Category Archives: Public Policy and Governance

Real World Choices

In 1980, I was the Republican candidate running for Congress against Andy Jacobs, Jr..

Andy was an enormously likable and popular guy, who consistently won in a Republican district.  I never failed to make the point that the most important vote he cast was for Speaker of the House. If voters preferred that the GOP (which then included lots of fiscally-conservative, socially moderate, sane folks) control Congress, they needed to cast their votes accordingly.

It wasn’t a very persuasive argument. People like to believe that individual lawmakers (and Presidents, for that matter) can make more of a difference than they really can. And in all fairness, in 1980 there were a lot of officeholders in both parties who worked across the aisle.

That was then. Paul Krugman recently summarized where we are now.

There has never been a time in American history when the alleged personal traits of candidates mattered less. As we head into 2016, each party is quite unified on major policy issues — and these unified positions are very far from each other. The huge, substantive gulf between the parties will be reflected in the policy positions of whomever they nominate, and will almost surely be reflected in the actual policies adopted by whoever wins.

Krugman goes on to list the vastly different political priorities of today’s Republicans and Democrats, and to offer some reasons for what he calls the greatest partisan polarization since the Civil War.

My own shorthand–my own “litmus test” is simple: I’ve given up voting for the “best candidate,” or even for the “lesser of two evils.”  I vote for the candidate whose party is currently pandering to the least dangerous special interests.

We know who calls the shots in the party of Mike Pence, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers. Even if a slightly less rabid nominee emerges, he (it is very unlikely to be a she) will owe his soul to the theocrats and plutocrats of the very far right.

That’s damaging enough in Indiana, as we’ve seen. But it’s truly unthinkable at the national level; among other things, the next President is likely to fill several Supreme Court vacancies.

You don’t have to be thrilled with the Democrats, or a fan of Hillary Clinton (to be candid, I’m neither), to understand your real-world options.

 

 

 

Shenanigans and the Proposed Justice Center

The Ballard Administration’s proposal to build a new Justice Center complex across the river from downtown just hasn’t smelled right for a whole host of reasons.

No one seriously doubts the need for such a facility, but critics have raised a host of legitimate concerns about this particular proposal. The excessive secrecy with which bids were solicited and evaluated raised red flags. The decision to use private financing via a lease/purchase when a public bond issue would be significantly cheaper makes no sense. The Council’s fiscal analyst has challenged the accuracy of claims that cost savings would cover lease payments without a need to raise taxes.

It isn’t just fiscal concerns, important as those are. Prior administrations have spent millions of dollars and much political capital building a robust downtown; what will happen to that downtown market if lawyers and other justice system enterprises (from bondsmen to court reporters) no longer work, shop and eat in the center city?

Architects and city planners have panned the design, and criminal justice reform groups have warned that going ahead as currently planned will foreclose needed changes to a dysfunctional system.

The Administration has ignored the critics, shrugged off the concerns and intensified pressure on the Council for a quick approval. That insistence on the need for haste has been unseemly, considering the huge amounts of money involved and the important issues raised, and Councilors on both sides of the aisle have expressed a desire to engage in a far more thorough and public review.

Unseemly, however, wasn’t the word that came to mind when I read the following in the Indiana Lawyer. 

Indianapolis City-County Council Chief Financial Officer Bart Brown said councilors have told him they’ve been offered up to $50 million in projects spread among five districts if they vote to approve the proposed $1.6 billion criminal justice complex.

The Administration has dismissed these allegations as “rumor,” and I certainly have no independent evidence one way or the other. It seems highly  unlikely, however, that five City-County Council members would invent such a story out of whole cloth.

As I wrote last month,

a deal this complex and expensive, intended to span this long a time-frame, needs to be done right. That means it needs to be thoroughly vetted by all stakeholders. I get suspicious when we’re given a short window within which to commit vast amounts of public money, and when the purported need for speed is based upon dark warnings that we need to move quickly in order to “lock in” benefits we aren’t even sure are there. 

I get a lot more suspicious when those lobbying for speed are offering a quid pro quo.

I suspect that someone stands to make a lot of money, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t us taxpayers.

And We Wonder Why People Don’t Vote…

Can you spell Glenda Ritz?

Per the Indianapolis Star,

A bill that would result in the ousting of Glenda Ritz as the chair of the Indiana State Board of Education passed the House on Tuesday, moving a step closer to becoming a law….

The bill, which the House passed by a 56-41 vote, marks the latest blow to Ritz’s authority over education in Indiana.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know whether Ritz is competent or a complete doofus–and it doesn’t matter.  Indiana voters elected her. By a substantial margin. She got significantly more votes than Governor Pence (who, I note in passing, has shown himself to be a complete doofus without engendering legislation stripping him of his position).

Ritz’s election annoyed the arrogant Super Majority in our embarrassing, hyper-partisan and tone-deaf legislature. So they decided to reverse the election results and neuter her–and to symbolically spit on everyone who had voted for her. Because they could.

Let’s see: so far this session, the Governor and legislature have undermined thirty years of civic effort to sell Indiana as a welcoming place to live, turned down federal money that would have benefitted poor preschool children, created a “news bureau” that became a national laughingstock before being ignominiously abandoned, voted against use of the Common Construction wage (ignoring warnings by construction company owners and workers alike that the move will cost Indiana jobs), sent a “FU” message to the EPA….the list goes on.

We can only hope the General Assembly goes home before it can help the Governor do more damage.

Meanwhile, Hoosiers who support teachers, contractors, the environment, civil rights for LGBT folks, a free press and/or that pesky thing called democracy need to figure out how to make our votes count–and stick–in future elections.

 

Would You Like a Side of Humiliation with That?

Do you suppose the Wicked Witch was green because she envied Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s heartlessness? I mean, she was from Kansas.

Since his election, Brownback has doggedly followed the True Conservative Playbook, not allowing his state’s resulting fiscal crisis to deter him from his ideological certitude. He’s cut taxes for the rich and services for everyone else; he’s signed increasingly draconian anti-abortion bills and bills eliminating even modest restrictions on gun ownership; and he’s been especially enthusiastic about shaming and punishing the people his policies have hurt the most: the poor.

Brownback has steadfastly refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would have paid for that expansion, but evidently just denying poor folks access to health insurance wasn’t mean-spirited enough for Brownback and Kansas lawmakers.

As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank recently wrote

Last week, the Kansas legislature passed House Bill 2258, punishing the poor by limiting their cash withdrawals of welfare benefits to $25 per day and forbidding them to use their benefits “in any retail liquor store, casino, gaming establishment, jewelry store, tattoo parlor, massage parlor, body piercing parlor, spa, nail salon, lingerie shop, tobacco paraphernalia store, vapor cigarette store, psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park, dog or horse racing facility, pari-mutuel facility, or sexually oriented business . . . or in any business or retail establishment where minors under age 18 are not permitted.”

Because, you know, freedom.

Of course, poor people in Kansas can still use their benefits to buy guns and ammunition…And really, aren’t you tired of running into all those welfare moms on cruise ships?

Jon Stewart summed it up best in a biting Daily Show opening bit (I will SO miss him!)

Remind me–where in that bible they keep thumping does Jesus tell “good Christians” like Brownback to “shame and demean the poor, for they are wretched in the sight of God”??

 

 

Plastic Bags and Local Control

When I become morose about the sad level of policy in Indiana, a news item will often remind me that We Are Not Alone.

We have an excellent recent example from Arizona. Arizona is one of those states that can be depended upon to resist federal mandates and trumpet the virtues of local control. State level local control, that is. (Much like with Indiana, what state-level lawmakers really want is the ability to thumb their noses at both the federal government and local political subdivisions. If the statehouse exercises authority, it’s good; if a city or county wants freedom to manage its own affairs, that’s terrible.)

Case in point: Arizona just passed a bill banning efforts by local government units to discourage the use of plastic bags. As the New York Times reported,

State Senator Nancy Barto, the bill’s sponsor and a Republican, said that “excessive regulation on containers creates more work and cost for retailers and other businesses — and leads to higher consumer cost and a drag on economic growth.” She added: “Municipalities acting on their own to implement these mandates run counter to the state’s goal to overcome Arizona’s sluggish job growth and economic stability.”

The only city to carry out any such rule is Bisbee, southeast of Tucson, which banned single-use plastic bags and requires a 5-cent charge per paper bag.

Lauren Kuby, a city councilwoman in Tempe, cited estimates that 50 million single-use plastic bags are used each year in the city and that less than 5 percent are recycled. She said the city faced costs from litter, as well as from the damage the plastic bags caused to machinery at recycling facilities.

Allowing cities and towns to decide for themselves which policy is most cost-effective and/or environmentally sound is evidently unthinkable in Arizona’s statehouse.

Sounds a lot like Indiana, where lawmakers deeply resent regulation by the federal government, but made Indianapolis beg for three plus years for permission to hold a referendum on whether to tax ourselves to support decent public transportation.