RICH JAMES: Back home again in Indiana, honest to goodness

2014-03-12T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Back home again in Indiana, honest to goodnessBy Rich James nwitimes.com
March 12, 2014 12:00 am  • 

It’s good to be back home again in Indiana after a brief respite where no one ever has seen snow.

Yeah, Jim Nabors even greeted us at the state line.

Back home again in “Honest to Goodness Indiana”? Put a lid on it before word gets out.

While state tourism folks embarrass the state with a hokey moniker, the state Legislature is doing its best to tell the rest of the nation that Indiana isn’t ready for prime time.

As I reviewed what I had missed, there were highs and lows.

The biggest adrenalin rush came as U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky made a final plea Monday for all Lake County communities to commit to helping finance South Shore Railroad expansion to Dyer.

And, this time it wasn’t just the 15-term congressman leading the cheers in an empty fieldhouse.

A heavy dose of young professionals took up the cause, saying expanded South Shore Line service is the salvation for Northwest Indiana through access to high-paying jobs in Chicago.

The newly created Emerging Leaders Network, young professionals from across Northwest Indiana, is providing a fresh voice in the face of old, tired opposition.

I was equally encouraged by the words of retired Merrillville schools Superintendent Tony Lux, one of the finest educators in the state.

Lux asked why he hasn’t seen a public outrage over what the Republican-controlled Legislature is doing to education.

His question is a good one. The answer lies in this fall’s elections and when Indiana votes for a governor in 2016. Have we forgotten how Glenda Ritz ousted Superintendent Tony Bennett?

I also was pleased to see Lake County Democratic Chairman Thomas McDermott take the lead in criticizing the Legislature for directing recovered county tax revenue to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority rather than to local municipalities where it belongs.

But I didn’t return to find things all sweetness and light.

Take Republican state Rep. Hal Slager of Schererville, for example.

He has legislation to force majority Lake County Democrats to come up with a plan to eliminate county precincts with fewer than 500 registered voters.

That, of course, would mean the elimination of some Gary precincts, making it more difficult for some to vote.

While the county ought to look at its precinct alignment, the state has no business issuing a mandate.

Then there is the GOP’s fascination with gun legislation.

The latest is the Republicans’ irrational push to allow guns on school property. While there are pros – but more cons – to the issue, the GOP wrongly challenged and belittled opponents at a committee hearing Monday.

How about the plan to cut business taxes while the state continues to miss income projections?

Honest to goodness, I’d say it’s good that legislators are going home at the end of the week.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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