- 1 Region doctor, children killed in I-65 crash
- 2 Feds: Lake Station mayor gambled away campaign, food pantry cash
- 3 Babysitter admits to beating 4-year-old boy
- 4 Suburban man shot in home invasion after win at Horseshoe casino
- 5 Lake Station mayor, wife, stepdaughter plead not guilty to corruption charges
A third generation Hoosier journalist, Howey has deep roots to Northwest Indiana.
Howey has been writing his weekly political column since 1985 and has worked for the Warsaw Times-Union, Elkhart Truth, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette and NUVO Newsweekly.
He began publishing Howey Politics Indiana in 1994 at www.howeypolitics.com. Howey resides in Indianapolis and Nashville.
Seated across the table from me at Cafe Patachou were Drs. Tim Brown and Larry Bucshon.
Dr. Bucshon was a heart surgeon from Newburgh. Dr. Brown is an emergency room physician from Crawfordsville. What made this breakfast meeting extraordinary is Brown is the powerful Republican chairman of the Indiana House Ways & Means Committee, which plays a huge role in developing $30 billion biennial budgets. Bucshon is the Republican congressman from southwestern Indiana.
The two were embarking on a statewide “listening tour.” In more than three decades of covering Indiana politics, I cannot remember a legislator and member of Congress doing anything like this. And it couldn’t come at a better time.
The Affordable Care Act – or “Obamacare” – had just passed its first signup deadline. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported 145,189 Hoosiers were eligible for coverage, 93,720 eligible for subsidies, 65,846 eligible for Medicaid, and 64,971 (through March 1) had selected a plan through the federal health exchange.
I had a personal bone to pick with these lawmakers. My 24-year-old son signed up for a plan that will cost him about $100 a month. Good for him. A middle-aged friend qualified for a subsidy for his family of four and will be paying about $6 a month. That is not a typo: $6.
Me? I’m a non-smoking 58-year-old self-employed single guy who has had a vasectomy. I earn too much for a subsidy. My previous plan cost me $350 a month. It went up to $444 last fall. And when the plan lapsed, I ended up on the federal Healthcare.gov website. An employee stayed on the phone with me as I went to the federal exchange (which worked flawlessly).
My total monthly cost: $718 a month.
I had shopped around prior and a broker from Mishawaka had warned me of “sticker shock.” Why, I asked, did the cost of my options go up so much? “Because you’re paying for maternity and pediatric benefits,” she told me.
When I told a Republican friend about my premium increase, he was exultant. “See! I told you so,” he responded.
The news for me is not entirely dismal. Having a pre-existing condition, I had been on the pre-Obamacare death spiral. As a self-employed individual, I had a terrible time finding insurance, and when I did, it cost more than my final Obamacare total. The fact that I could go to a website and in 30 minutes find coverage was truly a breakthrough that Obamacare-loathing Republicans should not discount.
As Obamacare passed in 2010 on a straight party line vote, we watched majority Democrats lard up the historic legislation with all sorts of things, like maternity/pediatric benefits for single older guys, and things like coverage and the 30-hour work week, which prompted a surge in layoffs.
Democrat U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly voted for the ACA and in doing so, said it would need to be tweaked. He later won a U.S. Senate seat in Indiana despite his vote.
Former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton correctly observed that this kind of social re-engineering without bipartisan support is deeply flawed.
In the intervening four years since the ACA passed, was there any tweaking?
No. House Republicans voted more than 40 times to repeal the law when the GOP didn't control the Senate or the White House. Their office communication systems were not dedicated to public service, but anti-Obamacare propaganda.
I am paying for their politics when all I needed was access to good coverage at a decent price. And I am mad as hell about that.
So now we have these two powerful Republicans traversing Indiana. Brown and Bucshon ardently opposed the ACA, but both acknowledge it’s not going to be repealed.
They also agree two huge elements are in play. First, 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring every day, and that is going to stress the system. It would have done so with the old one. Second, we are on the precipice of wonder drugs, where human genomes will allow individualized cancer treatments, for instance.
As Brown notes, not everyone is going to be able to afford such treatments. “I don’t think we as a society can say you can have whatever you want whenever you want it,” he said. “We can treat with this drug, or x-drug that is more expensive.”
And that will put you in bankruptcy, I said.
“And your family,” Brown responded.
Bucshon is a true free-market disciple. He views Obamacare as “insurance reform” that “doesn't do anything to bend the cost curve that’s driving the cost of health care in the first place.” He wants consumer-based transparency.
Are Bucshon and his colleagues in a mode to begin to tweak and reform ACA components? “We are going to be in that mode of trying to address those things for a long time,” Bucshon said. “It’s going to be difficult.”
Drs. Brown and Bucshon are doing what public servants should be doing. They are in a learning mode and will scour an unhealthy state that is home to great research universities and pioneering health industries.
They know Congress and the Indiana General Assembly are facing tough decisions that will have multi-billion-dollar implications impacting hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers.
Mike Pence for president?
The swirl of 2016 national ticket talk surrounding Gov. Pence intensified over the past few weeks. I sat down with the governor in his office on Tuesday to find out what he's really thinking. A few hours prior, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol had anointed Pence and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as presidential timber. Twenty-four hours later, his Chief of Staff Bill Smith resigned to set up his own political consulting group with Pence as his first client. And four hours after our chat, Pence received the “Outstanding Achievement in State Tax Reform Award” from the National Tax Foundation, which always looks good on a Republican presidential resume.
The most obvious path, though it involves lightning-strike statistical odds, is that a Chris Christie, Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz wins the nomination and needs a social conservative with gubernatorial and Midwestern credentials to balance a ticket.
The second potential scenario is the kind of void that created Bill Clinton in 1992 and John McCain in 2008. That’s when the biggest names – the Cuomos, Rockefellers, Bushes, Bradleys or Kennedys – don’t run. Right now, all eyes are on Jeb Bush.
I posed two questions to Pence: Do you believe you’re ready for a national ticket? And under what scenario might that come about?
“Well, what I can tell you is I really haven’t spent any time thinking about any other job than serving the people of Indiana as governor,” Pence said in his Statehouse office, foiling this writer’s attempt to move him beyond the well-worn talking point.
Then Pence made it interesting.
“But we’ve had people talking about that with us,” the governor said. “With regard to the other aspects to your question, I would just say, our decision on making any kind of decision on re-election will come sometime in the next calendar year.”
Late last year, senior Pence administration officials suggested the classic “follow the money” on Indiana campaign and Federal Election Commission reports. Pence’s Indiana campaign finance filing was $1,354,038.63 in contributions and $491,610.51 in expenses. He had a year-end cash-on-hand balance of $1.357 million. As for Pence’s FEC accounts, the Mike Pence Committee had a balance of only $4,736, and his Win Back American PAC showed a balance of $5,210.
The easy conclusion to reach was that Pence was firmly preparing for a re-election. Bill Smith explained, “He’s not in any way proactively doing anything nationally. He’s listening to people. He hears people out. In the meantime, he’s moving forward with being governor of Indiana. No other plans are in the works.”
But Pence and his staff are now in the process of rekindling the possibility.
National figures like Gary Bauer, the Koch brothers and Kristol were all talking about Pence for 2016. Bauer called Pence a potentially “formidable” candidate. Politico quoted Pence pollster Kellyanne Conway as saying, “One thing that surprises me is who is urging Gov. Pence to consider the presidency. It goes beyond his inner circle to folks I’d have thought were already committed to other candidates.”
The ticket talk cuts two ways. Being viewed as a potential nominee can enhance a politician's stature at home. But it can also prompt people to view everything he does within the context of an ambitious motive.
“I understand the interest in who we’re talking to, and I’ll leave you to your own devices on that,” Pence said. “We’ve had people reach out. We’re very fortunate to have friends around the country who appreciate the leadership we’re providing here.”
“But I will say, in all honesty, any interest in me is as much a reflection in the progress Indiana has made as it is with me or my leadership,” the governor continued. “I really believe that. When you look at the fact our state has seen unemployment decline, lowest in Midwest. When you see the education choice opportunities, when you see what we’re doing in the area of workforce, career and education, Indiana is leading the nation in that. When you look at what we’re able to do with education funding and infrastructure funding, Indiana really stands out.
The governor then laid out the skeletal steel framework of a potential national candidacy, based on what might be called from his viewpoint the “Indiana miracle.”
Pence explained, “I said look, it’s about common sense, it’s about living within your means, it’s about letting people keep more of what they earn, it’s about promoting economic freedom, it’s about promoting educational opportunity on the basis of equality, it’s about having roads and bridges and infrastructure to support growth, and it’s about having a workforce that is attuned to the strengths of your economy.”
He points to the 8.6 percent jobless rate he inherited in January 2015, and how it has fallen to 6.1 percent in February. That’s what is attracting attention.
Does Pence believe he is ready for national office? He's already been the third ranking Republican in the U.S. House.
"The last year and a half has been an extraordinary learning experience for me,” said Pence, who had been urged by supporters to build up his executive resume after a brief presidential flirtation in 2010-11. “I have enjoyed and benefited.”
Mike Pence for president?
As Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock kicked off his U.S. Senate campaign in February 2011, the most conspicuous person in the wings was Terre Haute attorney Jim Bopp Jr.
There stood the man who has changed the federal election finance system with a series of U.S. Supreme and district court victories he framed and argued — Citizens United, SpeechNow — and on Wednesday, McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission.
Mourdock's Republican primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, and later, his losing race against Democrat Joe Donnelly, would be the petri dish of how two of those decisions would impact American and Indiana politics.
That 2012 Indiana Senate race would see $51 million spent by Mourdock, Lugar and Donnelly, and on their behalf by corporations and Super PACs — the political action committees which bundled donations and spent them, in theory, independent of the candidates. To give you contrast, Hoosier voters had not seen a U.S. Senate race over the $10 million mark prior. We have seen gubernatorial races in the $20 million range.
So here's a primer. Citizens United was decided in 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court, which basically ruled that government has no right to regulate political speech, paving the way for corporate money to flood into political races. In March 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a unanimous opinion in SpeechNow.org v. FEC, deciding the FEC could not limit donations to independent political groups that will spend money to support or oppose candidates.
This essentially created the Super PACs — affiliated with groups like the National Rifle Association, Club For Growth, Crossroads GPS, Freedomworks, ActRight, Americans For Prosperity, Norpac, Senate Conservatives Fund — that pumped in millions of dollars on behalf of Mourdock's candidacy in the homestretch of the campaign that fall.
In the final weeks of the Mourdock/Donnelly race, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS spent around $3 million on behalf of Mourdock. The irony is that Hoosier TV and radio stations, newspapers, advertising agencies and campaign consulting groups saw little of this money. The money was spent on Fox News and to out-of-state direct mail houses. Donnelly received more than $5.5 million in a similar time frame from Democratic-affiliated advocacy groups.
The McCutcheon ruling ends the existing limit of $74,600 to party committees and PACs, and $48,600 to all federal candidates. This would allow a rich donor like Sheldon Adelson to contribute the maximum $5,200 to every Republican (or Democrat if you're George Soros) in the country.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer said in writing the McCutheon dissent that it essentially opens "the floodgates" for the rich and powerful to spend on campaigns.
But Chief Justice John G. Roberts, the Long Beach, Ind., native who wrote the majority opinion, reasoned, "Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects. If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades, despite the profound offense such spectacles cause, it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.”
Bopp explained, "This is also a great victory for political parties, who have been disadvantaged recently by the rise of super-PACs. Political parties serve vital purposes, such as tempering polarization, and this is a step in the right direction to re-empower them."
Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus added, “Today’s decision is an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse. I am pleased that the court agreed that limits on how many candidates or committees a person may support unconstitutionally burden core First Amendment political activities. When free speech is allowed to flourish, our democracy is stronger.”
Those perspectives depend on your position. Clearly the political parties had lost clout to the Super PACs in recent cycles. In the midst of the 2012 Senate race, Donnelly said, "I think that there are people out there trying to buy Indiana’s Senate seat. I think Indiana’s Senate seat ought to belong to the people of Indiana. I think the Supreme Court decision a few years ago — Citizens United — was a terrible mistake. Even further, what was a mistake was much of this money we don’t even know where it comes from.”
I asked Mourdock after his first debate with Donnelly about the millions of dollars gushing in around his campaign, with the candidate having little control. It used to be that a candidate and campaign could control and fine tune a very specific message. In the craziness of the 2012 Senate race, the supposedly uncoordinated spending created a hodgepodge of messaging, and it nearly obscured the Mike Pence/John Gregg gubernatorial race. "That's a fair question," Mourdock answered. “I want to be very careful here. Some candidates have gotten in trouble — accused of sending a message independent of what they said in the microphone. I’m not doing that.”
Mourdock then restated the question: “Am I comfortable with the system when so much money comes in?” A few seconds later, he added, "I wish we had a better system."
What would a "better system" look like? I remember Club For Growth President Chris Chocola taking me to task when I questioned whether all this Super PAC spending was really uncoordinated. Chocola insisted the system in 2012 was "transparent." But spending hours sifting through the various Club For Growth PAC contribution lists, it was anything but transparent.
Today, the technology exists for complete transparency. In theory, a donor could scan a check into a digital format before sending it on to a candidate, political party or PAC. It could be quickly posted on the FEC website into the candidate, campaign or PAC's account. Citizens should be able to see who is spending what for who, in short order.
The rich are going to spend money on campaigns and parties. The key is to allow voters to know who is writing the checks and as quickly as possible.
We aren't quite to the halfway point of Gov. Mike Pence's term, but he's now through his second Indiana General Assembly session and last week signed into law the state's first pre-kindergarten program, cut the corporate tax and provided $200 million more in road funding.
Pence's emphasis has been on tax cuts and education, with modest achievements.
First, some historical perspective. In 1973, Republican Gov. Doc Bowen forged property tax reforms during his initial session, then found himself in the midst of a Middle Eastern-induced energy crisis in the second. Republican Gov. Robert Orr, like Bowen, had Republican majorities, but had to deal with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and almost as bad as the Great Recession of 2009-10. Orr was forced to call a special session in 1982 after the steel industry cratered, forging a big tax increase to keep the schools open.
Democrat Govs. Evan Bayh and Frank O'Bannon had to deal with hostile Republican Senates and 50/50 split Houses. Bayh had presidential aspirations and tended to play policy through that lens. O'Bannon found himself grappling with the state taxation system after the courts struck it down.
Then came Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels who had epic achievements in his first short session with a Republican Senate and a small House majority. He forged Major Moves that turned a $3.8 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road into the Interstate 69 extension to Evansville, the Hoosier Heartland and U.S. 31 freeways, and new Ohio River bridges. The 2006 session also reformed telecommunications, which launched a multibillion-dollar upgrade that pushed Internet and better phone service into rural communities.
Pence had — in theory — the strongest hand of them all with super Republican majorities in both chambers. But his anemic 2 percent win over Democrat John Gregg in 2012 with only 49 percent of the vote essentially weakened his mojo in the Statehouse, where power from the districts translates into clout in the hallways. House Republicans forged a 69-seat majority as Pence limped in, with many members running well ahead of him in their districts.
The buzz throughout the session was the Pence administration was not as prepared as it could have been for a second session. Most gave the new governor a pass in 2013 when he had to build an administration, create a legislative agenda and write a $30 billion biennial budget. But this session found the administration treading in similar waters. An influential state senator told me he was approached about carrying the governor’s education agenda in December. Questions to the administration on who was carrying the governor’s package went unanswered as 2013 rolled into 2014.
The contrast with the Daniels modus operandi is striking. Senate sources tell me Daniels’ legislative package began assemblage in late summer. It would be scored fiscally in early fall, and bill sponsors would be lined up in early to mid-fall. His legislative liaisons were conspicuous, vigorous and accessible. The Pence legislative liaisons, multiple members have told me, were late in developing legislation, unprepared for fiscal impacts, blew off meetings with legislators, gave little direction, and were largely missing in action.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma was asked about working with the Pence team. “The governor was very encouraging,” Bosma said. “The details were worked out by legislative leaders, but the governor was very encouraging on adoption of each of these initiatives. We kept him apprised at all times.”
So Daniels used massive amounts of political capital to push the multibillion-dollar Major Moves, and his internal polling showed his approval fell south of 40 percent (though he won re-election two years later with 58 percent of the vote). Pence pushed the important pre-K program in a nonbudgetary year, with Republican fiscal leaders refusing to reopen the budget, and he ended up with a five-county pilot program funded with tiny budget reversions.
His top priority — the repeal of the business personal property tax — essentially ended up in a blue ribbon study commission, while Senate Bill 1 gives counties the option to repeal the tax and gives larger counties the ability to provide "super abatements." The governor emphasized the tax repeal, while Republican-dominated city and county governments resisted with the most cohesion displayed in decades. And when the dust settled, Senate President David Long was boasting about the corporate tax cut — the "linchpin" of the session's tax policy — calling it “more important” with the potential for the “biggest dividends.”
All of the top-priority stuff that ended up in study commissions, and shifts in policy with great potential impacts, prompts a widespread notion the Pence administration didn't do its homework, and that the cart came before the horse.
So much of the energy of this session was expended on the constitutional marriage amendment. It passed, but the change in the second sentence created great consternation and restarted the process. Pence was out of step with key legislators like Long, who helped remove it even as Pence urged it to be reinstated.
All of these percolating fissures in the GOP — between the economic and social conservatives, between municipal and state Republicans — would have stayed well below the surface under a better-prepared and more pragmatic governor.
I had this really crazy idea: Instead of giving tax abatements to businesses and industry, give them to Hoosier folks who want to build a new home or remodel the one they're in, particularly with the historic low interest rates that may begin disappearing soon.
For every new home built, there would be dozens of contractors and their workers on each job, and they would be buying brick, granite countertops, dishwashers and garage door openers. You know, consumer stuff down at Lowe's.
I brought this idea up to Gov. Mike Pence, and he politely thanked me and said he would move it down his administration's food chain. And that was that.
I couldn't help but think of Russ Stilwell's observation in a Howey Politics Indiana column he wrote. The former Indiana House Democrat had asked a southwestern Indiana business executive if the corporate tax cuts Indiana Republicans are addicted to really create jobs. The answer was sobering. They don't create jobs, he said. They create bigger bonuses for executives and returns to shareholders. The only way to create jobs is to make things people want to buy.
So it was fun to watch Pence and legislative Republican leaders pat themselves on the back last week when the Indiana General Assembly concluded. While most of the fiscal focus during the session was on a repeal of the business personal property tax, that was shunted off to a blue ribbon study committee. Individual counties will have the option of repealing it, and there is a new "super abatement" available for municipalities to attract big firms from other states. And there would be a corporate tax cut from 6.5 to 4.9 percent. Senate President David Long called this the "linchpin" of the legislation.
House Republicans released a fascinating chart detailing the various tax cuts over the past 20 years. If you're in the middle class, this tax cut series began with a 50 percent auto excise reduction in 1995, property tax cuts in 1996, 1997, 2002, 2006 and the mother of all property tax cuts in 2008. Some of the earlier property tax cuts in this sequence were overrun by other forces over the years. There was the 5 percent income tax cut last year that put about $50 a year into the pocket of the common Hoosier (I spent mine on a really cool bird feeder), and the automatic taxpayer refund act of 2011.
But then you look at the business tax cuts that have created what House Speaker Brian Bosma calls the "best business environment in the Midwest through policies that encourage and incentivize companies from all over the world to relocate and grow in Indiana."
Indeed, there was the corporate gross income tax repeal in 2002, the inventory tax phase-out that began in 2004, the 2005 elimination of sales tax on research and development equipment, the 25 percent cut in corporate income tax in 2011, the death tax phase-out of 2012, the accelerated death tax repeal in 2014, as well as the reduction of the financial institutions tax, and now set for 2015 the phase-down of corporate income and financial institutions tax rates to 4.9 percent, or the lowest in the nation.
If you want to get a crowd of middle class Republicans cheering, tell 'em you've cut the death tax that really only helps the top 5 percent, with the replacement taxes spread out over the rest of us.
What do we have to show for all of these business tax cuts? This is where we get into alternative universe territory.
Indiana's jobless rate spent more than five years above 8 percent. It finally came down to 7.8 percent last September, 6.9 percent at the end of 2013 and 6.4 percent in January. But House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath noted that despite the 0.4 percent decline between December and January, there was actually a 9,705 decrease in the number of employed Hoosiers while 82 of Indiana's 92 counties saw jobless rates go up.
There are still 209,000 jobless people on the rolls. That doesn't include the tens of thousands more who are so discouraged they are no longer being counted. The amount of workforce participation in Indiana — with 38 percent of the population idle — is at a historic high, which belies Pence's slogan of Indiana being a "state that works."
Hoosiers ranked 39th in the nation in per capita income in 2013, with residents making 87.2 percent of U.S. income $38,119, and 33rd in household income at $46,974, down from $47,399 in 2011 (32nd). In 2002, we ranked 24th at $53,482. That is a 13.6 percent decline in the last decade that coincides with all the business tax cuts. Indiana ranked 10th in bankruptcies in 2012, and sixth in the rate per 1,000 people.
If you listen to Pence, Bosma and Long, after a decade of GOP governors, the stage is set. Or as actor Roy Schneider would say in the 1979 classic movie "All That Jazz" ... "It's showtime!"
I hope they’re right, but I’m skeptical given the track record. Perhaps next session they’ll focus on the middle class.
As day slipped into night during the cruel winter of 2014, millions of Americans watched the mesmerizing closing ceremony of the Sochi Olympics.
This was a stunning facade of the Russian Federation, particularly its tribute to writers, with their portraits rising up from the floor ... Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and, amazingly, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the author who revealed the epic cruelty of gulags of the Soviet Stalin era. Eighteen days prior in the Sochi opening ceremony, America and the world would witness a national self-interpretation of Russian history, with the classics and its Czarist monarchy giving way to the red, mechanized Soviet period as gears rolled by and Stalinist busts floated with hammers and sickles above.
NBC had brought in Vladimir Pozner, the Russian TV commentator, to explain the perplexing giant to the east. "It's a land many, many people have had problems understanding," Pozner said.
When it was all over, the Sochi bear mascot blew out the Olympic flame and a tear rolled down its cheek. Looking on was Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin presided over his glory at Sochi, while 500 miles to the northwest Kiev rioted and the Ukrainian government fled after massacring 80 people. The final Olympic weekend had been a juxtaposition of epic state craft propaganda while in Kiev, dissidents advanced beyond barricades as Yanukovich's troops fired into the crowd before he fled.
It was easy to sense that within hours after this closing ceremony on the world's sporting community, an entire new chapter was about to be written. By the end of the week, Putin had ordered an invasion of the Crimean peninsula. There will be a referendum there where people are expected to vote to join Russia. At this writing, Russian troops are massing on Ukraine’s border.
One of the Russian writers not represented at the closing ceremony was Anna Politkovskaya, author of the 2004 book "Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy." Politkoskaya was not present in Sochi because she was murdered in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building. The case has never been solved.
But Politkovskaya's insights into the "soul" of Putin are relevant today. It's a different take than that of President George W. Bush who observed in 2001, "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country."
Politkovskaya observed: "Meeting no resistance, Putin naturally became bolder.
"He is not a born tyrant and despot; rather, he has been accustomed to think along the lines inculcated in him by the KGB, an organization he considers a model, as he has stated more than once. In Russia, we have had leaders with this outlook before. It led to tragedy, to bloodshed on a vast scale, to civil wars."
For Russia, the response to Ukraine was a knee-jerk after decades of watching NATO advance into the Baltics, Poland and now what was once the Soviet Union.
But the world is rapidly changing. The U.S. is becoming an energy exporter. Want to hurt Putin in the pocket book? Produce enough to bring down gas and oil prices. Reconsider the missile defense shield the Russians fear because it will greatly escalate their defense costs.
"We're going to see in the next few months whether this is going to be a source of friction for decades to come," former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn said at the University of Indianapolis just hours before Putin moved into the Crimea.
Putin's Russia has its many facades. People can come and go and not as many millions have been consigned to the gulags. But I personally witnessed the "soul" of the country in 2007 while traveling with Nunn and Sen. Dick Lugar. When I returned to my Moscow Grand Marriott room, I found my papers and notes scattered about. My departure from Yekaterinburg to Odessa was briefly held up when no one could seem to find my passport.
I remember quietly fretting on as the rest of the delegation had moved into boarding. I could see Nunn and Lugar arriving. The Naval and Embassy officials were all on their phones. Finally the passport turned up. I quickly got on the flight. Once in the air, I turned to Lugar aide Kenny Myers Jr., and asked, "What the hell was that all about?"
"They probably just wanted to take one more look at you," he said. That night in the Londonskaya Hotel bar in Odessa, the place was teeming with shadowy figures (the Nunn/Lugar delegation had arrived in town with a police escort). Perhaps the paranoia was settling in. The guy at the other end of the L-shaped bar smoked a cigarette and was watching every time I glanced up.
The Black Sea is a mysterious and suspicious neighborhood. The day before we arrived in Odessa, the Cossacks were demonstrating about a Catherine the Great statue in town. Seven years later, they were whipping Pussy Riot in Sochi.
This is Putin's Russia, and now it's potentially Putin's Ukraine.
There will never be a movie about the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.
Leonard Nimoy will not play Dick Lugar.
The reason is that over the course of the program that has been in place for two decades, arguably one of the greatest legislative achievements ever, no one died.
There were no mushroom clouds over American cities or London. Tens of thousands of people were not stricken with sarin gas at Wrigley Field. We didn’t watch images of scores of bodies being removed from the Metro. Weaponized smallpox did not sweep over a continent. We don’t have a radius of thousands of miles of American land unusable due to radiation as seen around Chernobyl.
To the masses and even Hoosier Republican primary voters, Nunn-Lugar is boring. That’s because the “action” was nuanced and played out in obscure places deep in Siberia and in invisible Soviet cities that only appeared to the masses with the advent of Google Earth.
Those attending the talk by Lugar and his Senate partner Sam Nunn – “Diplomacy in a Dangerous World” moderated by NPR’s Steve Inskeep – Tuesday evening at the University of Indianapolis were able to witness and sense the depth of this achievement.
“You could sense a higher purpose and a seriousness of purpose,” said Inskeep, the Carmel native who hosts NPR’s Morning Edition. Inskeep called it the “most successful disarmament program” that rid the world of tens of thousands of weapons of mass destruction.
“Nunn-Lugar is being applied world wide,” Nunn said. “It was applied in Libya. It is being applied in Syria right now on the chemical weapons with the U.S. and Russia. The Nunn-Lugar program was for our security.” Literally, the technicians on the ground amid the vicious Syrian civil war, removing to date about 20 percent of the chemicals thus far, are Russians trained with Nunn-Lugar funding.
It wasn’t quite the same as Texas U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson wheeling from cocaine parties to House conferences where he figured out how to steer millions in appropriations to fund the mujahedin. That was the story in the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.
After the Soviet collapse in 1991, Nunn and Lugar were able to attach an amendment to a funding bill for $400 million in funding. There was no way it would have survived a straight up-or-down vote. “What had been wildly opposed in September 1991 was passed in December 1991,” Nunn said.
Nunn and Lugar had spent years developing relationships not only in Congress, but also with the Soviets. Around a round table in Nunn’s Capitol Hill office, the two found themselves with Soviet military leaders who told them, “’You need to know that security is breaking down around nuclear weapons aimed at you. Our troops are not getting paid, and that’s why they are deserting’,” Lugar recalled.
The Indiana Republican and the Georgia Democrat found themselves in Moscow as it careened into financial crisis with unpaid military and weapon researchers overseeing an array of loose nukes, chemicals and biological weapons stored behind chain link fences with padlocks and in chicken coops.
“We went to see Boris Yeltsin and he told us in no uncertain terms” that Ukraine would have to give up its arsenal. Lugar and Nunn subsequently met with Ukraine President Leonid Kravchuk. The Indiana Republican suggested divesting the arsenal might bring a $150 million check from the U.S. “At a press conference with two reporters, one radio, one print, Kravchuk said he had just been offered $175 million,” Lugar said.
“I came to see President Bush and he was very sad over his election defeat to President Clinton, but he wrote a letter to Kravchuk offering $175 million. Every single one of those weapons went to Russia,” Lugar said, with much of the highly enriched uranium recovered shipped to the U.S. to fuel nuclear power plants. “It made a huge difference.”
At one point, President George H.W. Bush said, “Senators don’t do this.”
Pointing to Lugar, Nunn added, “This man is a remarkable leader.”
The senators got a glimpse of the huge stakes. “I visited a silo in Ukraine,” Lugar explained. “This is where a missile had been pulled out. I went down an elevator 13 floors where the guards stayed and on the walls around the table were pictures, beautiful pictures of American cities. These were identified as targets. I thought all the time I was mayor of Indianapolis from ‘68 to ‘75 we were targeted and could have been obliterated. There were enough warheads to knock out all of our major cities, plus the military installations. We were mighty lucky to make it through to that point where these Russians ended up around Sam’s table and they wanted our money, our people.”
Could a Nunn/Lugar partnership happen today?
“The voters are going to have to determine this,” Nunn said. “The voters are going to have to tell both the Republicans and Democrats they are going to have to find solutions. I think the answer is the voters have to understand if they send people to Washington that are basically saying they are not going to yield, you’re asking for dysfunction.”
Conflict and ideologies make for great movies. Nunn and Lugar forged a much more gratifying story.
The voters will not see the constitutional marriage amendment on the Indiana ballot until 2016, if ever.
For much of the past two months, House Joint Resolution 3 has dominated legislative and media attention at a time when Indiana's jobless rate is north of 6 percent, we have a methamphetamine and heroin epidemic, our health metrics are trending south, and we are potentially leaving on the table more than $10 billion in federal Medicaid money you taxpayers have already contributed. We have so much more work to do.
So what are the lessons of HJR-3?
There are many.
First, many Hoosiers came to recognize and oppose the second sentence, which the Indiana House removed and the Indiana Senate refused to restore. This second sentence would have prevented future legislatures from enacting any type of civil union or domestic partnerships.
The family groups told us it was essential to prevent the constitutional amendment from falling prey to legal challenges. The opponents told us it would almost certainly be challenged in the courts anyway. There was little agreement on what it meant. It was confusing and divisive.
Senate President Pro Tempore David Long explained after last Monday's vote, “Why would we send something to the voters that’s constitutionally questionable? I think HJR-3 in its original form could have crashed and burned this fall on the second sentence. I think the whole discussion would have been on that and not about what we’re really talking about, which is about traditional marriage and whether it should be in the constitution or not. It’s the right thing to do to send it to another vote before the General Assembly. If it passes again, it will be put before the voters in 2016.”
Second, independent media polling has revealed a shift in the public. In a 2005 Indianapolis Star/WTHR-TV Poll, 56 percent supported the amendment. In 2007, it fell to 49 percent. In October 2012, a Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll found 48 percent support. And in a Howey Politics Indiana Poll in April 2013, 50 percent favored the amendment. House Speaker Brian Bosma acknowledged HPI polling mirrored House Republican Campaign Committee surveys on the topic. Finally, a WISH-TV/Ball State Poll last December found 57.5 percent opposed.
Those numbers were based solely on an up-and-down vote on the marriage amendment. The Chesapeake Beach polling of legislative Republicans released in January revealed a classic dilemma. Long and Bosma would accentuate the fact that 80 percent of Hoosiers wanted to vote on the matter. But 54 percent opposed the second sentence concerning civil unions. And that was without a dime being spent against it.
Proponents of the marriage amendment openly fretted they had to pass it this year, because the support might not be there in 2016. Essentially, proponents of the marriage amendment wanted this General Assembly to tie the hands of future assemblies on the question of whether to allow state-sanctioned civil unions and domestic partnerships.
State Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, framed it most aptly during a late January interview with IndianaTalks.com. “We have to put the right question on the ballot,” said Leonard. “Many of the people don’t believe it would pass in 2016. Why would we want to put it in the Constitution today in 2014 if it would not pass in 2016? We would be binding future generations to something they would not want to do.”
Ultimately, that was the most telling question. In best case scenarios, constitutional amendments pass with clear, resolute majorities, as the lottery did in 1988 with more than 60 percent supporting and tax caps did two decades later with 70 percent supporting.
This shift in public opinion resulted in a loss of support in the House and Senate floors. It went from 70 votes in 2011 to 57 votes this year in the House. In the Senate, support fell from 40 to 32. This is a reflection on how things are changing on the ground, well beyond Bloomington and Broad Ripple and into places like Attica, Hartford City, Mount Vernon and now the two super majority packed legislation chambers. Folks in small town and rural Indiana have, generally, more of a live/let live mentality. They are also for fairness.
These votes in the General Assembly came without big swells of national media money influencing the vote that almost certainly would have happened if it had been on the ballot this November. What happened in the House and Senate became an intimate conversation between senators, representatives and their constituents. And their constituents were reconsidering.
This is how the process should work.
Will HJR-3 pass the Legislature and with voters in 2016?
Many, including Long, are not sure it will ever make it on the ballot. With federal judges overruling constitutional marriage amendments in Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio and New Mexico, the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to take up the issue once again between now and November 2016.
The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees “equal protection” of all citizens in all states under the law. This will be at the crux of future debates either in the courtroom or on the ballot.
If you want to go to one of the most conservative places in Indiana where Hoosier Republicanism runs deep, I would recommend Wakarusa.
It's a lovely little town on Ind. 19 between Elkhart and Nappanee. It's a place where you can buy great Amish-made furniture, an RV or an apple pie. They have a wonderful maple syrup festival with amazing pancakes. The folks there are friendly and compassionate.
It was a place where Elkhart County Republicans would gather at Nelson's Golden Glo Port-a-Pit Hall for the annual Lincoln Day Dinner. One year I showed up as a reporter for the Elkhart Truth and Republican Vice Chairwoman Eloyse Forbes felt I looked too skinny (not a concern these days) and insisted I have dinner at the head table, much to the surprise of Gov. Bob Orr.
On another occasion, Tennessee U.S. Sen. Howard Baker, who was a White House aspirant, was the keynoter and didn't have time to finish his delicious plate of Nelson's Golden Glo Port-a-Pit chicken, so owner Nelson Gongwer traded his plate, then froze the original dinner. He would show it off to those interested in viewing a presidential campaign diet.
So, yes, this is a bastion of conservatism no one should doubt.
Thus, it caught my attention when on Feb. 4 the Wakarsua Town Board passed a resolution on Gov. Mike Pence's personal property tax repeal.
“None of the proposals being considered by the Governor or Indiana General Assembly contemplate any replacement revenues for those revenues they are eliminating via the full or partial elimination of the business personal property tax,” it stated. It further resolved, “that we oppose any proposal to eliminate all or any portion of the business personal property tax without a corresponding replacement revenue stream implemented by the state of Indiana.”
Why would the good leader folk of Wakarsua make such a statement? Because under this repeal, the town stands to lose $132,332, while Elkhart County would lose $60.9 million, or 27.5 percent of its property tax revenue.
What is fascinating is that in Republican strongholds across the state, similar resolutions are passing on city councils at Peru, Portland, Munster, Warsaw, Fairmount, Noblesville, Garrett, Linton, Plainfield, Lebanon and Monticello. County councils have passed resolutions against the repeal in Wabash, Morgan and Hendricks counties. In Noble County, municipalities and county government fashioned a joint resolution against the repeal.
This winter of discontent is festering in the heart of the Hoosier Republican base.
Scanning through the 2012 election results, Gov. Pence – who won the election with just 49 percent of the vote with a 2.3 percent margin – carried Elkhart County with 57.9 percent of the vote, Hendricks with 61.2 percent, Morgan with 60.8 percent and Wabash with 60.4 percent. He won Vanderburgh County with 51.2 percent. In Miami County, Pence won with 54.5 percent.
It was the big city Republican mayors Greg Ballard in Indianapolis and Lloyd Winnecke, of Evansville, who generated headlines by pushing back at the GOP governor over the proposal in Senate Bill 1 that would repeal the business property taxes for companies with $25,000 or less in equipment. That price tag comes to $54 million, and that is too much for cities and towns that have already seen massive budget cuts due to the constitutional property tax caps most of y'all passed in the November 2008 election.
All tax cuts are good, right?
I guess, but now you're finding you can't afford to bus the kids to school, keep the parks maintained, and replace aging squad cars and fire trucks.
Last Tuesday, Pence announced that he will seek full replacement revenue for local governments from the state after meeting with mayors. “This would ensure that any reform of this tax does not unduly burden local governments or shift the cost of this tax onto hardworking Hoosiers," Pence said.
Where does the replacement revenue come from? No one knows.
But that seemed to cover just SB1. It doesn’t cover House Bill 1001, which Pence supports and calls for local option income taxes to make up the replacement. The governor does not support replacing that revenue for local governments because it would be “optional,” Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault told the IndyStar.
"Optional" as in "county option income tax." That means the corporations get a tax cut, and the replacement revenue comes out of your paycheck.
Could I find a cooler Republican head?
That would be Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, who reacted to the Pence replacement scheme by agreeing with me that perhaps it's time to step back and take a comprehensive review of all the tax reform, shifting and repeals we've had since 2008. SB1 calls for a blue ribbon study of the business tax repeal.
“I think he puts one of the difficulties on the table,” Kenley said of Pence’s move. “There’s been a revolution within an evolution as we’ve changed our tax system. The overall system needs a good, thorough review.”
In taking a step back and a time out, Sen. Kenley may be saving his Republican governor the unique Wakarusa experience. I'm not talking about a chicken dinner or a plate of pancakes with homemade syrup, though.
In the native Potawatomi tongue, Wakarusa means "knee deep in mud."
In small town and rural Indiana, you can see the gaunt, ghost people. They have rotting teeth. They drive beat up pickup trucks and old Pontiacs, sometimes with kids standing in the backseat. They can be tracked on a ritual tour of drug stores.
And when they do their work, the crude harvest is methamphetamine, or crystal meth. The cooking pots are often discarded behind the trailer, or down in the creek, or alongside the county road. Sometimes the motel they’re in explodes and burns.
In "Indiana: The Methamphetamine State!" 2013 was a despicable and banner year, following 2012 that had us ranked only behind Missouri and Tennessee in meth production.
According to Indiana State Police statistics, 1,808 labs were busted, up from 1,437 in 2011 and 803 in 2006. Of course, the cops don’t get all of the labs busted. There are probably four or five times that amount chugging out crystal meth at any given time.
In 2004, when Our Man Mitch had barnstormed across the state in his RV1, there were 1,137 lab busts and the future governor heard all about it from the local cops and social agencies. 2006 was a bit of an anomaly, as the Indiana General Assembly passed laws trying to crimp the bitter harvest by limiting the amount of pseudoephedrine purchased over the counter at CVS or Walgreens.
By the time Gov. Mitch Daniels left office there were 1,726 lab busts and the county jails were filling up with broken cooks and their pregnant old ladies.
The remedy is not working.
The 2013 stats are particularly appalling because 458 kids were found on the lab premises, up from 388 in 2012, 185 in 2009 and 125 in 2007.
When it comes to death inside a meth lab, 27 adults were killed, including four in police action shootings, two in pursuit crashes, 10 in explosions, two suicides and three homicides.
There were two kids killed and 13 injured, including seven burned in fires, one chemical burn, four exposed to chemical vapors and one poor young soul who swallowed chemicals.
There were 100 law enforcement officials injured in Indiana’s meth industry. Repeat, 100 cops injured.
All of this mayhem and action could make a great Hoosier version of “Breaking Bad,” the TV show that entertained so many of us over the past several years.
How had the Indiana General Assembly dealt with this so far this session?
Three bills that would have required prescriptions for the purchase ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, reclassifying them as controlled substances, appear to have died in the House Public Health and Courts and Criminal Code committees, and another in Senate Correction & Courts. Only one bill — HB1248 by Rep. Ben Smaltz — got a hearing. It appears there wasn’t enough time to deal with the legislation, the House having been quite busy with the constitutional marriage amendment and feral cat bills.
Terre Haute Police Sgt. Chris Gallagher and Officer Ryan Adamson testified on HB1248 about how rescheduling pseudoephedrine as a controlled substance will reduce the clandestine production of meth. “I don’t think the issue is going to go away,” Gallagher told the Tribune-Star, “and I can only hope that each time I testify, a few more legislators will get turned around on the issue.”
And Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt told the Tribune-Star, “It’s our problem as far as the meth epidemic in this area, and if we can get our local officials to make it prescription-only by local rule, then it takes that decision out of state hands, and we can deal with it here.”
Indiana prosecutors, pubic defenders, police chiefs and the Indiana State Police Alliance all favor the restrictions. The Consumer Health Care Association opposes, and they have one hell of a lobbying team at the Statehouse.
According to Justin Swanson of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, Tennessee now allows 18 local communities to restrict over the counter sales and meth lab production has been reduced between 44 and 77 percent in those locales. A Vanderbilt University Poll in December revealed 65 percent support across all party lines.
But the rescheduling in Indiana is not to be.
Asked about the statistics on Thursday, Gov. Mike Pence said, “Clearly we have work to do. We have no higher duty than public safety.” He added, “It’s going to take a coordinated effort.”
Just not this year.
The House did pass a bill by State Rep. Wendy McNamara that requires that property that was once a site for meth labs or a dumping ground for the drug be listed on a website until 90 days after it was certified decontaminated. McNamara sponsored the bill after a home appraiser was sickened by a former meth lab in the course of his work.
It’s kind of a CarFax for homes. It attempts to address a symptom of the epidemic. It is not a cure.
Nothing against the McNamara bill, but in essence, the General Assembly this year is prepared only to deal with the fallout of crystal meth, as opposed to doing something to stop or limit its production.
But let’s give the General Assembly credit. At least we’re making some inroads on the feral cat issue.
In the past month, I feared Gov. Mike Pence and legislative Republican leaders had a rude surprise for us middle class working stiffs.
They want to repeal the business personal property tax in an effort to improve what is already one of the best business climates in the nation. They are attempting a phase-out on new business equipment this year, with the goal of a total repeal a few years down the road.
This is good, right? Aren't all tax cuts good?
Perhaps, unless the tax cut for businesses and big corporations comes out of your pocket. A local option income tax means they want individual counties to make up the $500 million to $1 billion or so in revenues lost to local governments, libraries and schools by dinging your paycheck.
Earlier this month, Pence said in his annual State of the State address, “To make Indiana more competitive let’s find a responsible way to phase out this tax. But let’s do it in a way that protects our local governments and doesn't shift the burden of a business tax onto the backs of hardworking Hoosiers.”
That is the dilemma facing the governor and legislative Republicans. The constitutional property tax caps passed by voters in 2008 have already sliced away significant portions of municipal budgets. Cities like Terre Haute and Muncie have had to slash budgets by millions of dollars. What mayors and city councils are now facing is cleaving into bone.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett, a Republican, told the Tribune-Star it could lose $4 million of a $33 million general fund budget. ”We can’t sustain another $4 million hit on the general fund.” Bennett said that without replacement revenue, the city would be forced to cut 150 employees. “A big portion of that would be policemen and firemen,” he said. “We’ve cut all of the other areas to the bone, basically.”
Think of it like this. You can create the sexiest business climate to lure companies to Indiana. Geico is bringing not only its British accent lizard (or is that an Ausssie accent?) and hundreds of jobs to Carmel, but that city also has great parks, a new performing arts center, a revived downtown, trails and an improving road system. Companies wanting to set up shop in Indiana look for those amenities to attract good employees.
What the tax caps, and now a potential business personal property tax repeal, could end up doing is to create communities that can't afford to bus their kids to school, keep the streetlights on, plow the snow and fix the streets. We've seen the police chief in Knightstown tase himself in a publicity stunt to buy new squad cars.
Two bills in the General Assembly — House Bill 1001 and Senate Bill 1 — begin the repeal process, but neither has replacement revenue for municipalities and counties, other than a slow phase-out and the income tax. SB1 would form a summer study committee while eliminating the tax for businesses with less than $25,000 in property.
There are about six weeks left in this session, and the replacement part of this equation is sketchy at best, and revealing when you consider how ill-prepared the governor and legislative leaders have been to find a replacement solution.
Last week, Republican mayors Greg Ballard of Indianapolis, Jim Brainard of Carmel, Lloyd Winnecke, of Evansville, and Democrat mayors Greg Goodnight, of Kokomo, Tom Henry, of Fort Wayne, and Peter Buttigieg, of South Bend, met with Pence to express their alarm at what cities would face with a repeal and no replacement.
Pence sent a letter to mayors later in the day, saying, “I want to assure you that I understand your concerns. You provide essential services to your citizens, and I can see why some believe the phase-out of the business personal property tax could threaten service delivery. I have said that we cannot phase out this tax in a way that shifts the tax burden to hardworking Hoosiers. You may be assured that I will stand by these commitments to your community and your citizens.”
Winnecke told the Evansville Courier & Press afterward, “He reiterated to us that he would not sign any legislation that was not revenue neutral to communities. He reiterated that point several times during the meeting.”
Here’s a couple of closing thoughts. First, over the past 10 years, Indiana has dramatically altered its tax structure. Who are the winners and losers? I'm not sure anyone can tell you. We need a timeout, and a comprehensive study of what's been accomplished and whether the winners have won too much and the losers are just poor schmoes.
Second, Pence is on record saying he understands the dilemma, and that replacement revenue will be found.
We need to hold him to that promise.
In the post-Mike Pence world of gubernatorial politics – either 2016 or 2020 – Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma is positioned as the heir apparent.
That's not to say another Republican, such as Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann who has just traveled to all 92 counties, won't be there to compete. But it is Bosma holding down the most powerful legislative perch in the state. He has the most clout, has raised more than $10 million for GOP House candidates, and has potential IOUs from House Republicans all over the state.
He was one of the masterminds that took a minority caucus in 2009 and forged a 60-seat majority a year later, positioning the GOP to write the new district maps resulting in his now 69-seat super majority.
As speaker, he has done some fascinating things, like appointing Democrats as committee chairs and taking transparency to a new level with the webcasting of not only House sessions, but committee hearings as well. You can be sitting in Whiting, Elberfeld or Lawrenceburg and watch the people's business on your Mac or PC.
But Bosma is now rolling the dice of the marriage amendment in a way that could define his career.
Throughout the summer and fall, he vowed not to become a "dictator" and said HJR-3 – the marriage amendment – would be "treated like any other bill."
Last summer when I asked about the marriage amendment, the powerful Indianapolis attorney acknowledged the amendment's second sentence was troublesome. It precludes any kind of civil unions. He preferred it not be included.
I know Indiana pretty well, and it's not hard to believe that when asked whether marriage should be between one man and one woman, as is current state law, a majority of Hoosiers would agree. But the second sentence – “A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized” – is not only a potentially huge legal problem that begs court challenges if passed, but it also strikes many as simply unfair and mean.
On Jan. 13, when HJR-3 was debated in the House Judiciary Committee, that second sentence was a lightning rod. When Terre Haute attorney Jim Bopp Jr., testifying for the amendment, was pressed on whether the second sentence would "prohibit" any type of civil union in the future, he agreed.
So flawed is that second sentence that House Republicans came up with House Bill 1153, which in clunky fashion attempts to "explain" what the "framers" of the amendment really meant. The problems with it are immense. The companion legislation wasn't in the version passed by the legislature in 2011. That right there almost guarantees a legal challenge.
The end result of the Jan. 13 Judiciary hearing was gridlock, with three Republican members so concerned about the second sentence they either planned to vote against the amendment, or were undecided. HJR-3 was in danger of going down to defeat in a Republican-dominated committee.
This is where Bosma made a decision to "own" HJR-3 and become its face. And it is where his political fate is now intertwined. Last Tuesday, he calmly announced HJR-3 and HB1153 would be moved to the House Elections Committee. And about 30 hours later, by a party line 9-3 vote, it was passed on to the House floor where it will be heard this coming week.
State Rep. Eric Turner, who sponsored the bill, testified, “The constitutional amendment we are proposing simply protects existing state law.”
But when Fort Wayne Democrat state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta asked, “This will outlaw civil unions, correct?” Turner responded, “Yes.”
So it isn't really the same as the state law that was passed with bipartisan support in 1997 and signed by Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon. It will outlaw civil unions at the very time when polling shows that most Americans and most Hoosiers believe same-sex couples should at least be accommodated with property, benefits, taxation, hospitalization and deathbed rights.
Bosma, along with House and Senate Republicans, released a poll last week by Chesapeake Beach Consulting that showed most Hoosiers want to vote on the constitutional amendment. They favor the concept of marriage between one man, one woman with 58 percent support.
But the devil in the polling details was this: 54 percent favor removing the second sentence.
Why wouldn't attorney Bosma, acknowledging the amendment is flawed with the second sentence, insist on its removal? If this is important enough to enshrine in the Indiana Constitution, shouldn't it be done correctly?
The problem is, Gov. Mike Pence, while a long-time advocate of the amendment, doesn't want to run for re-election in 2016 with HJR-3 on the ballot. And he should know how hot button social politics can impact a campaign. He became the first governor in 50 years to win office with less than 50 percent of the vote in 2012, and it happened because another candidate on the ticket made outrageous remarks about abortion and rape, and it sent female voters fleeing the Republican ticket in droves.
And now we watch the state's second most powerful Republican caught in an issue fraught with legal problems and consequences yet unknown.
One of the most unique places in Indiana is Mount Baldy on the southern rim of Lake Michigan.
In a state with no mountains and southern Indiana ridges that rise only 1,000 feet above sea level, Mount Baldy is conspicuous as a rounded sand dune towering over the Michigan City harbor. This is my hometown, and as a child, climbing Mount Baldy and rolling down through the squeaky white sand was a summer ritual and one enjoyed by other kids growing up there, like Scott Pelath, Don Larsen and John G. Roberts.
It became a generational thing when I took my two sons up to the top to teach them a lesson. To the east was Michigan City and Long Beach. To the west was the Chicago skyline and Gary’s steel mills. Looking north, there was 380 miles of fresh water sea stretching all the way to Manistique, Mich. This was a view of “freedom and unparalleled opportunity, adventure and danger.”
To the south was the Indiana State Penitentiary, a massive Civil War era chamber of punishment, assault and despair. If you happened to have been atop Mount Baldy on Sept. 26, 1933, you might have heard the pops of a gun battle as John Dillinger sprang his gang.
To my sons, Mount Baldy was a lesson of choices, opportunities, challenges and consequences.
Eight decades later, on July 12, 2013, there was the antipodal event, when 6-year-old Nathan Woessner, hiking on Mount Baldy with his father and a friend, disappeared, as the Associated Press described it, “without warning or sound.”
During his State of the State address Tuesday, Gov. Mike Pence picked up the narrative. “Michigan City police and fire raced to the dune and were joined by beachgoers using their bare hands as local businesses rushed machinery to clear away the sand. Even reporters covering the story were seen using their notepads to dig. For nearly three hours, no one out of the nearly 140 people on that sand dune gave up until a firefighter felt a hand beneath the surface and pulled little Nathan to safety. They called it the Miracle on Mount Baldy.”
Nathan was limp and cold, with no pulse, no breathing. LaPorte County Deputy Coroner Mark Huffman ordered the boy into the back of a pickup truck, and he was taken to a waiting ambulance. As the truck bounced over the dune, the AP reported, a medic noticed something astonishing: The boy took a breath. Then a cut on his head started bleeding. The jolt apparently shocked Nathan’s body back to life.
When Gov. Pence called the hospital to talk to the family, he said, “I told him I thought it was a miracle. Greg (Nathan's father) told me, ‘Governor, this is everyone’s miracle.’” And so it is.
“That’s the Indiana way. We are strong and good people, but we are never stronger than when we work together,” Pence said.
While Pence made a push for his business tax repeal, his pre-K education program, he also waded into the controversies of the day including the marriage amendment. But it was this last part of the speech that Pence does best. He has the Clintonian gift of empathy. He maintains a positive outlook.
His vigorous brand of conservatism brings out the critics from the center and left. But when the topic of Pence comes up, the preface is nearly always “he’s a nice guy.”
Polling over the last year finds the political ground quaking on a number of social issues that tend to be moving away from the governor. But with his approval in the 60th percentile, the Hoosier governor along with his super majorities in the Indiana General Assembly are in an enviable position to continue to move this state into the conservative worldview.
There also was Pence’s tribute to Karen Sauer, the “single mom who felt called to adopt,” as he put it. This was fascinating because it was a breakaway from the Pence worldview of whole families with a mom and dad. Here was a single woman who fished Neven and Dusten out of the foster care system and provided a durable, loving home, even if it doesn’t meet the Ward and June Cleaver threshold.
“Adoption is a beautiful way for families to come together forever,” Pence said. “We can better support families like Karen’s by expanding and improving adoption in Indiana. Let’s make it our aim to make Indiana the most pro-adoption state in America.”
There is so much to do for kids in a state where 22 percent of them live in poverty and 34 percent live in single-parent households. But it also is an acknowledgement of what many of us know: Same-sex couples and untraditional family units can provide nourishing environs for Hoosier kids. That nuance is often unrecognized in the current polarized debate over “traditional marriage.” The reality is there is a lot of gray area in real lives.
The other thought is, there is much work to do on this front, and Pence’s adoption call is a good place to start.
But there was a lot of work to do, too, when Nathan Woessner slipped below the sands of Mount Baldy.
In 1988, with 20 years into the Republican gubernatorial dynasty, there stood the ideal candidate — Lt. Gov. John Mutz. He was of excellent pedigree, having served with distinction under two-term Gov. Robert Orr. He had been a successful state senator and a corporate executive.
But political dynasties come to an end, and when the votes were counted, Mutz had lost to a 31-year-old Democrat named Evan Bayh, the son of a U.S. senator.
There was a precursor to the end of this dynasty, and it occurred two years earlier when the powerful House Speaker J. Roberts Dailey was defeated for re-election. There were some of the usual barnacles and chinks a speaker picks up, even in his own district. But there was something below the surfaced that had changed. Dailey was an ardent opponent of gambling, and there had been a growing appetite in Indiana for a state lottery, which the state Constitution prohibited.
Finally, upon Dailey’s defeat and after more than a decade of the issue festering in the Indiana General Assembly, it passed two successive legislatures and was placed on the ballot.
And despite widespread opposition from the Republican establishment over those years, it passed with 62 percent of the vote. A landslide.
The lottery wasn't the lone factor in Mutz's loss to Bayh. Dynasties run their course, sometimes at the hands of a fresh face. But it did add a new dimension into that election, and brought out an array of single-issue voters more aligned with Bayh and Democrats.
I conjure this history from a file bearing this title: "Unintended consequences."
Former Fortune Magazine economics editor Rob Norton gives a fascinating historical review. The most recent example was the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in 1989. In its messy wake, many American coastal states enacted laws placing unlimited liability on tanker companies. Royal Dutch/Shell responded by hiring independent shippers. The use of “fly-by-night operators with leaky ships and iffy insurance” actually increased the odds of spillage as a consequences of the new laws.
And then there was American sociologist Robert K. Merton, who wrote “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action,” in 1936. Merton identified five sources of unanticipated consequences. The first two – and the most pervasive – were “ignorance” and “error.” These were followed by the “imperious immediacy of interest” as well as “basic values” and then “self-defeating prediction.” Undeveloped by Merton was the bookend, “self-fulfilling prophesy.”
The “imperious immediacy of interest” is fascinating, as it prescribes to the notion in which someone wants the intended consequence of an action so much that he purposefully chooses to ignore any unintended effects.
Now, on the eve of the full manifestation of House Joint Resolution 3, Indiana’s constitutional marriage amendment – the issue that dominates the 2014 Howey Politics Indiana Power 50 list which you can read in full at www.howeypolitics.com – some of these theories will get a full public testing in this state, with a national audience not only watching, but also making contributions into our own internal affairs.
It will likely be the most compelling social referendum to go before Indiana voters since the 1988 gaming amendment. Two polls Howey Politics conducted in October 2012 and April 2013 saw the marriage amendment as a dead heat. And that's without either side spending a penny on the issue. By November, there will be millions spent trying to convince you.
There’s an even more recent example of unintended consequences. As U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar was facing a formidable primary challenge from Treasurer Richard Mourdock, his Republican congressional colleagues were neutral. In the spring of 2012, I asked a staffer on Mike Pence’s gubernatorial campaign whether they were concerned about the probable primary defeat of Lugar, the most prolific Republican vote getter in Hoosier history.
The answer was, “No, we’ll be OK,” even though Howey Politics Indiana polling had shown a fall matchup between Lugar and Democrat Joe Donnelly a 51-29 percent GOP rout, while the Mourdock/Donnelly matchup was a dead heat. We all know what happened. The landslide victory many anticipated for Pence became a nail-biter and, at 49 percent, the first governor elected in 50 years without a majority. The reckless Mourdock imploded in the final weeks of the campaign and female voters fled the GOP. Had the steady Lugar been on the ticket, Pence probably would have had his landslide, or at least a comfortable win.
At this point, HJR-3 (renamed last week) looks like it will pass the General Assembly.
It will attract outside money. Without a presidential, gubernatorial or U.S. Senate candidate atop the ballot, the marriage issue will fill a vacuum.
Yes, Eric Miller’s Advance America group will get the church buses rolling on Election Day, as he did against the 1988 lottery amendment. Advance America began running TV ads in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis this week.
The issue will almost certainly bring out an array of moderate and left of center voters who, in the wake of President Barack Obama’s problems, might have been inclined to stay home.
There is already a state law stating marriage is between one man and one woman. Social conservatives want it embedded in the Constitution. They may get more than that.
The legal sale of recreational marijuana began Wednesday in Colorado and will be followed later this year by Washington state, but Hoosiers shouldn't hold their breath about that happening any time soon in Indiana.
Even though recent polling shows rapidly evolving views from a majority of Hoosiers, the political establishment in Indiana appears to be firmly moored to the drug war era that has seen more than 160,000 residents charged with various criminal and misdemeanor violations over the past decade.
In the past, voluminous public support on issues such as a state lottery and casino gambling well before the Indiana General Assembly allowed a referendum on the lottery in 1988 (which passed with a landslide 62 percent) and the passage of riverboat casino laws in 1993. It took the defeat of Republican House Speaker J. Roberts Daily in 1986 to pave the way for the 1988 referendum. Daily had been a vociferous opponent of any gaming expansion.
During a 2012 gubernatorial debate in Zionsville, Gov. Mike Pence said he opposed any marijuana law reforms and viewed marijuana as a "gateway" drug. His Democrat opponent, John Gregg, generally agreed, but added that medical marijuana would be worth studying. And then there was Libertarian Rupert Boneham, who observed, “It’s a plant.”
But public opinion in Indiana is shifting. In the October 2012 Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll, for the first time in decades the marijuana question – in this case decriminalization – was tested. The question was, "Currently it is a misdemeanor crime in Indiana to possess a small amount of marijuana. The Legislature may consider making it an infraction rather than a crime to possess a small amount of marijuana. Do you favor or oppose making possession of a small amount of marijuana an infraction rather than a crime?"
The response was 54 percent favored decriminalization and 38 percent opposed. When the April 2013 Howey Politics Indiana Poll asked the same question, 56 percent favored and 37 percent opposed.
In a Ball State University Bowen Center Poll in December, 52 percent agreed cannabis “should be regulated like alcohol” and 45 percent opposed. On the taxation question, 78 percent said it should be taxed and 19 percent opposed.
An October 2013 national Gallup poll showed 58 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal, an all-time high (pun inadvertent, but intended).
In 2013, criminal code reforms that originally would have downgraded low-level marijuana possession were amended to actually increase possession from a misdemeanor to a felony.
Currently, possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less is a misdemeanor in Indiana, but fines can be as high as $5,000 with incarceration up to a year. In Kentucky, it is a misdemeanor to possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana.
In late March 2013, in response to Pence’s criticism of legislation that rewrites Indiana’s criminal code to lower drug penalties, a Senate committee amended the criminal code reform bill to make punishment for marijuana crimes tougher. House Bill 1006, which rewrites Indiana’s criminal code to lower drug penalties and toughen punishment for violent and sex offender, contained language that made most of the state’s marijuana crimes into misdemeanors. Bill supporters said the intent of the bill is divert drug users out of state prisons and into treatment programs, while reserving the prisons for the worst offenders.
Pence waited till mid-March to weigh in, saying, “I think we need to focus on reducing crime, not reducing penalties.”
In 2011, a bill sponsored by State Sen. Karen Talian, D-Ogden Dunes, created a summer study committee on the issue. “Just look the polling on this issue,” Talian said last year. “The public is in favor of this. The governor is the only one who’s been talking about tougher penalties for drug crimes. Across the country, the train is moving in the opposite direction.”
There have been some Indiana officials ranging from police chiefs and prosecutors willing to have the discussion on marijuana issues. Most notable was Indiana State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell, who told members of the State Budget Committee in December 2012, “If it were up to me, I do believe I would legalize it and tax it, particularly in sight of the fact that several other states have now come to that part of their legal system as well.”
Marijuana laws around Indiana are changing.
Michigan passed a medical marijuana law in 2008 via referendum with 63 percent support. In 2013, the Illinois legislature passed a medical marijuana law by a 61-57 margin in the House and 35-21 in the Senate. In August, Chicago implemented a civil ticketing of marijuana offenders possessing under 15 grams in an effort to reduce jail overcrowding and the need for police to concentrate on violent crime. Chicago ticketed nearly 400 offenders by December, while its homicide rate dropped 18 percent, according to the Chicago Tribune.
In Ohio, petitions have been submitted and approved by the state ballot committee to legalize medical cannabis.
With Republicans holding super majorities in the Indiana House and Senate, as well as most statewide offices, advocacy for marijuana law change will need to come from Republicans, who look and act like Republicans, and who can deliver a new message: The times they are a-changin'.
Maureen Hayden of CNHI contributed to this column.
As we pull away from 2013, what is the state of the Hoosier condition?
The statistical data from 2010 through this November tells the story of a state steeped in automobiles, agriculture and a changing landscape.
We ranked 16th in the U.S. in population at 6,537,334, or 2.08 percent of the nation. Indiana ranks 16th in total households, 17th in single parents, 17th in people living alone, 17th in total housing united and ninth in the nation in home ownership (at 72 percent).
Indiana ranks sixth in manufacturing, seventh in durable goods and nondurable goods, 16th in total gross domestic product, 10th in warehousing and storage — coming in a state that bills itself as the "Crossroads of America," eighth in chemical manufacturing, sixth in transportation equipment and furniture, and 13th in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting. We ranked 13th in 2011 in exports, sending out to the world $32.29 billion worth of goods.
Hoosiers rank 39th in per capita income, with residents making 87.2 percent of U.S. income $38,119, and 33rd in household income at $46,974, down from $47,399 in 2011 (32nd). In 2002, we ranked 24th at $53,482. That is a 13.6 percent decline in the last decade, ranking us 48th.
The Indiana General Assembly passed and then-Gov. Mitch Daniels signed Right to Work legislation in February 2011. Union membership declined from 11.3 percent of the workforce in 2011 (302,000 workers, or 15th in the nation) to 9.1 percent in 2012 (246,000 workers). Only 10 percent of the workforce is represented by a union, ranking us 15th, down 2.4 percent from 2011.
Indiana ranks 10th in bankruptcies over time in 2012, and sixth in the rate per 1,000 people. We rank third in methamphetamine lab busts (1,429 in 2012) behind Missouri (1,825) and Tennessee (1,585) while Kentucky ranked fourth with 919.
But we are industrious. Indiana ranks second in automotive employment at 102,000 workers. We produce 11 percent of autos in the United States and are home to 630 automotive companies. With Honda, Subaru and Toyota in the state, Indiana has the highest level of Japanese investment per capita in the United States.
Nearly 17 percent of Hoosiers in the nonfarm workforce are employed in manufacturing, the most of any state according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since 2010, Indiana has added the third-most manufacturing jobs of any state in the country — an impressive 9 percent growth rate.
We rank seventh in coal production producing more than 36 million tons annually, and coal-fired electric power plants provided 82 percent of our net electrical generation in 2011.
Indiana ranked 20th in the number of patents granted in 2012, with 1,963 awarded. We ranked second in prosthesis patents, seventh in surgery instruments, eighth in power plants, second in communications, fifth in internal combustion engines and sixth in drug, bio-affecting and body treating compositions.
Gentlemen and women, start your engines!
Indiana ranked 26th in venture capital deals, and second in the United States in adjusted dollars per deals. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, we ranked 21st in giving, with Hoosiers donating an average of 4.5 percent of their discretionary income to charity. We are generous in giving of our time: Three in 10 said they volunteered at a nonprofit organization.
The 62,000 Indiana farms ranks 14th in the nation in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We rank first in the nation in ducks; second in popcorn, ice cream and processed tomatoes; third in spearmint; fourth in eggs and peppermint; fifth in hogs, soybeans, corn, cantaloupe and watermelons; sixth in turkeys; seventh in cucumbers; 10th in blueberries; 14th in milk cows; and 17th in marijuana.
Our state forester, Burnel C. Fischer, observed that 200 years ago, 85 percent of Indiana was covered with forests. A century ago, much of that had been cleared for our farms and industry, and in 1922, state Forester Charles Deam predicted Indiana would be treeless in 15 years. "I’m pleased to report that as we enter the 21st century, forests have rebounded and now comprise almost 20 percent of the state (4.5 million acres)," Fischer reported.
I could not find recent statistics in where we rank in limestone production, but the Indiana Geological Survey reports we produce 2.7 million cubic feet of limestone annually. The Great Lakes region of steel production that includes Chicago and (mostly) Northwest Indiana produced 676,000 tons of raw steel in a recent week in October. This region generally ranks first in the nation.
How educated are we?
Indiana ranks 43rd in people with bachelor degrees, 44th in total degrees, but we rank 14th nationally in college enrollment with 457,824 students in 2012, and we rank eighth in in out-of-state students. U.S. News & World Report ranked the University of Notre Dame, No. 17; Purdue University – West Lafayette, No. 65; Indiana University – Bloomington, No. 83; and Ball State University, No. 184.
We have a natural advantage in location (80 percent of the U.S. population is within a day's drive at applicable speed limits), great resources, fertile soil, world-class universities, a love of the automobile, and a great upside. The key to our success is to forge a better educated and prepared workforce.
"Let the people decide." We have heard this cry from Gov. Mike Pence and a number of Republican members of the Indiana General Assembly when it comes to House Joint Resolution 6 — the constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage.
While Indiana already has a law that says state-recognized marriage is to be between one man and one woman, proponents of HJR 6 want to place this in the state's most sacred document, the Indiana Constitution.
The proposed amendment states: “Only marriage between one man and one woman will be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”
Unless House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long — both Republicans and both lawyers — convince their respective caucuses that not only is this amendment vague, but that the second sentence will almost certainly collide with the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which clearly states that no American can be denied “equal protection of the laws,” it will likely go before voters via a referendum in November 2014.
Pence is straddling the dynamic here. The echoes of his own past career of public service include his oft stated self-description: “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican in that order.” Yet his emergence into the gubernatorial sphere finds Pence at odds with his own historic mission. He has sought separation during his 2012 campaign and his first year in office, persistently saying his priorities are jobs and education.
Yet he is set to watch his state enter perhaps the most divisive chapter in its modern history. The wink and a nod opt-in by Pence and his social conservative allies in the Indiana Senate and House is to “let the people decide.”
Now, what is wrong with the notion of letting the people decide?
We are only a year past the 2012 U.S. Senate race which cost $51 million. It ignores the lesson where Dick Lugar, Richard Mourdock and Joe Donnelly essentially lost control of their campaigns and messaging, as more than $30 million of national money spilled into the state from an array of special interest groups.
While job creation is largely agreed upon as the most emphatic mission at hand, the nation and world will get a front row seat to division and policy that half the population supports, and the other half finds regressive. HJR 6 will be debated in the Indiana General Assembly between January and March during a political lull across the nation, which will mean America’s eyes will be affixed to the Hoosier state.
The second aspect of "let the people decide" is that the people don't always get it right.
Imagine in 1953 the General Assembly attempting to write the Supreme Court decision Plessy vs. Ferguson into law. This was the 1896 ruling that affirmed the notion of separate but equal schools for blacks and whites. In that era, a black legislator from the region or South Bend couldn't even find an Indiana restaurant to eat in on the way to the Statehouse.
There probably would have been ample support for a separate but equal amendment to our Constitution a year before the high court's Brown vs. Board of Education overturned the notion and set in motion the American civil rights movement.
Howard County Republican Chairman Craig Dunn writes of anti-miscegenation laws, which outlawed marriage between the races. A national poll in 1958 found 98 percent of the American people to be against interracial marriage. The Indiana General Assembly wouldn't abolish those laws until 1965, two years in advance of a Supreme Court ruling that did the same.
Dunn observes the Republican Party brought us emancipation and was the first to support women's suffrage. "Republican leaders in Congress led the intense fight to pass the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution which outlawed slavery, guaranteed equal protection under laws and secured voting rights for African-Americans respectively," Dunn observed. "Now that is the right side of history."
Times change. Morals and ethics evolve. Intolerance gives way to tolerance.
So in the first months of 2014, as Pence watches passively, the General Assembly will decide whether to amend our Constitution on marriage.
Long and Bosma tell us HJR 6 isn't even the most important issue facing our state with a persistent high jobless rate, over-populated jails and prisons, potentially 2,000 meth lab busts this year, where 40 percent of our high school graduates need to take college remediation courses, and our overall health rates as among the worst in the 50 states.
Yet they appear willing to let a third-rate issue be amended to our Constitution.
If Pence and legislative Republicans really think HJR 6 is worth the division, the outside money and a national audience, they ought to call for the elimination of that second sentence in the resolution that lawyer Bosma has flagged as a problem, then advocate its removal, pass it this year and next, and then run with the referendum on the 2016 ballot.
If you believe it, defend it. Advocate for it. Own it.
Indiana is the “Crossroads of America.” We are the second ranking automobile manufacturer in the nation.
Five years ago, we just about lost much of the industry that helped forge the Hoosier middle class.
Our leaders, from then-Gov. Mitch Daniels to Treasurer Richard Mourdock, were indifferent to whether General Motors and Chrysler survived as they teetered on the brink of oblivion. When the Bush 43 and Obama administrations infused Toxic Asset Relief Program funds to help these two companies survive the Wall Street meltdown, the ensuing Great Recession and their own mismanagement over the previous generation, the political reaction was the Tea Party, which opposed the “bailouts.” There was widespread skepticism from Indiana Republicans.
On Monday, General Motors announced it was making a final payment on the $49.5 billion it borrowed from the U.S. government in 2008 and 2009 to keep it out of liquidation. Taxpayers lost $10.5 billion on that deal.
But of the $80 billion in TARP that went to automakers, about $93 million has been paid back. NBC News reported that of the $421.8 billion spent on bailouts, $432.7 billion have been recovered.
“With the final sale of G.M. stock, this important chapter in our nation’s history is now closed,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said.
"It’s been a long, hard road with the label of ‘Government Motors’,” said GM North American Division President Mark L. Reuss.
“When things looked darkest for our most iconic industry, we bet on what was true: The ingenuity and resilience of the proud, hardworking men and women who make this country strong,” President Barack Obama said Monday. He and Vice President Joe Biden made a rare joint trip to a Kokomo Chrysler transmission plant in November 2010, and the president said then, “We decided to make a stand. We made the decision because we had confidence in the American worker.”
As GM and Chrysler stood on the brink in 2008, analysts from the Brookings Institute and the Center for Automotive Research told a forum in Indianapolis that a bankruptcy and liquidation could have cost up to 150,000 Indiana jobs — including 40,000 at GM — and billions of dollars in wages, as well as personal and corporate tax revenue. According to a white paper released by U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, Indiana had 102,000 workers in the auto industry, or 5 percent of the total workforce in 2008. Within a year, 30,000 of those jobs were gone.
Asked where Kokomo would be now without the auto rescue, Mayor Greg Goodnight observed, "It's hard to say, but we'd be in much worse shape. How much worse is anyone's guess."
Today, 102,000 Hoosiers are working in the auto industry, back to 2008 levels. At GM, Chrysler, Honda, Toyota, Subaru and Cummins Engines, the direct employment is 31,703. Scattered across the Hoosier prairie and dozens of cities and towns, more than 70,000 of us produce auto parts and sell cars at dealerships. Factor in the multipliers — businesses ranging from restaurants to construction, to services — and you see the huge impact of the industry.
It is hard to calculate where Indiana's economy might have fallen had GM and Chrysler liquidated. Some brands of the two companies such as Jeep would likely have survived. But Indiana's jobless rate spiked at 12 percent in 2009 — rose to close to 20 percent in Kokomo — and stayed in the 8 percent range up through this autumn. Had 150,000 Hoosiers been forced out of work, Indiana's economy certainly would have sunk into depression.
Today, these six companies mentioned have invested in the $2 billion range in Indiana facilities, including $1.6 billion at Chrysler’s Kokomo complex and $467 million at GM plants in Bedford, Marion, Fort Wayne and Kokomo.
The decisions Obama made in 2009 — initially pumping in TARP funds, rejecting an outright bailout in the spring, forcing an expedited bankruptcy that summer and a restructuring that saw Chrysler merging with Italian automaker Fiat and the UAW pension fund gaining partial ownership — were controversial here in Indiana, even with so much investment and legacy.
Mourdock tried to thwart the Chrysler/Fiat merger, saying it perverted two centuries of bankruptcy law, with the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting the case. Daniels characterized the bailouts as "good money chasing the bad" while GM was in the “handout business.”
Republicans such as former U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, with the Fort Wayne GM plant in his district, reluctantly backed the deal. “As long as they have a fighting chance, I’m willing to give them a fighting chance,” Souder said at the time.
In times of crisis, American presidents have made tough calls, ranging from Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, to FDR’s misguided internment of Japanese-Americans. They have also leaned on our steel and production. During World War II, the auto industry became the “arsenal of democracy.” And it will still be with us in the future.
The payoff for Obama on this particular issue will come in the history books and his second term decision to increase fuel use levels to over 50 mpg within the decade, even though he lost Indiana to Mitt Romney in 2012 with only 42.4 percent of the vote.
Larry Bucshon is a heart surgeon, a Republican and a congressman. He has had employees who have reached lifetime insurance caps and ended up on Medicaid. He has seen thousands of poor Hoosiers on Medicaid denied access to health care. He paid about $40,000 a year in medical malpractice insurance, a figure that is much lower than in most states. And he is a vociferous critic of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and has consistently urged its repeal.
Tim Brown is an emergency room doctor, a Republican and as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives, chairs the powerful Ways & Means Committee.
What do these two public servants think of Obamacare and what lies ahead in the next several years?
“We clearly need health care reform," said Bucshon, punctuating it with, "Absolutely."
He backs some aspects of the ACA that allow people with pre-existing conditions to be insured, does away with lifetime caps and allows adult children to stay on their parents' plans through age 26. "Those are things in the ACA that I think everybody agreed on beforehand," Bucshon said. "But at the end of the day, the ACA is not going to accomplish the main goal which is to get the cost down so that everybody can afford health care."
He backs a set of Republican alternatives laid out by the Republican Study Committee and U.S. Rep. Tom Price's HR2300 that include GOP staples such as tort reform and allowing companies to sell insurance across state lines.
"I spent my career trying to make people healthy," Bucshon said. "I was a tertiary care doctor. I've seen the worst of diabetes issues, weight issues. If we can find a way to do better ..."
Bucshon agrees with Gov. Mike Pence on not opting for traditional Medicaid expansion, saying that not only is it "not good insurance," but it actually denies access to people. But he believes that opting out and maintaining any sort of the status quo is not a viable option.
"As a doctor, my goal is for everyone in the country to have access to quality, affordable health care in a reasonable time frame," said Bucshon, who was first elected to Congress in 2010.
"The big issue in health care in my view is how much it costs," Bucshon said. "I mean, you provide insurance for people, but if the overall cost of health care continues to grow at the pace that it has, the insurance is not going to be affordable because the overall cost of health care is still going to be too high, whether it's the government providing health insurance through Medicaid or Medicare, or the private sector."
"One of the areas we don't do a very good job on is preventive care," Bucshon said. "You want to save money in health care in the long run? Prevent people from getting sick in the first place."
"We need to do things that bend the cost curve," Bucshon said. "One of the big things I talk about a lot is price transparency in the health care market. What I would call consumerism, which needs to drive the cost of health care. Consumers need to understand what things cost.”
Brown sees Obamacare as a financial reform. "The federal laws is just changing the financing of health care," said Brown. "There will be a lot more people covered and it is financed it differently. Indiana has taken the position to have consumer driven initiatives. We have seen the evidence where that makes a difference."
What the chairman is keeping an eye on is the insurance exchanges, which have dominated the news over the past month and a half. Brown says the federal and state exchanges will evolve over the coming year, and Indiana should keep an open mind about establishing its own exchange.
"The exchanges will change," Brown said. "Whether they improve or digress will be in eye of beholder. The functioning of the exchanges will be different next year than this year. Indiana has a chance of getting into an exchange business."
As for the troubling health metrics that I’ve outlined over the past two months, Brown said most come about for three reasons: smoking, lack of exercise and being overweight.
"I would say they are not really health care expensive," Brown explained. "They are personal behavior, liberty and choice. To make the biggest dent, we have to tackle the three."
Will Obamacare survive?
Bucshon isn’t sure. "To be totally honest, I really don't know," Bucshon acknowledged. "From a political standpoint, if the health care law starts losing a lot of Democrat support, I think there will be either substantial changes in the law or most of the law will be repealed, other than the things I mentioned, the good things. But honestly, because of what is happening in private sector health insurance and the companies are planning for three and a half years, it's not an easy thing to reverse. That's why I'm saying I really don't know how to fix it."
Drifting back in time, I can see my family loading up the Rambler for that Thanksgiving trip up to Grandma's house in Mishawaka.
We became "motorists," leaving Peru in the Wabash Valley behind, climbing up the ridge to Mexico on old U.S. 31. Another 20 miles later, we would come to a stoplight. There was a one-lane bridge spanning the Tippecanoe River north of Rochester, and in this place, the main north/south U.S. highway in Indiana became a travesty.
My father, a mild-mannered newspaper editor, would whip off his eyeglasses and quietly seethe about the U.S. 31 of the late 1960s. Twenty miles to the north it was a one-lane bridge. Twenty miles to the south it was Stoplight City.
"A complete embarrassment for the state," he would grumble.
As of this past Tuesday, U.S. 31 took a further step of evolution as the new Major Moves-era Kokomo bypass opened, and for one bright shining moment, as the Elkhart Chamber's Kyle Hannon observed, turned into a brief traffic jam.
Within the next two or three years — once freeway exchanges are finished between Lakeville and South Bend, and through Westfield and Carmel — the chief grumble prompter will be the left lane Larrys that never learned that "passing lane" concept in driver's ed.
You can thank Purdue President Mitch Daniels and his current station, high above his university's famed Road School, for accelerating the U.S. 31 evolution. As governor, he was all about "asset management," and he parlayed a $3.8 billion lease of the Indiana East/West Toll Road into Major Moves, what he would describe as a "fully funded 10-year road plan."
Many folks along the Toll Road counties seethed over what they called the "selling" of that highway, even though their counties received millions of dollars to which the other 85 counties never had access. At one point in his first term, Daniels saw his approval rating plummet below 40 percent.
But Daniels was a potential presidential candidate from the school of "good policy makes good politics." He weathered his approval crisis, won re-election with 58 percent of the vote, and was rewarded when he revved up his Harley and took the first cruise on the new I-69 extension between Evansville and Crane Naval.
It was successor Gov. Mike Pence presiding over the U.S. 31 bypass opening. “This road is not a bypass,” Pence said. “This road is a freeway of opportunity for Kokomo and all of north central Indiana.”
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight, who will now see tens of thousands of motorists slip by his city to the east, finds a new transportation canvas to continue his adroit innovation.
“We need to make sure we develop it properly … to make it an asset not just for Howard County, but for the entire state,” Goodnight told the Kokomo Tribune, adding that the new Ind. 931 corridor running through Kokomo needs to be protected. “We need to make sure anything we do to develop this road doesn't detract from the investments made by our businesses there.”
When I look at the potential for my hometown of Peru — where per capita income has stagnated at levels of my high school graduation in the Class of '74 — I see the state's longest runway at the Grissom Aeroplex nestled along the emerging U.S. 31 freeway, just an hour's drive from the toll road and I-465, with access to the Port of Toledo. It all screams, "Economic development!"
While it is pleasing that Indiana's famed "Crossroads of America" is evolving, we have many challenges, far beyond those who will hog the new U.S. 31 left lane.
Anyone who drives I-65 from Gary to 465, or from Southport to Columbus, knows we are at or near capacity, with gridlock just a few years away.
Pence has to figure out how to build and pay for that I-69 gap between Crane and Bloomington, and its terminus at 465 (as well as some rest stops for the meekly bladdered at a proper pee break interval, say, 90 minutes north of Evansville).
It appears to be a priority. He noted the 2020 Fund was included in the current biennial budget. “It was $400 million in highway funding,” Pence said. “That will take legislation for us to deploy those resources. We’ll be going to the General Assembly with a plan to put those resources to work. Roads mean jobs, and I don’t just mean road jobs.“
Pence continued, “I’m committed to finishing I-69 all the way to Indianapolis. My inclination is to look at other infrastructure needs around the state and see where we can enhance infrastructure in the short term as we finish the longer term projects.”
So there you have it. Tens of thousands of Hoosiers will glide across the northern Indiana prairies on the U.S. 31 freeway this weekend. Pence can dream that some day before he leaves office in three to seven years, he can make a two-hour drive to Evansville, following all applicable speed laws.
And you've got to think that when the temperature rises, Our Man Mitch might retrieve the Harley from Ross-Ade Stadium and do a quick spin around Kokomo.
INDIANAPOLIS | Indiana needs a comprehensive, statewide health strategy.
When it comes to the relative health and well-being of the 6.5 million Hoosiers — collectively rated as the 41st most healthy population in the U.S. and down from 37th a few years before — there is a surplus of empathy.
Gov. Mike Pence explained, “The issue of infant mortality, the issue of childhood poverty in Indiana, are two that weigh heavy on my heart. We’re going to continue to assemble the information and identify” solutions.
There is the policy debris field we know as the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, that has muddled and obfuscated a clear path forward. On Monday, Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma observed, “Rarely can you use ‘fiasco’ or ‘debacle’ with respect to government action. You might disagree with it, but the ACA is now a fiasco and a debacle.”
And there is a recognition that if Obamacare collapses — and it is far too early to make that determination — it will mean Congress and the state legislatures will enter a health policy triage.
“The fact is that we can’t afford the health care system that we had,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City and human resources director for the Swanson Center mental health facility. “You can’t sustain 20 to 25 percent premium increases every year."
Senate President David Long explained, “Twenty-five states have done just like Indiana” in rejecting a Medicaid expansion. If those states band together ... and say, ‘We’re going to have a plan ... I think you could have something there.”
The political reality is that the Indiana Republican Party controls virtually all the policy levers in this state.
This emerging scenario begs for a comprehensive statewide approach in a potential three-year time frame that Obamacare establishes for a Medicaid expansion. The state has world-renowned research universities, life science, orthopedic and pharmaceutical clusters and consumer-driven policy innovation that resulted in a post-IBM “hybrid” safety net program at FSSA to the forging of the fledgling Healthy Indiana Plan.
Asked about a potential blue ribbon commission pulling the various areas of expertise together to forge a state-based health care approach for Hoosiers, Pence said, “I take your point that if we have the opportunity to continue to advance the kind of health insurance innovation that is in the interest of Hoosiers’ health, then I’m open to doing that.”
Pence has asked the various state agencies to assemble an array of health metrics.
The factors Indiana Republican leaders face are an aversion to any notion of a tax increase, as opposed to extending service to constituents.
Pence cited the $25 million annual cost of running an Indiana-based health exchange. “My decision was based entirely on our analysis in the immediate days following my election that for the sum $25 million it would cost to operate, it would gain very little control over and above what Hoosiers would gain if the federal government operated the exchange,” Pence explained.
The federal exchange has forced Hoosiers to seek coverage in a logistical cul de sac. While the Kentucky state exchange enrolled 33,561 in Medicaid and 7,011 in private insurance by mid-November, Indiana Republicans used the 701 who had successfully traversed the federal exchange as an “I-told-you-so” moment.
It begs the question for the Indiana GOP: Now what?
Bosma observed, “This debacle needs to shake out a little bit. I know there is federal money being dangled out there. I know there are people without insurance we have to address, but this needs to be thoughtful..."
Long acknowledged the “uninsured is a problem,” but said a traditional Medicaid expansion would cost the state $2 billion.
This places the Indiana Republican Party at a crossroads, balancing the cost of a healthier population with the economic benefits it would bring. This is a state with a huge and growing prison population opposite of national trends. Citizens are paying vastly higher sewer bills than previous generations because it neglected to fix the problem decades ago. The state has an unhealthy population because it did not adequately invest in nutrition, early education, health care and insurance access.
With such a poor historical track record, the development of a comprehensive health strategy should be a compelling notion up for vigorous debate.
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Should Indiana switch to open primary elections?