Tag Archives: Indiana

My Endorsement

This post is mostly for readers who live in Indiana’s 5th District–or anyone who has friends and/or families who vote in Indiana’s Fifth. The primary election, which was postponed until June 2d, is approaching. (If you haven’t done so, be sure to apply for your absentee ballot by May 21st!)

As Hoosiers know, the district’s incumbent Representative is Susan Brooks, who (wisely) decided not to run again. To say that Brooks has been a huge disappointment to those of us who thought we knew her and expected her to be at least reasonably moderate would be an understatement. (To be a Republican these days is evidently to be a devoted Trump sycophant…)

Christina Hale is one of five Democrats running for the Fifth District seat, and in my admittedly biased opinion, she should be the slam-dunk choice. (There are fourteen candidates in the GOP primary, and– with the exception of Mark Small, who is valiantly trying to save the party from itself– they all seem to be emphasizing how Trumpy they will be if elected.)

I met Christina when she served in the Indiana legislature, where she was a highly effective advocate for women and girls  and small businesses, among other things. (Of the five Democrats running, Christina is the only one with legislative experience.) She’s a Latina  who put herself through school while she was a single mom, and she brings that same determination and capacity for hard work to her campaigns and legislative work.

When Christina ran for the Indiana State House in 2012, she defeated a 20 year Republican incumbent–flipping the seat from red to blue– and when she got to Indiana’s Republican-dominated statehouse, she got things done: during her legislative career, she had over 60 bills passed with bipartisan support.

I got to see more of Christina when she was John Gregg’s running mate in 2016, and I was further impressed with her campaign skills and her ability to communicate what is very clearly her passion for good government.

Can she win in the fall? Yes.

So far in this campaign, and despite the weirdness of running for office during a pandemic, Christina has outraised all of the other candidates– Democrats and Republicans–in every single quarter.  The reason that matters is because no matter which Republican emerges from that primary, you can be sure that person will be very well funded. But it also matters because those donations reflect donors’ excitement for Christina’s candidacy, and their belief that she can win.

I’m not the only person enthusiastic about Christina; so far, she’s been endorsed by Planned Parenthood, Latino Victory Fund, and a number of unions, including United Steelworkers, Sheet Metal Workers, IBEW, AFSCME and, most recently, the Serve America PAC.

You needn’t take my word for any of this. You can read about Christina at the campaign website.

I’m writing about Christina’s campaign because I can’t help her by voting for her–I live in Indiana’s 7th Congressional District, where I have a Congressperson with whom I am supremely happy, Andre Carson. (Andre is effective, intelligent, and responsive, and in our blue city, he is highly likely to be re-elected. He doesn’t need my help.)

The 5th District used to be solidly red, but it includes a significant number of educated professionals and solid, middle-class voters who have given evidence of re-thinking their allegiance to the GOP under Trump. In 2018, for the first time in forever, three Democrats were elected to municipal offices, and the incumbent Democratic Senator– who lost statewide– carried the district.

If the 5th District is ready to turn light blue–and I think it is–a candidate of Christina’s caliber and demonstrable bipartisan skills has the best shot of keeping it that color.

Anyway, that’s my two cents worth. But no matter who, VOTE. And VOTE BLUE.

It’s Not Just In Washington

It seems as if the rule of law is under assault everywhere.

A recent story by Reveal, a nonprofit news organization, alleges that during the competition for Amazon’s second headquarters, the state made four safety citations against the company “go away.” (I find it illuminating–and incredibly depressing– that the Indianapolis Star simply published Reveal’s investigative report. It’s just one more bit of evidence that the Star itself no longer has the capacity to engage in investigative journalism or fulfill its watchdog role.)

When an Amazon worker was killed by a forklift in a Plainfield warehouse in 2017, the state of Indiana’s investigator found the company was at fault. The state cited Amazon for four major safety violations and fined it $28,000.

But an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found that, as Gov. Eric Holcomb sought to lure Amazon’s HQ2 to Indiana, state labor officials quietly absolved Amazon of responsibility. After Amazon appealed, they deleted every fine that had been levied and accepted the company’s argument — that the Amazon worker was to blame.

The investigator on the case, John Stallone, had arrived at the warehouse a day after 59-year-old Phillip Lee Terry was crushed to death. He was so troubled by the pushback he was getting from higher-ups that he secretly recorded his boss, Indiana OSHA Director Julie Alexander, as she counseled the company on how to lessen the fine.

“It’s like being at a card table and having a dealer teach you how to count cards,” Stallone said.

Stallone is quoted as saying that pressure to back off came from “as high up as the governor’s mansion.”

The governor has reacted angrily, sending Reveal and the Star an intimidating “cease and desist” letter, and insisting that he was not involved in handling the dispute. The officials at the labor department have thus far declined to be interviewed.

According to Reveal,

Indiana OSHA issued four serious safety citations, for a total fine of $28,000. Stallone sought more, but he was getting pushback. On Nov. 20, 2017, Stallone joined his boss, Julie Alexander, the Indiana OSHA director, as she called Amazon officials. He secretly recorded the conversation, which is legal in Indiana, and shared the recording with Reveal.

During the call, Alexander told the Amazon officials what she’d need from them in order to shift the blame from the company to “employee misconduct,” according to the recording….

Some days after the conference call with Amazon officials, Stallone said Indiana Labor Commissioner Rick Ruble pulled him into his office. The governor was there, too, standing by the commissioner’s desk, according to Stallone.

He recalled that Holcomb told him how much it would mean to Indiana if the state won the Amazon headquarters deal. Then, Stallone said, the commissioner told him to back off on the Amazon case — or resign.

Stallone did resign, and reported the situation to OSHA.

The same day Stallone sent his whistleblower email, Amazon’s corporate offices in Seattle gave a $1,000 campaign contribution to Indiana’s governor. It was years before Holcomb would next face reelection, and Amazon hasn’t donated to him before or since.

Perhaps–as the Governor and labor officials insist– Stallone is just making entirely innocuous actions seem nefarious, although it is difficult to imagine what his motive might be. Or perhaps, the prospect of winning Amazon’s headquarters–or at the very least, avoiding measures that might make the state less competitive–persuaded the Governor and other officials to make an exception to the rules.

These days, everywhere you look, exceptions are swallowing the rules.

 

 

Indiana’s School Voucher Program–The Back Story

Toward the end of yesterday’s post about high-stakes testing, I noted that its largest-in-the-nation voucher program illustrated Indiana’s penchant for simple answers to complicated questions.

I have friends who sincerely believe that “school choice” will help poor children escape failing public schools, and none of the careful academic research that documents voucher schools’ generally poor academic results convinces them otherwise. “Private” is a word like “shazam!”– magically opening imaginary doors.

Critics of Indiana’s voucher program tend to place the most blame on Mike Pence, but a recent series of articles identifies Mitch Daniels as the political brains behind Indiana’s program. Pence certainly expanded it–and engineered amendments to ensure that religious schools, rather than other private institutions, would be the major beneficiaries. (In Indiana, some 92% of vouchers are used to attend religious schools, virtually all Christian and a sizable number fundamentalist.)

No one who knows Mike Pence, however, would describe him as the brains of any operation. That accolade belongs to Mitch Daniels.

After noting that five years after the program was established, more than half of the state’s voucher recipients had never attended Indiana public schools–failing or not–and that Hoosier taxpayers are now covering private and religious school tuition for children whose parents had previously footed that bill, the author proceeded to describe the voucher program as an outgrowth of a conversation at a dinner party hosted by Steve Hilbert, at which Daniels is quoted as saying “There is no reason even debating the abysmal, atrocious failure of the public school monopoly anymore.”

In the years that followed, three of those dinner guests — Daniels, Pence and Klipsch — would be major players in the quest to privatize traditional public education in Indiana.

Klipsch would start and run a political action committee, Hoosiers for Economic Growth (a.k.a. Hoosiers for Quality Education), that would play a major role in creating a Republican majority in the Indiana House to redistrict the state to assure future Republican control.

In 1996, however, there were no charter schools in Indiana, nor were there virtual schools or vouchers. Neighborhood public schools served communities in a state that had always taken a “liberal and leading role” in providing public education for its children.

Twenty-one years later, Hoosier public schools were showing the effects of 15 years of what the article characterizes as “relentless attack.”

Entire public school systems in Indiana cities, such as Muncie and Gary, had been decimated by funding losses, even as a hodgepodge of ineffective charter and voucher schools sprang up to replace them. Charter school closings and scandals were commonplace, with failing charters sometimes flipped into failing voucher schools. Many of the great public high schools of Indianapolis were closed from a constant churn of reform directed by a “mindtrust” infatuated with portfolio management of school systems.

The author traced the decline to Daniels.

After his election, Daniels quickly laid the groundwork for creating a system based on the belief that the market principle of competition would improve education outcomes and drive down costs. Under the guise of property tax reform, Daniels seized control of school funding by legislating that the state would pay the largest share of district costs known as the general fund, while giving localities the responsibility for paying for debt service, capital projects, transportation and bus replacement. Daniels and the legislature also made sure that districts would be hamstrung in raising their local share by capping property taxes so that they could not exceed 1 percent of a home’s assessed value. The poorer the town, the less money the district could raise.

The remainder of the lengthy article traces the changes to Indiana education made by Daniels and Tony Bennett, his chosen Superintendent of Public Instruction–changes funded by Betsy DeVos’s foundation. I encourage you to click through and read the article in its entirety. And weep.

My only quibble is with the author’s obvious belief that Daniels’ assault on public education was motivated by a malevolent intent to privatize the state’s schools. Unlike Pence, Mitch Daniels is a highly intelligent man. He is also thoroughly political and ideological. My guess is that he drank deeply from the well of GOP dogma, and believes–with an almost religious fervor, evidence be damned– that the private sector is always superior to the public sector. (Why so many people who clearly believe this nevertheless spend their professional lives in the public sector is an enduring mystery.)

So here we are. Vouchers have increased religious and racial segregation without improving academic performance. Meanwhile, public schools are struggling to perform without adequate resources, and the state’s underpaid teachers are leaving in droves.

Did Indiana’s schools need improvement? Absolutely. Were vouchers an appropriate or effective remedy? Absolutely not.

That’s what happens when ideology trumps evidence.

 

The Hidden Hand

When I hear the term “hidden hand,”  I immediately think of Adam Smith. But a couple of weeks ago, I came across a very different definition of that term–one that resonated with me.

Published by a think-tank called “Support Democracy,”the article addressed the growing problem of pre-emption, which it dubbed “the hidden hand.” In Indiana, we’ve had that problem as long as I can remember; it’s what I fulminate about when I decry local government’s lack of home rule.

Many of America’s cities, towns, and counties have less power than they did at the start of the year to protect the health and safety of their communities or to respond to the unique needs and values of their residents. That’s because between January and June 2019, state legislatures across the nation continued a troubling trend of passing more laws forbidding or “preempting” local control over a large and growing set of public health, economic, environmental, and social justice policy solutions. This legislative session, state lawmakers made it illegal for locally-elected officials to enact a plastic bag ban in Tennessee, raise revenues in Oregon, regulate e-cigarettes in Arkansas, establish minimum wages in North Dakota, protect county residents from water and air pollution produced by animal feedlots in Missouri, or protect immigrants from unjust incarceration in Florida.

Some states this session went further, with bills aimed at abolishing core powers long held by cities, including their ability to negotiate and set employment terms with their own contractors, enact and implement local land use laws, and control their own budgets and finances.

Here in Indiana, local jurisdictions have long been under the thumb of state lawmakers. The same legislators who bitch and moan about “unfunded mandates” imposed on state governments by Washington blithely operate on the assumption that they know better than the folks running city and county jurisdictions how those officials should do their jobs.

Are there issues that require federal mandates? Sure. Are there issues that ought to be handled consistently statewide? Of course. But the policy debate should center on what those issues are–and it rarely if ever does. Instead, we have the Indiana General Assembly deciding what vehicles Indianapolis can include in our locally-funded mass transit plans (no light rail for us–why, no one can explain).

It’s bad enough that a former Governor whose political savvy outstripped his devotion to rational policymaking (yes, Mitch, I’m looking at you) shoehorned a tax cap into the state constitution. That certainly made him popular. It has also destroyed the ability of local governments to provide appropriate levels of basic services. (Not to mention that provisions of this sort don’t belong in constitutions, which are by definition frameworks prescribing how issues like taxation are to be dealt with.)

State and local governments desperately need to revisit the allocation of power between them. In states like Indiana, state-level lawmakers need to allow local governments to make the decisions that are properly local.

As the report at the link explains,

Preemption is a tool, like the filibuster, that can and has been used by both political parties. In the past, preemption was used to ensure uniform state regulation or protect against conflicts between local governments. Preemption has also been used to advance well-being and equity. State civil rights laws, for example, allow cities to increase protections, but prohibit them from falling below what was required under law. Traditional preemption emphasized balance between the state and local levels of government. While state policy still had primacy, according to Columbia Law School professor Richard Briffault, it was understood that “state policies could coexist with local additions or variations.”This is not what we are seeing now.

“New Preemption” laws, according to Briffault, “clearly, intentionally, extensively, and at times punitively, bar local efforts to address a host of local problems.” Some of this is propelled by a disdain for local lawmaking and urban lawmakers seen as too liberal, intent on “oppressing” the free market and “trampling” on individual liberty…. Another primary driver of new preemption is the opportunity conservatives now have to deliver on a long-promised anti-regulatory agenda – an agenda that disproportionately and negatively affects women, people of color and low income communities. These new preemption laws are being used to prohibit local regulations without adopting new state standards in their place, effectively preventing any regulation or policy remedy at all.The efforts to consolidate power at the state level and end local authority over a wide range of issues are part of a national long-term strategy often driven by trade associations and corporate interests. Much of this effort has been orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an industry-funded organization made up by lobbyists and a quarter of all state lawmakers that writes and distributes model bills.

In my most recent book (which I shamefully keep hyping) I make a case for revisiting federalism, and ensuring that control of issues is lodged with the appropriate level of government.

I doubt I’ll live long enough to see that happen…..

A Cornfield Conference

According to Indiana Public Media, 1938 saw the Republican Party in disarray, both nationally and in Indiana. FDR and the Democrats had won massive victories in the 1936 elections, and the New Deal was rapidly concentrating federal power in the Democratic Party.

It was so bad that the editors of Fortune suggested that the national GOP go out of existence. In Indiana, Democrat Paul V. McNutt had been governor since 1933, and Republicans in the state were apathetic.

In February 1938, Homer Capehart went to Arch Bobbitt, then state chair of the Republican Party, with a proposal to hold a “mid-term Republican conference” in August –a “cornfield rally.” Twenty thousand precinct committeemen, county chairmen, their families, and dignitaries from out of state attended, and it worked: the Hoosier GOP rebounded.

I was totally unaware of this history, but evidently Democrats in Northwest Indiana weren’t. They’re modeling an upcoming event on that bit of Hoosier history.

According to the press release, a Tri-State Cornfield Conference on June 29th will be hosted
by Democratic Party organizations in Noble, Dekalb, Lagrange, Kosciusko, and Whitley Counties.

The main conference will occur on Saturday, June 29th in Kendallville, Indiana at the Noble County Fairgrounds.  Special guests will include State Representative Karlee Macer and State Senator Eddie Melton.  The conference will start at noon.
An extensive digital activist training seminar will occur over 3 days at the fairgrounds, June 28-30th, by Becker Digital Strategies, which has been featured at Net Roots Nation.

Carmen Darland, the organizer of the event, and Vice Chair of the Noble County Democrats, explains that it is time for a similar revival of Indiana’s Democratic Party (and not so incidentally, time for a restoration of checks and balances), both at Indiana’s Statehouse and in Washington.

The obvious purpose of the event is to get Hoosier Democrats fired up for 2020, and an extensive speakers’ list promises to focus on the importance of the upcoming election, not just for Democrats, but for the country and the planet.

Tickets for the entire three days of the conference (including training sessions) are $10 per person, and are available on Act Blue or by calling (260) 237-1199. Additional information can be found on Facebook @2019CornfieldConference, or by contacting Carmen Darland via email: carmendarland@gmail.com.

I found this planned event very encouraging.

Thanks to gerrymandering, (and unlike the situation in 1938) Democrats in Indiana face a very uphill battle. But uphill is not the same thing as impossible. The key–as anyone with even the most modest amount of political smarts will attest–is turnout. Even most of our so-called “safe districts”–in Indiana, those gerrymandered by Republicans for Republicans–are not so safe when enough citizens who haven’t previously voted get off their couches and go to the polls.

Gerrymandering (and yes, Democrats are equally guilty of choosing their voters in states that they control) creates apathetic citizens. Residents of districts drawn to be “safe” for the party drawing the lines figure their votes don’t count, so they don’t vote. Increased turnout, however, can make those votes count, and that is one of the messages that must be repeatedly emphasized at the upcoming Cornfield Conference.

The stakes have never been higher. Here’s hoping that Mark Twain was right when he said that while history doesn’t repeat itself, it does rhyme.