Tag Archives: Indiana

A Definition of Insanity

John Hamilton is Mayor of Bloomington. This week, he had a heartfelt, frustrated–and frustrating–op ed in the New York Times.

Hamilton recounted two recent events from his city: an “open carry” parent swaggering around a municipal swimming pool, terrifying other parents; and a float in the annual Fourth of July parade “featuring armed men from a private firearms training center with military-style machine guns held at the ready, ammunition belts attached, atop a pickup truck.”

Both incidents generated unease and concern; both prompted calls for the Mayor to “do something” to ensure citizen safety. But, as Hamilton wrote, his inability to do anything–no matter how minor–has been assured by Mike Pence and Indiana’s legislature.

This is all happening in Indiana, with a governor, Mike Pence, who has long fought against any reasonable restrictions on guns. His extreme views on this, and other issues, are apparently one reason Donald J. Trump chose him as his running mate. The nation as a whole will now get a better look at the kind of attitude on gun laws that has earned Governor Pence an A rating from the National Rifle Association — and has made it harder for me to do what my constituents want when it comes to making them safe.

As Hamilton points out, his constituents aren’t anti-guns, or anti- Second Amendment.

They just don’t want handguns carried around at their public pools. They don’t want machine guns in their parades. Nor does my Police Department. Nor do I.

And in fact, my city used to have reasonable restrictions in place on the possession of firearms in parks, city facilities and at City Council meetings.

But five years ago the State Legislature prohibited cities from enforcing virtually any individual local regulation of firearms, ammunition or their accessories. The statehouse said we couldn’t restrict what kind of guns or ammunition can be carried, displayed, worn, concealed or transported, with a few very limited exceptions like courtrooms and intentional displays at official public meetings.

The state did nothing to fill this vacuum it created. It did create one exception to protect itself — prohibiting anyone but officers, legislators or judges from carrying guns in the statehouse. And in one more technical twist, the state said if any city ever tries to restrict firearms or ammunition, it would be subject to paying triple the lawyers’ fees for anyone who sues us.

So despite what a vast majority of Bloomington wants, we can’t ban a handgun from a public pool or a machine gun from a parade float.

Polls routinely show large majorities of Americans favoring reasonable restrictions on guns. Until we vote out the politicians who have been bought and paid for–or cowed–by the NRA, however, responsible public officials will have no option but to stand by and watch childish, macho displays of….what?

What is the psychology of a parent who parades around a municipal swimming pool packing a pistol?

In an era where police are rightfully concerned about being targeted by mentally unstable individuals, why on earth would we encourage citizens to walk around brandishing weapons?

How do they–or the rest of us– distinguish the “good guy” with the gun from the disturbed guy looking for provocation?

This is nuts.

Ah..Those Laboratories of Democracy…

When I introduce students to America’s constitutional architecture, I sometimes begin by asking them to define federalism. Judging from the blank stares and efforts to avoid being called on, I think it’s fair to say that our federalist system is not widely understood.

That’s too bad, because one of the policy debates we should be having–but aren’t–is how such a system should operate in a time when transportation and communication technologies have changed the way we view state lines. What sorts of rules and policies need to be national in scope, and which are best left to state and local government?

However we answer that question, one important role that states will undoubtedly continue to play is in the development of new approaches to governing.

Justice Louis Brandeis famously referred to the states as “laboratories of democracy;” the idea was that state governments would try new ideas and programs, acting as “pilot projects,” that would allow the rest of the country to evaluate the merits of those approaches before adopting them.

Inevitably, some will be cautionary tales, and pre-eminent in that category is Kansas or, as Charles Pierce calls it,

the failed state of Kansas, now in the fifth year of the Brownbackian Dark Ages, as such things are reckoned. Somehow, the fact that Kansas’ status as a supply-side lab rat has dropped the state down a political garbage chute the likes of which hasn’t been seen since they shredded the Articles of Confederation is beginning to seep under the guardhouses of the gated communities. The head of a healthcare company is fleeing to the Missouri border and he’s not shy about telling the world why.

The blistering indictment of Brownback’s Kansas by that company’s CEO is illuminating; noting that Kansas has become a test center of “trickle down” economics, he pointed out that those policies have led to a “dramatic failure of government.”

Brownback implemented unprecedented tax cuts in 2012. The largest cuts were in the highest tax brackets, and Brownback promised that they would provide a “shot of adrenaline” for the Kansas economy. They actually had the opposite effect, with Kansas lagging neighboring states in job growth and missing revenue targets in 11 of the past 12 months. In the face of ever-deeper debt and another round of degraded bond ratings, Brownback has asked his citizens to pray and fast to solve the budget crisis.

That should turn things around. Not.

It is tempting to look at the hot mess that is Kansas and feel better about Indiana. And granted, our fiscal problems–while substantial– are less severe. But our Governor has  generated his own cautionary tales.

Take, for just one example, his attack on public education and his fervent support of school vouchers. Indiana now has the largest voucher program in the country–and some of the most consistently under-resourced public schools. The public justification for expanding the voucher program is that allowing parents to choose private schools will improve education, at least as measured by test scores. (Given the percentage of families using those vouchers at religious schools, however, it is likely that the Governor’s preference for church over state– his consistent effort to bolster religious institutions and practices– is implicated.)

So how has Indiana’s “laboratory experiment” been working out? Not so well.

Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.

Perhaps Governor Pence can call for a day of prayer and fasting to raise the test scores of those voucher students. In the meantime, other states can be grateful for a federalist system that lets them learn from–and avoid– others’ disasters.

Not a Mentsch

In the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Orlando, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick tweeted out–you guessed it–a biblical phrase:  “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” –Galatians 6-7

In the wake of a tragedy that took 50 lives, this poor excuse for a human being decided to blame the victims for not living in accordance with his warped version of Christianity.

Yesterday, I posted about just this sort of use of “Christianity” (note quotation marks) in the service of hate. It isn’t just Christianity, of course; any religion can be pressed into that service, and all of them have been and continue to be so used.

There is something so smarmy, so distasteful, about people like Dan Patrick. Their willingness to use tragedy as an occasion for moral posturing is small and mean and utterly despicable.

This sort of offensive faux piety from deeply flawed public officials drives me nuts. And Patrick is far from alone. Texas politicians are currently among the worst, but Indiana is hardly in a position to point fingers.

Hoosiers who read this blog have probably seen the bright blue and gold yard signs proclaiming “Pence Must Go.” They are the brainchild of Kevin Warren, a local realtor, and his husband Neil Bagadiong, who established pencemustgo.org  as a political action committee in reaction to the Indiana Governor’s RFRA debacle.

RFRA was an effort to legitimize the sort of attitude displayed by Dan Patrick–to create a culture in which LGBT persons would be legally “less.”  Given the number of “Pence Must Go” signs I see, it seems a lot of Hoosiers understand where the attitudes such measures foster can lead.

The original signs have been joined by a number of others: Women’s Health Matters, Separation of Church and State, and Indiana Needs Leadership, among others. (Hoosiers can also buy anti-Pence hats, mugs and bumper stickers on the political action organization’s website.)

One of the newer yard signs that particularly appeals to me is “Pence is Not a Mensch.”

Mensch is a yiddish word that literally translates into “a real human being.” In usage, it is intended to refer to upstanding, worthy, honorable people–people who exhibit compassion and loving-kindness, who are not judgmental or–to use the biblical phrase–“stiff-necked.”

When my children were very young, I used to tell them that I didn’t care what professions they chose, what interests they pursued, what beliefs they embraced or who they chose to love….but I did want them to grow up to be mentsches.

Self-satisfied public officials who use the power of the state to marginalize and stigmatize people who are different, who ignore the Constitutional separation of church and state in order to privilege their particular belief systems, who ignore the needs of those in need–those officials are not mentsches. Not even close.

When people in leadership positions signal that bigotry is acceptable, when they contribute to an environment that diminishes and marginalizes people who do not fit within the narrow categories they deem biblically appropriate, that sends a signal to unstable and troubled individuals.

The message is: these people are unworthy, sinful, expendable. Attacks on them are “God’s work.”

It’s a gross oversimplification, but at some level, the world is divided between two groups of humans: mensches and assholes.

Pence, Patrick and their ilk are definitely not mensches.


Interim Report on an Interim Committee

As some readers of this blog know, I was appointed to a Special Interim Study Committee on Redistricting, convened by the Indiana Legislature. Yesterday was our second meeting;  we heard three presentations and took public testimony.

The first presentation was… interesting. It was offered by Jim Bopp.

For those who don’t know of him, Bopp is an uber-conservative Indiana lawyer on the wrong side of pretty much everything: he was the architect of –and won–Citizens United, and he has argued against same-sex marriage, reproductive choice….He’s pretty infamous in Indiana but until he appeared before the committee, I was unaware that he had any background in redistricting.

Actually, if his testimony reflected his knowledge of the issue, he probably doesn’t know much about it; he just favors anything that keeps Indiana Republicans in control. (In a later presentation, former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm–an expert on the law of redistricting– noted that Bopp had made several assertions that were factually inaccurate.)

Bopp’s basic argument for keeping redistricting in the legislature was straightforward, if bizarre: Since all choices inevitably have partisan consequences, establishing an independent commission to draw district lines would not be any better than the system we have now. (I am not making this up.)

When Senator Lanane asked him if having elected officials draw their own districts wasn’t an inherent conflict of interest, he disagreed, offering a convoluted argument that allowing lawmakers to choose their voters is no more self-interested than letting people vote for a representative whose policies will benefit them. ( I couldn’t make that up!)

I asked Bopp whether he was familiar with the academic literature suggesting that public trust in the legitimacy of the system improved in states that adopted nonpartisan redistricting. He dismissed the public’s opinion as an artifact of a biased media. I wasn’t sure I’d understood his response, so I asked him a follow-up, “Do I understand you to be saying that the public’s attitude is irrelevant?” and his answer was “yes, because the public’s attitude is the result of propaganda, and is wrong.”

So there.

The other presentations were markedly more substantive and informative. Tom Sugar presented his “No Politics Plan” modeled on the redistricting system used in Iowa. (It can be accessed here.) Judge Boehm led us through the thickets of current constitutional law on the issue. (Most of what he presented is included in my paper on Electoral Integrity: How Gerrymandering Matters, which he was kind enough to review for me a while back.)

When it came time for public testimony, we heard from citizens ( some of whom had come from as far away as South Bend), and representatives of statewide civic organizations. Not surprisingly, all of the public testimony urged reform of the current system.

I am convinced that if the Interim Study Committee acts, it will be because so many citizens turn out every time there is a hearing. This one was on a Thursday afternoon, after relatively short notice, and the hearing room could not hold them all; an equal or larger number was in the hall, watching the proceedings on a television. The message was unmistakable: Indiana citizens want change. They want competitive, meaningful elections. They want trustworthy democratic institutions.

Unlike Jim Bopp, they don’t think the players should get to be the umpires.


Truly Torn

Oh, Mike Pence! Sometimes you do confound me! Apparently, you’ve accidentally done something good!

According to a recent report in The Indiana Lawyer, 

Under the administration of Gov. Mike Pence, legal fees paid to the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana have soared beyond $1.4 million and may approach $2 million, according to an Indiana Lawyer analysis. The $1.4 million total does not include fees that have been or will be paid in the current fiscal year ending June 30 or other legal fees ACLU claims are owed by the state. The fees represent the state’s payment of legal bills to parties who prevail in federal court on claims that government action violated their constitutionally protected civil rights.

Regular readers of this blog will remember that I spent six years (1992-98) as the Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU. Those were rewarding years in so many ways–I learned so much and met so many wonderful people; it was so gratifying to be part of an organization that defended individual liberties…..

But I must admit that the most vivid memory I took with me when I left the ACLU for academic life was the constant pressure of fundraising. We had wonderful lawyers and dedicated clerical staff, and we all worked for a pittance–but I had to raise that pittance. The ACLU only has two sources of income: charitable gifts (fundraising) and legal fees.

And legal fees aren’t a given. The organization only gets legal fees when it wins a lawsuit and the law allows such recovery. Even when the organization is successful and the case is a fee-generating one, it can take years of litigation–first, the case itself, then a fight over fees…

So I really, honestly do want to thank Governor Pence for his largesse to Indiana’s ACLU. I mean, $2 million dollars is a windfall! It should allow the ACLU some much-needed “breathing room,” some assurance that it will “be there”–in a position to protect LGBT Hoosiers from discrimination, reproductive rights from theocratic lawmakers, public school students from government-imposed prayer, law-abiding citizens against official overreach…Well, you all get the idea.

Here’s another idea: Each time Indiana’s constitutionally clueless Governor and AG lose another case to the ACLU, let’s all send the ACLU a few extra dollars to celebrate. Because after November, I have a feeling this bonanza may dry up….and Jane Henegar, the wonderful current Executive Director, will have to resume her begging.

Send a few bucks to Indiana’s ACLU in “honor” of Governor Pence.