We Don’t Need No Damn Ethics…Or Cities

As the Indiana General Assembly continues its assault on the goose that lays the state’s golden eggs–aka Indianapolis–members also demonstrate their utter lack of concern for ethical government behavior–state or municipal.

According to the Indianapolis Star, State Senator Jack Sandlin is proposing to void an Indianapolis ethics ordinance that prohibits a county chairperson from doing business with the city. Sandlin’s bill would allow a city employee to serve as both the county party chair and an employee, despite the rather obvious potential for conflicts of interest. 

It just so happens Senate Bill 415 would benefit Cindy Mowery, one of four people who have filed to become chair of the Marion County Republican Party.

Welcome to Indiana, where any pesky ethics law that promises to erect a barrier to problematic behavior can be eliminated by your political buddies!

The legislature’s war on municipal ethics is just one aspect of its constant assault on local control and urban life. There’s a reason that, most years, out-migration in Indiana exceeds  in-migration, and we routinely lose the young people we’ve paid to educate in our universities.

A recent discussion with my youngest son is–unfortunately–illustrative.

My son grew up in Indianapolis, attended college in Chicago, then traveled & worked in Japan. He fell in love with an Indiana woman, and (somewhat reluctantly) returned home. As he tells it, he  was an urban kid who loved cities, and initially, he didn’t see much promise of a vibrant urban life in Indianapolis. But that changed as Indianapolis changed. After living and practicing law in Chicago, he saw the promise of a great quality of life and a reasonable cost of living.  (Needless to say, this made his mother very happy.)

He bought a house in the Old Northside neighborhood, had a family. He and his wife work downtown, their children have attended excellent public schools, they have a wide circle of friends and neighbors with whom they enjoy the urban amenities Indianapolis offers.

So why–as they near college age–is he urging his children to leave Indiana?

He says that, while Indianapolis still has many great things going for it, its future—and especially the future it might be able to offer his children—looks far less rosy,  thanks to the culture of the state. As he says,

Even modest efforts to improve the quality of residents’ lives is threatened by a hostile General Assembly and radicalized state electorate. In most places, cities enjoy a measure of local control, or “home rule.”  Not Indianapolis — at least not today… 

Indiana’s Republicans have gerrymandered electoral districts, with predictable effects on Indiana’s politics. It turned a “conservative” state into something else entirely; the party of “limited government” has become the party of “intrusive central control.” Republican legislators have stripped (or sought to strip) Indianapolis voters of the right to decide quintessentially local matters: to decide how much in local taxes it can raise to provide essential services, to elect local judges, to decide questions of educational funding for public schools, and most recently, even to regulate local matters like zoning, landlord-tenant relations and the issuance of gun permits. None of these limits are placed on rural, largely white counties; only on Marion County (Indianapolis).

My kids are approaching college-age, and I am encouraging them to leave Indiana. Why?

Because I don’t know what life holds for them. I don’t know if they will be fortunate, healthy, and financially secure; or whether they will be dealt setbacks that might make them need assistance or the support and protection of local government.  What I do know is that I want them to find a place—a community—that cares for all its people, not just the wealthy, and not just white people.  Which is why I am strongly encouraging my kids to find universities outside of Indiana and, thereafter, to find a place where people care for each other more than we do in this state. 

 I chose Indianapolis for a quality of life that is, piece by piece, being eliminated as the Indiana General Assembly decides that city folk can’t be trusted to govern themselves or to invest in people or a better quality of place. 

Ultimately, I want my kids to find a place that cares for its people, even if doing so costs a little more.  I want them to live in a place where their vote over purely local affairs matters at least as much as the vote of a rural Trump-loving farmer—and, importantly, where the politics are not animated so much by white grievance. 

Unfortunately, that place isn’t Indiana.


  1. “Unfortunately, that place isn’t Indiana.” And it never will be. For that matter there are few states that even come close to that ideal.
    Poor, poor America. The richest poor country on the planet.

  2. I read a comment earlier from someone in IN that said she didn’t want to get vaccinated to travel because the USA was a beautiful country, no need to leave it! That right there is one reason why I will never live in Indiana again and after my Mother passes, I probably won’t ever visit either. As much as I love reading this blog from Indy, Sheila’s thinking is rare there. It’s pathetic what “conservatives” have done to the Hoosier state. All the best to the regular posters there. Good luck with that.

  3. I am going to use today’s blog, “We Don’t Need No Damn Ethics…Or Cities” to retrace my steps to yesterday’s blog “dedicated” to the reaction to the death of Rush Limbaugh. We needed no reminders that President Biden requested flags be flown at half-mast to memorialize the Covid-19 deaths of over 500,000 Americans which appeared to many of those who chose to see the lowered flags as honoring Rush Limbaugh. Indiana is a bright red Republican state; home of many thousands who idolized Rush and continue to support Donald Trump and his Republican party. Among those continuing the “stop the steal” locally and will be honoring the Golden Horse’s Ass statue of Trump at CPAC today will be some of those named in this blog who support the lineage of “conflict of interest” Republican politics in this state. The name “Mowery” is long known in the local Republican political scene and a leader in the fact, “It turned a “conservative” state into something else entirely; the party of “limited government” has become the party of “intrusive central control.”

    Much as it sickens me; I want to watch every word out of Donald Trump’s mouth today at CPAC; the spirit of Rush will be the guiding light of many who continue to support “stop the steal” of the 2020 presidential election and those from Indiana will return to use their renewed energy to “stop the steal” in elections in our cities and state. What better way for local authorities to steal our elections than supporting Senate Bill 415 in preparation for 2022 and 2024?

  4. My children are the same age and they are getting (and giving us – they get it, too) the same message.

  5. Both of my children left after getting their degrees from our fine universities. My husband and I have contemplated following, the things holding us back are cost of living in retirement and healthcare. We now live in a nation where those things are real barriers for most retirees.

  6. You can run but you can’t hide!

    The grass is always greener on the other side, but I’ve been around long enough to know there are plenty of weeds that blend in with that green grass. And there’s just as many on your side of the fence as there is on the other.

    It doesn’t matter whether it’s Democratic or Republican, all cities are ethically challenged in some form or fashion. And, if you can find a particular city that suits your fancy, what other issues present themselves? Is it coastal? Climate change and storm issues? My cousin fled to California because he did not like it here, and found himself in the middle of wildfires for the past 3 years of his 5 years living there. He’s already had to move once.

    What about drought zones? Hurricanes? Increased flooding? Tornado alley? Ungodly frigid temperatures? Ungodly heat? Sometimes politics can be the least serious problem. A few years back we almost bought a 6 acre farmett in the mountains of Puerto Rico, a real paradise, fortunately for us and unfortunately for Puerto Rico, Irma and Maria devastated the island before we signed our paperwork. The concrete buildings, the coffee bean bushes, the avocados, the banana trees, the mango trees, all gone!

    Africa? Religious turmoil, ethnic turmoil and rampant disease, Europe? The specter of Russia always hangs over Europe, and so does white nationalism and unstable governments! Asia? Myanmar was supposed to be one of the best places to retire or ex-pats, and, the specter of China and its totalitarian government along with its satellites including North Korea, should bring great angst towards any foreign citizens. After all look what they’ve done with their annexation of Uighur territory in the 50s, and the Chinese building of massive concentration camps for millions of ethnic Uighurs!

    Japan has their issues with nuclear contamination and tsunamis and earthquakes, the cultural differences are actually enjoyable but there is a prejudice against foreign residents there just as there are in most places.

    Like I said, you can run, but you can’t hide! Sometimes it’s best to deal with the devil you know.

    Ethics can be litigated at the federal level, sometimes it’s best to start start change instead of jumping on a bandwagon. The decay of society is going to continue because of the sheer exhaustion of unethical onslaught. Sometimes you have to flood the courts and exhaust the other side. You can travel the expanse of this very small globe we live on, and never find a panacea.

  7. It might just be time to set the law school students to the task of finding a basis on which the city might sue the state over the disparate treatment of its citizens. Failing that, form a council of citizens and corporations who might begin a tax rebellion and withhold payments of state taxes until such time as equity is returned to the citizens. Place the money in an escrow account and be as loud and irritating as can be regarding the right of a city to be free from punishment for success. It might not be legal, but it is ethical.

  8. If I didn’t have an aging family down the street and a child still in school, I’d be long gone from this Republican-run hell hole that has no future.

    We hate China, yet 33% of the pork we raise on polluting CAFOs goes to China. It boggles my mind just how pervasively hypocritically Hoosiers have become. I think it’s a matter of intelligence. As the studies show, the kids have great access to fine educational options, but our attainment factor goes way down since they leave.

    We have access to Wikipedia and the internet, yet people choose to remain ignorant. It’s almost a virus in Indiana.

    There are no ethics in Indy or Washington – how could there be?

    I remember Obama giving another great scolding speech to an assembled Congress about insider trading. Do you honestly think any of them stopped insider trading? LOL

    Obama’s retirement plan is $400,000 speeches to Wall Street. How he kept a straight face when scolding others is amazing.

    If the Oligarchy is corrupt and unethical, why should their hired hands be any different? When our SCOTUS gave the thumbs up for corruption and bribery, why should politicians act morally or ethically.

    We are now a Kakistocracy heading toward ____________…

    Is it any wonder the stooges in Washington have set the stage, with the help of the Oligarchs, to strip more civil liberties from protestors and activists because there will be more and more people wanting to hit the streets as we go from really bad to worse?

  9. John Sorg,
    I recently saw an article that said if you want to avoid the worst of climant change in the continental US, Milwaukee Wisconsin is in the sweet spot. The Wisconsin politics might be another story.

  10. I’ve been in Florida, for the last 1 1/2 years which means that I’ve got Scott and Rubio (ugh! & ugh!) for federal (feral?)senators, and DeSantis for gov’r. The latter asked that flags be put at half staff for the loudmouth. And we have more than our share of voter disenfranchisement.
    But, the situation in Indiana sounds closer to local Fascism, with the “intrusive central control,” think “dictatorship.”
    It seems that having once had a taste of unbridled power, the Indiana legislature became addicted to it, and feels a need for the “More!” of Rocko, in the movie “Key Largo;” has a need to squeeze the last pits of “pernicious” humanity from the city. But, this is the state that elected Pence as Its gov’r, once upon a time!
    I expect that I will not be around to witness the possible impact of global warming on the reportedly Trump loving farmers, in Indiana, or elsewhere, but, somewhere along the way, it might occur to them that they’ve been among the crowds that have been bamboozled by the Orange Empty, and his obeisance to the fossil fuel industry.

  11. If you’re thinking of moving out of Indiana….and I can’t blame you, think about moving to a state nearing its tipping point from Red to Blue. Texas comes to mind. as much as I dislike the South. Perhaps others might not find it so repulsive. But if not Texas then perhaps North Carolina?

    I’m afraid the Greater Midwest is pretty much lost to the radical right for the next several generations so no use wasting that valuable Blue vote in a sea of Red or wherever there are already sufficient Blue voters that yours won’t really make a difference.

  12. Puny politics produce puny results. What goes round comes round. The urban rural artificial competition and conflict is not unique to Indiana. This is one rant we cannot claim exclusive as our own alone.

  13. @ Terry Franzman. Thank you for suggesting Texas as alternative. I grew up there and spent several years in a career there. Before you blow you wad on expensive relocation, consider this. There are 254 county seats most of them rural where the most exciting diversion is Walmart to buy deer licks for your hunting lease. You’ve heard about the devastating power grid failures? Many of these small government counties whose constituents suffered literally untold losses do not qualify for federal disaster aid. Why? Because they take so much pride in small government they do not even have minimal capacity to generate data to make their case. No. I choose Indiana any day … our warts are on a much smaller scale.

  14. I grew up in Indy, but have lived for forty years in Bloomington. Bloomington also is regularly “punished” by the State of Indiana–for being a Democratic town. Our City Council (Democrats, all), was prepared to ban plastic bags, and the State shut that down. Our Democratic mayor tried to annex several areas into the city–some of which were actual islands of county property, surrounded by the City. One of those is only about four blocks long! The State decreed that the mayor could not annex, but the Supreme Court of Indiana ruled that blockage was unconstitutional. The city has had to pay for lawyers–and has lost out on taxes that would have been paid by those who would have been annexed. My people have been in Indiana since 1820, but I’m seriously considering moving to Maryland, where our daughter lives. She left Indiana shortly after college and will never return.

  15. I wonder if it would strengthen our case to sue the state in partnership with some of these communities devastated by the stench and pollution of the CAFO’s?

  16. Indianapolis city leaders have repeatedly showed themselves to be fiscally irresponsible. So while I concur with Sheila about the particulars of what they’re doing, the overall idea of state officials taking away power from Indy city officials is something I support.

    Look at the 50 year parking meter contract and Indy taxpayers being forced to pay for the Broad Ripple parking garage which was a gift to a politically-connected contractor. In fact, across the city you can see pay-to-play corporate welfare projects for politically connected developers. That is not an R or D thing. It has long been the norm in Indianapolis, regardless of whether Ds or Rs control local government. Indianapolis city officials love soaking local taxpayers for corporate welfare projects. And don’t even get me started with Indy’s abuse of TIFs and how that depletes resources for local gov’t services for things like police and fire protection and schools.

    We’ve had the Indianapolis council float 30 year bonds to pay for repaving of roads. (That’s like taking out a 30 year mortgage on your house to buy a car that will last 5 years.) Indianapolis is constantly borrowing from the future to spend money today. When the state legislature says Indianapolis can raise a tax, Indy city officials always max out the tax. Indianapolis/Marion County has the highest local taxes in the state by far. Our local elected officials just do not seem to care much about Indianapolis taxpayers and what’s best for them. It’s always about throwing taxpayer money at politically-connected developers, contractors and law firms.

    And let’s not forget the sweetheart Colts and Pacers stadium deals. We are constantly throwing taxpayer money at those organizations.

    We’ve not had good fiscal stewardship of Indianapolis for a long, long time.

  17. Dan @ 9:27 AM

    Yes, Milwaukee is only a 30 minute drive north for me. Chicago is a 30 minute drive south. A lot of warts in both. But Milwaukee is, or at least was before the pandemic, a haven for artists and younger folks. A lot of beautiful loft apartments in the industrial district, a lot of beautiful historic homes along the lakefront. A lot of eclectic clubs and venues, a landmark art museum, a world-class zoo, the Milwaukee Museum is a family destination. Their summer festivals are also a point of destination. The University of Wisconsin is right outside, and you have the University of Chicago and Northwestern University an hour or so to the South over the state line. Taxes are always a bone of contention, Wisconsin’s taxes are much lower than those in Illinois. That in of itself makes the Cheesehead state more attractive all the time, LOL!

  18. Oh, I forgot. Our newly elected city-county council recently decided to take out a 25 year bond to support, another, expansion of the convention center and the building of two new downtown hotels. In the middle of a pandemic, no less. Completely irresponsible. Even before Covid-19 hit, convention center business has been in a steep decline. Our city-county council spends money like the proverbial drunken sailors on a day pass.

  19. When you look at the hoopla coming from Orlando you would think that Trumpocracy was winning. Why else would they put on such a show even including a golden idol? Instead I hear the desperation that Trump has projected all of his life. Without attention, he’s revealed to be a nobody. Conservatives have to put on a racket to hold on to the only people that they fooled which is a declining base of voters. Their racket is necessary to survive but costing them the ability to grow.

    Democracy has got this. It’s slow though.

  20. When I moved to this state, there was a Democrat for Governor and some balance to the legislature. I’m from Texas and remember Governor Ann Richards and Barbara Jordan. Texas wasn’t always Ted Cruz’s state and Beto came close to beating him. I don’t know Indiana as well as all of you do. Where did all those voters go who used to give more balance to this state? We need to take lessons from Stacy Abrams. More reaching out to find the voters who can make a difference and bring back some balance. Work for change. Some of us can’t just run away looking for the perfect state.

  21. Pete@11:47 AM

    Guess where the golden idol was manufactured?

    Mexico! LOL, you can’t make this up.

  22. Here are some facts about the economic development of the city.
    There were outcries starting decades ago about the pollution of White River due to combined sewer overflows. The Federal Government was willing then to help or pay all to correct the system. Indianapolis turned them down because they did not want all that federal interference in local government. So the city put it off for the next thirty years of Republican governing until in 2000 the city was forced to solve the problem. No big federal money was then forthcoming. Everyone in Indy now pays for that sewer fix on their water bill every month.
    At the same time it was discovered that Indy taxes had been kept low by taking money out of the police and fire pensions. Another fine mess the Republicans left behind.
    After eight years of Democrats cleaning up the monumental messes left by Lugar and Goldsmith the Republicans returned for more mess. Anyone remember the “cricket park”? How about East Gate Mall? The re-sell of the water company?
    No, those fiscal messes did not occur under Democrat leadership. They were from the ideological mind set that is now pounding the entire state back into the last century.

  23. Nirvana is unavailable to (as my old World Politics professor called us) homo saps. It is a mere concept detached from the reality of the human experience. However, since there are degrees of our striving for it, we can do better than Indiana. Colorado and Washington state come to mind.

    From the late 1950s to 1970 I had a law office in the Circle Tower Building in Indianapolis. I left there for greener pastures (and Ninth Circuit jurisdiction) and have not been back as a citizen since though I am currently retired and living in suburban Bloomington, Indiana (a blue dot in a sea of red) rather than my house in Florida due to that governor’s Trumpish mishandling of the Covid crisis. Florida is no nirvana, either. There is more to living in a state than palm trees and warm weather, and in looking over the rest of America I’m beginning to think ex-pat. I ran down to Belize several months ago, passed, and next is for a look at Costa Rica, failing which I am thinking southern France or Salonica in Greece, home of Aristotle University. One need not give up his/her citizenship to reside elsewhere.

    I realize that not everyone has such an ability to choose. For instance, my four kids are stuck in Indiana for various reasons, i.e., family, work, social network etc. Perhaps Sheila’s grandchildren can make their moves to greener pastures before being caught up in such strictures, as has her son who lives in Amsterdam.

  24. I would agree with Paul Ogden’s comment @ 11:33 am.

    Eugene Debs described Indianapolis rather well:
    “The Republican and Democratic parties are alike capitalist parties — differing only in being committed to different sets of capitalist interests — they have the same principles under varying colors, are equally corrupt and are one in their subservience to capital and their hostility to labor.”

    I have long thought of Indianapolis as having a Republicrat Party dedicated to Crony-Capitalism. as Paul has alluded to -The R’s and the D’s have as a Core Value Crony-Capitalism as evidenced by the various points that Paul makes as examples.

    We do not have enough tax dollars to buy more parkland or expand Indy Go – We have plenty of money to subsidize the Colts and Pacers.

  25. During the 1920’s, the KKK ran the politics in Indiana. During the 1930’s there was a lynching in Marion, IN. Indiana is still known as “the only southern state in the north”. As distressing as it is, the current political state of affairs doesn’t surprise me. We just have to keep fighting back so that “they” don’t totally get away with it. Stacey Abrams showed us that it can be done.

  26. I agree with the Stacey Abrams approach – dig in and change things for the better. It’s work, but that’s what self-government is about – participating.

    “Escaping” to another state can greatly disappoint. I would never have imagined that Michigan would pass right-to-work legislation or progressive Wisconsin would enact school vouchers or Florida would so brazenly ignore the COVID precautions that endanger senior citizens. But then I never expected Georgia and Arizona to vote for a Democratic President either. Neither did anyone expect Lyndon Johnson to become the breakthrough president to cajole and wheel-and-deal passage of civil rights and voting rights legislation for African Americans.

    The price of liberty is ETERNAL vigilance and activism. Thankfully Sheila helps keep us informed. I hope every reader will share her posts and help register and turnout voters to effect the change you desire.

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