Tag Archives: Indiana

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?

 

And (Most of) The Children Will Lead Us….

As Americans were hanging on every update of the vote counting, Inside Higher Education posted a fascinating–and overall encouraging–graphic.

 

The embedded image shows the election results we would have gotten had we counted only the votes cast by those under 30. In a real sense, it also is a snapshot of each state’s “political future.” Overall, the map is comforting–results range from light to dark blue in large areas of the country, confirming my often-stated belief that the younger generation overall is more inclusive, more community-minded and “with it” than my own.

Voters under age 30 leaned heavily Democratic, favoring Joe Biden over President Donald Trump by a wide margin (61 versus 36 percent) in the recently-called presidential election, but there were key differences among young voters across gender, racial and state lines, according to an analysis of exit polling data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University in Massachusetts

That said, there are some disappointing elements to the analysis. For one thing, young white men supported Trump by a six-point margin (51 versus 45 percent).( I am happy to report that young white women favored former vice president Biden by 13 percentage points (55 to 42 percent)).

Even more disquieting for my family of Hoosiers, Indiana remained red amid the varying shades of blue. Young people in Indiana will evidently carry on the state’s tradition of minimal, largely ineffective government and widespread racial antagonism. As my son recently pointed out, higher-education levels are low in the state, and young Hoosiers who graduate from college leave Indiana at a high rate.

Other states show evidence of evolution, albeit with that same disquieting racial breakdown:

In Georgia and North Carolina, 90 percent or more of young Black voters chose Biden, while more than half of young white voters (54 percent in North Carolina and 63 percent in Georgia) favored Trump.

In Texas, Latinx voters supported Biden over Trump by a nearly 50-percentage-point margin (73 versus 25 percent), while a majority of young white voters preferred Trump (51 versus 45 percent for Biden).

My son pointed to the analysis as justification for his advice to his teenage children–“find a better place to live; don’t come back to Indiana; we’ll follow you.” That advice was more anecdotal evidence supporting Bill Bishop’s Big Sort assertion that Americans are voting with our feet, and “sorting” geographically into locations where our neighbors share our political convictions.

None of this bodes well for Indiana. The past couple of decades have seen small towns continue to empty out. Children born in those towns, and the rural areas that surround them, have migrated either to metropolitan areas within the state, or left Indiana entirely. The super-majority of Republicans dominating our state’s legislature  has waged war on public education, creating a voucher program that sends already scarce education dollars to (almost always religious) private schools, several of which teach creationism in lieu of science.

Indiana’s legislature has also defunded higher education, resulting in Indiana’s finest colleges admitting ever more out-of-state students who tend to leave after graduation.

The low levels of education and the relatively low levels of diversity around the state contribute to a situation that’s exacerbated by the “winner take all” law that is the worst aspect of the Electoral College. Even if 49.5% of Hoosiers somehow voted for a Democrat, the state’s Eleven Electoral Votes would be awarded to a Republican who received 50.5%, a situation that encourages the legislature to ignore dissenting voices. That’s not a situation likely to bring talented people to Indiana, or to keep those we manage to raise.

People move to livable communities. Strike one against Indiana’s creation of such communities is our neglect of infrastructure. Strike two is inadequate funding of education. Strike three, as displayed on the embedded map, is the fact that Indiana voters — today and evidently into the future — can be counted on to support know-nothings and White Supremacists up and down the ballot.

Indiana–the Mississippi of the North….

An Omen?

In Indiana, early voting started yesterday, and my husband and I got to the City-County Building at 8:00 a.m., when the polling place in the Clerk’s office was to open.

We didn’t stay to vote–because the line, at 8:03, already wound entirely around the block–and our blocks are long. (My husband, who just turned 88 and has a bad ankle, cannot stand for long, so we decided to take a folding chair and try again Friday.) There were several hundred people there, before the Clerk’s office even opened, determined to cast their ballots, and while impressions can be misleading, I’m pretty sure they weren’t Trump voters. It was beautiful.

Posts to Facebook showed the line replenishing through the day, and some people reported a three-hour wait to vote.

Granted, we live in a city, and in a world increasingly polarized into red and blue, cities of reasonable size are all deep blue. If there is similar turnout in the rural, deeply red parts of Indiana, we’re unlikely to turn the whole of our retrograde state blue–but that incredibly long line was immensely heartening.

I know that every election is touted as “most important.” But this time, it is clearly true. This election is about policy, of course–but at its center, it is a morality play. It will test whether our fellow Americans are prepared to recommit to the American ideals about equality that we’ve yet to achieve–or whether a majority of us will adamantly reject the goal of e pluribus unum–out of the many, one.

At its core, this election is about whether we will disavow or endorse bigotry.

The moral significance of this election is why I am really, really hoping that Trump survives COVID-19. As conservative columnist Bret Stephens wrote in yesterday’s New York Times,

We wish him well because if, God forbid, the president were to die this month, he would go down undefeated, a martyr to the tens of millions of Americans who’ve treated him as a savior. Trump’s death would guarantee a long life for Trumpism, with his children as its principal beneficiaries.

We wish him well because Trump’s opponents — Democrats and NeverTrumpers alike — need a clean political victory. If Trump survives but is forced to endure a difficult recovery, it could put the hideousness of last week’s debate behind him, mute the criticism of his performance and soften his image in the eyes of wavering voters. The longer he lingers, the better his chances may be, at least politically.

We wish him well because if illness keeps him sidelined and he winds up losing the election, he will surely blame the disease for the loss. This could well be untrue (see above), but it won’t stop his supporters from believing it. Again, Trump the man needs to live — and lose — because it’s the only way the Trump cult might die.

For me, by far the most depressing aspect of the last twelve years has been the need to come to terms with an ugly reality–the number of Americans who embrace white nationalism, who have “come out” and shown the rest of us who they really are.

Until Obama’s election, I naively thought that the percentage of the population that was racist and hateful was relatively small. I was stunned when the rocks they’d been hiding under lifted, and they crawled out, spewing venom; I was demoralized and disheartened by their enthusiastic agreement with Trump’s insistence that civility, empathy and human-kindness are evidence of weakness in the face of “political correctness.”

This election will tell us how plentiful these people really are. It will tell me if my longstanding belief in the essential goodness and common sense of most Americans was hopelessly naive, or justified.

I hope that line at the City-County Building was an omen.

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.