Tag Archives: Indiana

Gerrymandering Update

Monday afternoon was the last meeting of Indiana’s Interim Study Committee on Redistricting.

The good news: by a vote of 8 to 3, the committee recommended major reforms, including that district maps be drawn by an independent commission. (For details, you can visit the websites of either Common Cause of Indiana or that of the Indiana League of Women Voters.)

The cautionary news: the recommended legislation will have to pass both the Indiana House and the Indiana Senate, both with Republican super-majorities.

I will readily admit that when I was asked to serve as a lay member of that committee, I had no expectations that we would actually produce a recommendation for change, let alone that such a recommendation would be the product of a bipartisan vote. (I used to be an optimist, but reality has beaten me down…)

The committee was chaired by Representative Jerry Torr, a Republican who demonstrated admirable civility, fairness and open-mindedness, and who ultimately supported the recommendation for reform.

Open-mindedness was rather conspicuously lacking from the three “no” voters, Brant Hershman, Pat Miller and Beverly Gard. All three came into the process determined to deep-six any proposed reforms, and Miller and Hershman made no bones about it. Hershman had voted against even constituting the committee, and both he and Miller continued to insist that there was no problem with Indiana’s maps, despite hours of public testimony and substantial research evidence to the contrary.

The ultimate prospects for reform now rest with the citizens of Indiana, who will need to display to their elected Senators and Representatives the same support for change that they displayed during the public meetings of the Interim Study Committee. They packed the House Chambers, contacted committee members and made it clear that the status quo is unacceptable.

What is gratifying about the outpouring of public support for gerrymandering reform is that it is evidence that the public has caught on to the importance of systemic control mechanisms. Voters have finally recognized that going to the polls and casting a ballot is meaningless if the district in which they are voting has been rendered uncompetitive.

The recent book Ratfucked spelled out how the Republicans gerrymandered districts after the last census–and how the Democrats were asleep at the switch as that very sophisticated effort made the U.S. House unwinnable for Democrats for the foreseeable future. A recent report from Politico suggests the Democrats got the message:

As Democrats aim to capitalize on this year’s Republican turmoil and start building back their own decimated bench, former Attorney General Eric Holder will chair a new umbrella group focused on redistricting reform — with the aim of taking on the gerrymandering that’s left the party behind in statehouses and made winning a House majority far more difficult.

The new group, called the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, was developed in close consultation with the White House. President Barack Obama himself has now identified the group — which will coordinate campaign strategy, direct fundraising, organize ballot initiatives and put together legal challenges to state redistricting maps — as the main focus of his political activity once he leaves office.

It would be nice to have a democracy where voters choose their representatives, instead of the other way around.

“The Poor You Have Always With You”

A few statistics about my state of Indiana (the state that Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence brags is “a state that works”); these are facts that should “afflict the comfortable” and motivate the rest of us to support policies that will “comfort the afflicted”:

According to the latest Census numbers: More than 1 in 3 Hoosiers remain below self-sufficiency despite increased employment, 21.5% of Indiana’s children live in poverty, and the number of Hoosiers in poverty persistently hovers around one million.

A report on the Status of Working Families in Indiana 2015, issued by the Institute for Working Families, puts the information in an Infographic including state SNAP & TANF responses to poverty, and highlights what it calls the “21st Century Job Swap” from high & middle-paying to low-skilled, low-income jobs by industry;

The June data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Indiana has a 108,400 jobs deficit when population growth since the recession is factored in.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that Indiana ranks #30 in child well-being, having slipped 2 spots relative to other states since 2014.

Women are doing even worse than children in national rankings: Indiana is dead last in Work & Family rankings, 39th in Employment & Earnings, 37th in Poverty & Opportunity, and Indiana received a D- in the National Partnership’s Expecting Better report, “the most comprehensive analysis to date of state laws and regulations governing paid leave, paid sick days, protections for pregnant workers and other workplace rights for expecting and new parents in the United States”

Despite the fact that the minimum wage cannot support even a single adult in any county in the state, Indiana’s legislature has not only refused to raise that wage– but has preempted the authority of cities and counties to do so (or to provide paid leave, or enact environmental regulations, etc.)

To add insult to injury, in 2015, Governor Pence diverted three and a half million dollars of desperately needed TANF funds to  anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers.

There is much more, but rather than get bogged down in the details of one state’s inability to raise living standards–an inability that, unfortunately, is not unique to Indiana–we “comfortable” Americans need to ask ourselves some hard questions, beginning with one posed by eminent economist Robert Samuelson in a recent column for the Washington Post: Is ending poverty impossible?

Samuelson begins by pointing out that neither Presidential candidate has focused on the poor. Clinton’s proposals to decrease inequality are aimed primarily at the middle class, and Trump’s tax cuts would benefit the rich and upper middle class.

Samuelson cites two reasons for ignoring the plight of the truly poor: Poor people don’t vote (they are a disproportionate percentage of nonvoters); and there is no consensus on anti-poverty policies. (That shouldn’t come as a surprise; these days, when there is consensus on anything, that’s a surprise.)

The lack of will to attack poverty can be traced to attitudes about the poor and lack of faith in government. Americans’ widespread suspicion that social welfare recipients are “playing the system” (despite reams of data to the contrary) can be traced all the way back to Fifteenth Century English Poor Laws that forbid “giving alms to the sturdy beggar.” A bastardized Calvinism reinforced the belief that people are poor because they are disfavored by God, probably because they are morally defective. (Or, to use George W. Bush’s more recent formulation of that patronizing analysis in promoting his Faith Based Initiative, because the poor “lack middle-class values.”)

If we ever get serious about eliminating poverty, we will need to do two things, and neither will be simple or easy. We will need to marshal armies of community organizers who can persuade poor people to vote (despite the formidable barriers to their votes put in place by legislators who would not benefit from their participation); and we will need to educate the “comfortable” about the reality of poverty–and especially about the plight of the millions of hard-working Americans who put in forty hours or more a week for wages insufficient to sustain them.

Unless we can do those two things–and not so incidentally, fix our gridlocked political system–the poor will always be with us.


Outsourcing Responsibility

Sometimes, I wonder why we bother to elect chief executives, since an increasing number of them are clearly uninterested in that boring activity called…what was it? oh yes…governing. Public administration. Management.

Yesterday’s news highlighted the latest in a series of missteps (a nicer word than “fuck ups”) by the Pence Administration. (Actually, I believe this one dates back to Daniels’ time.)

State officials threatened Wednesday to find a private developer in default of its contract for building a 21-mile section of the Interstate 69 extension in central Indiana after a major subcontractor stopped work over lack of payment.

The Indiana Finance Authority has issued a notice of non-performance to I-69 Development Partners LLC for the project upgrading the current Indiana 37 route between Bloomington and Martinsville.

According to bids submitted for the project in 2013, I-69 Development Partners consists of OHL Concesiones of Madrid, Star America Fund LLC of Roslyn, New York, and UIF GP LLC of Delaware.

The dispute comes after Crider & Crider Inc., the contractor responsible for the project’s earth-moving operations, halted work this week.

For the past several decades, public officials–especially but certainly not exclusively Republican elected officials–have had a love affair with so-called “privatization.” I say “so-called,” because genuine privatization involves government’s withdrawal from a given activity (Margaret Thatcher selling off steel mills to the private sector, for example.) In the U.S., what is usually called privatization is actually outsourcing–the practice of choosing a for-profit or nonprofit surrogate to manage a job or provide a service on behalf of a government agency.

I have written extensively about the issues involved in outsourcing, and I’m not inclined to belabor the issue here. Suffice it to say that agencies of government may contract with private entities to provide government services, but they cannot contract away their ultimate responsibility for seeing to it that the project or service is appropriately managed or delivered.

When government hires a contractor to perform a service–in this case, to build a road–it still has the obligation to supervise that contractor’s performance. Effective and competent outsourcing requires that the relevant government agency retain sufficient capacity to manage and monitor the contractor.

Some government functions, of course, simply should not be outsourced. (Private prisons come to mind.) Reasonable people can argue about the wisdom of contracting with private developers to manage the building of roads, but those reasonable people will usually agree that the state retains an obligation to supervise and control its contractors, who are, after all, being paid with tax dollars.

In this case, clearly, that supervision was lacking. And we all know who pays the price when government fails to discharge its most basic responsibilities, one of which is infrastructure:

State Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said many people are frustrated with the traffic delays on Indiana 37 caused by I-69 construction and that he’s not been able to get answers from state officials or the developer.

“People don’t understand why they’re driving through miles and miles of traffic barrels and seeing little, if anything, getting done,” he said.

About 95 miles of the I-69 extension have opened since 2012 between Evansville and Bloomington through southwestern Indiana. The total cost of the I-69 extension is estimated at $3 billion, but the cost of the final leg from Martinsville to Interstate 465 has not been determined.

When that cost is determined, we all know who will pay it.

Numbers Can Be Deceiving

Well, the Orange One has delivered a “major” speech on the economy. As usual, very little he said is remotely accurate; here’s just one example from a Time Magazine article deconstructing those claims:

Trump’s claim that one-in-five American households “do not have a single member in the labor force” is also therefore not a reflection of employment problems so much as it’s a recognition that 20% of American households are headed by retirees. Your 85-year-old grandfather and his 82-year-old wife aren’t participating in the labor force—and that’s probably a good thing.

Because we Americans have a tenuous grasp of economics, politicians often feel free to play with the numbers. That’s nothing new (although Trump does take misinformation to a whole new level…)

Last May, the website of the Indiana Institute for Working Families had a discussion of unemployment numbers that explained what those numbers do–and do not–reveal about the health of a state’s economy. Since we are in the middle of a campaign season in which Trump and other candidates will continue to take liberties with those numbers, it is worth revisiting that explanation.

The post itself was triggered by a seemingly rosy employment report: more Hoosiers were working, and the workforce was nearing an all-time high. Good news, right?

Well, as the policy analyst explained, “all that glitters is not gold.” Among the reasons for caution is something called the Labor Force Participation Rate.

 it’s also important to look at the Labor Force Participation Ratio (LFPR)—the ratio of the civilian labor force to the total non-institutionalized civilian population 16 years and older—as a useful tool in determining the overall health of the labor market. A low LFPR means there is slack in the labor market, which puts downward pressure on wages, and holds back growth in household incomes.

In layman’s language, the LFPR means that a decline in the unemployment rate can be explained, at least to some extent, by the number of Hoosiers leaving the labor force. That’s because workers are only counted in the unemployment rate if they are actively seeking work. But the workforce dropout rate isn’t the whole story either.

That brings us to the third and final point, which helps to illustrate declining LFPR; while the state is reaching employment levels (total nonfarm employment) not seen since the summer of 2000, the population of adults in Indiana (16+) has grown by more than a half-million during that time period. In other words, Indiana has added jobs, but not nearly enough to keep up with population growth.

Worse yet, the jobs that the state is adding are low-paying jobs. A recent report from the Indy Star – Economic Gaps Growing Among Hoosiers – encapsulates the conundrum that is the state’s insistence on low road growth strategies: “As the state economy grows and state leaders say pro-business policies have created more than 57,000 new jobs last year alone, poverty is on the rise. That’s right. More jobs, yet more poverty.”

It’s always useful to consider what the statistics tell us–and how the real story differs from the snake-oil on offer.

Getting to Know Mike Pence

Hoosiers have gotten to know Mike Pence during his tenure as our dense and divisive Governor; that familiarity was why he was on track to lose his bid for re-election. But the rest of the country is just now getting an in-depth look at what, in Pence’s view, passes for policy. 

One such recent “introduction” began with this overview:

Much has been made of Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s record on LGBTQ issues. In 2000, when he was running for U.S. representative, Pence wrote that “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexual’s [sic] as a ‘discreet and insular minority’ [sic] entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.” He also said that funds meant to help people living with HIV or AIDS should no longer be given to organizations that provide HIV prevention services because they “celebrate and encourage” homosexual activity. Instead, he proposed redirecting those funds to anti-LGBTQ “conversion therapy” programs, which have been widely discredited by the medical community as being ineffective and dangerous.

The real focus of the story, however, is on Pence’s longstanding war on a woman’s right to control her own reproduction–not just his efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood, or his signing of an outrageous, punitive and unconstitutional anti-choice law, but his less well-known diversion of millions of dollars in public funds that were supposed to provide food and health care for needy families to anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.

Gov. Pence, who declined multiple requests for an interview with Rewire, has been outspoken about his anti-choice agenda… . people in need of abortion care are forced to take significant time off work, arrange child care, and possibly pay for a place to stay overnight in order to obtain it.

This environment is why a contract quietly signed by Pence last fall with the crisis pregnancy center umbrella organization Real Alternatives is so potentially dangerous for Indiana residents seeking abortion: State-subsidized crisis pregnancy centers not only don’t provide abortion but seek to persuade people out of seeking abortion, thus limiting their options.

Adding insult to injury, the three and a half million dollars going to Real Alternatives came from TANF funds.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, TANF is explicitly meant to clothe and feed children, or to create programs that help prevent “non-marital childbearing,” and Indiana’s contract with Real Alternatives does neither. The contract stipulates that Real Alternatives and its subcontractors must “actively promote childbirth instead of abortion.” The funds, the contract says, cannot be used for organizations that will refer clients to abortion providers or promote contraceptives as a way to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

Real Alternatives is an anti-choice organization run by a Pennsylvania lawyer who has no medical experience or background. The organization finances, and refers clients to, crisis pregnancy centers that encourage clients to carry their pregnancies to term and “helps” them decide between adoption or child rearing. “Counseling” and classes teach that abstinence is the only way to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

The article is lengthy and well researched, and it accurately portrays the unctuous Mike Pence that Hoosiers know so well.

We can just hope that the rest of the country comes to know him as well as we do. Quickly.