Former Gov. Mitch Daniels will tell you one of his proudest accomplishments was his appointment of former Gov. Joe Kernan and Chief Justice Randall Shepard to chair the Local Government Study Commission.
The charge was to come up with recommendations to make local government smaller and more efficient.
Daniels said, “Indiana has some 2,700 local units of government authorized to levy property taxes. Governing these units are more than 10,700 elected officials, 1,100 of whom assess property. Few other states have as much local government.”
A good number of those units of government are in Lake County.
The Kernan/Shepard study was released in December 2007.
Unfortunately, little has been accomplished.
Kernan/Shepard said the model for Indiana's local government is archaic.
“We should no longer try to deliver government services under boundaries set according to travel by horseback,” the study said. “That’s no longer efficient in this age of the Internet, interaction and interstates.”
The commission made recommendations for every level of local government.
Unfortunately, the Legislature has done little over the last seven years to have the 27 recommendations implemented.
The Legislature did get rid of the assessors in small townships and turned over those duties to the county assessor.
But in large townships, the Legislature allowed the residents to vote on keeping the assessors. In Lake County, just the North Township assessor was eliminated by voters.
The study did mandate consolidation of E-911 centers.
But the Legislature has done nothing on two of the study’s key recommendations.
One was to move municipal elections to even-numbered years to save money and foster greater voter turnout.
And the other, which would be wonderful for counties like Lake and Porter, would eliminate the three county commissioners in favor of a single administrator.
And the study calls for that administrator taking over the duties of most county elected officials. It would be much like a mayor appointing a police chief, controller, surveyor, etc.
Can you imagine Hammond or Gary or Crown Point having three mayors?
That is exactly what we’ve got on the county level.
Some say the county administrator would have too much power. It wouldn’t be any greater than that of a mayor.
So why hasn’t the Legislature acted to replace a board of county commissioners with a single administrator?
Legislators often are emphatic about saving money, especially at election time.
A single county administrator would save money — lots of it.
But eliminating county commissioners likely would be unpopular politically on the local level.
And state legislators don’t want to do anything to weaken their chances for re-election.
The bottom line is that saving the taxpayers' money is great, unless it is unpopular in political circles.
Don’t hold your breath waiting on the end of county commissioners.
It was about a month ago that state Rep. Charlie Brown had harsh words for Speros Batistatos.
“He’s like a cow that gives a bucket of good milk and then turns around and kicks it right over,” Brown said.
Batistatos is president of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority. He’s outspoken, arrogant and very good at what he does.
While Brown called Batistatos a friend, he also suggested he’s a loose cannon who needs to be reined in.
Batistatos has a nice gig. He runs an agency with a multimillion-dollar budget. The money comes from casino and hotel/motel taxes. The staff of 20 is well-paid, as is Speros, who commands a salary into the six figures.
What eats at Brown is that Speros’ agency doesn’t have to answer to an elected body.
And Brown’s bill to have the Lake County Council approve Speros’ budget never got a hearing. Brown immediately vowed to return next year with the same bill.
Brown said Speros was boasting that he got the bill killed. I’m sure he did.
One of the members on Speros’ board is W.F. “Bill” Wellman, who might be the best visionary in Northwest Indiana. Wellman also works for Dean White, chairman of Whiteco Industries. He is a wealthy man and a quiet but strong Republican political force and a guy who benefits from Speros’ agency.
When the visitors bureau was created three decades ago, state law mandated the Lake County Council approve the agency’s budget.
Seemingly under the cover of darkness, that got changed years back. Today, there’s no oversight of the agency’s budget by an elected body.
So why all of a sudden does Brown want the County Council to approve where Speros and company spend millions of dollars each year?
That’s largely because Brown – like many others – is upset that Speros is moving the annual air show from Gary’s beaches to Fair Oaks Farms – 40 miles to the south.
The change was made, according to Speros, because Gary said it no longer can afford to provide security for the show, and no other suitable spot could be found along the lakeshore.
So is Brown right in saying the agency needs fiscal oversight by elected officials?
I tend to think he is, even though the agency doesn’t receive any property taxes.
One of the recommendations of the 2007 Kernan/Shepard report on improving local government said, “Too many appointed boards and individuals hold fiscal power, thus removing them from the direct control of voters.”
Bob Kuzman, a former Crown Point state representative who lobbies for Speros’ agency, said there’s no need for the County Council to review the budget because it has an appointment to the 20-member board.
I don’t think Brown is going to buy that argument – with or without a Gary air show.
The Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly and Gov. Mike Pence aren’t on the same page.
Shoot, they aren’t even reading the same book.
If Democrats think they are getting the short end of the stick this session, they might ask to borrow Pence’s crying towel.
The governor has been battered by his own party at every turn.
What’s surprising is that Pence continues to turn the other cheek.
Consider that with just a couple weeks left in the legislative session, the governor’s top priority – elimination of the personal property tax on business – remains in limbo.
Instead of elimination of the tax, some legislators have proposed a reduction in the business income tax.
And because the business personal property tax – which amounts to about $1 billion annually – goes to fund local government, elected officials across the state have railed against Pence’s proposal.
The governor had two other priorities whacked just days apart last week.
The Senate Education Committee gutted Pence’s plan to establish a preschool voucher program for up to 1,000 low-income 4-year-olds in five to be determined counties.
That bill was rewritten by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, to create a commission to study how to best implement a preschool program in this state.
Kenley made the changes because he is bothered by Pence’s plan to create the pilot program this year but wait until next year to fund it.
And just a day after preschool took a punch, Kenley ripped into another of the governor’s priorities.
Pence had the General Assembly set aside $400 million last year for long-term road construction projects.
At the behest of Kenley, Republicans cut that in half and suggested the other $200 million go to the general fund to make up for revenue shortfalls, which could eliminate the need for additional budget cuts.
The lower than anticipated income led Pence to cut $172 million in planned spending last year.
While the business tax, preschool and highway funding are on life-support, the marriage amendment appears headed for divorce court.
Pence badly wanted Hoosiers to vote this fall on a proposal to put a ban on gay marriage in the state constitution.
Before Hoosiers can vote on a referendum, the proposed constitutional amendment has to be approved by two separate sessions of the legislature. And that proposal would have to contain the same wording each time.
Well, the wording was changed this year, meaning that there will have to be a second vote on the new language in 2015 or 2016. That would set up 2016 as the earliest referendum date.
With the session winding to a close, Pence is on the verge of suffering a major legislative embarrassment.
That’s not terribly good for someone still harboring thoughts about running for president.
There are days when we all dread going to the mailbox.
You never know what will be there. It could be a call to jury duty or a notice that you are late on a bill.
What happened to me was even worse. I received an invitation to join the National Rifle Association. And sticking through an envelope window was the red and black decal that said “Member National Rifle Association 2014.”
Perish the thought.
The invitation talked about all the wonderful things that would come my way.
The so-called benefits include 24/7 defense of my Second Amendment freedoms, the “award-winning” NRA magazine, a free subscription to the NRA/ILA grassroots alert, a personalized membership card and decal and free admission to the NRA’s annual meetings and exhibits with more than 7 acres of guns, gear and outfitters.
But there’s more. If you join for a year or more you get the NRA’s heavy-duty duffel bag. And joining for three years will bring you the NRA’S 9-LED aluminum barrel flashlight.
No thanks. I’d rather have the Little Orphan Annie Secret Society decoder pin. And I’d rather have a jar of Ovaltine than a NRA membership.
While I don’t have a whole lot of use for guns, I also don’t have any desire to take them away from people, other than, say, assault weapons.
The Second Amendment provides the right to bear arms and – despite what the NRA says – I don’t see anyone trying to repeal that amendment.
What bothers me is the number of kids who have access to guns and the number being killed by accidental gunfire.
That was spelled out in an ABC-TV special, “Young Guns,” recently.
And the New York Times last fall took an in-depth look at the accidental deaths of children and explained how the actual numbers are hidden in bureaucracy.
What we do know is that a minimum of 800 kids under age 14 were killed in gun accidents over the last decade.
And the Archives of Pediatrics and Adult Medicine indicates 30 percent of the households with children younger than 12 don’t lock up guns.
Yet the NRA opposes “safe-storage” laws, as well as laws to hold adults responsible for the accidental deaths of children with an adult’s guns.
In opposing “safe-storage” laws, the NRA says children are more likely to be killed by falls, poisoning and environmental factors. That kind of makes it sound like the lives of children killed in accidental shootings don’t matter.
The NRA believes education is the answer and that kids should be told that if they see a gun they shouldn’t touch it but should call an adult. Anyone who has kids knows that doesn’t work.
Just 18 states have “safe-storage” laws. Unfortunately, Indiana isn’t one of them.
It seems the controversy dogging Portage Mayor James Snyder’s decision to send snowplows into Gary a few weeks back just won’t go away.
Maybe that’s a good thing.
I can’t say I have any great love for Snyder. He wouldn’t level with me during the mayoral campaign about the status of then-Police Chief Mark Becker.
And I found Snyder’s campaign despicable in terms of the tactics he used to scare senior citizens by suggesting they no longer had police protection after 5 p.m. because of the consolidated E-911 system.
And after being elected, Snyder used gestapo-like tactics when he ordered a police presence at Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission meetings.
The NIRPC board finally told him to call off the dogs.
Despite our differences, Snyder did the right thing when he sent Portage snowplows into Gary to help his ill-equipped and poorly prepared neighbor out of a jam.
What happened next mirrors the constant Republican attacks on President Barack Obama in Washington.
Only in the case of Portage, the Democratic City Council pounced on the Republican mayor.
The council was dead wrong.
There is something to be learned from this – and it is something Northwest Indiana has struggled with for decades.
Although things are getting somewhat better, NWI governmental units have had difficulty working together.
A wall still exists between Lake and Porter counties, although a portion of it has crumbled.
And although one cannot tell at what point he has left Munster and entered Highland, let there be no doubt that a governmental barrier remains in place.
There has been a lot said about what Snyder did. Some say he had no business sending Portage plows into Gary without City Council approval.
I don’t buy it. Conditions were such that there was no time to call a council meeting to talk about snow that had Gary on the brink of gridlock.
Did Snyder’s move cost the taxpayers of Portage? Of course. Will the average guy ever notice? Of course not.
The fact remains that Gary needed help. And some Portage residents work in Gary or pass through Gary to their jobs. And some Gary residents shop in Portage.
Some Gary residents were so appreciative that they sent checks to Portage as a way of saying thanks. That helps break down long-standing barriers.
What Snyder did for Gary was an example of regionalism on a small scale.
Northwest Indiana counties and municipalities should take notice and grow from what Portage did.
Too often we can help each other but fail – or refuse – to do so.
Weather doesn’t stop at governmental lines, and neither should we.
And the Portage City Council owes Snyder an apology.
“Honest to Goodness Indiana” is the state’s new pitch for travel and tourism?
You’ve got to be kidding.
Say it ain’t so, Joe.
This is the 21st century, and the state still thinks it’s the 1800s.
I haven’t been this embarrassed since the 1980s when the state theme of Wander Indiana was emblazoned on Hoosier license plates.
People kept asking, “Where the heck is Wander, Indiana?”
People looked, but no one ever found it.
So now Indiana has forsaken “Restart Your Engines” for “Honest to Goodness Indiana.”
“This announcement begins a new era for Indiana’s travel, tourism and hospitality industry, said Mark Newman, executive director of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.
A new era and a bad one at that.
And we paid $100,000 for someone to come up with that hokey phrase.
In the dictionary, “honest to goodness” is listed as an adjective and means “plain, simple and exactly what they appear to be.”
I’m a lifelong Hoosier and the last thing I want to be is plain and simple and someone to be taken for granted.
Can you just picture someone in Kansas or Illinois or Kentucky saying, “Let’s go to Indiana for some honest to goodness”?
You can’t even buy that at Walmart.
Yeah, Honest to Goodness Indiana is one of those aw shucks kind of expressions that tells the world we are a bunch of country bumpkins.
We seem to be saying you’re invited to come to Indiana, sit on the porch and rock the day away while sipping on lemonade.
Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, who was a big part of picking the new state moniker, said, “Everywhere you go in Indiana, the people and the experiences are genuine. Even our biggest attractions satisfy and delight visitors because here, more so than anywhere else, hospitality matters. That’s real. That’s Honest to Goodness Indiana.”
Ain’t that special.
Yeah, that Hoosier Hospitality is something, but don’t try telling that to gays who would like to wed in Indiana or unions that want to protect workers’ rights or women who would like to be paid as much as men or public school teachers who more than ever have to fight for what they love – education.
There’s a lot to promote in Indiana, but Honest to Goodness isn’t one of them. We’re bigger and better than that.
There is plenty to proud of in Indiana, starting in our own backyard with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and outstanding salmon and trout fishing
But Newman said the new theme incorporates all regions of Indiana.
Yeah, without naming one of them. It’s kind of like Wander Indiana.
Would someone please save us from ourselves?
When the dust settled Friday as filing closed for the May primary elections, I couldn’t help but think the Lake County Democratic Party had lost its swagger.
Lake Democrats generally charge out of the filing period loaded for bear.
Up and down the ballot there’s always a litany of hot contests — enough to keep political junkies salivating for the next three months.
Those print shops that make yard signs would be raking in money just as a retailer does on the eve of Christmas.
A month before the election, yard signs would spring up like dandelions. But the guy with the most signs doesn’t always win.
Brochures would be written and clog mailboxes.
Those slick publications would talk about economic development and education and jobs and taxes but will lack detail.
Years back, nine out of 10 candidates listed the fact they were World War II veterans. Not many today have any kind of military service. I guess that’s what happens with an all-volunteer Army.
And the dirt sheets would appear at random, accusing one candidate of anything from infidelity to not having paid a speeding ticket.
The municipal precinct organizations would invite the candidates to speak and then make endorsements. Receiving a group’s backing was akin to winning an Oscar. And if you were endorsed, the candidate would have to pay an assessment to be listed on the pluggers handed out door-to-door and at the polls.
All this, of course, took money.
Every other night, it seemed, a candidate was hosting a fundraiser. The price of admission generally was $100. Sometimes a thousand people would show up, which meant the candidate was either loved or gave away a bunch of tickets.
And spending $100,000 on a county office campaign was chump change. Some races cost close to $500,000.
In government and political circles, there was a constant buzz.
But not now. You don’t even need five fingers to count the interesting races.
On the county level, there are no contests for auditor, treasurer and prosecutor. That’s unheard of. County Clerk Mike Brown has token opposition, as does Commissioner Roosevelt Allen.
There is an interesting race shaping up between Jerome Prince and Mike Troxell to win back the assessor’s office.
Only in the sheriff’s race, with incumbent John Buncich being challenged by Oscar Martinez and Richard Ligon, is there real excitement.
I’m not sure what happened. Is it the cost of running? Is it public scrutiny?
All I know is that I’m going to miss the thrill. I feel like Darren McGavin in “A Christmas Story” when the Bumpus dogs stole the turkey.
There will be no turkey soup. No turkey casserole. No turkey cacciatore. No turkey a la king.
As is the case in Washington, politics in the Indiana Legislature has become more divisive.
It is easy to tell by looking at where legislation stands at the halfway point of the session.
If this were a football game, the halftime score would be 52-0.
Republicans are leading, largely because they have twice as many players on the field.
The Republican game plan is to reward the business community for its ongoing financial help.
The plan also includes proposals to further decimate teacher unions, including financial incentives to lure teachers from public schools to charter schools.
And to satisfy the God, guns and gays faction of the party, the GOP is pushing hard to put a same-sex marriage ban in the Indiana Constitution.
While legislators waste their time trying to dictate lifestyles, little is getting done other than what the business community seeks.
Yeah, Republicans want to make the grass even greener in a state that ranks near the top in having a favorable business climate.
Gov. Mike Pence wants either the business personal property tax eliminated or the corporate income tax reduced.
Eliminating the property tax would cost local schools and government $1 billion annually.
Pence knows that, but said he doesn’t want to “unduly harm local government.”
When asked what he meant by unduly, he refused to answer. Talk about leadership.
I guess you can’t blame the GOP for being in bed with businesses – they came to the dance together. And don’t forget the Republican “right-to-work-for-less” law approved a year ago.
If the GOP-business tryst bothers you, Democrats aren't choir boys either. Republicans claim Democrats go out of their way to help unions. That’s true, in part because unions traditionally back Democrats, and in part because the Dems embrace what unions represent.
What it seemingly comes down to is big business versus unions. Yeah, but it is much more than that.
Democrats also look out for the rights of minorities, women and, yes, the gay and lesbian community.
Democrats are striving to raise the minimum wage and eliminate the gender wage gap. Republicans oppose both goals.
If the Republicans are so bad, why do they have such control of the House?
There are a couple of reasons.
Republicans redrew House districts following the 2010 Census, turning blue districts red.
And two years ago – largely because of a political attack against Obamacare, there was a huge Republican vote in 2012 against Barack Obama, and the residual effect sent lots of Indiana Democrats packing.
Pence – for political and business reasons – and fellow Republicans slammed the door on Obamacare, leaving hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers uninsured.
That’s the political reality. And don’t look for Democrats and the folks they represent to fare any better when the Legislature's second half opens tomorrow.
There is no better critic of a state's interstate highways than those who drive them the most — the truckers.
Some over-the-road drivers weren't very kind a couple of weeks ago when they spoke about Indiana’s highways in the wake of another snowstorm across the Midwest.
And rightly so.
Truck driver Shelly Vanscyoc, of Akron, Ohio, was interviewed at the Petro Stopping Center in Gary. Her comments were typical.
“I drive all over,” Vanscyoc said. “Everyone’s roads are up to par except for Indiana.”
Trucker Wayne Kruger said driving from Ohio into Indiana is “like night and day.”
It is the same old story, snow after snow. Indiana doesn't measure up when it comes to snow removal and highway maintenance.
I’m not talking about the pileup that killed three people on Interstate 94 outside Michigan City two weeks ago. That was a rare occurrence caused by a sudden, blinding band of lake-effect snow.
In terms of highway maintenance — or the lack thereof — the recent closure of Cline Avenue because of a plethora of potholes, shows the neglect.
And while the situation wasn't as severe, driving portions of U.S. 30 in Schererville and Merrillville the past two weeks was like traversing a minefield of potholes.
I don’t know what it’s like driving from Ohio into Indiana, but I can attest to coming into Indiana from Illinois on Interstate 80/94.
During a snow, the interstate on the Illinois side is in pretty good shape. The Indiana side looks like an orphan in need of a home.
When the Indiana Department of Transportation is confronted with complaints about a lack of attention in this corner of the state, officials go on the defensive.
They talk at length about the amount of money INDOT pours into this area.
For example, Karl Browning, the INDOT commissioner, spoke recently in response to U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly’s criticism of the state for not rebuilding the Cline Avenue Bridge.
Browning’s answer was the state has invested $450 million in Lake County highways since 2006.
That’s all well and good, but …
While we appreciate whatever attention the state gives us, standing behind the millions the state sends up here isn't good enough. The issue, which involves lives and property, is more complex.
I wrote a column a while back bemoaning the poor snow removal effort on the Indiana side of I-80/94 compared to Illinois.
Gov. Mitch Daniels spoke to the issue when we met a couple of weeks later.
Daniels said the state had its full complement of plows out during that storm.
INDOT has said the same thing in reaction to the same criticism in recent weeks.
Perhaps we've found the cause of the problem. Indiana, it would appear, needs more salt and plows. This really isn't rocket science.
Lake County elected officials too often expend more energy finding excuses as to why they can't do something as opposed to getting something done.
That applies to Republicans and Democrats.
It has been going on for years. The local officials, for example, have found countless reasons why there is no need to add additional routes to the South Shore rail line.
And, for two generations, Lake County folks have talked about the need for an Illiana Expressway from Interstate 65 into Illinois, but managed to come up with enough excuses to block the new road.
And for an even longer period, a lot of folks here wouldn't even think about enacting a county option income tax, even though the state’s 91 other counties had done so.
The naysayers would have no part with any of those projects. And the supporters pretty much turned their backs.
That was then. Things are changing.
The Illiana Expressway has been approved.
And Lake County has an income tax, thanks to the courageous stand of Commissioner Mike Repay, who was a staunch opponent of the tax until he saw the need for the money.
That pretty much brings us to South Shore expansion. And things are looking up, thanks in part to Repay.
Other than the opposition from those who don’t want a South Shore train running with miles of their homes, the hang up with commuter rail expansion has been money.
That, too, is coming into focus.
Fortunately, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky represents us in Congress and sits high on the House Appropriations Committee.
Yeah, Visclosky has access to the money that can make South Shore expansion a reality.
Even though Visclosky has had access to South Shore expansion money for a couple of decades, there hasn't been any local match money. And there’s been virtually no effort to identify a funding source.
And if a funding source had been identified, most officials would have found a reason not to enact a tax for the South Shore.
But now that might be about to change.
Repay is carrying the ball to use some of the income tax he once opposed to serve as part of the local match for South Shore expansion. He’s talking $2 million to $3 million per year. It is a wonderful plan because there wouldn't be a need for a new tax.
The local communities that get part of the income tax would be asked to chip in as well.
The state of Indiana, which would reap financial benefit from South Shore expansion, also would be expected to contribute.
Some county officials besides Repay will have to vote to spend the money on the South Shore.
And, hopefully local officials are all out of excuses as to why that wouldn't be a good idea.
It’s time for House Speaker Brian Bosma and his same-sex marriage ban backers to fess up.
Bosma wants us to believe there is a hue and cry from voters wanting to have the chance to vote on whether to add a same-sex marriage ban to the Indiana Constitution.
Call it the latest take on Hoosier Hysteria.
Bosma took the highly unusual step of moving House Joint Resolution 3 from the Judiciary Committee to the Elections Committee.
Bosma knew the resolution was doomed in the Judiciary Committee but would pass out of the Elections Committee.
It is a move I've never seen in 35 years of covering and observing the Legislature.
Bosma said the issue shouldn't be decided by one person in the Judiciary Committee, but rather by all 100 members of the House.
That’s poppycock, and Bosma knows it.
The House approved HJR 3 on Tuesday. It now goes to the Senate.
House speakers — Bosma included — and the leaders of the Senate have for years assigned bills they wanted to see die to committees to where they would never see the light of day.
Bosma has said this is an issue the people of Indiana should decide “once and for all.”
But Hoosiers aren’t begging for the chance to vote on the marriage amendment, especially since there is a bill on the books banning same-sex marriage in Indiana.
And recent polls show a majority of Hoosiers think banning same-sex marriage is bad public policy that will drive away or keep away some of the best and brightest.
Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, appears cut from the Bosma mold.
Slager this week said he wants the marriage debate to end and that the best way to do that is to allow Hoosiers to ratify or reject it during the Nov. 4 general election.
No, the best way to end debate is to kill the amendment and avoid a multimillion campaign on an ill-advised proposal that flies in the face of the direction Americans are moving.
The five-hour hearing before the Elections Committee drew the most cogent comment to date on the issue.
State Libertarian Party Chairman Dan Drexler said, “The issue at hand is not whether voters have a say; it is whether Speaker Brian Bosma was able to have his own personal say. Lost in this debate is the basic truth that the tyranny of a majority should not be able to strip away the liberties of a minority voice.”
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody added that Bosma and fellow Republicans used “bully-style tactics” to force “unpopular, unnecessary legislation” through committee.
Cut the bull, Mr. Speaker. There are a lot of real issues that need to be addressed as opposed to those — such as the marriage amendment — that are trumped up by you and ultra conservatives for political expediency. HJR 3 can still be stopped.
I don't believe I have ever been to Posey County in far southwest Indiana.
Based on what I've learned in the last couple of days, I'll make sure I never step foot in that part of the state. I've got a feeling those boys play tough.
That's because the people of Posey and a couple of surrounding counties elected state Sen. Jim Tomes and the baggage that comes with him.
Tomes lives in Wadesville, which is an unincorporated blip on the radar in Posey County.
Tomes is one of those Tea Party guys who wants a Bible in every classroom. He sponsored legislation to require all public school teachers to recite the Lord's Prayer on a daily basis. Thank God, the bill died.
He also favors allowing all Hoosiers to carry a concealed handgun without a license. I suspect there is a bit of the Old West in Posey County.
Given Tomes' stand on weapons, I guess it isn't surprising that he's carrying a bill this year to prohibit local governments from continuing to conduct gun buy-back programs.
Those are the programs that offer gift cards in exchange for a gun — no questions asked.
Lake County cities have held the buy-backs over the years. They have gotten hundreds of weapons off the streets. And most of those weapons were obtained illegally by gang-bangers and others who are a cancer on society.
Tomes doesn't want the buy-back guns destroyed. He says they are too valuable. He wants the guns to be sold to a firearms dealer or through an auction with the revenue being used for local police departments.
Clearly, police departments are underfunded, but putting more guns on the streets — often into the wrong hands — isn't the way to raise the cash.
Sure, let's make things even more dangerous in a state that has some of the loosest gun laws in the country.
Let's put more guns on the streets and in the homes where, if they are ever fired, likely will result in a suicide or homicide.
Tomes' bill passed out of committee last week. Amazingly, Sen. Lonnie Randolph, an East Chicago Democrat, voted for it. Look around your city, Lonnie. Gunfire is killing people.
Perhaps it's only fitting that Tomes has introduced the buy-back ban this year.
After all, word slithered out of Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago that the National Rifle Association will be hosting an April convention there that is expected to draw 70,000 members.
Somewhat surprisingly for the NRA — which is as brazen as organizations get — it didn't want local tourism folks to make a big to-do about the convention.
It all got me to thinking about which is scarier, Tomes or 70,000 gun-toting NRA members about to descend on Indianapolis.
Sip by sip, Indiana seems poised to step out of the Dark Ages when it comes to laws governing the sale and consumption of alcohol.
So backward is the Hoosier state that I think there are still folks bemoaning the end of Prohibition in 1933.
But there’s hope, even in Indiana, a bastion of conservatism.
Just the other day, for instance, I read about a legislative proposal to end the 67-year ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages at the Indiana State Fair.
Heck, a cold beer is about as American as hot dogs and apple pie.
So backward is Indiana that I recall one of the first issues I wrote about when I started covering the Legislature in 1979 involved liquor.
One brave legislator carried a bill to allow the Sunday sale of alcohol in restaurants if the majority of their gross sales involved food.
In other words, you could go out for dinner at one of those places with real tablecloths and have a drink, but would be out of luck at a shot-and beer joint that featured hot dogs.
The bill passed, and eventually you could buy booze on Sunday at any place with a liquor license.
That was some 35 years ago and Indiana hasn’t advanced its liquor laws since.
Hoosiers still can’t buy liquor to take home on a Sunday. I’m not terribly sure why. People surely drink on a Sunday. In fact, Sunday might be the day of the week when the most booze is consumed.
There are a couple of reasons why Indiana remains the last state in the nation to ban the carryout sale of liquor on a Sunday.
One is that package liquor stores think they will lose business to grocery and big-box stores. And liquor stores don’t want to open on Sundays.
The other reason is that religion thing.
There have been unsuccessful attempts to change the Sunday liquor law over the years.
Up until last fall, state Rep. Bill Davis, a Portland Republican, was chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, which heard proposals to change liquor laws.
Portland is south of Fort Wayne, pretty much out in the middle of nowhere other than being in the heart of the Bible belt.
Davis wouldn’t allow a vote on Sunday carryout sales.
Davis quit the Legislature when he was named head of the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. I’m not sure what that agency does, but I suspect it won’t be campaigning for Sunday carryout.
Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, is the new Public Policy Committee chairman and has vowed to give Sunday carryout a fair hearing. Bless those Northwest Indiana guys.
Life – in some respects – has evolved without Indiana. Colorado has legalized the recreational use of marijuana, but Indiana is still fighting the Sunday sale of carry-out liquor.
Lake County Democratic Chairman Thomas McDermott Jr. wants Jim Wieser in the worst way.
He wants him to run against state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, in the 15th House District.
McDermott appears to be on the verge of filling a vital ballot slot in his quest to help the Democratic Party eat away at the supermajority Republicans' hold in the House.
So what makes a financially secure attorney – with more years behind him than ahead – give serious thought about returning to the public sector? Years ago, he served on the Highland Town Council and the Lake County Council.
Well, as it was explained to me, it pretty much started at a meeting at Wicker Park in early November.
Wieser, who has been a party stalwart for decades, was among the 45 to 50 members of McDermott’s inner circle at the meeting. New state chairman John Zody was on hand.
Toward the end of the session, which focused on the 2014 elections, McDermott asked if anyone else had a comment.
One of those at the meeting said Wieser stood and talked at length about what the Republicans were doing to Indiana.
Wieser, I was told by an attendee, said, “The road this governor is taking us down scares the 'bleep' out of me.”
When Wieser was finished, there was a chant of “Wieser, Wieser, Wieser.”
In the days that followed, the pressure to get Wieser to run began to mount.
The 15th House District was drawn by Republicans for Slager, who is serving his first term. While the district tilts Republican, Slager beat Democrat Tom O’Donnell by a scant 435 or so votes in 2012.
O’Donnell carried the Dyer, Schererville and Griffith portions of the district, but lost badly in St. John.
It’s often said that if you don’t like what’s going on in government, you need to put your name on the ballot.
That apparently is what Wieser would be doing.
Wieser has chastised Gov. Mike Pence and fellow Republicans for their attacks on Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and public education. Wieser’s wife is a teacher.
It likely would be an expensive election. During the 2012 race, Slager raised almost $200,000. About $130,000 of that came from GOP political action committees.
Money shouldn’t be a problem for Wieser. Democrats know how to raise money. It is one of the things they do best.
And Wieser is well-liked by politicians on both sides of the aisle, not just because of his political demeanor, but also his legal involvement in the public sector.
Beating Slager wouldn’t be easy.
But Wieser would have a couple of extras going for him.
One, Republicans tend to stay home in nonpresidential years.
Second, although Pence’s name won’t be on the ballot, what he stands for certainly will. And Slager might have difficulty distancing himself from an increasingly unpopular governor.
You’ve probably gotten a constituent survey in the mail recently from your state representatives.
They are slick brochures, paid for and mailed at taxpayer expense.
If nothing else, they serve as public relations gimmicks for our elected officials. It is one of the advantages of being an incumbent.
Your representatives ask your opinion on issues the Legislature will be considering in the coming weeks.
The brochures are intended to make you feel like your opinion counts. On a very few isolated issues, your thoughts might impact the vote of your legislators. For the most part, it is just a warm and fuzzy, feel-good kind of thing.
I’ve seen brochures from Sen. Frank Mrvan, a Hammond Democrat, and from Hal Slager, a Schererville Republican, in the last couple of weeks.
The legislator’s questions – or lack thereof – reveal a good bit about themselves. The wording also can be indicative of how they feel on an issue.
For instance, Slager asks if you support preschool programs for low-income families. Mrvan wants to know if you support such programs for all children.
Each candidate wants to know if you support expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to more than 400,000 uninsured residents. Slager goes a step further and says it will cost Hoosiers $2 billion over seven years. Slager uses the word Obamacare. Mrvan doesn’t.
Slager asks if the constituent supports a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Mrvan goes a step further and points out that current law defines marriage as a union between a man and woman. The similar but different questions are meant to evoke different answers. Mrvan’s question clearly suggests a constitutional amendment isn’t needed.
Using different, but very similar words, each asks if Indiana should legalize the retail sale of alcohol on Sunday.
And the two also ask similar questions about legalizing small amounts of marijuana, lowering the penalties or keeping the law the same.
That is where the similarities end.
Slager asks if welfare recipients should face random drug tests. Mrvan avoids the question that has been declared unconstitutional and a waste of money in other states.
Mrvan wants to know if the minimum wage should be increased from the current $7.25. Slager ignores the question.
There is another question that Slager asks but Mrvan doesn’t. Slager wants to know if you support a single county executive who would replace the current three county commissioners.
It is one of the recommendations that came out of the Kernan-Shepard study on local government under Gov. Mitch Daniels. I’m pleased to see Slager revive the proposal. It’s a good one.
Now, take a minute and go over the aforementioned questions and ask yourself how much your opinions are going to matter. Go ahead and answer anyway.
Just four days into the 2014 legislative session and we already have three business personal property tax-cut proposals on the table.
So just who is in charge?
We know Mike Pence is the elected governor of Indiana.
But who really is leading the charge for Republicans, who can pass anything they so choose because they hold supermajorities in both the House and Senate?
With considerable fanfare, Pence a month or so ago said his legislative priority is the elimination of the business personal property tax.
Yep, eliminate the tax and find a way to make up for the annual loss of $1 billion in revenue.
Eliminating that tax would cost Lake County schools and local government units $74.2 million a year, Porter County $14 million annually and LaPorte County $7.2 million a year.
Pence didn’t say how the state should make up the loss, but he didn’t rule out shifting the burden to local individual income taxes.
He said he would leave it up to the Legislature to figure it out.
Enter House Speaker Brian Bosma, who took a look at the governor’s proposal and promptly discarded it.
Instead, Bosma and the House GOP proposed allowing each county to eliminate the tax — but only on new businesses and manufacturing equipment.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, praised Bosma, adding that his proposal essentially is tax abatement, something counties can do now.
So Pence’s priority for the 2014 session was pretty much wiped from the board. And a Pence spokeswoman said the governor supports Bosma’s proposal. Go figure.
Not to be outdone, Senate budget leaders Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, and Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, came up with their own business tax plan. And it too had no resemblance to Pence’s proposal.
The Senate version cuts the income tax rate on businesses from 7.5 percent to 6.5 percent this year and to 4.9 percent by 2019. It would cost the state $132 million in revenue.
The Senate bill also would eliminate the business personal property tax on companies with less than $25,000 in taxable property at a cost of $30 million a year to the state.
Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, of Anderson, said it was nice that Republicans threw Pence a bone. But Lanane added it would be better to invest in the health and education of Hoosiers instead of more tax breaks for businesses.
Therein lies the party differences.
Republicans are committed to the businesses that fund their campaigns.
Democrats look out for the unions and middle class that provide them with financial support.
Yet there can be a common ground.
Pence’s plan is beyond irresponsible.
It is encouraging to see fellow Republicans rein him in. It must be an election year.
You wouldn’t think the issue of providing state-supported prekindergarten programs for 4-year-olds would be a political thing.
But it is, at least in Indiana.
Democrats seem to be head-over-heals in favor of getting the 4–year-olds into classes tomorrow.
Republicans aren’t so sure. While they talk about the benefits of early education, there isn’t a united voice.
While Gov. Mike Pence and fellow Republicans talk about making Indiana more attractive to outsiders by eliminating the business personal property tax, they aren’t hell-bent about Indiana catching up with other states in providing early education.
And, unfortunately for 4-year-olds at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, 2014 likely won’t be their year.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, called prekindergarten an essential foundation for education and essentially for workforce training.
“We need to take the steps to make this happen,” Bosma said without voicing any urgency.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, also didn’t see it as a pressing issue, saying it all will depend on cost.
In fact, the Republican-controlled Senate last year killed a House bill to provide $7 million for a prekindergarten pilot program to service 1,000 low-income children in five counties.
While prekindergarten is almost universally supported in the education community, Pence isn’t so sure.
“The results on pre-K are mixed,” Pence said last month. “The evidence that universal pre-K programs improve outcomes for kids is thinner than one might think, but early learning programs targeted to at-risk and low-income children can and do work well."
But Pence doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get the at-risk kids into a program.
Instead, he wants the legislators to draw up a prekindergarten program this session and figure out how to pay for it next year.
So, why are Republicans so hesitant to launch an early education program that has a proven record of success?
Could it be because the biggest supporters of prekindergarten are Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and legislative Democrats?
State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, who is a retired educator, has invited Pence to embrace “the benefits of quality early childhood education.”
State Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, added, “This will make our children more marketable once they get older, because we’re competing against other states that have had early education for years and years. It’s time to stop talking and put up the money and get the job done.”
And the state has the money. Indiana is sitting on a $2 billion surplus collected from Hoosier Republicans and Democrats.
Don’t tell me tax breaks for businesses are more important than kids who start out in life with two strikes against them.
How much longer must the less fortunate have to wait?
It was some eight years ago when it seemed government across Northwest Indiana – particularly Lake County – had reached an ethical low.
Rep. Pete Visclosky saw it and asked local government – especially Lake County governmental units – to open themselves to scrutiny. A few did. Most refused.
It was about the same time when Cal Bellamy formed the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission and asked governmental units in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties to join. Some did. Most didn’t.
The code has 32 planks on how officeholders and employees should act in terms of honesty, civility, accountability and fairness. Roll those into a ball, and you spell ethics.
Given the history of questionable practices and public corruption in this corner of the state, one would think every town, city and county governmental unit would have jumped at the chance to put its best foot forward and embrace ethics.
Shoot, it would have been the ethical thing to do.
Therein is the problem. Too many communities thought they were holier than thou and refused to join.
Bellamy said nonmember communities said their employees didn’t need ethical training because they already are as ethical as they can get, and besides, they only hire people with common sense.
Therein is another problem. We aren’t born ethical; it is something learned.
Let’s give credit to those who have joined the commission – Crown Point, Dyer, East Chicago, Gary, Highland, Hobart, Lowell, Munster, Schererville, Whiting and LaPorte County.
But, there isn’t a governmental unit in Porter County that has gotten on board. And we all know they aren’t as pure as the driven snow, although some seem to think they are.
This brings us back to Lake County, where the meaning of ethical depends on whom you ask.
While the majority of the folks in Lake County government wouldn’t think about taking a nickel they didn’t earn, there are those always looking for a deal on the side. And the sad part is they too often don’t think they are doing anything wrong.
It was about a month ago that Bellamy went back to a meeting of the Lake County Council, hoping to get them into the fold. And the results were the same as prior invitations.
It wasn’t a matter of council members saying training on ethics wasn’t needed.
No, council attorney Ray Szarmach told councilmen that while the code had many admirable traits, it was too vague for the county to adopt as law and survive a constitutional challenge.
I really don’t think anyone expects the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission to one day have to defend itself before the Supreme Court.
Ethics is about learning right from wrong. A lame excuse to avoid the issue is, well, unethical.
New Year’s resolutions are meant to improve an individual’s life and the lives of those around him or her.
While most of us make resolutions, I have it on good authority that politicians are the least likely to do so because they have trouble keeping promises.
Individuals and groups might want to make the following resolutions.
• Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub: To treat others as he would like to be treated.
• Lake County Republican precinct organization: To announce a game plan as to how it intends to cut into Democratic domination.
• Hoosier Republicans: To stop the attacks against Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.
• Porter County obstructionists: To tear down the wall they built between Lake and Porter counties.
• To south Lake County residents: To tear down the wall they built between north and south county.
• Mother Nature: To call off the dogs of winter.
• Indiana Republican leaders: To do the humane thing and halt the attacks on gay marriage.
• Speros Batistatos: To find a way to get the South Shore Air Show back on a Lake Michigan beach.
• Lake County Democratic Chairman and Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.: To grow thicker skin.
• Former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh: To come clean with the Hoosiers who have elected him over the years.
• State Treasurer Richard Mourdock: To promise to never seek office again.
• Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority: To be relentless in completion of the runway extension project.
• Indiana labor unions: To continue to climb back to their rightful place in society.
• Lake County Council: To do the right thing and join the Northwest Indiana Shared Ethics Advisory Commission.
• National Rifle Association: To admit there is no place in civilian America for assault weapons.
• Recently retired Merrillville school Superintendent Tony Lux: To stay active in the quest to preserve the public school system in Indiana.
• Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission: To become more of a facilitator.
• U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky: To keep the pressure on local officials to act — not just talk.
• National Right to Life: To stay out of other people’s lives.
• Northwest Indiana's legislative delegation: To release their agenda for the upcoming legislative session — if they have one.
• President Barack Obama: To continue the push for immigration reform and a hike in the minimum wage — among others.
• Republican National Committee: To search out a 2016 presidential candidate who is in touch with America.
• Indiana House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City: To continue to be a voice of reason in a chamber of horrors.
• Indiana Gov. Mike Pence: To own up to his plans for the state's $2 billion surplus.
• Those who opposed the Illiana Expressway: To embrace the bigger picture.
• The people of Northwest Indiana: To continue the good fight.
The outlook for Northwest Indiana couldn’t have been brighter in 1996 when the first of four casino boats opened at Buffington Harbor in Gary.
The Majestic Star Casino owned by Don Barden was the first to welcome gamblers.
A day later, Trump Casino opened adjacent to Barden’s boat.
Barden, who had grand plans for the lakefront at Buffington Harbor, is dead.
Trump has sold his casino.
Much has changed since Indiana – a highly conservative state – opened its doors to casino gambling.
Some saw casinos as the savior for the Rust Belt. While the casinos have helped, they won’t be deified.
The two casinos in Gary and one each in Hammond, East Chicago and Michigan City have created jobs but not served as a catalyst for economic development.
The casino tax revenues have paved streets, built a jail and a baseball stadium as well as turned a hospital into a public safety facility. The money also has helped local government stay afloat.
But the casino tax revenues – most of which go to the state – are threatened.
An analysis by The Times indicates gambling revenue fell by $77 million during the last fiscal year. The collections were the lowest since 2002.
Why? Largely because of competition from slot machines in Illinois bars, a tribal casino in southwest Michigan, state-licensed casinos in Ohio and casino gambling at horse racing tracks.
And all the while, the Indiana Legislature sat back and did nothing.
But, alas, the clouds seem to have parted. Rep. Bill Davis, R-Portland, was chairman of the House Public Policy Committee, which governs casinos. Davis was about as kind to casinos as a vulture on road kill.
Fortunately, Davis is gone. And his replacement to head the Public Policy Committee – Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte, seems to care.
Is there optimism for a land-based casino in Gary? Could well be.
Like any other business facing competition, casinos have to make themselves more attractive to the customer.
Dermody said they need to “make difficult decisions about how we allow gaming to continue in Indiana and be as competitive as possible. Because one thing I think for sure, just doing nothing, we’re not going to stay at the same level we are now.”
If the Legislature is to move forward, so too must the Northwest Indiana elected officials who have a stake in the game.
That includes Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., who in the past has fought Gary’s effort for a land-based casino. McDermott said he did so to protect Hammond’s Horseshoe Casino, which is the most profitable in the state.
That attitude has to change if the casino industry is to convince a conservative Legislature it needs help.
That attitude also needs to change to rekindle that optimism of 1996.
I suspect Santa will have forgotten to deliver some gifts today. I’ll help him out with presents to the following:
- South Shore Air Show: A new home along Lake Michigan.
- Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas: Something bigger than being mayor.
- Chicago Blackhawks: Their third Stanley Cup in the last five years.
- Indiana University: Another “I” on the Old Oaken Bucket in 2014.
- Gary: The big break the city so deserves.
- State Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City: A statewide future.
- Former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh: A reunion with the Democratic Party he deserted.
- Chicago Cubs fans: More crying towels.
- Proponents of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages in Indiana: A resounding defeat.
- Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz: The continuing strength to ward off the barrage of Republican attacks.
- Lake County Sheriff John Buncich: Re-election in 2014.
- Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority: A commitment from Gov. Mike Pence for ongoing state financial support.
- Cline Avenue Bridge: Someone in Indianapolis who cares.
- South Shore Railroad: Someone to come up with a local funding formula for expanded commuter rail.
- Illiana Expressway: The fast track.
- Indiana Tea Party: Last rites.
- President Barack Obama: A Republican House that cares more about the country than itself.
- Lake County Solid Waste Management District: Somewhere to put our garbage other than in a landfill.
- Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.: Whatever it is that he’s trying to find.
- Lake County Republican Party: Signs of life.
- U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville: A statue along Lake Michigan recognizing his success in reclaiming the shoreline.
- South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Speros Batistatos: Someone to tell him he isn’t always right.
- Gov. Mike Pence: Truth serum when it comes to public education.
- Indiana Democratic Party: Another Frank O’Bannon.
- Indiana University basketball: Another national title in 2015.
- Northwest Indiana elected officials: Someone to recognize, then act on, the fact there is too much government.
- Gary/Chicago International Airport: Airplanes stacked up awaiting landing.
- Merrillville’s Century Mall: Tenants.
- Chicago Bears: A win Sunday over the dreaded Green Bay Packers.
- Hillary Clinton: The presidency.
- Merrillville: City status and a mayor to stop the bleeding.
- Schererville, Dyer and St. John: Consolidation into one government.
- Griffith, Highland and Munster: The same as above.
- Gary: Enough population growth to again be Lake County’s most populous city.
- Indiana General Assembly: The ability to recognize Northwest Indiana is a pretty darn good place to live.
- Shared Ethics Advisory Commission: More and more members.
- Indiana Republican Party: Another Dick Lugar.
- Portage Mayor James Snyder: One-term status.
- Northwest Indiana trade unions: The strength they once enjoyed.
- People of Northwest Indiana: The ability to embrace what they have, because it represents an awful lot of good.
I suspect Gov. Mike Pence thinks he’s Santa Claus. He is sporting gifts – or promises thereof – for just about everyone.
But don’t be misled by that red and white suit.
While some see the governor as jolly old St. Nick, he is little more than a poster child for the Tea Partiers.
Of course, we are talking taxes, or Pence’s quest to make Indiana the least taxed state in the country, regardless of how it will cripple local government and schools.
Things are quickly coming into focus.
Many criticized the governor when he proposed a 10 percent cut in the income tax before he had taken office.
When his fellow Republicans objected, Pence settled for 5 percent. For a guy making $30,000 a year, the cut will amount to a $51 savings. That’s enough to buy a carton of cigarettes. For the guys making bigger money, the cut becomes something to write home about.
We now see the income tax was just the start of the tax attack.
A couple weeks ago, Pence said he wants to eliminate the personal property tax on business, which will reduce state income by $1 billion a year.
Pence didn’t say how the state would make up for the loss, but he didn’t rule out increased property taxes for the guy saving $51 a year because of the income tax reduction.
The business personal property tax revenue, by the way, funds local government and schools.
And just when you thought you had seen it all, Pence pulled another tax cut out of his back pocket.
Pence last week said he wants to cut the income tax for families with children as a way to promote marriage and childbearing in Indiana.
If you are assuming the tax cut wouldn’t apply to gay and lesbian couples with children, you likely are correct.
As usual, Pence was short on specifics. While he said he wanted the current exemption of $1,000 per child increased, he didn’t say by how much.
And, as is the case with elimination of the personal property tax on business, Pence said nothing about how the state would recoup that lost income.
He only would say the two latest tax cuts fall under his plan for a revised tax code, but he declined to say what all that entails.
What Pence did say was that he’d let the Republican-controlled Legislature decide how to carry out his vision. Is that like the blind leading the blind?
So we’ve got a governor throwing multiple tax cuts against the wall, hoping some will stick.
That will look good at re-election time, but what about paying for these cuts. Why is that being kept secret? Is it going to be that painful for the middle class?
The two most significant events I’ve seen in nearly four decades of writing about government in Northwest Indiana happened in the last couple of weeks.
That’s quite a statement. And yes, it doesn’t bode well for the region. But hey, it might well show that we have turned a very large corner.
The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission last week overwhelmingly approved the Illiana Expressway in the face of passionate opposition. It’ll be the first significant Lake County highway project in five decades.
And about the same time, Lake County’s plethora of governments seemed just a step away — after years of jostling — from forming a countywide E-911 system.
Is there hope that NWI is coming together for the common good? I hope to tell you.
Before anyone decides to kick back and light a cigar, they should be reminded that there’s work to be done. And the next deadline is looming.
After the Illiana folks left the NIRPC meeting last week, the agency adopted a resolution supporting increased financial support for South Shore Line railroad expansion.
It’s nice that they did that, but resolutions are virtually spineless. Resolutions are what governmental bodies do when they don’t have the power to do anything else.
South Shore expansion from Chicago to Lowell should be next on the region’s agenda of moving out of the 1950s into the 21st century.
And, yes, it should happen now. South Shore expansion has been studied to death. It is time to acquire track, buy cars and hire conductors.
And the guy who’s grown most impatient is U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, the guy holding much of the money.
And the usually mild-mannered Visclosky laid down the law a couple months ago. He said he wants a local funding source to match the federal money he can acquire by March.
A local funding source ought to include state money and a local tax. And because there will be South Shore expansion to Valparaiso after Lowell, all of Northwest Indiana ought to pay for it. Don’t tell me that some Porter County people won’t slide over to Lowell to ride the new train to Chicago for jobs that pay 40 percent more than similar jobs here.
Settling on a new tax is a fairly dicey proposition. The General Assembly will have to authorize a new tax that would be adopted locally.
So how do we arrive at a consensus?
We need a facilitator, someone to bring us together. Because there isn’t a dominant city in Northwest Indiana, that consensus will have to be reached by committee. And that ought to be NIRPC.
By law, NIRPC had to vote on the Illiana. It doesn’t have to do anything in terms of South Shore funding. But it should if it wants to live up to its name of being a regional planning agency.
Gov. Mike Pence’s assault on the state’s public school system apparently is headed for the fast track.
Pence threw around a lot of fancy words last week when he announced his education agenda for the legislative session that starts in three weeks.
The governor said he wants to put education “reform” on the shelf and instead move to education “innovation.”
And Pence said even though Indiana has 71 charter schools, there needs to be more — lots more.
He said more charter schools are needed because they “stir the pot” of what’s expected in education.
And, by golly, he also is going to change what’s expected in education in Indiana.
Pence said he wants to minimize the constitutionally mandated focus on general “knowledge and learning,” and have schools become worker training centers from the earliest grades.
In other words, Big Brother will be deciding early on whether Johnny will be a truck driver, a carpenter, a teacher or a doctor when he grows up. Nevermind that Johnny’s focus might change as he experiences different things in life.
He also wants to allow charters to take over unused public school buildings.
And he wants to allow charter operators with more than one Indiana school — including for-profit operators — to shift state money among their schools.
The most egregious assault on the public school system is Pence’s proposal to pay a bonus to teachers to leave their schools for a low-performing charter school.
In layman’s terms, he wants Hoosier taxpayers to pay teachers to abandon public schools in favor of charters. That is unconscionable.
While I am all for more money for teachers, they should receive it through negotiations, not because a head-hunter came calling.
If the public school system is so unproductive — as Pence has been suggesting since taking office 11 months ago — why does he want the heart of that system — its teachers — to jump ship in favor of charter schools?
Pence clearly is pitting public schools against charters, which is the opposite of an innovative approach to education.
I keep wondering why Pence has such a disdain for public schools. And clearly he does.
Pence and his Republican Party can’t seem to live with the reality that Democrat Glenda Ritz defeated GOP Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett last year.
While Pence says warm and fuzzy things about trying to work with Ritz for the benefit of Hoosier children, the facts show he is trying to undermine her authority at every turn.
Pumping up charter schools is political power for Republicans. So is decimating the ranks of teacher unions.
Come on, governor. End the charade, and admit it. And let the educators run education.
There is something wrong with this picture. Drastically wrong.
Gov. Mike Pence this week ordered state agencies to withhold $51.5 million in planned spending because state revenue for November was $76.8 million, or 7.8 percent short of the revenue target.
He put a hold on another $50 million in early 2013.
Pence said the cuts are necessary if the state is to maintain its $2 billion surplus.
I’m not sure why the state needs a $2 billion surplus, but so be it. It’s a nice round number.
What’s harder to understand is that Pence has made elimination of the business personal property tax his 2014 legislative priority.
On one hand, Pence is fighting to keep the state’s $2 billion surplus, and on the other hand, he is proposing a cut of $1.04 billion in revenue by eliminating the business personal property tax.
If that doesn’t bother you, consider that $109 million – or about 10 percent – of the business tax collected by the state comes from Lake County. And $25 million is collected in Porter County.
With the elimination of the tax, schools and local government here are going to get whacked.
Pence said he wants to cut the tax so it doesn’t “unduly” harm local government. And just what does unduly mean to you, governor?
Here’s the real kicker. House Speaker Brian Bosma provided the details Pence failed to mention.
Bosma said they may allow local government to decide whether to eliminate the business tax. Where was that mindset when Lake County was punished for not adopting an income tax?
What Pence and Bosma are saying is that Indiana is leaning toward pitting one county against another. Isn’t that akin to taking state’s rights to the point of absurdity?
Isn’t that kind of like grading all public schools based on the same criteria without consideration of the socioeconomic background of the students?
But I digress.
The elimination of the tax will cause Lake County schools to lose $37 million and Porter County schools $10.5 million annually.
It also would mean a loss of an additional $71 million for all other taxing units in Lake County and a shortfall of $15 million for other Porter County taxing districts.
Pence said the tax cut is to make Indiana’s already top-rated business tax climate even better. He failed to say the average Joe will make up the loss.
If that tax climate is so great, why are revenues falling short of target and the per capita income of Hoosiers lower than 40 other states?
This simply is another way of sugar-coating President Reagan’s failed trickle-down economics that Republicans continue to embrace. Saying something might trickle down to the guy at the bottom is like offering him the dregs of the coffee pot. It’s insulting.
I was there when Merrillville incorporated in 1971 and have been a casual observer since.
Veteran State Trooper Les Sheridan was the town’s first police chief and had his hands full when he took a dozen green kids by the hand and turned them into a police department.
That was 42 years ago. Never have I seen a town undergo such drastic change in such a short time.
That in part is why I had to chuckle a week ago when the Town Council announced the formation of a Historic Preservation Commission.
I wondered just what they were going to preserve.
I guess you can say Merrillville never had a heart. It is a town without an identity.
Maybe it never had a chance.
There never has been a downtown Merrillville as you will find in Schererville, Griffith, Highland, Lowell and other region towns.
Merrillville’s only identity, really, is that it is known as the town that grew up when Gary started down.
Merrillville is a cluster of subdivisions that developers threw up as whites fled from Gary. The irony is Merrillville incorporated to prevent Gary from expanding to the south. It happened anyway, a couple of times at that.
Merrillville was little more than a crossroads off two lightly traveled roads — Broadway and U.S. 30 — at the time of incorporation.
The town elected its first town council of seven members on a nonpartisan basis.
They were well-meaning folks who didn’t know much about planning, and it quickly showed. The town became a myriad of strip malls and access roads.
In the mid-1970s, Southlake Mall arose from a cornfield and gave Merrillville a new identity even though it wasn’t part of the town.
About the same time, billionaire Dean White opened the Holiday Star Theater that gave the town a bit of identity.
The subdivisions continued to mushroom as the flight from Gary heightened.
And then the unthinkable happened. Those who had become part of the town early on picked up and left again.
At the same time, the black flight from Gary became as real as was the white flight three decades before.
And all the while, Merrillville still lacked an identity. And Hobart snatched up Southlake Mall.
At the time the Historic Preservation Commission was announced, Clerk-Treasurer Eugene Guernsey said it should have been done 20 years ago. Maybe even 30 or 40 years back.
They are talking about a historic district from Mississippi Street to Van Buren along 73rd Avenue. That’s where some of the early settlers lived.
But many of the early homes are gone. The Old Mill is shuttered.
And the first school, which housed town government after incorporation, is now a museum.
I guess it all begs the question of how to preserve what’s no longer there.
I haven’t gone to bed hungry since the night mom served liver and lima beans for supper when I was a kid.
Although she gave me heck that night, I still don’t eat them today. I’d rather chew on cardboard.
I suspect the majority of people in Northwest Indiana never have had to deal with hunger. Not even for a day.
To most folks, hunger is little more than a word in a headline about depleted shelves at area food banks.
Part of the increasing demand on the food pantries and soup kitchens served by the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana is the cut in food stamps.
The 2009 boost in food stamps expired last month. Why Congress allowed that to happen is anyone’s guess.
Perhaps some congressmen, who never have experienced hunger, just wanted to boast they are reducing government spending, the less fortunate be damned. Those likely are the same officials who oppose an increase in the minimum wage.
Anyway, the reduction in food stamps has increased the demand on food banks, said Megan Sikes, spokeswoman for the Food Bank of NWI.
I suspect there is a misconception that those who turn to food pantries for help are unemployed or elderly on fixed incomes or bums.
More and more homeowners with jobs are finding a need for food pantries to make ends meet.
I can’t think of many things more dehumanizing than standing in line for food.
But I guess what really bothers me is why food pantries have to go hat-in-hand begging for donations with which to feed the hungry.
One would think that in this most bountiful of lands there would be something to eat for all.
There always will be people hurting financially. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the ability to take care of them.
U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., donated the $5,000 he was paid during the government shutdown to food banks around Indiana.
Donnelly could afford to do so, but the point is that he did it.
Where are the rest of us?
One would think that anyone who pays $5 for a pack of cigarettes could donate the same amount to a food bank.
Or how about those who go to area casinos? Maybe they can set aside a buck or better for food banks every time they drop $20 or $50 or $100 or more into slot machines.
If you spend $20 on a case of beer, how about another dollar for food banks?
And what about the Republican and Democratic parties that serve food aplenty at fundraisers to raise money to win elections to serve the people. Is it above them to collect money for the hungry?
After all, for some, a bowl of lima beans can be just as enticing as filet mignon.
Eric Krieg has every right to speak his mind. It would just be nice if he would get something right once in a while.
In case you don’t know Krieg – and you've been blessed if you don't – he is the unofficial mud-thrower of the Lake County Republican Party.
He also has run for office several times, only to get hammered at each outing. You’d think he would get the message.
But no, he just likes to attack Democrats – who often deserve it, unless Krieg is doing the name-calling because he’s always wrong.
Krieg has run for County Council a couple of times and county surveyor as well.
Most recently he has attacked Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., who sometimes deserves it, but in this case doesn't.
Krieg wants the Lake County Election Board to investigate McDermott’s use of campaign funds to pay his wife and friends for work.
Krieg says McDermott’s in violation of state law for failing to file a written contract detailing the services for which the campaign was paying.
There is no need to do so, according to Brad King, co-director of the bipartisan Indiana Election Division.
I've dealt with King for decades. No one knows Indiana election law better than Brad. He must have written that chapter of statutes, I sometimes think.
The mayor contends Krieg is reacting to a defamation suit his brother, Aaron McDermott, filed against Krieg.
Krieg contends he is holier than thou and that Democrats invented public corruption.
When Krieg ran for county surveyor last year, he refused to say he would leave his job at BP if elected.
When Krieg felt the political heat for that ridiculous stand, he abruptly said he would quit BP. Yeah, sure.
He unfairly pounded Surveyor George Van Til during the campaign, calling for an investigation of drainage work on Plum Creek. County commissioners said all was fine.
Other absurd Krieg comments include his charge that county Councilman David Hamm shouldn't have been allowed to vote on the income tax because he was selected by committeemen to fill a vacancy, not elected by the voters.
And he said it was wrong for suburban police departments, like his hometown of Munster, to sometimes loan cops to the north county team designed to curtail crime in Hammond, Gary and East Chicago.
Krieg called them “failed Lake County cities,” and suggested they wallow in their own crime.
And when he ran for County Council, Krieg opposed anything that would benefit the county, including an income or food and beverage tax, the Regional Development Authority, bus service, expanded commuter rail and the Illiana Expressway.
Krieg’s problem is that he says what he thinks voters want to hear, rather than embracing the facts.
And Republicans wonder why they can’t make inroads in Lake County.
It's that time of year. I’m thankful …
That U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky is finally putting pressure on local officials to come up with a funding plan for South Shore Railroad expansion.
For puppy dog kisses.
That it appears the Illiana Expressway will become a reality.
That former Sens. Birch Bayh and Dick Lugar graced my life.
For the call of the loon on a pristine lake.
That I got to see the Chicago Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups.
That Hoosiers elected Glenda Ritz superintendent of public instruction.
That Barack Obama is president.
For those who are working on a daily basis to bring Northwest Indiana together.
For having had the ability to quit smoking.
That I knew the late Gov. Frank O’Bannon — the finest man I’ve ever met in Indiana government.
That the White Sox are the only Chicago team to win a World Series in the past 100 years.
For the sounds of summer after being cooped up all winter.
That IU is back at the top of the college basketball heap.
That Speros Batistatos never changes.
That Lake County came to its senses and adopted an income tax.
That someone invented beer.
For the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
That trade unions are on the way back when it comes to influence.
That IU no longer is the worst Indiana football team in the Big Ten.
That Opening Day is just over four months away.
For when it comes time to plant flowers in the spring.
That Lake County is on the verge of meeting a state mandate to merge all E-911 units into one system.
That people are starting to realize the Tea Party is poisoning the country.
For steak and lake perch.
That Mayor Joe Stahura is doing a wonderful job in Whiting.
That law enforcement has come together to reduce crime in northern Lake County.
That the Lake County Animal Shelter is a no-kill facility.
That Hillary Clinton likely will be the next president of the United States.
That Marc Trestman is coach of the Chicago Bears.
That at least one area team, Andrean, will play in a state football championship game.
That Joe Hogsett, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana and a former secretary of state, is about to get back on the ballot.
That I am old enough to have witnessed the Camelot days of JFK.
That I got to see the sandhill cranes gather one fall at the Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Refuge.
That I know a member of the last class to graduate from Hammond Tech.
That there is a glimmer of hope Indiana might return to a one-class basketball tournament one day.
But mostly, I am thankful for family and friends. Without them, all the rest wouldn’t matter.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence seems to have thrown transparency and conservatism out the window just 10 months into office.
But I guess you have to do that when it comes to stripping Glenda Ritz of the powers entrusted to her by Hoosier voters.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Pence has been sniping at Ritz since the day she took office as the state superintendent of public instruction in January.
You see, Ritz, a Democrat, did the unthinkable by beating Republican schools boss Tony Bennett. He had attacked teacher unions and funneled education money into charter schools that essentially are owned and run by Republicans.
Since he didn’t want to look like the bad guy, Pence needed a vehicle to go after Ritz.
So, under the cover of darkness one muggy night in August, Pence created the Center for Education and Career Innovation.
He just did it. Poof. One day it was suddenly there. While most state agencies are created by the Legislature, this one was all Pence. Kind of like the magician who pulled a rabbit out of the hat.
The CECI provides support staff to the State Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor.
CECI’s prime mission in life appears to be to make Ritz wish she never had run for state superintendent.
And if you have doubts about what Pence wants to do to Ritz, consider what House Speaker Brian Bosma said last week.
Bosma suggested a long-standing law designating the superintendent as chairman of the State Board of Education may be headed for extinction by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
“We don’t want to take any actions that appear to be unfair to anyone, but we have to have a system that works as well,” Bosma said. “We’re doing what we can behind the scenes to try to calm everything down and bring people together, and if we have to be out in front, we’ll do that, too.”
The system worked well for decades. Now it doesn’t? Things were fine when Republican Sue Ellen Reed was superintendent and Democrats were in control.
Worse than the covert operation is what some of the 15 CECI staffers are being paid to help make life miserable for Ritz.
Claire Fiddian-Green, who heads the CECI, is being paid $120,000 a year.
That’s not exactly chump change. You could hire a few teachers with that kind of money.
If you are a bit bothered by what Fiddian-Green is being paid, consider that six of the 15 CECI staffers are being paid more than $100,000 annually.
It’s obvious that taking control of education in Indiana is pretty important to Pence and his Republican brethren. The cost – politically or financially – apparently doesn’t matter.
Just when you thought Gov. Mike Pence’s quest to take control of education couldn’t be any more blatant, he turned things up a notch.
Pence has asked the National Association of State Boards of Education to resolve a dispute between the Indiana State Board of Education and Glenda Ritz, the state superintendent of public instruction.
That’s like asking the Purdue University president to officiate a basketball game between Purdue and IU.
Pence’s call for outside help would seem to be little more than a smokescreen for what he has done to the state’s education hierarchy since taking office 10 months ago.
This isn’t rocket science. Pence is the problem.
The governor controls the Board of Education. His good buddy Daniel Elsener runs the board. Elsener also was close to former Superintendent Tony Bennett, the Republican golden boy who angered Hoosiers and lost to Ritz last year.
If Pence wants to end the feud, all he has to do is call Elsener into his office and tell him to call off the dogs.
But Pence's brief tenure as governor shows he doesn’t want to do so. Perhaps that’s a tribute to Bennett for his attack on the state’s public school teachers.
Pence created the Center for Education and Career Innovation, which is slowly usurping Ritz’s authority. The CECI wasn’t approved by the Legislature.
The Republican-controlled Board of Education two weeks ago proposed that Pence’s CECI co-direct a review of state education standards in conjunction with the Department of Education over which Ritz presides.
Elsener, a couple of months ago, mandated the Board of Education adopt a strategic plan for future education. The final decisions will be made by Elsener and the board, not Ritz, even though she is board chairwoman.
The State Board of Education last month secretly submitted a letter asking the Legislative Services Agency to compile grades rating schools. The move would take grading authority away from Ritz and the Department of Education.
Gary’s Tony Walker, one of the board members, had the audacity to defend the secret serial meeting, saying it was all legal because it was done electronically. But he was among those who signed the letter to the Legislative Services Agency. Go figure.
Pence has tried to distance himself from the Republican education coup. That’s one reason he created the CECI.
Pence sounds Pollyannaish when he talks about the Ritz/board friction.
“There’s people of goodwill in this, and whether there’s been a misunderstanding or not, we need to stay focused on our kids,” Pence said recently.
The question is whether Pence thinks the people of Indiana are dumb or naïve.
Remember, Mike, they were smart enough to dump Bennett.
Lake County Councilwoman Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, owns one of the 52 votes that will decide whether there will be an Illiana Expressway.
As of last week, she didn’t know what she was going to do.
And she really was hoping she could pass the buck.
“I wish the state would put questions like the Illiana or South Shore (commuter rail) expansion on a referendum so the people could voice their opinion,” Cid said at a County Council meeting.
A referendum does two things, neither of which is particularly good.
It protects the elected official from having to vote on a burning issue.
And the result of a referendum often comes down to who can raise the most money.
We elected folks like Cid to become informed and make decisions for us on things like the Illiana and the South Shore Railroad. We didn’t elect them to vote just on the easy issues.
I suspect the proposed Illiana would survive a referendum in Lake County.
While the opponents are vocal, they are a minority. And there are too many folks in the county who would find it difficult to vote against job creation, a better transportation system and added tax base.
Additionally, anyone who has been a victim of gridlock on the Borman Expressway (I-80/94), surely would vote for an alternate route.
While I have a disdain for referendums in general, I particularly dislike the use of a referendum when it comes to allowing school districts to raise additional money for either the general fund or construction.
Schools in communities where residents have higher median incomes generally see referendums approved.
Schools in rural, agricultural areas generally see referendums defeated.
And schools in communities with lower median incomes generally see referendums defeated.
The same can be said of a community with an aging population. Too often those without children in school don’t relish the idea of financing the schools even though they once had kids in the school district.
While money doesn’t necessarily make a school system great, it doesn’t hurt.
And while a lack of money doesn’t necessarily make a school system bad, it clearly can have a negative impact.
In general, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Just as we elected people like Cid to make tough decisions, we elected school board members to do the same in terms of raising more education dollars.
A referendum on the Illiana? No. That’s what we elected the 52 representatives to the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission to do.
But I do favor a referendum when it comes to changing the state Constitution. It is too precious a document to allow a political party that has run amok to change. Yeah, like the proposed same-sex marriage ban.
I’m with you, Dyer.
Stand up and take a bow. The rest of Northwest Indiana ought to line up behind you.
When the state told Dyer it had to put up $5,000 monthly to subsidize the Amtrak train that stops in town, Dyer had the chutzpah to say no.
Big Brother, Dyer said, wasn’t going to tell the town what to do.
The state sold Dyer and a few other communities down the tracks.
Call it taxation without representation, if you will.
What the feds said was that states will have to subsidize Amtrak routes shorter than 750 miles beginning in 2014.
The route from Chicago to Indianapolis – which stops in Dyer – is 196 miles.
When the Indiana Department of Transportation agreed to the fed’s demands, it essentially sold out local communities like Dyer.
In fact, Dyer and the others will pay about half of the $2.7 million the feds are demanding from Indiana.
In addition to Dyer, the other local stop for The Hoosier State is Rensselaer, which has agreed to pay $1,500 a month.
Yeah, the state has stuck it to the locals.
Dyer already puts up the money to take care of the railroad platform and shelter.
This subsidy ought to be between the state and the feds. That is especially true in Indiana, where the state has more than $2 billion in the bank.
I’m not sure why the state has amassed such a surplus. The money ought to be supporting Hoosiers through a variety of venues – perhaps even full subsidy of passenger train service.
What I really don’t understand is why Dyer and Rensselaer and the others have to support Amtrak because it stops there.
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume not all the people who board an Amtrak train in Dyer are Dyer residents.
I’ve got a gut feeling some of those riders live in Munster, Griffith, Crown Point and even a stone’s throw across the state line in Illinois.
But apparently Munster doesn’t have to subsidize Amtrak if one of its residents boards in Dyer. So why should Dyer residents have to pay for that Munster guy?
Making Dyer pay because its residents have a shorter commute to the train makes no sense.
What makes sense is the state putting up the entire local match demanded by the feds.
Not only can the state can afford it, but Indiana also isn’t exactly at the forefront of passenger rail travel in America.
The only passenger service the state subsidizes is the South Shore.
Dyer has made a statement. Other Amtrak stops ought to do the same. And hopefully the state will correct an injustice.
I drove from Lake County into Porter County the other day.
The people all pretty much seemed the same.
I saw people going about their daily business of making a living, going to school or just relaxing.
Then I went into LaPorte County, which pretty much mirrored Lake and Porter.
I turned around and headed back west and crossed into Illinois, where the people – believe it or not – were just like the ones I had seen in Indiana.
Yeah, two states with similar people, but heading in opposite directions.
There is one dramatic difference on each side of that invisible state line today.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said he will sign a bill approving same-sex marriage on Nov. 20.
In Indiana, the Republican-controlled Legislature is poised to approve a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, setting up a statewide referendum next November.
Why is there such a diverse difference between two adjacent states filled with people basically looking for the same things out of life?
While Illinois is joining a growing trend in support of same-sex marriage, I wondered why Indiana is going in the opposite direction. Or is it?
While Gov. Mike Pence, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long are standing firm in backing the same-sex marriage ban, the opposition is growing.
Two of the state’s largest private sector employers – Eli Lilly and Cummins – have come out opposed to the ban. Indiana University, Wabash College and DePauw University have joined the opposition. Indiana Democrats are opposed, and the state Libertarian Party is now on board.
Word is that in the face of this mounting opposition, some Republican legislators are starting to squirm, hoping this whole thing will go away. And why not?
Why should their effort to toe the line drawn by GOP leadership put the state in a bad light and throw up a roadblock when it comes to economic development?
Why should Indiana miss out on some of the best and brightest and watch them take up residence in Illinois?
State Libertarian Party Chairman Dan Drexler put it best, saying, “Government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships.”
So why don’t Pence, Bosma and Long pull the plug on this ill-advised effort to tell gays and lesbians they aren’t welcome in Indiana?
Why don’t they back away before the two sides throw away millions of dollars on a campaign that should never be fought?
Why don’t Pence, Bosma and Long say they have read the mood of the people and that the push for the ban will be dropped? That would be honorable. But lose a statewide referendum on an issue of this importance, and you might as well wear a scarlet letter.
There’s no easy way to sugarcoat the Lake County Republican precinct organization’s replacement of Hank Adams as county assessor.
It featured county GOP chief Dan Dernulc looking more like Don Quixote than a party leader.
And the two candidates — Jolie Covaciu and Debra Johnson — were pawns in a misplayed political game.
And the sad part of it all is state GOP Chairman Tim Berry condoned the whole charade before the vote.
Berry said, “I applaud Dernulc and the Lake County Republican Central Committee for outside-the-box thinking and leadership with regards to finding Hank’s replacement.”
That’s poppycock. It is manipulation of the political system. It wasn’t pretty.
Neither candidate was terribly sure of her political persuasion, having voted in both Republican and Democratic primaries over the past two decades.
While each woman contended she was a Republican, Covaciu took a Democratic ballot three of the last four times she voted.
Johnson voted Democratic the last two times she voted. Her interest in public service apparently waned in 2011 and 2012 when she didn’t vote in the primaries.
Given their checkered voting records, the two women went to Dernulc seeking special dispensation to be able to run as Republicans.
Dernulc blessed Johnson but gave Covaciu the cold shoulder. So much for the politics of inclusion.
“I like both of the candidates. I’m saying (Johnson) is the best candidate to be a Republican for this caucus,” Dernulc said days before the vote.
And just what does “the best candidate to be a Republican” really mean? What is this, a tryout for the senior class play?
Yet the best part of this melodrama is what Johnson pulled to qualify as a candidate.
Because an assessor candidate has to be a property owner — and Johnson wasn’t — desperate measures were needed.
So Johnson did what she had to do. One week before the caucus election, she bought a vacant lot in Lake Station. A vacant lot — clean or trashed — was all it took to be qualified.
Can you imagine what Republicans would have done to a Democrat had he toyed with the political process?
Republicans would have called for a grand jury investigation.
But alas, not all Republicans condoned what Johnson did.
Veteran Munster Republican Pete Karagan* wasn’t pleased with Johnson’s land scam.
“It’s something I didn’t expect a Republican would do,” Karagan said.
You’re right, Pete. And Democrats and Covaciu are having the last laugh.
Covaciu won 56-52.
Not only did Dernulc lose, he also was able to turn out only a fifth of the GOP committeemen for the caucus.
What was that about the dawning of a new day for Lake County Republicans? Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Dernulc. Do you think you’re ready for prime time?
*This column has been changed from the original, to correct Pete Karagan's name and city.
Finally, someone said it.
Finally, someone put in perspective what the Republican coup d’etat of Indiana’s public school system is all about.
And, of course, it was a teacher who said it.
Randi Weingarten, the national president of the American Federation of Teachers, said it at a two-day conference sponsored by Gary Teachers Union Local 4 last week.
“Follow the money,” Weingarten said.
The reference was to former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett changing a low grade given to a charter school whose owner is a top contributor to the Republican Party.
The attack on the state’s public school system began under Bennett and former Gov. Mitch Daniels and continues today under Gov. Mike Pence.
It is a very calculated assault veiled by talk about what’s best for Indiana’s kids. Don’t buy it.
The bottom line is the Bennett/Republican agenda is an effort to grow and benefit charter schools at the expensive of public schools and teachers.
It all started with legislation to decimate the bargaining power of teacher unions. After the Republican-controlled Legislature got done, about all that was left for teachers to negotiate was dessert on the lunch menu.
With teachers virtually powerless, Bennett and company had a free hand in imposing their own agenda on the schools.
And the teachers, who traditionally have voted Democratic in statewide elections, no longer would have a unified voice.
At least that’s what Republicans thought.
So, in 2012, with Republicans controlling both houses of the Legislature, Pence a virtual lock for governor and Bennett cruising toward a second term, the assault on education was taking on new meaning.
And then Glenda Ritz came along and spoiled the party. She beat Bennett.
Rather than admit defeat, Republicans went to Plan B to render Ritz powerless.
The Pence-appointed State Board of Education has attempted to usurp the power of Ritz and her Department of Education. In large part it is working.
Pence says he wants to work with Ritz, but his Board of Education keeps acting to the contrary.
Another Republican ploy has been the grading of schools. That seems to be little more than an effort to redline poorer schools with the intent that parents will move their children to Republican-led charter schools where there is GOP money and no teacher unions.
So abhorrent is the attack on Ritz and traditional education that there are those who are floating her name for governor in 2016 when Pence is expected to seek a second term.
I don’t know that Ritz could win. But given the way it is going, she well could be the hallmark of the Democratic governor candidate's campaign.
The Republicans continue to enrage the largest organized group in the state – teachers.
Have you been to Crown Point lately?
That’s the county seat where the grandest courthouse in the state is the focal point of the downtown square.
That’s the courthouse some folks wanted to tear down 30-plus years ago to make way for a parking lot. Those folks probably would like to see Wrigley Field razed because there are weeds growing on the outfield walls.
I’ve never been in favor of law enforcement officers being mayors. Cops are there to serve and protect, not plan and build and grow.
Mayor David Uran, formerly a Crown Point police officer, has been one of the exceptions. Now in his second term, Uran is making things happen.
A news article a couple days ago reinforced what I had been thinking about Crown Point and Uran.
The article was about plans for a private sector retail facility in the middle of the mushrooming sports complex that is quickly becoming the envy of Northwest Indiana.
The sports complex isn’t the only thing going on. There are plans for the city to build an entertainment facility just off the square on former school property.
While the Broadway corridor just east of downtown is growing quickly, the city is taking steps to help the downtown businesses.
And there are the little things such as stoplights and road enhancements and flood control that can make huge differences.
Buy why, I have wondered, is Crown Point blossoming under a guy who used to patrol the streets looking for drunken drivers and kids out later than they should be.
I think it is in part an attitude that ran roughshod over old-time politics.
Since its incorporation in the 1800s, Crown Point had been a bastion of Republicanism. That’s not necessarily bad.
Richard Collins and Jim Forsythe were the last two Republican mayors before Democrat Jim Metros was elected in 1991.
Collins and Forsythe were wonderful men who loved their city.
And, like all the Republican mayors before them, they did nothing to jeopardize their city. They embraced the status quo and won election after election.
So snug were they that when the old guard nominated James Searson to replace Forsythe, he felt somewhat anointed, campaigned little and lost to Metros.
Metros had a progressive agenda but fell into disfavor during his third term and moved out of town.
After Metros, any Republican could have won. It turned out to be Dan Klein, who foolishly tried to micromanage the Police and Fire departments.
Is the era of Republican domination gone forever in Crown Point?
You’ve got to think so. The way things are going now, Uran could be mayor for life, not because he embraced the status quo, but because he refused to do so.
Hey, Tommy, what day is it?
That’s what I thought. You don’t have a clue.
I would have expected more from Thomas McDermott Jr., Hammond's mayor and chairman of the Lake County Democratic precinct organization, when it came to discussing the 2016 governor’s race.
When John Gregg announced last week he wouldn’t make another run for governor, McDermott pooh-poohed the notion that the stage had been cleared for Evan Bayh, the heart of Hoosier Democrats the past two decades.
In fact, McDermott almost sounded like a Republican.
McDermott said the thought that Bayh will be the savior for Indiana Democrats is “wishful thinking.”
In fact, McDermott said Bayh can’t even be a candidate because he doesn’t live in Indiana.
Bayh doesn’t, but all he needs to do is rent an apartment.
Dan Coats didn’t live in Indiana when he announced his candidacy to replace Bayh in the Senate. Coats hadn’t lived here for a decade. Yep, he rented an apartment.
“If Evan Bayh moves here and Evan Bayh starts campaigning like he used to, then maybe I’ll re-evaluate, but right now I refuse to drink the Kool-Aid that Evan will come in and save the day,” McDermott said. “I think it’s up to us to save the day. We have great candidates in Indiana, and we’ll find one in 2016, and we’ll run that person.”
And one of those great candidates is McDermott himself. Just ask him.
“You never know,” McDermott said about being the guy to take on Republican Gov. Mike Pence.
So there, take that Evan.
McDermott is right that there are a number of Hoosier Democrats who would make good governors. The problem is most of them aren’t very well known and probably can’t win. You could say the same about McDermott, who would have a second strike against him, being from Lake County.
As he made his announcement, Gregg didn’t mention Bayh for governor.
But Gregg did say the guy he’s asked a good deal about is Joe Hogsett.
Hogsett, who once was secretary of state, is the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana.
But the last I heard, Hogsett was leaning toward running for Indianapolis mayor in 2015.
Could Hogsett beat Pence? Perhaps. He is bright and personable and a heckuva campaigner.
Could Bayh beat Pence? Absolutely. He isn’t a fiery liberal like his father, former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, but he’s always been the quintessential Teflon man. Bayh has his shortcomings, but no one seems to remember what they are.
But McDermott is right that 2016 is a long way off.
At the rate Pence is going there could be a number of Democrats who could become viable candidates for governor. Maybe even McDermott?
Let me see if I've got this right.
The nation — both Republicans and Democrats — has been pushing for years to get automakers to produce cars that get better gas mileage.
In fact, there are deadlines in place to increase the miles per gallon for automobiles by certain dates.
There are good reasons for doing so.
Cars getting better gas mileage would reduce our dependence on foreign oil — especially oil produced by the bad guys in the Middle East.
Ultimately, the better gas mileage thing would reduce the demand for oil production in this country. Big oil may balk at that, but those companies can afford it, given the way they have been gouging Americans.
Have you ever wondered why a fire at an oil refinery in Texas results in a spike in gasoline prices across the country the next day? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out there's something wrong with that picture.
And ultimately, less reliance on oil is good for the environment. Maybe someday we can get those oil rigs out of the waters just off our borders.
The American motorist has responded as well.
In an effort to help the environment and save money, Americans are buying hybrid and electric cars. Life is good. It's kind of like being a camel on hump day.
But now there is talk about punishing folks for doing all those wonderful things.
As Gilda Radner used to say, "It's always something."
Those folks who have been such good citizens are paying a whole lot less in state gasoline tax.
If you buy six fewer gallons of gasoline a week, that amounts to a savings of $56.16 a year.
That's money the state won't receive for roadwork.
Oregon has just gone to a system of motorists paying 1.5 cents per mile rather than paying a gas tax.
If applied in Indiana, a driver who travels 12,000 miles a year and whose vehicle gets 20 mpg would pay $180 in mileage charges rather than $108 in gas tax.
It's not a good system in that those who were conscientious enough to conserve are now being punished.
Not only would that system be unfair to those who have heeded the government's call, it isn't fair to the middle class who make up the majority of those on the highways.
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, is seeking a pilot program to do what's being done in Oregon.
Soliday isn't saying he favors a per-mile charge but said Indiana has to explore options because revenues for roadwork are dwindling.
Soliday is right about the need for more road money. But it would be wrong to raise it on the backs of the motorists.
Driver or not, we all benefit from the roads.
Let there be no doubt, U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita is part of the small group that held the nation hostage for 16 days.
It’s kind of scary. The Munster native has become a loose cannon.
Rokita, who now hangs his hat in Indianapolis, represents a district that includes Jasper and Newton counties.
Rokita was among the minority that voted against an agreement to reopen government and raise the debt ceiling.
What’s really disconcerting is he believes he was right.
Yeah, this is the same guy who a week ago told a CNN anchor she was “beautiful,” and in the same breath strongly suggested she didn’t have a clue as to what the government shutdown was all about. And the next day, he refused to apologize for his sexist remark.
As it turns out, all Rokita knew was that his benefactors — the Tea Partiers — wanted him to take the stand he did. And Rokita knew full well that if he did, he could be a congressman for as long as he likes.
Just two days before the vote to raise the debt ceiling, Rokita said on an Indianapolis radio station the nation has the cash flow to meet its debt, but would then have to choose which bells and whistles (such as Social Security) the country also wanted to pay for.
While Rokita blew off the Oct. 17 debt deadline as nothing more than a date on the calendar, virtually every economist in the country forecast gloom and doom if the nation didn’t extend the debt ceiling.
Billionaire Warren Buffett said the move by Rokita and company was “a political weapon of mass destruction that shouldn’t be used.”
Other economists said not extending the debt ceiling would cripple the global economy and plunge the United States into a deep recession.
Nonetheless, Rokita liked the thought of putting millions of employees out of work as the size of the federal government was slashed.
Rokita said it would hurt the economy in the short term, but not to fear.
“In the medium and long term, you would see with this contraction of government an explosion of the private sector where people can keep their money again," Rokita said.
Rokita defended his plan to gut government by saying, “Are we living here and now, or are we living for the children of tomorrow?” The easy answer is we are living for both.
Like his sexist remark on CNN, Rokita got heat for wanting to let government burn.
Aw shucks, he said, you know how people sometimes say things in the heat of battle.
But, what if Rokita’s vote had been needed to extend the debt ceiling?
Perish the thought. He’s had too much tea to think rationally.
Indianapolis is the largest U.S. city not on a navigable waterway.
Think about it. You can’t get into or out of Indianapolis by boat. That means things made and grown in this state generally aren’t shipped out of Indianapolis.
So why does the state capital continue to grow?
The simple answer is determination and money.
The General Assembly has made sure Indianapolis has plenty of money, or at least the ability to raise it.
Indianapolis has grown and prospered because the state has made sure it is attractive to outsiders.
It’s easy to get around Indianapolis, largely because it has a highway system greater than the demand.
And Indianapolis doesn’t have a whole lot of competition. Heck, there isn’t a city within miles that has more people than cows and hogs.
Things are different in Northwest Indiana. The Legislature traditionally has thrown a bone up this way after Indianapolis is through with the steak.
What got me thinking about all this was Gov. Mike Pence’s announcement that he is going to name a star-studded commission to focus on the future of the state’s transportation system.
“With the expertise and recommendations of this blue ribbon panel, Indiana will keep its finger on the pulse of infrastructure innovation and strive to provide businesses and Hoosiers with the most efficient transportation system available,” Pence said.
Great, but Indiana has a long way to go if it is to “keep its finger on the pulse of infrastructure innovation.”
If you live in Northwest Indiana and are leery of what might come out of this blue ribbon panel, don’t feel guilty.
But hey, it never hurts to talk about the future as long as you consider the present and remember the past.
Being an eternal optimist, I have high hope for this new commission.
I have hope NWI gets equal billing with Indianapolis.
I have hope the commission doesn’t look on Chicago as an adversary, but rather as a key for the future of NWI.
I have hope the commission realizes NWI is unique to Indiana because it was built on the steel industry that is just a shell of its former self because automation has idled three-fourths of the workforce.
I have hope the commission doesn’t need a study to determine the state should rebuild the Cline Avenue Bridge, serve as a catalyst for expanded commuter rail and develop the Gary/Chicago International Airport.
I also hope that somewhere along the way the commission stops and considers why Indianapolis has grown as it has.
And I have hope they will determine it wouldn’t have happened without a heavy state involvement.
What is that about reaping what you sow?
Lake County Republican Chairman Dan Dernulc is in a precarious position.
Better yet, make that a lose/lose situation.
And it was all brought about by the death of Republican Lake County Assessor Hank Adams last week.
It is up to Dernulc to call a county convention of Republican precinct committeemen to elect Adams’ replacement.
And it is up to Dernulc — if he is a true leader — to get behind a qualified candidate to fill the vacancy.
Sounds easy enough, but it isn’t. Nope, it’s far from it.
Unlike most offices in this state, there are stringent requirements on future county assessors.
In fact, it was My Man Mitch who signed the new requirements into law on March 19, 2012, during his last year as governor.
The law says that to be eligible to run for county assessor a person must have a Level III assessor/appraiser certification. That’s kind of like being the Grand Pooh-Bah of assessors.
Go ahead and try to find one. In Lake County, where there are about 500,000 people, there are just 20 Level III appraisers. Two of those 20 currently hold public office.
Center Township Assessor Kristie Dressel and St. John Township Assessor Melody Kikkert are Level III certified.
There is pressure on both of them to file to replace Adams as county assessor.
Whoever wins the precinct caucus would have to run for a full term in 2014.
Dressel and Kikkert are eminently qualified to be county assessor.
But, there is one problem — neither one can win a general election next year against the Democratic nominee.
Despite what some Republicans may think, it makes no sense for either Dressel or Kikkert to give up safe jobs only to lose their new job a year down the road.
There are those who think Adams could have won re-election next year. They aren’t in touch with political reality. Hank would have lost.
Hank won in 2010 because the Democratic nominee, Carol Ann Seaton, had enough baggage to open a luggage store. Democrats won’t make the same mistake.
And, Hank made a mistake when he took office — he became an isolationist, alienating the Democrats who got him elected.
The spot Dernulc is in got me to thinking. Why is it that we still elect a county assessor when there are just 20 in the county who are eligible?
Mitch Daniels’ Kernan-Shepard Commission on Local Government Reform called for several county officials to be appointed, including assessor.
So what is Dernulc to do? If he talks Dressel or Kikkert into running, he ought to be ashamed.
Dernulc should seek out someone with a Level III — Republican or Democrat — to be the assessor’s office caretaker for the next year. That would show statesmanlike leadership.
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