Category Archives: Local Government

Who Thought Letting Him on TV Was a Good Idea?

Dear lord, where were his handlers?

In the firestorm that has erupted over SB 101, and in a ham-handed effort to ameliorate the immense economic damage he and his party have inflicted on the state, Governor Mike Pence took to a Sunday talk show, with disastrous results.

According to Daily Kos (and multiple members of my family who watched):

In the annals of damage control that did more harm than good, Indiana’s Gov. Mike Pence has truly set the new standard. Appearing on today’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” to defend and “clarify” Indiana’s new right to discriminate law that he eagerly signed last week, Pence—and this is putting it kindly—crashed and burned.
Six times Stephanopoulos asked if, under the law, it would be legal to refuse service to gay customers and six times Pence refused to answer. And when asked outright if “you [Pence] think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays or lesbians … it’s a yes or no question,” Pence’s astonishing (and eye roll-inducing) answer was, “Hoosiers don’t believe in discrimination.” So there you go.

And while Pence continued to peddle the notion that he’d support efforts by the Indiana legislature to “clarify” their new license to discriminate, when asked if making the LGBT community a protected class would be considered, Pence said no, that he wouldn’t push for that, that it’s not on his agenda and that it’s “not an objective of the people of the state of Indiana,” and then flat-out said, “We’re not going to change the law” and that “I stand by this law.”

I was actually looking forward to a Pence bid for higher office, stocking up on popcorn in anticipation of watching our “Not ready for prime time” Governor embarrass himself on the “circuit.” But in this context, his persistent cluelessness is doing incredible economic damage to my city and state.

This, children, is what happens when grownups don’t participate in the political process.

 

Sending a Message–Updated

Back in 2000, I wrote a column for the Indiana Word about the use of legislation to “send a message.” Following passage of the so-called “Religious Freedom” bill, it seemed appropriate to revisit the points raised.

After all, hateful Hoosiers who want to discriminate against their LGBT neighbors can already do so with impunity–Indiana’s civil rights laws do not protect gay citizens. Same-sex marriages may be legal in Indiana, but gay Hoosiers can still be denied services, refused employment and/or fired just for being gay. So to the extent that SB 101 is aimed at permitting discrimination against members of the gay community, it’s totally unnecessary. Unless, of course, our lawmakers want to “send a message.”

As I pointed out back in 2000:

With all due respect to all the folks who want to use the General Assembly instead of Western Union, such an approach to lawmaking is wrongheaded and dangerous for a number of reasons.

1.) It trivializes the law. When the legislature passed measures to criminalize private sexual behavior, for example, no one seriously believed that the local constable was going to come into every bedroom to check for violations. Such measures were justified because they “sent a message.” And indeed they do, which brings us to the next problem. See Paragraph 2.

2.) Such laws send different messages to different people. Before they were struck down, sodomy laws “sent a message” to gays that they are second-class citizens. Laws making women submit to multiple “counseling sessions” or vaginal probes in order to obtain abortions signal legislative contempt for women, not respect for life. See Paragraph 3.

3.) They promote pandering. When lawmakers know perfectly well that they are engaging in a meaningless gesture, the urge to satisfy extremist constituencies can easily be justified; after all, where’s the harm?  Indiana, like many states, passed the Defense of Marriage Act to “send a message” that satisfied the Christian Right; lawmakers defended their actions to rational folks by pointing out, quite correctly, that the law hurt no one, because at the time there was no gay marriage to refuse to recognize. It was a model example of “Law as an Empty Gesture.” Of course, to gay citizens, it sent a different message. See paragraph two.

4.) “Messages” inconsistent with Constitutional values distort the balance of power in our legal system. When this original column was written, in 2000, lawmakers had just authorized posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings. Of course, that was patently unconstitutional, and lawmakers knew it. When I asked a State Representative why he and others were voting for a measure they knew would be struck down, his answer was candid: “We all have to go back and justify ourselves to the voters in Mayberry. Let the Courts take the heat.”

When lawmakers engage in this sort of unethical game playing, it feeds hostility to the judicial system, which must protect individual rights by voiding such improper and cynical measures. That hostility further erodes respect for law, and that brings us full circle. See Paragraph 1.

In the case of SB 101, we might add another likely consequence: although the measure doesn’t change Indiana laws that apply to gay folks, it may well encourage “religious” refusals to serve or employ Muslims or blacks or other Hoosiers who currently are protected under the state civil rights laws. It will almost certainly spawn expensive litigation. And it seems likely to cost Indianapolis (whose citizens by and large opposed the measure) several conventions and the economic benefits that those conventions bring.

Because the General Assembly did, indeed, “send a message.” And a lot of people received it.

It Depends

Early each semester, I tell my students that–after taking my class–they should find themselves using two terms more frequently than they did before: it depends, and it’s more complicated than that.

For example, in recent posts, I have pointed to significant problems with two proposed public-private projects: a Justice Center and a soccer stadium. In the case of the Justice Center, my qualms aren’t with the project itself, but with the secrecy surrounding it, the important questions that remain unanswered, and the potential for both poor design and unnecessary expense. In the case of the soccer stadium, i’m flat-out opposed to putting scarce tax dollars in a project that’s unlikely to do anything but enrich its politically-connected developer.

But just because some projects raise red flags doesn’t mean taxpayers should never support local business efforts. It simply means we need to be savvy about which ones.

Take the recent proposal from Angie’s List. The company has asked the city to create a TIF to secure approximately 18 million in bonds. In return it has promised to invest $44 million of its own– to retain a thousand jobs on its near-Eastside campus, to relocate another existing 800 employees to that campus, and to grow the workforce there by yet another 1000– all by the end of 2019. In addition to those jobs (paying an average of 50,000), the company will purchase and redevelop an existing building and construct a parking garage.

Obviously, adding 1,800 well-paid workers to the near Eastside of downtown would be very good for the city. But what if Angie’s List defaults–what if it cannot grow its workforce, or even honor the “clawback” penalties for failure to do so?  What will the city have to show for its investment?

Several things, actually:

  • A contaminated property, the Ford Building, that has been redeveloped and returned to the tax rolls.
  • A new parking garage and street level retail on 3 acres of currently undeveloped property added to the property tax base.
  • Physical improvements that should spur redevelopment east of the interstate towards Irvington.
  • Creation of 500 construction jobs that will generate COIT and sales tax revenue.
  • Facilitation of IPS’ relocation of operations from the former Coca-Cola building on Massachusetts Avenue – something both the city and IPS have long desired.

Note that these aspects of the project will benefit taxpayers whether or not Angie’s List can fulfill its employment promises. If it can, the city will obviously see many other benefits.

The point is, every proposed project, every proposed TIF district, every “partnership” must be independently evaluated. Hard questions must be asked, and “what ifs?” must be considered. If rosy projections don’t materialize, will taxpayers still come out ahead? If not (soccer stadium), we shouldn’t proceed. If we don’t have enough information (Justice Center), we shouldn’t proceed until we have that information. If a project has been thoroughly vetted, however, and the downside is still acceptable, it’s a prudent investment.

In other words, it depends.

 

Well, Look Who’s Calling Out Crony Capitalism!

Four friends have now sent me a link to this column from the Indiana Policy Review, penned (okay, typed) by Tom Charles Huston. It was surprising for a number of reasons.

For those who don’t remember, Huston was the national head of Young Americans for Freedom, back in the 60s when that college organization was considered radically conservative, and later–and more ominously–was the “mastermind” behind the Huston Plan to expand Nixon administration spying on the anti-Viet Nam war movement. After his stint in the Nixon White House, Huston returned to Indianapolis and practiced law at Barnes & Thornburg; he has been retired for several years now, and if he has participated in local policy debates these past few years, I’ve missed it.

That makes his column all the more interesting; it’s a slashing–and very effective–attack on the bill to provide a financing mechanism for the Indy Eleven soccer stadium. A bill sponsored by Huston’s nephew. A bill ardently desired by Ersal Ozdemir (who is described by Huston as “rapacious.”)

The assurance by the bill’s sponsor of transparency in financing the proposed soccer stadium rings hollow to anyone who hasn’t been asleep or on the take for the past seven years. Mayor Greg Ballard has refused to turn over documentation relating to either the special operations center lease or the financing structure for the proposed criminal justice center (both multi-million dollar deals) and has conducted as much of the public business in secret as his handlers thought he could get away with.

I gather from the Indianapolis Star report that taxpayers are expected to sleep better knowing that the legislators orchestrating this hand-out to special interests are committed to “making sure state taxpayers are at mitigated risk.” This is typical no-doze for idiots, but why taxpayers should be at any risk or who profits from this assumption of risk are not questions that interest a Star reporter.

I am undecided whether those pushing this scheme are in on the action or are simply reading from a script prepared by the lobbyists (which, incidentally, include every major lobbying outfit in Indianapolis).

Huston doesn’t mention it, but Ozdemir’s company, Keystone Development, employs Ballard’s former chief of staff. Lots of eyebrows were raised–and criticisms leveled–when Keystone got a sweetheart deal to build a parking garage (still underused) on a floodplain in Broad Ripple. Critics  pointed out that the city (over)paid to build the garage and also assumed the project’s risk, while the profits went to Ozdemir. (Crony capitalism at its finest: socialize the risk, privatize the profits….)

Others have noted that he walked away mid-construction from two libraries he’d contracted to build, forfeiting the bonds he’d posted on those projects. (Usually, if a contractor or developer forfeits even one bond, he’s toast–he can’t get another. Construction industry insiders don’t understand how Ozdemir has managed to keep operating after those defaults.)

Now the World’s Worst Legislature is in the process of enriching Mr. Ozdemir further, thanks largely to the fact that–as Huston points out–he’s hired lobbyists from every major firm in town. 

I may not have agreed with his politics, but when Tom Charles Huston is right, he’s right. And in his screed in Indiana Policy Review, he’s right.

 

 

 

Where Have All the Women Gone??

Remember the folk song that began “Where have all the flowers gone?” Well, I want to know where all the women candidates have gone. My specific question is: where are the women candidates slated by the parties to run for the Indianapolis City-County Council?

There are 25 districts remaining since the Republicans in the General Assembly eliminated the 4 at-large seats held by Democrats.

The Republicans slated seven women. The Democrats slated only five.

As a mere girl, my math skills are understandably weak, but I believe women are over 50% of the voting public. The Republicans slated women for fewer than 30% of the seats; the Democrats–presumably the party of inclusion and women’s rights–slated women in only 20%.

Worse still, each party refused to slate an incumbent woman who’d been effective and hard-working, but difficult for party bosses to control; the Republicans unceremoniously dumped Christine Scales, who had angered her GOP cohorts by demonstrating independent judgment and a willingness to work across the aisle, and the Democrats decided that LeRoy Robinson–who no longer had an at-large seat and needed to “be taken care of”–should get priority over Angela Mansfield, who has ably represented District 1.

Both women had put the interests of their constituents above partisanship. (Isn’t that just like a woman?!)

Bless their little hearts, those girls didn’t listen to their manly betters, and they needed to be removed.

Message sent and received–and isn’t the bipartisanship of that message encouraging?

No wonder more women don’t run for office.