Category Archives: Local Government

“Embracing” Mike Pence

Indiana’s political version of musical chairs has now resolved itself into a ballot that offers Hoosiers some unanticipated choices.

Who would have predicted a re-entry of Evan Bayh into Hoosier electoral politics? Who would have imagined Mike Pence on the Trump Train? And who, exactly, is Eric Holcomb, our sudden candidate for Governor?

Holcomb, who spent something like three months as Pence’s chosen Lieutenant Governor, after the departure of Sue Ellspermann (the only woman and arguably only competent member of the Administration) has emerged as our new and improbable candidate for Governor. As part of his introduction to the Hoosier electorate, Holcomb has told media outlets that he intends to “embrace” Mike Pence’s record. Holcomb has also been quoted as saying that he is “quite proud” of Pence’s tenure, and “proud of where the state is now.”

Holcomb has thus tied himself firmly to a record that many of us predicted would elect John Gregg in November.

I can’t help wondering just how completely Holcomb really “embraces” the particulars of Pence’s record. Does Holcomb share Pence’s “culture war” goals, for example? If so, which ones?

No sane candidate is likely to promote passage of another RFRA, given the civic and economic damage caused by that unforced error, but what about adding “four words and a comma” to Indiana’s civil rights law, and protecting LGBTQ Hoosiers from being discriminated against simply because of who they are? Governor Pence adamantly opposed civil rights protections for Indiana’s gay citizens. Does Holcomb “embrace” that opposition?

And which of Governor Pence’s approaches to pre-school funding does Holcomb “embrace”—his original decision to decline an 80 million dollar grant that would have created a statewide preschool program, or the U-turn he took on that issue this year, when his original decision turned out to be politically damaging?

Speaking of education, if Glenda Ritz is re-elected as Superintendent of Public Instruction, is Holcomb prepared to let her do her job, or will he “embrace” Pence’s constant efforts to strip her of authority over the state’s educational policies? Will he “embrace” and continue Pence’s practice of diverting funds from Indiana’s public schools in order to finance the nation’s most extensive voucher program–a program that largely benefits religious schools—even though a recent Brookings Institution study confirmed that voucher students’ reading and math scores were significantly lower than the scores of similar students who remained in public schools?

Does candidate Holcomb “embrace” Pence’s continuing war on Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive rights? Did he support the bill the Governor so eagerly signed—subsequently struck down by a federal court—that, among other indignities, required women to conduct funerals for their aborted or miscarried fetuses?

Does Holcomb “embrace” and plan to continue Pence’s efforts to keep organizations like Catholic Charities and Exodus from resettling Syrian refugees in Indiana? Is he “proud” of this mean-spirited retreat from “Hoosier Hospitality”?

What about Indiana’s crumbling infrastructure? Is Holcomb “proud” of the condition of Indiana’s roads and bridges? And what about economic development? Is Holcomb “proud” that the majority of new jobs Pence brags about pay less than a living wage?

I can’t wait to hear just how far Holcomb’s “embrace” extends.






Contrary to Popular Belief

Contrary to Popular Belief is the title of the just-issued book based on Michael Leppert’s blog about Indiana government, for which I was honored to write the Foreward. As he does in his blog, Leppert offers a thoughtful and informed window into state government.

If timing is really everything, the book should hit the big time, because (among other things), there are numerous observations of Indiana’s Governor, who is now a Vice-Presidential candidate on the “Mango Mussolini” ticket. (I stole that description from John Oliver.)

There are insights into Pence’s contract with Real Alternatives, observations about the departure of Lieutenant Governor Ellspermann (arguably the only truly competent member of the administration), about the Governor’s efforts to prevent resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana, the “news” bureau disaster dubbed Pravda on the Prairie, the anti-abortion bill funeral requirement that sparked “Periods for Pence,” and of course, RFRA. Among others.

As I wrote in the Forward, Contrary to Popular Belief is an effort by one of Indiana’s most thoughtful, perceptive and informed observers to break through our cynicism, to avoid the constant hype and agitprop coming from entrenched interests, and to engage in what has come to be seen as an almost subversive act –actual communication about the ways in which our state and local governments function. Such communication, unfortunately, has become rare in our polarized age, especially when its focus is at the state level.

There are many valuable observations in the pages of this book, but there are three insights that I think are especially worth emphasizing. First, and perhaps most obvious, is a very personal and candid look at the reality of lobbying—a reality far removed from the popular image of nefarious characters in pin-striped suits working to subvert democracy in order to enrich their corporate masters. Such individuals undoubtedly exist, but they do not represent the legions of policy advocates who see their job as informing the legislative process and ensuring that contending points of view are adequately represented.

The second observation is related to the first: to the extent our democratic system fails to work, it is because all points of view are not equally or even adequately represented—and the reason that is so, the reason democratic institutions do not work as well as they should—is less likely to be the result of individual malfeasance than it is of systemic influences. One of the great virtues of this book is its author’s rejection of the impulse to paint “them” (insert your preferred nemesis here) as the source of all our problems, and his illumination of the ways in which our state and local governments actually work.

It turns out that there are many diligent and well-intentioned political actors on both sides of the aisle who actually want to improve the lives of Indiana citizens. Sometimes they agree on the best way to do so; sometimes they don’t. Making good policy, it turns out, is more complicated than simply electing those you believe to be the “good guys.”

And that brings me to what I personally believe is the most important insight Leppert shares: the fact that “the average person in Indiana now knows far too many trivial tidbits about high profile government types in Washington, D.C. and less and less about their state legislators, mayors and city councilors.” Americans—and Hoosiers—are dangerously ignorant of the governing systems within which they live and work, and the ways in which those institutions structure and affect their own daily lives.

The book is available on Amazon.





Just Give Me the Money!

We need to ask Governor Pence just what part of “accountability” he doesn’t understand.

The IBJ recently reported that the administration is refusing to give the federal government access to information about HIP 2.0–the system that he used to implement Medicaid while insisting that it WAS NOT MEDICAID, NO SIREE! Well, in all fairness, it did have differences; it covers fewer Hoosiers than a simple Medicaid expansion would have done, for one. Call it Medicaid-lite.

The plan was sufficiently in compliance with Medicaid regulations to allow the federal government to fund it–on condition that they evaluate the program after it had been in effect for a period of time. When the time came for the state to submit information needed for that evaluation, however, Pence refused to comply.

The most recent flare-up between the Pence and Obama administrations came when Indiana missed a June 17 deadline for submitting data to the federal government on who was enrolled and what kind of benefits they were receiving.

Now, maybe I’m missing something, but when the agency that is paying for a program asks for information needed to determine how you are using its money, it seems reasonable that you would comply.

But of course, the words “reasonable” and “Mike Pence” are rarely found in the same sentence. (That’s probably why Trump finds him congenial.)

Indiana officials, however, have balked for months at the federal review, saying they are conducting their own outside review.

“I am concerned that two evaluations being conducted at the same time has the potential to create contentious outcomes which can impede fair, impartial and empirical analysis of demonstration projects,” Pence wrote in December to the U.S. secretary of health and human services.

To some observers, the conflict seems to boil down to this: Pence doesn’t trust the federal government to do a fair evaluation.

Gee–if I were the federal government, I wouldn’t trust Pence to administer a fair system.

A former state official has a theory about why a simple element of accountability–a look at the books to determine whether federal funds are producing the agreed-upon results–has Mikey’s panties in a twist:

“From the beginning, when Pence established this Medicaid expansion by using HIP, he has struggled to make it look like it’s an Indiana plan, not a federal plan,” said Sally McCarty, former Indiana insurance commissioner under Democratic Gov. Frank O’Bannon, and a former senior research fellow at the Center of Health Insurance Reforms at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.

“He probably doesn’t want to relinquish ownership of any of it and give any control to the federal government,” McCarty said.

He just wants the money–no pesky “accountability strings” attached.

I don’t think it works that way.

Thankfully, a Lot of People Don’t Find Redistricting Boring….

The second meeting of Indiana’s Interim Study Committee on Redistricting, of which I am a lay member, was held yesterday. Despite the fact that it was a Thursday afternoon, and the meeting started at 1:00, there were well over 100 citizens present; they filled the House Chamber and from where I was sitting, it looked like they filled the balcony too.

The purpose of this meeting was to hear expert testimony. (Discussion leading to the committee’s recommendations will come at the next two meetings. I’ll blog the dates and times when I know them.)

There were two presentations; one from a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice, affiliated with New York University Law School, and the second from the Senior Legal Counsel to the Iowa LSA–the person responsible for directing Iowa’s redistricting process.

The Iowa presentation was a description of that state’s use of an independent commission to draw district lines–from all reports, a very successful effort to draw districts in a fair, transparent and nonpartisan way, and one that has earned the strong approval of most Iowa voters.

The first presentation, by Michael Li of the Brennan Center, focused upon the negative consequences of gerrymandering, and the current efforts of several states to reform their processes. He included a couple of interesting points that tend to get lost in discussions about gerrymandering’s more obvious effects.

Li pointed out that the redistricting “nitty-gritty”–the drawing of the lines–isn’t handled by local politicians; instead, the national parties send in teams of “experts” whose expertise is in manipulating data and computer programs, and who know little about the politics or culture of whatever state they are carving up. This dependence on national party operatives facilitates the contemporary shift of power and influence from state policymakers to national ones– further nationalizing America’s political parties.

Li also noted that although redistricting reform might not effect much change to the partisan composition of a state’s legislature, especially in very Red or Blue states, it does tend to change the nature of the partisans who hold those seats. (Social science research supports that observation; in states using independent commissions, Representatives of both parties tend to be less rigidly ideological and more willing to work across the aisle.)

This last observation is particularly important, because one of the arguments used by defenders of the current system (like Senator Hershman today) is to claim there are states where redistricting reform has changed a very minimal number of seats, and that shows the current system isn’t really a problem.

As Li quite properly responded, partisan shift is not the metric we should apply. In Republican states like Indiana, redistricting reform is unlikely to change control of the Senate, for example. If fewer elections are decided in the primaries, if fewer general elections are uncontested, if new people emerge to challenge incumbents, and –when those incumbents die or retire–if there is genuine competition for the open seat, then reform has worked.

When Senator Pat Miller challenged the notion of “nonpartisan” commission members–making the point that everyone has political opinions–Li agreed that most people have what we might call “political orientation,” although he noted that there is a difference between redistricting done by people who are deeply involved in the political process and that done by people who are not politically active. He compared the process to the composition and operation of juries; people serving on juries have prejudices and opinions, but most who serve take their responsibilities very seriously, evaluating the evidence and following the judges’ instructions.  ( I found the comparison compelling because when I was a practicing lawyer, I saw juries in operation, and saw the same seriousness of purpose.)

The one thing that seemed clear in the wake of the meeting was that Senators Hershman and Miller are not going to be voting for reform of any kind. But I have high hopes for the rest of us.

Oh, Canada!

Today, my husband and I return from a ten-day trip that took us out of the U.S. and—far more consequentially—much of the time, out of areas in which we had access to the internet. My blog platform allows me to schedule posts, but my ability to share those posts on Facebook was pretty hit or miss. So—apologies to readers for the lack of regularity.

It’s experiences like this that make me realize how utterly dependent I have become upon today’s technology, and how helpless I feel when I can’t immediately read and respond to emails, or consult Dr. Google to find information.

This particular trip was a long-planned cruise vacation with our younger two grandchildren, ages 12 and 14. No parents invited. We began in Boston, and ended with Quebec City and Montreal, Canada. (Along the way, I think we guaranteed the continued profitability of Gray Lines tours…)

In many ways, visiting Canada doesn’t seem different from visiting other parts of the U.S. Even in Quebec, where French is the “first” language, everyone speaks English, and the clothes and customs are familiar. Starbucks and McDonalds and Subway are ubiquitous.

But there are differences, and they reflect well on Canada. And not so well on us.

The news was full of stories about Canadians’ embrace of Syrian refugees, for example. Canadian families wanting to “adopt” a refugee family (in the sense of helping that family acclimate, find housing and employment, and willingness to function as a resource) significantly outnumber available “adoptees.” The articles provided an embarrassing contrast to so many Americans’ deeply suspicious and negative response to that same refugee population.

Then there was the contrast provided by Canada’s physical and social infrastructure.

Quebec’s sprawling historic districts were meticulously maintained. Streets everywhere we went were free of potholes, and public art was everywhere—including on the sides of buildings and on the supports for highways. In both cities, public parks, public squares and other public spaces were everywhere and filled with people. Montreal, we are told, was just named one of the globe’s “smart cities.” (We were duly grateful–we finally had  wifi!)

Canadians all seemed to approve of their Premier. Those with whom we spoke were uniformly grateful for and supportive of the country’s national health care system. Several taxi drivers bragged about the efficiency of their cities’ winter snow removal (given the amount of snow they get, it’s an obvious priority.)

And everyone with whom we interacted was so polite….albeit quite willing to share with Americans that they are appalled and repulsed by Donald Trump.

Travel is generally instructive, if only to make us look at our own cities with fresh eyes—to ask ourselves what our cities and neighborhoods would look like to someone from another country. What would we brag about? What would embarrass us?

A few days as a tourist allows only a very superficial assessment of any city or country. I have no idea what civic or governmental problems bedevil the residents of the charming places we visited, what urban challenges are unmet, what social problems remain unresolved.

Still—it’s hard not to get a bit wistful when you see all that well-maintained infrastructure…..