Tag Archives: Indiana

What’s The Matter With Indiana?

Remember Thomas Frank’s book What’s the Matter with Kansas? Unfortunately, it’s not just Kansas. Indiana is governed by Republicans who refuse to believe science–and for that matter, routinely reject any reality inconsistent with an ideology firmly grounded in the 1950s.

Most recently, our embarrassing and self-aggrandizing Attorney General joined the state with others suing the Biden Administration for confronting the threat of climate change.The states we are joining are hardly economic powerhouses: Missouri, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. (A recent study out of Yale describes “low road states” like these as those laboring under  legacies of “conservative governance,” characterized by lower minimum wages, anti-union policies, and underfunded education and infrastructure.)

The lawsuit was filed Monday in federal court in Missouri as a response to President Joe Biden’s sweeping environmental protection order called “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.”

Biden signed the order into action Jan. 20. It set in motion the reversal of a bevy of Trump administration-era policies that promoted economic growth over environmental regulations.

The lawsuit is a stark example of the refusal of far too many lawmakers in too many states to admit that climate change is real, and that it poses an existential threat to civilization–a threat that is daily becoming harder to ignore. It’s hard to know whether the group of Attorneys General who are participating in this lawsuit are truly among the “deniers” or simply pandering to state populations unwilling to confront reality.

It isn’t just our current, unfortunate Attorney General. This year’s session of the Indiana General Assembly offers evidence–if any was needed–that our lawmakers have absolutely no interest in America’s environment, or even in combatting their own state’s high levels of pollution.

Committees have been called the “workhorses” of the Indiana General Assembly, the places where Hoosiers can testify on bills and lawmakers can hash out their differences.

But one committee has been missing in action this year.

The House Environmental Affairs Committee has not met a single time. Not because it didn’t have any legislation assigned to it. Thirteen bills were filed, many dealing with weighty topics.

One would have required preschool and daycare facilities to test for lead and address any high levels that are found. One would have prohibited utilities from keeping contaminating coal ash in unlined ponds where it pollutes groundwater. One would have limited the amount of toxins known as “forever chemicals” in drinking water.

But since the deadline to hear bills from the House has now passed, all of them died without any consideration. And while it’s common for bills to die in committee — most do — it’s unusual for a committee not to meet at all.

As the linked article notes, lawmakers have found time to advance bills making popcorn the official state snack, providing protections for children’s lemonade stands and preventing Indianapolis from changing its name. They just couldn’t be bothered to address the state’s high levels of pollution.

According to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, using data from 2019, the most recent, Indiana releases more chemicals and pollutants per square mile compared to any other state. And those releases have health implications: EPA data also shows that pollution poses a higher risk to public health in Indiana than in most other states.

If there is one characteristic shared by Indiana’s GOP lawmakers, it is willful ignorance.

Gerrymandering explains why the state’s voters continue to install super-majorities of the retrograde, but there are other reasons so many Hoosiers have only the dimmest understanding of science, economics or the operation of government, including the allocation of governmental authority under federalism. Michael Hicks– director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University–recently pinned Indiana’s multiple problems on lawmakers’ refusal to adequately support education.

Indiana is failing at the single most important thing the state does to ensure a growing economy: educate our children and young adults. Our “Mississippi Strategy” of low taxes, declining educational attainment and huge tax incentives to businesses is finally having an effect. It is precisely what an economic model would predict; declining relative wages, declining productivity and the need to offer even larger incentives to lure employers into our state. That isn’t a strategy any Hoosier should be proud of supporting. But, it is certainly having an effect.

It sure is. What was the lyric in that great Tom Lehrer song about the environment? “Don’t drink the water and don’t breath the air.”

We Don’t Need No Damn Ethics…Or Cities

As the Indiana General Assembly continues its assault on the goose that lays the state’s golden eggs–aka Indianapolis–members also demonstrate their utter lack of concern for ethical government behavior–state or municipal.

According to the Indianapolis Star, State Senator Jack Sandlin is proposing to void an Indianapolis ethics ordinance that prohibits a county chairperson from doing business with the city. Sandlin’s bill would allow a city employee to serve as both the county party chair and an employee, despite the rather obvious potential for conflicts of interest. 

It just so happens Senate Bill 415 would benefit Cindy Mowery, one of four people who have filed to become chair of the Marion County Republican Party.

Welcome to Indiana, where any pesky ethics law that promises to erect a barrier to problematic behavior can be eliminated by your political buddies!

The legislature’s war on municipal ethics is just one aspect of its constant assault on local control and urban life. There’s a reason that, most years, out-migration in Indiana exceeds  in-migration, and we routinely lose the young people we’ve paid to educate in our universities.

A recent discussion with my youngest son is–unfortunately–illustrative.

My son grew up in Indianapolis, attended college in Chicago, then traveled & worked in Japan. He fell in love with an Indiana woman, and (somewhat reluctantly) returned home. As he tells it, he  was an urban kid who loved cities, and initially, he didn’t see much promise of a vibrant urban life in Indianapolis. But that changed as Indianapolis changed. After living and practicing law in Chicago, he saw the promise of a great quality of life and a reasonable cost of living.  (Needless to say, this made his mother very happy.)

He bought a house in the Old Northside neighborhood, had a family. He and his wife work downtown, their children have attended excellent public schools, they have a wide circle of friends and neighbors with whom they enjoy the urban amenities Indianapolis offers.

So why–as they near college age–is he urging his children to leave Indiana?

He says that, while Indianapolis still has many great things going for it, its future—and especially the future it might be able to offer his children—looks far less rosy,  thanks to the culture of the state. As he says,

Even modest efforts to improve the quality of residents’ lives is threatened by a hostile General Assembly and radicalized state electorate. In most places, cities enjoy a measure of local control, or “home rule.”  Not Indianapolis — at least not today… 

Indiana’s Republicans have gerrymandered electoral districts, with predictable effects on Indiana’s politics. It turned a “conservative” state into something else entirely; the party of “limited government” has become the party of “intrusive central control.” Republican legislators have stripped (or sought to strip) Indianapolis voters of the right to decide quintessentially local matters: to decide how much in local taxes it can raise to provide essential services, to elect local judges, to decide questions of educational funding for public schools, and most recently, even to regulate local matters like zoning, landlord-tenant relations and the issuance of gun permits. None of these limits are placed on rural, largely white counties; only on Marion County (Indianapolis).

My kids are approaching college-age, and I am encouraging them to leave Indiana. Why?

Because I don’t know what life holds for them. I don’t know if they will be fortunate, healthy, and financially secure; or whether they will be dealt setbacks that might make them need assistance or the support and protection of local government.  What I do know is that I want them to find a place—a community—that cares for all its people, not just the wealthy, and not just white people.  Which is why I am strongly encouraging my kids to find universities outside of Indiana and, thereafter, to find a place where people care for each other more than we do in this state. 

 I chose Indianapolis for a quality of life that is, piece by piece, being eliminated as the Indiana General Assembly decides that city folk can’t be trusted to govern themselves or to invest in people or a better quality of place. 

Ultimately, I want my kids to find a place that cares for its people, even if doing so costs a little more.  I want them to live in a place where their vote over purely local affairs matters at least as much as the vote of a rural Trump-loving farmer—and, importantly, where the politics are not animated so much by white grievance. 

Unfortunately, that place isn’t Indiana.

 

 

 

Another Assumption Bites The Dust

Sometimes, evidence proves seemingly logical arguments and analyses wrong.

I used to be a critic of prevailing wage laws–I was persuaded that such laws interfered with the market for construction services and added unnecessary costs to the public projects financed with taxpayer dollars.  I agreed with those who argued for repeal of such laws by contending that if we did away with prevailing wage,  taxpayers could save hundreds of millions of dollars on public projects, because non-union contractors who didn’t pay prevailing wage would begin bidding on those jobs, generating more competition.

Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t support that theory, logical as it seemed.

In 2017, the Wisconsin state Legislature repealed prevailing wage. The state’s prevailing wage laws established local market-based minimum wages on the construction of schools, roads and other taxpayer-funded projects. It ensured that contractors were paying their workers fair market wages while also investing in training and apprenticeship programs that ensure the state has a stable supply of skilled craft workers to perform dangerous and demanding jobs.

Evidently, available peer-reviewed research as well as an analysis from Wisconsin’s non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau warned at the time that there was no conclusive evidence to support the claims being made by proponents of repeal. However, the state’s lawmakers ignored the nay-sayers, and  voted for repeal on a largely party line vote.

In early October of this year, Dr. Kevin Duncan, Professor of Economics at Colorado State University –Pueblo published a study of the results. It was the first study that examined how the claims made by Wisconsin repeal proponents stacked up against actual economic data. It wasn’t pretty.

Here are just a few of the topline findings.

Repeal has produced a 6% wage cut for skilled construction workers (about $3,000 per year, on average) and a 4% drop in construction health insurance coverage.
Repeal has led to a 60% increase in public projects going to out-of-state contractors.
Apprenticeship completion in Wisconsin is lagging neighboring states with prevailing wage laws.
Bid competition on Wisconsin Department of Transportation projects has decreased by 16%.
There have been no project savings. In fact, the per-mile cost of highway resurfacing projects has actually gone up slightly, as have “cost overruns” on road construction projects.

The obvious question is: why? And the not-so-obvious answer is a variant of what I used to tell my students about real-life policy: it’s more complicated than it looks!

The issue boils down to skill levels. When governments and companies invest in higher-skilled workers, the higher quality of the work, higher levels of productivity and better safety metrics combine to minimize waste and avoid costly mistakes.

More highly skilled workforces also experience lower employee turnover, which reduces costs to contractors.

But repeal imposes other costs that don’t show up in project bids. For example, when the wages are slashed, it means more workers are forced to rely on Medicaid, food stamps and other government assistance programs to support their families. Those costs are borne by taxpayers…. And, when policy is distorted to advantage lower-skilled workers from out-of-town, it also means the benefits of job creation and consumer spending that would otherwise be stimulating Wisconsin’s economy are now going to other states.

Wisconsin was not the only state that repealed its prevailing wage law. Indiana did so several years ago, and West Virginia, Michigan, Kentucky and Arkansas all did the same thing within the past decade.

Interestingly, according to the linked newspaper report, the Assistant Republican Leader in the Indiana House of Representatives (the story did not further identify him) “famously told a Wisconsin audience in 2017 that repeal ‘hasn’t saved us a penny.’ And study after study has shown him to be right.”

The Midwest Economic Policy Institute found that after repeal of the common wage, “Hoosiers working in the construction industry are earning less than they were before, with no meaningful cost savings for Indiana taxpayers.”

Consider this example number umpty-zillion that public policy should be based on evidence rather than ideology….

 

 

Another Embarrassing Indiana AG

Indiana has a habit of elevating legal embarrassments to the position of Attorney General. I still remember pompous Theodore Sendak, who made people call him “General.” Sendak led the fight against revamping Indiana’s archaic criminal code, arguing that modernization would “just make defense attorneys rich,” and he was a major proponent of capital punishment.

Curtis Hill, our outgoing AG, was initially known for his Elvis impersonations and more recently for groping female legislators and staffers. When he did take legal positions, they were equally embarrassing: the sorts of anti-choice, anti-gay, last century arguments we’ve come to expect from Republican officeholders playing to the GOP’s base “base.”

Todd Rokita, who will assume the office in January, is arguably even worse. There has never been a Republican derriere Rokita wouldn’t kiss in his ongoing efforts to feed at the public trough.

As Secretary of State, Rokita helped to write the nation’s first Voter ID bill–despite the fact that, like the rest of the country, Indiana had never experienced a problem with in-person voter fraud. (In Rokita’s worldview, we do have a problem with “urban” people actually being allowed to vote…)

More recently, he enthused over Texas’ bonkers lawsuit, insisting that measures in other states making it easier to vote during the pandemic somehow diluted the votes of Indiana citizens. (Presumably, he sees no problem with the state’s “winner take all” allocations of Electoral Votes, which totally erase Democratic ballots cast in the state..)

What else has Rokita opposed or supported? Let us count the ways:

  • He has compared African Americans who vote Democratic to slaves., and ran an ad against Colin Kaepernick that was widely considered racist.

  • He has opposed allowing migrant children to be placed in American homes, claiming they carried Ebola.

  • He’s certainly no friend to women: he opposes abortion even in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother, and NUVO has reported that Rokita does not support equal wages for equal work for women.

  • He doesn’t believe in climate change, and he doesn’t believe that immigration reform should include a path to citizenship.

There’s much more. When he was in Congress, ten former staffers accused him of maintaining a “toxic work environment,” abusing staff members and insisting that they perform menial tasks like cleaning his car and emptying his trash.

The Chicago Tribune accused Rokita of violating ethics laws during his tenure as Secretary of State. And for truly bizarre positions, it’s hard to beat his insistence that the FAA should be privatized (because, he asserted, the federal government cannot do anything as well as private-sector businesses), and his opposition to rules requiring pilots to get periodic medical exams. (He said he trusted the pilots to decide whether they were medically-fit to fly.)

In Congress, Rokita authored a bill that would have reduced the availability of subsidized lunches for public school students. But he sure supported “feeding” students his brand of “Americanism.” According to the Chicago Tribune,

A Jasper County teacher asked Rokita to leave his high school civics class in November 2016 after a talk that was supposed to be about the Constitution got off on the wrong foot, according to two students. Rokita had asked the class if they were taught about ‘American Exceptionalism.’ But when a number of students seemed puzzled by the concept, he had a testy exchange with their teacher, Paul Norwine, whom he criticized for not including it in the curriculum, the students said. Tensions eased and the talk proceeded, but the class was dumbfounded, the students said. ‘Mr. Rokita got very angry and said, ‘You have an American congressman in your class, what are you doing?’ said Marcus Kidwell, 19, a Donald Trump supporter who was a senior at the time. ’He seems like a pretty hot-headed guy. That disappointed me because he’s a Republican and I was pretty excited to meet him.’” 

Sources for the foregoing–and much more–are at the link. The organization, Restore Public  Trust, says his past behaviors disqualify Rokita for public office.

But not in Indiana, a state that is getting steadily closer to its goal of displacing Mississippi as the laughingstock of states.

Constitutional Rights At The Schoolhouse Door

As regular readers of this blog and my former students know, I  approach my course on “Law and Public Affairs” through a constitutional lens. There are some obvious reasons for that focus: many of my students will work for government agencies, and will be  legally obliged to adhere to what I have sometimes called “the Constitutional Ethic.” Due to the apparent lack of civic education in the nation’s high schools, a troubling number of  graduate students come to class with very hazy understandings of the country’s legal foundations.

Freedom of speech seems particularly susceptible to misunderstanding.

The first problem is that a significant number of Americans don’t “get” that  the Bill of Rights only restrains government. Walmart or the Arts and Entertainment Channel or (as one angry caller insisted when I was at the ACLU) White Castle cannot be sued for denying you your First Amendment Right to express yourself.

The most difficult concept for my students, however, has been the principle of content neutrality. Government can–within reasonable limits– regulate the time, place and manner of citizens’ communication, but it cannot favor some messages over others. (I used to illustrate that rule by explaining that city ordinances could prohibit sound trucks from operating in residential neighborhoods between the hours of 10 pm and 7 am, but could not allow trucks advocating for candidate Smith while banning those for candidate Jones. I had to discontinue that example when I realized that none of today’s students had the slightest idea what a sound truck was…)

One example I did continue to use was public school efforts to control T-shirts with messages on them. Private schools can do what they wish–they aren’t government–but public schools cannot constitutionally favor some messages over others. This is evidently a lesson that many Indiana schools have yet to learn. A brief article from the Indianapolis Star reports that the ACLU is suing a school in Manchester, Indiana, after a student was forced by administrators to go home for wearing a T-shirt with the text “I hope I don’t get killed for being Black today.”

According to the Complaint, students at the school are allowed to wear T-shirts with Confederate flags and “Blue Lives Matter” slogans. It describes the plaintiff, who is identified only by his initials, as one of the few Black students at the school.

“Schools cannot selectively choose which social issues students can support through messages on their clothing,” Ken Falk, the ACLU of Indiana’s legal director, said in a prepared statement on Monday. “Students do not lose their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse doors. The refusal of the school to allow D.E. to wear his t-shirt is a violation of his right to free speech.”

The school would be within its rights to ban all “message” T-shirts (although I can hear the grumbling now). Favoring certain messages over others, however, is a violation of the principle of content-neutrality –a core precept of the Free Speech Clause that prohibits government from favoring some messages over others.

The courts give school administrators a good deal more leeway than other government actors, on the theory that providing an educational environment requires a larger measure of control than would be appropriate for adults. But there are limits; as Ken Falk noted, and the Supreme Court affirmed in Tinker v. DeMoinesstudents do not leave their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door.

Far too many school administrators are more focused on exerting control than on modeling or transmitting basic constitutional values. Too many public schools are operated as totalitarian regimes–environments that stress compliance and group-think, rather than teaching critical thinking, acquainting young people with the values of a democratic society, and encouraging civic debate and engagement.

When school officials themselves routinely break the rules, is it any wonder so many young people graduate still unaware of them?