Bill Moreau explains The Indiana Citizen for this HPI Interview on Tuesday. (HPI Photo by Brian A. Howey)
Bill Moreau explains The Indiana Citizen for this HPI Interview on Tuesday. (HPI Photo by Brian A. Howey)
By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – Next Monday morning, Hoosiers will be getting a biennial report card on civic engagement, presented by Lee Hamilton, Randall Shepard and Greg Zoeller. The state’s social “fabric” will be measured by the “Civic Health Index” and it won’t be pretty.

Past reports have come and gone since 2011 without a mechanism to enhance voter participation, voluntary civic and religious assembly. That will change with the establishment of “The Indiana Citizen” website. Created by Bill and Ann Moreau with the support of board members Bob Grand, Jeanne Kelsay, Michael Goldenberg, Russell Cox and Trevor Foughty, this non-partisan, non-profit platform described as “The Crossroads of Civic Engagement” will seek to increase 2020 voter participation by 20%, or 500,000 votes,  next year.

“That would move Indiana from the bottom 10 to the top 10,” Moreau told HPI Tuesday as he previewed his Indiana Citizen message. It was recorded on March 15, a day after his former boss and mentor, U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, died.

Another goal will be to increase civics education, beginning with elementary schools.

Not only is voter participation down, but there are a range of other factors fueling what is becoming a critical lack of engagement. The press, particularly Hoosier newspapers, is in atrophy with massive layoffs and closures. The state has been crippled by methamphetamine and opioid crises that have killed, maimed and imprisoned thousands.

The 2017 Indiana Civic Health Index revealing “patterns of our civic engagement and the commitment of Hoosiers to building a civically engaged Indiana” found some reason for encouragement. The  2017 report observed: “Indiana was ranked 32 in volunteering in 2010, 18th in 2012 and 22nd in 2016. Charitable giving activity placed Indiana 45th in 2010, 22nd in 2012 and 27th in 2016. Voting and registration show a similar pattern of improvement. In 2010, Indiana was ranked 48th in voting in the nation. We rose to the rank of 38 in 2012 and fell slightly to 41 in 2016. Despite the overall improvement during this period, Indiana still remains ranked in the bottom 50% of all states in voting.”

In 2017, former congressman Hamilton observed, “In a democracy, it is not enough just to let politicians set the rules of engagement. As citizens, we need to know how to cultivate our own skills; to stay informed, volunteer, speak out, ask questions, make discriminating judgments about politicians and policies, and improve our neighborhoods and communities.”

The IndianaCitizen.Org will create a center where people can register to vote, check on their registration, learn who represents them in Congress and the General Assembly, and follow official voting records and campaign finance.

Bill Moreau has incorporated TurboVote and Follow The Money API into the website. The project has raised $200,000 from an impressive, bipartisan group of “Founding Funders” and he hopes to extend coverage of Congress and the General Assembly into local levels, such as streaming city council meetings.

Moreau, a former reporter, worked on the staff of U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, then served as chief of staff for Evan Bayh when he was secretary of state and governor. He currently serves of the Board of Advisors for the Center on Congress at Indiana University and the National Advisory Committee of IU’s Center for Civic Literacy and was a founding advisory board member of Purdue University’s Institute for Civic Communication. He is retiring as a partner with Barnes & Thornburg LLP in December.

Ahead of the release of the 2019 Civic Health Index, HPI conducted this interview with Moreau at Barnes & Thornburg Tuesday afternoon:

HPI: What was the aha! moment behind this? Was it the 2014 mid-term election where we had the worst turnout in America?

Moreau: It had to do with planning for retirement from the practice of law. My wife and I said we just can’t go on vacation for the rest of our lives. What can we do to take everything we’ve learned to add something, and we decided it’s time for us to try and bring some focus on dismally low levels of civic participation we’re seeing in Indiana.

HPI: What are you trying to do with the Indiana Citizen website?

Moreau: We’ve got some big, big goals for this platform. We’re trying to create a single place where Hoosiers can get registered to vote, check out their registration, find out who represents them, and find out every bit of public information we can load there about the candidates and the issues as we head into 2020.

HPI: You became politically involved with Sen. Birch Bayh when?

Moreau: In the fall of 1974 and he was running for reelection against Dick Lugar. I was the editor of the Purdue student newspaper, I was not raised in Indiana so it was the first time I met him and in short order I was following him to Iowa and New Hampshire in his presidential campaign and then went to work for him in Washington.

HPI: Over the arc of your career, you’ve witnessed the rise and fall of the Indiana Democratic Party. Talk about what things were like at the beginning and where we stand now.

Moreau: I’m not sure I’ve come to any great insights why Indiana is where it is today, except that Hoosiers themselves have turned the process over to those who understandably want to perpetuate it. I think Indiana needs a healthy dose of new voters and engaged citizens. I came of age in the age of the war in Vietnam and Watergate and in a time of great ferment, and here we are today in 2020 and we seem to be bombarded by all this political information. What I’m afraid of is the way people are responding is to just shut it out, to keep some sanity in their lives. We’re going to try and create a platform of information, a library of information that we hope will be viewed as unbiased, reliable, legitimate and a place Hoosier voters can go and find out information that hasn’t been provided by anybody but us.

HPI: Currently the voter participation is skewed to an older generation.

Moreau: It is.

HPI: Here we are, with $23 trillion in national debt, we are running budget deficits counted in the trillions and as Mitch Daniels points out, the entitlement programs, particularly during the Baby Boom demographic bulge goes through, and will be essentially bankrupt in the next 10 to 15 years. And no one in Congress or the presidential class is even talking about it. To me there will be a natural awakening with this younger generation when they realize they are getting screwed, and the challenge for us is to have this happen at the ballot box and not in the street with civil unrest.

Moreau: That’s a very sober and sobering assessment. I couldn’t agree with you more. We’ve got to get the younger folks excited about their role in the perpetuation of our democracy. The Millennials and the Gen Zs as they’re called, frankly we’ve got to reach younger ages. We have to teach the basics of citizenship as early as we can reach them, in the elementary schools. We’ve got to perpetuate our common values.

HPI: The other sobering thing I keep pointing out is that about every 80 years since 1776, this nation has gone through a political and cultural convulsion, with the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II, and now we’re 74 years from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So we’re due for a comeuppance and all the ingredients of Washington gridlock – income inequality, artificial intelligence and the fact that we’ve ceded our sole super power status – are gathering to create this next cataclysm. Time may be running out for us to have a rational conversation and bring more stakeholders into the process. Any thoughts?

Moreau: I don’t know I’m that pessimistic. I realize in the last couple of years that I’ve become a born-again idealist. I’ve spend much of my time in law and politics and government and you get pretty cynical. We need a place where idealists can rally and that begins with a source of reliable information. When we came up with the name Indiana Citizen, it was our daughter, Katie, who came up with the slogan, “The Crossroads of Civic Engagement.” My first version was, “The Indiana Citizen: Where Hoosier Idealists Meet.” Fortunately that was shot down. We have to figure out how to tap into the innate idealism of young people.

HPI: So on Monday morning, we’re going to hear Lee Hamilton, Randy Shepard and Greg Zoeller give a pretty sobering assessment of our civic engagement shortcomings. Give us a sneak preview of what we’re going to hear.

Moreau: I don’t want to preempt their announcement. What we’re going to see is we have declining levels of civic engagement across a host of metrics in Indiana. Most alarming is voter turnout. It will show that while we had a record turnout in the 2018 midterms, so did the rest of the country. We’re still going to be in the bottom 10. We’re going to see evidence that we just don’t know much about basics of citizenship and civic literacy. So we need to do something about that. This is a real wakeup call that will be issued. We’re going to take it around the state in the coming weeks and we hope it alarms Hoosiers heading into 2020 to do something really meaningful, with the belief that there is a lot at stake. What is the tritest thing that’s said every four years? “This is the most important election of our life.” Well, 2020 is the most important election of my lifetime, but we’re not going to focus on the national issues. We’re going to focus on Indiana to encourage a robust and healthy dialogue.

HPI: If you’re an engaged Indiana citizen, is there a place on the website you can go and engage?

Moreau: Absolutely. Go to IndianaCitizen.org and there will be plenty of opportunities for you to engage and find information. And if you’d like to leave a few bucks behind, there’s a place to do that as well.