Tag Archives: Indiana

Send Money!! But Where??

A reader recently emailed me with a request to address what he called “strategic” giving–advice about where our political donations will have the greatest impact, and will be most likely to help retain Democratic congressional majorities.

He noted that–in the aftermath of yet another extreme gerrymander in Indiana, this state would seem to be a lost cause.  Like most of us who have ever rashly sent a few dollars to a candidate, he receives email requests almost daily for campaign donations from candidates and organizations across the country.

My track record as a political strategist is pathetic (not to mention my track record as a candidate…), so I forwarded his request to friends who are far more politically savvy. The email conversation that ensued left me with responses that were less than helpful, to put it mildly.

Here is the first of those responses. (I am not identifying the authors.)

Well, I would not say it was a waste to give to Dem congressional candidates like Christina Hale.  The next cycle or two in Indiana in the 5th will be a challenge, but we are going to win it before the next decade (provided we have a functioning democracy, which is far from a forgone conclusion.).  As to where to give, it is too early to give any really sound advice until redistricting is completed. But there will be 10-20 swing districts where the majority will hinge and folks who want their money to count should pay attention to that.  And if there is a way to give but avoid the insane email, that would be ideal.

The second response was shorter–and darker.

I would just add that, to the extent there are effective GOTV operations in/around those 10-20 competitive districts, money might be well spent on those efforts as well.

Nobody in IN is going to see a dime of my money, as I think Indiana is lost for my lifetime.

And number three:

I wish I had something of value to add. As I read about reapportionment in many states I find this really disheartening. My question is: how do the Indiana legislative maps look? Will there be enough swing legislative districts that the Republicans can even be denied a supermajority? I simply don’t have any idea about where or whether that is even possible.

My own two cents (see above for an evaluation of my own “savvy”) is that response #2 is too bleak when it comes to Indiana: a colleague who teaches political science offered some analysis a while back that is more in line with opinion #1–the emptying out of Indiana’s rural regions has made it difficult to carve out districts that will continue to be safe for the GOP for more than the next election cycle (and perhaps not even then). Much will depend upon turnout–as I keep reminding folks, gerrymandering is based on turnout data from previous elections, and if Indiana’s Democrats (who are much more numerous than conventional wisdom recognizes) could field a really effective GOTV effort, it would definitely make a difference.

Of course, turning out the vote requires good candidates and good messaging…two elements we don’t yet have the ability to evaluate. (One of the most pernicious effects of gerrymandering is the difficulty in recruiting good candidates–after all, who wants to run on the “sure loser” ticket?)

We also don’t yet know the answer to the question posed in response #3.

Here in Indiana, volunteering for the campaign or for getting out the vote, if that’s possible, would make a big difference in places where the Democrats have a chance.

When the fundraising appeals come from elsewhere, it’s harder to separate out the claims of viability from reality. My own approach is to find a couple of campaigns that seem especially important, research them as best I can–what is the breakdown of Republicans and Democrats in the district? What about the polling? What do the pundits (who are frequently wrong) have to say about the race? Is the candidate’s website well-done? What about the messaging? The fundraising thus far? What about the campaign’s GOTV effort?

My conclusions tell me where to send my $25 or $50 or $100 checks–amounts I understand are unlikely to make much of a difference.

I don’t think my approach is very “strategic,” but it’s the best I can do…

 

 

 

 

Gerrymandering–One More Time

Can you stand one more diatribe about gerrymandering? I’m returning to the issue because states across the U.S. are busily engaged in the electoral “rigging” that Republicans claim to abhor…and because– unless the voting rights act passes– Congress will succeed in protecting the process into the future.

Talk about “voter fraud”–how about the process, beloved by the GOP, of defrauding literally millions of voters of meaningful participation in the selection of their representatives?

Here’s my last column for the Indiana Business Journal, where–for the umpteenth time–I tried to explain what is so very pernicious about the process, and why it is more destructive of democratic representation than even most of its critics seem to recognize.

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With the (tardy) release of the last census, states are embarking on redistricting. In states where the party controlling the legislature draws the lines, that means gerrymandering—creating districts favoring the party currently in control. In some states, that’s the Democrats; in Indiana, it’s Republicans.

The results of gerrymandering are pernicious.

Gerrymandering gives rural voters (who reliably vote Republican) disproportionate influence. Thanks to gerrymandering, most states don’t really have “one person one vote” and the result is that rural voices are vastly overrepresented. (The last Republican Senate “majority” was elected with 20 million fewer votes than the Democratic “minority.”) State taxes paid by city dwellers go disproportionately to rural areas.

Gerrymandering allows the GOP to control state legislatures with supermajorities even when voters prefer Democratic candidates by hundreds of thousands of votes. It thus nullifies elections and insulates lawmakers from democratic accountability.
Last year, the Cook Report calculated that one out of twenty Americans currently lives in a competitive Congressional District.

That lack of electoral competitiveness breeds voter apathy and reduced political participation. Why get involved when the result is foreordained? Why donate to a sure loser? For that matter, unless you are trying to buy political influence for some reason, why donate to a sure winner? Why vote at all?

It isn’t only voters who lack incentives for participation: it is very difficult to recruit credible candidates to run on the ticket of the “sure loser” party. As a result, in many of these races, even when there are competing candidates on the general election ballot, the reality is usually a “choice” between a heavily favored incumbent and a marginal candidate who offers no new ideas, no energy, and no genuine challenge. And in increasing numbers of statehouse districts, the incumbent or his chosen successor is unopposed by even a token candidate.

Credit where credit is due: Republicans are much better at gerrymandering than Democrats. In 2011, the GOP’s “RedMap” project was wildly successful, with Republicans winning many more seats than their vote totals would otherwise have produced. (One unanticipated consequence of that success has been especially damaging: The people elected to Congress from deep-red districts that mapmakers had created don’t feel any allegiance to the leaders of their party, or to reasonable policymaking. They are only interested in doing the bidding of the rabid voters to whom they are beholden, and avoiding a primary battle that–thanks to the gerrymander–can only come from the right. They have brought government to a halt.)

Here in Indiana, as legislators once again prepare to choose their voters, rather than allowing voters to choose their representatives, continuing disenfranchisement of city dwellers will have very practical consequences. Just one example: the connection between gerrymandering and the thousands of potholes residents of Indianapolis dodge every spring.

Indiana’s urban areas have been “carved up” and the “carved up” portions married to larger rural areas in a purposeful effort to dilute the voices and votes of city-dwellers, who have a tendency to vote Democratic. As a result, when the legislature allocates money through distribution formulas for the state’s streets and roads, it is far more generous to the thinly populated rural areas of the state than to cities like Indianapolis, where the majority of Indiana’s citizens live.

If you don’t care about the connection between gerrymandering and democracy, think about the connection between fair and equal representation and state distribution formulas the next time you hit one of Indy’s ubiquitous potholes and bend a rim.

 

 

For Goodness Sake, Indiana!

Remember that much-hyped slogan, developed by (undoubtedly overpaid) consultants–the one that was going to bring gobs of tourists to our state? “Honest to goodness, Indiana!” didn’t do much for me, and as best I can tell, it didn’t prompt many people to think “well, that’s a state I simply have to visit!”

I wonder if we’d do better with a teaser like, “come see one of the most gerrymandered states in the whole of the USA!”

The results of the 2020 census have been issued and the states–including Indiana–are in the midst of the redistricting that takes place every ten years. In Indiana, a coalition of citizens headed by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other nonpartisan, “good government” organizations has been strenuously lobbying for fair maps for at least the last five years; clearly, as the IBJ recently reported, the hundreds of Hoosiers who’ve called and written their legislators and descended on the Statehouse could have saved themselves the trouble.

Republicans will keep greater control of Indiana’s Legislature than merited by the number of votes they receive, according to a political analyst who on Thursday called the state’s proposed new election districts among the most skewed in the country.

The analysis came as a legislative committee held a second day of public hearings on the Republican-drawn maps, with several people criticizing the fact that the new election district maps were released less than 48 hours earlier.

The redistricting plan review conducted for the left-leaning political group Women4Change found Republicans would likely win 69 of the 100 Indiana House seats while typically receiving 56% of the vote. Republicans now hold a 71-29 majority in the Indiana House.

Christopher Warshaw, a political scientist at George Washington University who analyzes election data, said the proposed maps that will be used for the next 10 years boost Republicans by creating overwhelmingly Democratic districts to limit the impact of those voters.

“I think that while geography or other factors could explain part of these biases, these are so extreme that really nothing but politically intentional gerrymander could really explain the extent of the bias in these maps,” Warshaw said.

Calling Women4Change “left-leaning” is only possible in a state where opposing race and sex discrimination and favoring civic education and “one person, one vote” are considered extremely liberal positions. The organization includes a number of prominent Republicans (granted, of the sane variety) and bends over backward to be nonpartisan. But I digress.

A friend who shall remain nameless had a meeting a couple of months ago with the current Speaker of the House, and raised the issue of maps. Let’s just say the response was not along the lines of “oh, yeah, we’re working hard to make them fair…”

The only hopeful data I’ve come across was an observation from a friend who is a political science professor. He’d looked at the census numbers, and noted that this particular round of partisan redistricting was considerably more difficult than in the past, because rural areas of the state are less populated than they previously were. Those areas are continuing to empty out. Indiana Republicans are dependent upon those thinly populated parts of the state, so unless there is a significant change in Hoosiers’ population trends, the GOP’s carefully constructed advantage will disappear–probably not in 2022 or even 2024, but soon thereafter.

I sure hope his reading of the population tea leaves is correct….

Meanwhile, the voices in the heads of the far right Trumpers continue to harp on “voter fraud” and the Big Lie. Since there is exactly zero evidence supporting these attacks on the legitimacy of those who won election, I was initially puzzled. On what, exactly, do they base these hysterical, manufactured claims?

Then I figured it out.  As Jamelle Bouie noted in the New York Times, 

“Voter fraud” is not a factual claim subject to testing and objective analysis as much as it’s a statement of ideology, a belief about the way the world works. In practice, to accuse Democrats of voter fraud is to say that Democratic voters are not legitimate political actors, that their votes do not count the same as those of “the people” (that is, the Republican electorate) and that Democratic officials, elected with those illegitimate votes, have no rightful claim to power.

Yep. Members of the GOP’s super-majority in our legislature firmly believe that “those people”–city dwellers, Democrats, people of color–aren’t really entitled to cast ballots that count the same as the ballots cast by “real” Americans…so the gerrymandering that disenfranchises them is perfectly appropriate.

For goodness sake, 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.