inside the White House
    The Nick Ayres saga fallout continues to be just ... weird. Vanity Fair's  Gabriel Sherman reports that last Friday, President Trump met with Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence, and out-going Chief of Staff John Kelly to finalize the CoS transition. A press release announcing Ayers’s hiring was reportedly drafted and ready to go for when Trump planned to announce Kelly’s departure on Monday. But Kelly was pressing for top aide Zachary Fuentes to get the job, Trump got pissed and leaked the story on Saturday. Ayres began getting calls from the press about his net worth estimated to be between $12 million and $54 million.

    Ayres then insisted he only wanted the job for several months. Sherman: “Trump was pissed, he was caught off guard,” a former West Wing official briefed on the talks said. By Sunday, Ayres not only bolted the Trump gig, but the Pence job, too, deciding to head back to Georgia. So by year's end, Trump and Pence will both be on their third chief in less than two years.

    This all comes amid rampant speculation that with scandal, House Democrat investigations and a tariff-bruised economy all looming over the horizon, who would want to work for a guy like Trump, where loyalty is a one-way street, allies get thrown under the bus, and careers can be tainted forever after folks wallow in Watergate or get the Kremlin Kramps. Trump and Pence had lunch on Monday. Wonder what was on the menu? Crow, perhaps?
    - Brian A. Howey, publisher.
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