The State of the Governor

So–I poured a stiff drink and listened to Mike Pence deliver (his version of) the “State of the State.”

The word “smarmy” comes to mind.

There is much that might be said about this particular effort to put lipstick on a pig–the state he described is not one I recognized, nor the state that widely available data describes.  (My son, with whom I was watching, asked what grade I would give a student whose assignment was to deliver an accurate assessment of Indiana’s economic and social well-being and utterly failed to do so.)

There were some truly cringeworthy moments. The Governor, you may be surprised to learn, is “honored to be the Commander in Chief” of Indiana’s National Guard. At the conclusion of the forced, wooden speech—a pastiche of talking points and trite adages that met with dutiful but definitely not enthusiastic applause—he declaimed several lines from  “On the Banks of the Wabash.”

The part of the speech that the entire state was waiting for—the Governor’s position on extending state civil rights protections to LGBT Hoosiers—came at the end, and the Governor’s discomfort was palpable.

Pence assured everyone that he had “prayed” about the issue. (Clearly he hadn’t thought about it—but then, nothing in the speech gave evidence of much thought.) He reprised his “Hoosiers are good people who don’t discriminate” mantra and then engaged in a rambling discourse about the importance of religious liberty.

Bottom line: he won’t sign a bill that deprives religious folks of their ability to act on their beliefs everywhere—including at work.

There are two rather obvious responses to that declaration, one legal and one political.

First, the Constitution protects citizens’ right to believe anything. Full stop. It does not, however, protect an untrammeled right to act on the basis of religious doctrine. If my sincerely held religious belief requires me to sacrifice my first-born, or take drugs, or murder abortion doctors, or cheat nonbelievers, the government has the right to step in and say “too far.”

People of good will can disagree about the specific rules that are necessary to a fair and functioning society, but the Constitutions of the United States and Indiana have never been interpreted to privilege socially harmful behaviors simply because those behaviors are religiously motivated.

Second—and here, I admit to more than a bit of shadenfreude—Governor Pence has wedged himself firmly between a political rock and hard place.

The religious extremists who have always been his base will desert him in a heartbeat if he signs any bill that, in their eyes, “legitimizes” LGBT Hoosiers. Meanwhile, polls confirm that a solid majority of Indiana voters support adding “four words and a comma” to the state’s civil rights statute. And given this administration’s other blunders—its unremitting war on public education and  Glenda Ritz, the proposed “news bureau,” the lack of attention to Indiana’s crumbling infrastructure, etcetera etcetera—Pence simply does not have political capital sufficient to weather widespread disapproval of this particular culture war battle.

The wooden and forced delivery of last night’s platitudes suggests that the reality of his position is beginning to dawn on our “Christian soldier” Governor.


  1. Ken, the reason that Republicans are so absolutely clueless about macro economics is that they’re trained to believe that social welfare is expensive when it’s virtually insignificant compared to military and corporate welfare.

  2. Pete! What liberals fail to realize is that social welfare programs, while not financially costly, do tremendous damage to the self image of the recipients. I see students every day who have no ambition because they are going to live off welfare.

  3. How do you assess the “damage to the self image of the recipients” vs the damage of hunger, disease, and homelessness?

  4. Pete! I don’t suggest that the poor do not need help. What we need is a reassessment of how we give help. Let’s get back on the goal of JFK to lift people out of poverty. You remember the old tag line, “We don’t want a hand out, just a hand!”? The liberal mantra is, “Send more!” The conservative alternative is, “Spend smart!” Shouldn’t we eliminate the incentive for fathers to not marry the mother of their child and leave their children?Isn’t it prudent to stop the disincentive for working? Is it unreasonable to expect (and incentivize) self help among the poor? People who get free housing don’t not take care of it. Those who contribute money and labor (Habitat for Humanity) to their housing treat it better. Pete, walk into lunch at an urban middle school and interview students at random. Ask about their goals. Typically, professional athlete & entertainer are only surpassed by welfare.

  5. Ken, the government already has in place the most cost effective solution to poverty. Education. It will never be perfect. There will always be poverty. The goal is only to minimize the worst impacts of it like crime. Anybody who thinks that the goal is perfection is delusional.

    Government is doing their share, business is not. They largely avoid job training now. They want to take money from education and make money in the charter schools business. Their compensation policies for low skill jobs are only a small step from slavery with the expectation that government will pay the rest of the cost of living.

    The path to reducing poverty and its handmaiden crime is addressed by business only by increasing it by luring even cheaper labor over the border and off shoring the jobs that would reduce it some here.

    The job of business is to require more from government then complain about taxes. And you say it’s about spending smart. Another delusion Ken.

  6. Do the rest of you share Pete’s view that the welfare system is just fine and serving society well? When Senator Moynihan agonized about single parent households the rate in the minority community was about 1/4. Today it is close to 3/4 with more than 1/4 living with neither parent. Pete seems to think the only reason the situation is not virtually eliminated is because of mean old business. Government plans with their bureaucracy, abuse, and waste play no role in keeping the poor where they are. BTW, I did a quick check in central Indiana, the average charter school gets about 2/3 as much money from the state per student as Carmel-Clay schools, and Carmel-Clay gets 1/2 what IPS gets. I do not know of any charter school will succeed, but I attended suburban school board meeting where the board rejected a charter school targeting k-3 minority students because their pre-school parents begged them to try. The superintendent said that it was unnecessary because that demographic was improving. I checked! The pass rate went from 29% to 33.5% in three years. With that rate of success another generation or two of these students are lost.

  7. Ken, like most liberals I am completely open to better in everything. Unfortunately conservatives define better only as smaller government and wealthier wealthy and both have demonstrated conclusively as resulting in worse.

    It’s the same as climate change. Conservatives want a reality for which there is contrary evidence. Liberals accept evidence based reality.

    Humanity doesn’t create reality, we discover it. I’m going with what we’ve discovered not what I wish was true.

  8. I think that stay at home folks have never seen real poverty. I, fortunately for my handle on reality, have. Both in America long ago and in Africa more recently. Fortunately it’s been for me from the outside in rather than vice versa. I’ve never been forced to miss a meal. That makes it easy to see the success of our social welfare system that conservatives try so hard to dismantle in order to promote wealthier wealthy. Of course the evidence of ridiculously wealthy wealthy here is dramatic.

    There are two ways to view real poverty: as suffering people or as victims of crime the poor have no alternative to in order to survive. Take your pick.

    Conservative leaders sell fear which is sustenance for conservative herds.

    Live free, informed and unafraid.

  9. Oh, one other point Ken. I don’t regard business as “mean” but only what the are. Make more money regardless of the cost to others. That mission provides jobs and goods and services. That’s good but there’s absolutely no reason to expect more than that well limited mission implies.

  10. So how would you suggest that we make an effort to improve social welfare? How do we wake up a township superintendent who thinks improving pass rates from 29% to 33.5% in three years is acceptable? Unfortunately, the temptation for almost any problem seems to be: throw more money at it. At its inception as a cabinet level agency, the dept of education’s mission was to return this country to leadership in the world. Since that time, our ranking has declined steadily. I am sure you have heard the definition of insanity: doing things the same way and expecting a different outcome. I can accept you belief that evil conservatives will not fix it, but I would expect innovative liberals to not accept the status quo when the status quo has not worked.

  11. I personally think that Common Core was an improvement because it identified outstanding teachers as a step towards allowing them to lead their profession. Perhaps it was too much too quickly but that can be adjusted.

    I think that we need to stop the charter school business. They’ve been mostly a failure in business and education and will die off for those reasons at some rate.

    I believe that we need to do some reprioritization between students that need extra help and those with extraordinary ability who we are not now taking advantage of enough.

    Finally, in balance, I think we’ve gone too far in balancing parent and educator decision rights. It was too far towards educators when I was growing up but now it’s too far the other way.

    The most important government expenditures now are education and energy. Business is an obstacle in both but that can be overcome, and is being, by effective government.

    I think that most social welfare is about right. We need perhaps to spend more on social workers to reduce welfare fraud.

  12. One other priority on the periphery of social welfare is health care which has been completely screwed up by business in the absence of competition. ACA was the cautious approach as Common Core was not. We need to build over time on ACA until all medicine is evidence based instead of profit based.

  13. Pete, I’ve nothing against Common Core; however, Common Core Curriculum has absolutely nothing to do with identifying stellar classroom teachers.

  14. Take an anonymous poll with teachers and find out that Common Core is a nightmare. As with many liberal notions, the goal is admirable but the results are no where near intended. No Child Left Behind (I know, thanks to Dubya) was and is a fiasco. Schools must write a 200 page report on NCLB that compares this year’s third graders to last year’s third graders. One of the schools in my district has a 62% annual student turnover. If we compared this year’s third graders to last year’s second graders, and exclude the third graders we just got, maybe there is some value to such analysis.
    I also get that income redistribution is a goal, but until ACA I thought you wanted to take from the rich to give to the poor, but I was wrong. The impact on the rich from ACA is virtually zero, but everyone above 2x the poverty level is worse off from a premium standpoint not to mention 4-10 the deductible. Pete, not that you care about credibility with me, but you could go a long way if you looked critically at anything but business and conservatives.
    I see nothing wrong with your energy/education priorities, there needs to be a far greater accountability than anything so far. POTUS bribed states to accept Common Core. Very similar to the con job about reducing premiums to get ACA.

  15. It would appear that we’re making progress Ken. Good.

    Many teachers don’t like common core but it wasn’t implemented for them. It was implemented to move towards less variable education that colleges and businesses could count more on. In the manufacturing world that’s called process control and it was understood to be the main reason that Japanese car companies left ours in the dust.

    Teachers perhaps got too used to minimal supervision and accountability and that is understandably difficult for anybody to give up.

    Possibly it was too much too suddenly but I think that the goals are indisputable.

    ACA’s goals are to insist on people bring responsible for the cost of their own health care and it is a remarkable success. As a by-product it enhanced competition among private health insurance companies and eliminated several deceptive practices.

    It’s a small step but the journey of a thousand miles as they say begins with a single step.

    It will go down in history as, like climate change, revealing several political deceptive practices too like broadcasting fear through misinformation.

    Obama’s performance following Bush is the perfect storm for Republicans. They’ve tried desperate measures and 2016 will reveal their massive failure. They’ve created now a monster of a dysfunctional base that’s turned on them as well as America. The few moderate Republicans left now see that clearly and will either vote Democrat or stay home.

  16. Ken, if the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) wasn’t bad enough for public schools, then Obama’s 2009 introduction of RTT (Race to the Top) pretty much put the icing on the cake of bad ideas for public schools.

    NCLB and RTT are a joint nonpartisan failure, a massive fail that prompted the charter school movement and fed the hungry education reformers who’ve built and funded the growth of a lucrative cottage industry including education consultants from afar, before and after school programs of dubious worth, and has created countless public school job positions for people who have no direct contact with the classroom.

    Both NCLB and RTT are funneling massive amounts of Federal grant money into public school districts, and since 2009 the dysfunctional and failing urban school districts continue to fail despite the influx of Federal monies.

  17. BSH! Could not have summarized more succinctly. Pete! I have not polled vast numbers of teachers, but the dozen or so with whom I have daily contact and the few score more with whom I have weekly contact are not as you describe. There may be two or three who have lost the fire in their belly but most are incredibly dedicated to useful strategies, Common Core is a monumental waste of time. You suggest that it is a good start. There are two problems with that belief. A good start requires more than just a good goal (which common core has). And second, a good start implies that they will make improvements. The federal government has been working toward better education for about 4 decades and we just keep losing ground. Why do you expect any improvements? BTW, No Child Left Behind had some laudable goals at its inception and by any measure has failed miserably, but the bureaucratic nightmare persists.

  18. I think that your judgement about the state of American education is harsher than the evidence would support. I spend a lot of time dealing with bright students in a massive urban school district here and believe they are very bright and ambitious and have virtually unlimited futures.

    The main problem with the other end of the student spectrum are the effects of poverty and poor neighborhoods and ineffective parenting; the kind of problems that can only be reduced in future generations, not here and now.

    Education will have an effect on future generations if education, government, business, politicians, and religions can get back to collaboration as the standard.

    If not no one of them will be successful.

  19. I believe both Ken’s and BSH’s opinions reflect their personal experience in a relatively backwards state with emphasis on failures that they hear about.

    That’s exactly why education needs better metrics, so we have evidence and data about what’s working better and worse and what states should be followed and which should be dragged kicking and screaming up the ladder. Anecdotal opinion cannot be the basis for improvement.

  20. Pete, I believe you are not a career educator. I spent 25 years as an educator in an exemplary public school district on the eastern seacoast, two years in a large university as a demonstration teacher, four years in a rural school district, and the final eight years in an urban school district. I promise not to give my opinions about engineers if you’ll promise not to give your opinions about educators.

  21. BSH! I knew you were a teacher. I would love to pick your brain. I’m working at a middle school and the students aren’t students. I am not willing to give up on bright children just because they are not motivated. I am also certain that Pete is wrong. My experience is not unique and I can change things. Wanna help?

  22. Pete! I am deluded, fooled, naive, not too smart but unlike you, I am skeptical even of things that I want to believe. I find it hardest to understand why a very analytical person such as yourself would so blindly trust a government full of people who from my perspective view their first priority as job security. You refuse to believe that business owners can be motivated by anything but greed but aren’t the least bit suspicious of anyone who claims to favor a liberal cause. Scientists with impressive credentials who question any aspect of climate change are dismissed as whores bought off by the energy industry. The experts on the other side, whether employed by government, NGO’s, or some “favored” energy interest are every bit as capable of having selfish motives as those who have different views from your own.

  23. BSH. I would be very interested in your opinions about any topic. I collect opinions and make my own decision as to their credibility. Typically the more they are supported by evidence the more credible they are.

    I’m not sure why you feel that you can speak for all educators, students and school systems.

  24. Ken, there is a world of difference between skeptical and cynical.

    Skeptics are among the hardest to fool, cynics among the easiest.

    As a skeptic I don’t blindly trust anyone but I do know that government and business draw people from the same pool. Companies have no interest in things other than making more money for themselves regardless of the cost to others. That’s not likely to benefit we the people other than providing jobs and products and services that benefit the company. So I don’t expect anything on top of that.

    Government in a democracy works for we the people and at our joint pleasure. We hire them and fire them. They optimize our big picture or they walk. We have way more control over them than anybody who works for some particular company. That’s why government regulates business not vice versa.

    Ken, live free, informed and unafraid. Trust but verify with evidence.

  25. Ken, humanity has discovered a lot about reality. We know what we know, not individually but collectively. I know for sure enough science to guarantee that increased atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations have as a consequence warming climate just as you probably know that dropping something here that’s not buoyant in our atmosphere will cause it to accelerate towards the center of earth’s mass. It is what it is. Everyone who knows enough physics and chemistry and geology and meteorology knows that gravity and global warming as a function of greenhouse gases is how the universe behaves.

    So how does one explain people who know the science yet deny it? You tell me.

  26. Statistical process control is about as well established a methodology as exists on how to eliminate waste and better satisfy customers: the mission of every organization. Despite that it’s not very likeable stuff. It strikes most people as bureaucratic and regimented and too formulaic but it has been implemented so widely in industry with undeniable success in reducing variability and therefore wasted materials and effort that it’s efficacy is no longer questioned by those who have experienced it.

    In the US education was among the last organizations to attempt implementing it even though its value there is as important as it is to any mission.

    Nobody who has experienced the implementation of it is surprised that people resist its adoption. In most businesses however smart management is insistent for good reason and works through the resistance until the benefits become clear. Then it becomes culture.

    In my experience it follows exactly the same path as computer technology implementation. It’s change. It’s hard until you know it. It’s not the way things used to be done.

    I’ve been involved in many organizational change efforts. They are problematic but necessary. They can be well done or bungled. None of that has to do with their value so ultimately it becomes a problem with an iterative solution. Keep trying. Keep fixing. If A doesn’t work try B or C. Adapt for different groups and individuals.

  27. Pete! That last paragraph is what I’m begging you to consider. If A doesn’t work, try B. Shouldn’t we try that one time with government.

  28. “A” works. Best in world. Best in history. Any doubt in your mind about that?

    But, I’m a big continuous improvement person. We can do better. Every year. That’s called progress.

    Progress doesn’t come from fear. It comes from confidence and optimism.

    That’s what I believe in. Hope and change. I think that democracy has just begun fixing humanities historical limitations but we have to do it within realities constraints.

    I don’t see limitation.

  29. Pete, Ken, and BSH,

    I’m neither and educator or engineer, but I’ll be glad to be a referee if you need one. However, I would say that your time would be better spent, at this time in history, on preventing Ted Cruz from becoming President of the United States of American. He’s much more dangerous than Donald Trump. And that is saying a lot.

    If that happens, you can forget everything. Democracide is one thing. Futurcide is another!

  30. I know this is late to the game, but Ken and Pete – both of you clearly have no idea of what goes on in the world of public education. So I have to agree with Marv. Please spend your time worrying about the potential presidency of Cruz.

  31. Theresa and Marv, I wish this or any election was about picking the best person to be President, but we have made that attempt four times in the last 16 years and the result is that half the country has been outraged. My observation is that the process is flawed because when the election is over, the winning party takes over like a conquering hero. This mainly happens because both sides, on balance, believe the other side is evil and/or stupid. When I first started commenting in this venue, I was mostly ignored and probably still an by most. I think Pete thought I was trolling for sport so he ridiculed my entries. I believe that this country moves forward to a better place only if the multiple views are working in concert. I continue my discussion with Pete to better understand his at least somewhat representative view of the events of the day. I learn something with each exchange. I’m sorry if you think we are wasting time, but I don’t see it that way. Theresa, what have I got wrong about public education?

  32. I agree Ken.

    I disagree Teresa and BSH. In fact the thought that only educators are allowed opinions about education is symptomatic of its current problems.

    Thanks for the offer Marv but I will continue to base my opinions on experience and evidence and education. Why would anyone compromise on that?

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