Tag Archives: Mitch Daniels

But He Had Friends in High Places

A recent AP investigation appears to conflict with the “nothing here, move along” attitude taken by Tony Bennett, his patron Mitch Daniels, and Tim Swarens of the Indianapolis Star, who recently penned a puff piece about the former Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The AP analyzed a report compiled by Indiana’s inspector general, showing many more instances of campaigning with  public resources than previously reported:

From Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2012, the investigation found more than 100 violations of wire fraud laws. They included 56 violations by 14 Bennett employees and 21 days in which Bennett misused his state-issued SUV. Former chief of staff Heather Neal had the most violations, 17.

In a section labeled “Scheme to Defraud,” the inspector general laid out its case, saying Bennett “while serving as the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of Indiana, devised a scheme or artifice to defraud the State of Indiana of money and property by using State of Indiana paid employees and property, for his own personal gain, as well as for his own political benefit to be re-elected to the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.”

The violations fell into five categories: political campaign fundraising, responding to political opponent’s assertions, calendar political activity meetings, political campaign call appointments and general political campaign activity.

Through reviews of emails and calendar entries and more than 50 interviews with top Republicans and former staffers, investigator Charles Coffin determined Bennett falsified mileage logs to cover fundraising trips and use of two separate state workers as campaign drivers. The report also details 20 days on which Bennett used the SUV to go to local Republican fundraisers coded as “business” in his handwritten vehicle logs, as well as instances where trips to events billed as education-related also had calendar notes about political donors being present.

Bennett also used tax dollars to send a staffer to attend the 2012 Republican Party convention on his behalf.

Whatever your opinion of Bennett’s education policy preferences–which, as he proudly noted in the Swarens article, were identical to those of Mitch Daniels–they are no excuse for wire fraud, or the falsification of financial documents. (Need I point out that you don’t falsify records if you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong?)

Interestingly, despite ample evidence of criminal behavior, Bennett has never been charged.

In addition to confirming what many of us already suspected about Bennett, this report adds a bit more substance to the emerging outlines of Mitch Daniels’ fiscal and administrative legacy: Underfunded and struggling municipal governments thanks to the ill-advised constitutionalizing of tax caps. A State Board of Accounts that lacks the resources to do adequate audits of local government units, Department of Child Services caseworkers with unmanageable caseloads, and elimination of subsidies to families adopting special-needs children, thanks to indiscriminate understaffing and cost-cutting. (It took a lawsuit to restore the subsidies.)  A Toll Road once owned by Hoosier taxpayers is currently an asset in a private-sector operator’s bankruptcy, thanks to too-clever-by-half financing schemes. A string of revelations about illegal and unethical behavior by cronies of our ex-Governor, including but certainly not limited to Tony Bennett.

And of course, there’s the little matter of his appointment of Purdue Trustees who–entirely coincidentally!–turned around and hired him at a handsome salary.

Welcome to Indiana, where you can get away with pretty much anything–with a little help from the right friends.

Mitch Evidently Started a Trend

According to Business Insider, Florida Governor Rick Scott has “pulled a Mitch” at Florida State University, appointing Trustees who then (what a coincidence!) appointed his campaign manager and crony as president.

According to The Times-Union, the state senator’s final interview with the FSU Board of Trustees Tuesday “came despite opposition to Thrasher from faculty and students expressing concern about the school’s reputation and the need for the next leader to have stellar academic credentials.”

Jennifer Proffitt, the president of the FSU chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, told The Times-Union that “It’s clear [Thrasher] does not have the qualifications to lead a research university.”

Thrasher is a former Florida house speaker and chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. He graduated from FSU for both his undergraduate and law degrees.

The Times-Union reports that Thrasher had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of students and faculty last week at an open forum. Of the close to 700 responses collected after the talk, 11% gave Thrasher ‘good’ grades, while 87% gave him ‘not good’ or ‘below average’ marks,” according to The Times-Union.

Another criticism of Thrasher is his close connections to many of the FSU trustees — most were appointed by Florida governor Rick Scott, whose campaign for re-election is managed by Thrasher. (emphasis mine)

The justification for placing politicians in these positions is that they will be good fundraisers. It is evidently irrelevant that they do not share the values of the academy–or even understand the mission of a research university. They are spectacularly unfit for the job of protecting scholarly inquiry and academic freedom.

Sic transit intellectual integrity and institutional credibility.

 

 

File Under “It’s Who You Know”…

Oligarchies work really well if you are one of the oligarchs. The Indianapolis Star recently re-engaged in something that used to be called “journalism,” and reported that the State of Indiana had intentionally misused federal funds during the Daniels Administration.

Federal auditors say Indiana intentionally misused federal funds when one of its contractors, operating with little state oversight, funneled nearly a half million dollars to a start-up business run by the nonprofit’s chairman.

Elevate Ventures, which was the subject of an Indianapolis Star investigation last year, was hired by the state to manage millions of dollars in state and federal investment funds. The federal audit concluded that the nonprofit should not have awarded $499,986 in federal cash to a start-up business called Smarter Remarketer managed by the firm’s chairman, Howard Bates.

The article was thorough, and drew a pretty damaging picture of the games being played with our tax dollars. State officials, of course, denied any intentional wrongdoing and attributed the “problem” to inadequate oversight.

Spoiler alert: I will now go into “broken record” mode. For the past quarter-century, citizens have been told that government can’t do anything by itself, and that privatizing–“contracting out”–is the way to deliver government services. Sometimes contracting makes good sense. Often, it doesn’t. See here and here.

 

When contracting is appropriate, government remains responsible for oversight and management. Even if the scam detailed by the Star wasn’t a case of cronyism (and if you believe that, I have a great bridge to sell you…), it points to one of the dangers of  contracting: government officials who lack either the will or the expertise to manage those contracts adequately.

 

Of course, the article suggests that the folks responsible for overseeing Elevate Ventures weren’t inept. They were cozy.

 

 

Ah, oligarchy….

Zinn 1, Daniels 0

Yesterday, university  campuses around the state held Howard Zinn “Read Ins”  at which numerous faculty–including yours truly– participated. The events were prompted by then-Governor Daniels’ efforts to banish Zinn’s work from Indiana classrooms.

As I said yesterday, Daniels wanted to use the power of state government to protect unsuspecting students from “wrong” ideas—defined as ideas with which he disagreed. There is no principle more basic to both the academy and the American constitutional system than the one that forbids him from doing so.

The Founders did not minimize the danger of bad ideas; they believed, however, that empowering government to suppress “dangerous” or “offensive” ideas would be far more dangerous than the free expression of those ideas—that once we hand over to the state the authority to decide which ideas have value, no ideas are safe.

In these United States, We the People get to decide for ourselves what books we read, what websites we visit, what videos we watch, what ideas we entertain, free of government interference. Your mother can censor you, and in certain situations your employer can censor you–but your Mayor or Governor or President cannot.

Furthermore, free intellectual inquiry is an absolutely essential ingredient of a genuine education. Education requires the freedom to examine any and all ideas, to determine which are good and which not so good. It also requires that we protect scholars who come to unpopular conclusions or hold unpopular views.

Some citizens will make poor choices of reading materials or ideologies. Some Professors will embrace perspectives that disturb or offend students and Governors. Just as putting up with Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and their clones is the price liberals pay for free speech, putting up with Howard Zinn–or with Robert Reich, or with me—is the price conservatives pay for their own freedom.

The search for truth requires that we examine contending ideas. That is not the same thing as requiring some sort of artificial “balance” that ignores scholarly integrity in order to teach discredited positions like creationism rather than science, or holocaust denial rather than accurate history.  As a statement from the AAU put it some years back,

Self-appointed political critics of the academy have presented equal representation for conservative and progressive points of views as the key to quality. But the college classroom is not a talk show.  Rather, it is a dedicated context in which students and teachers seriously engage difficult and contested questions with the goal of reaching beyond differing viewpoints to a critical evaluation of the relative claims of different positions. Central to the educational aims and spirit of academic freedom, diversity of perspectives is a means to an end in higher education, not an end in itself.

Howard Zinn was a reputable, albeit controversial, historian. Much of what he wrote was a valuable corrective to the histories of his era; some was oversimplified or otherwise problematic. But opinions about the value of his–or any–books are beside the point.  The question is “who decides what books are used in the classroom,” and the answer is not ”the governor”.

The real irony of these sorts of efforts at censorship is that they almost always backfire by shining a brighter light on the object of the censorship. I wonder how many of the people attending the IUPUI read-in and the others around the state had ever heard of Howard Zinn prior to Daniels’ ill-advised effort to suppress his work.

Funny how often it works that way.

One of my sons was a student at the University of Cincinnati when the local prosecutor tried to close down an “obscene” exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs. Students and residents who ordinarily wouldn’t have gone across the street to attend an art exhibit couldn’t wait to see this one. The line stretched for blocks.

This happens so often, censorship has become a marketing tool. According to film histories I’ve read, at times when movie attendance has been dwindling, filmmakers have responded by producing more explicit films in hopes that the howls from the “usual sources” would increase attendance.

You’d think the busybodies would learn: If there’s material you don’t want people to see or hear or read, your best bet is just to ignore it. As Governor Daniels demonstrated, however, the moral scolds and PC enforcers have trouble learning that lesson.

Howard Zinn says “thanks, Mitch.”

 

 

 

Why Censorship Doesn’t Work

A former student sent me the following email

Plans are proceeding for the November 5 “Read-In” of writings by Howard Zinn at Purdue University, co-sponsored by the Indiana affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers among other groups.  Parallel events at several other Indiana schools are planned.  Information is available from Prof. Tithi Bhattacharya at tbhattac@gmail.com.
I can’t help wondering how many people who will attend this event had ever heard of Howard Zinn prior to Mitch Daniels’ ill-advised effort to suppress his work.
It so often works that way.
When my middle son was a student at the University of Cincinnati, the local prosecutor tried to close down an “obscene” exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs. Students and residents who ordinarily wouldn’t have gone across the street to attend an art exhibit lined up to see this one. My son told me the lines stretched for blocks.
The phenomenon isn’t limited to books and art–according to a couple of film histories I’ve read, at times when movie attendance was dwindling, filmmakers responded by producing more explicit films and hoping that the howls of prudery from the “usual sources” would increase attendance.
You’d think the busybodies would learn.
Censorship may or may not be unconstitutional (depending upon whether government is doing it), but it’s rarely effective. Quite the contrary. If there’s material you don’t want people to see or hear or read, your best bet is just to ignore it.
I wonder if Mitch has figured that out yet.