Category Archives: Local Government

When Representation Doesn’t Represent

I used to joke about watching our wallets–and our liberties–when Indiana’s legislature was in session.

I wish that admonition could be dismissed as just a joke…

I’ve previously detailed some of the weird and worrisome bills introduced this session: Jim Lucas’ effort to give tax credits to the maniacs who purchase deadly weapons; the multitude of bills to steal funds from the state’s public schools; and  thinly-veiled efforts to ban Drag Queen Story Hours, among others.

I’ve also argued that these and many other bills are a dramatic departure from what was previously Republican orthodoxy. In my former party–a party that no longer exists–attempts to tell businesses what they can and cannot invest in or the criteria they should employ when making business decisions would have been unthinkable.

But here we are, with a GOP so radicalized that toxic Congresscritter Jim Banks has a head start in the race for Senate. 

One recent departure from prior GOP orthodoxy is a bill that would prevent the state’s public retirement system from working with banks or investing in funds that prioritize environmental, social or governance policies. That would include those that restrict investments in specified industries, such as coal or firearm manufacturers.

House Bill 1008 has been identified as “priority legislation” for the House Republicans caucus.

As Michael Leppert wrote in a recent column on the issue,

As reported by the New Jersey Monitor last summer, “Nineteen Republican state attorneys general wrote a letter to BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, which manages $10 trillion,” accusing “BlackRock of making decisions based on its alleged political agenda rather than the welfare of state pensions.” Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita was among the signatories. 

If ESG investing is a political position, isn’t blocking or banning that investing also taking a political position? Of course, it is. 

It is the position of Republicans nationally to ignore climate change, and to oppose social progress and governance standards that consider it. SB 292 is the Indiana version of the national GOP political “platform,” if their grievance strategy can actually be called that. 

Last December, I quoted from a column from the Capital Chronicle that illustrated  how very unrepresentative our gerrymandered state legislature is.

Poll after poll and survey after survey shows what Indiana residents are worried about, and what they aren’t.

Bellwether Research’s latest poll in early December surveyed 1,100 Hoosiers representing both the demographic and geographic layout of Indiana. It asked about their top priorities.

Wishes one and two were lowering health care costs and affordable housing, at 31% and 21% respectively….Next up was increasing K-12 education funding at 17%. Nothing after is in double digits…

That poll also found that 56% of Hoosiers believe marijuana should be legal for personal use and 29% for medicinal purposes. Only 15% say it should not be legal. Another found that over 80% of Hoosier parents approved of their children’s school and curriculum.

And don’t get me started on the ban on abortion passed by state legislators despite  repeated polling confirming that Indiana citizens are pro-reproductive-choice by significant margins. Or the willingness of our despicable AG to pay an “extra” 100,000 to harass the doctor who aborted a raped ten-year-old. Or the absence of evidence that Hoosiers really want those legislators to pick on transgender children.

As I noted in that December post–okay, as I’ve noted repeatedly–the enormous disconnect between what Hoosier voters actually want and what we get from our culture warrior lawmakers is a direct result of the extreme gerrymandering that produces safe seats and allows lawmakers to ignore the demonstrated policy preferences of a majority of Indiana citizens.

Gerrymandering, after all, is the very best voter suppression tactic. Why bother to vote when the result has been foreordained–or, to use Trump language, when the election results have already been rigged? Gerrymandering amplifies the power of the fringes–the ideologues and culture warriors who vote in primaries–and effectively disenfranchises the rest of us.

Reporting on the antics at the Statehouse is one of the very few checks on lawmakers bent on pursing their own cultural fixations, and central Indiana has been ill-served by the Star’s devolution into sports and what has been called the “beer beat”–reports on new watering holes. That makes the arrival of the Indiana Capital Chronicle very welcome. The Chronicle describes itself as an “independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections.”

Information, unfortunately, isn’t enough. It will require national legislation to thwart Indiana gerrymandering, since the only way to stop it at the state level requires action from the same politicians who benefit from it.

Hoosiers will see state-level reform at about the same time as we see pigs fly.

Now They’re Coming For The Library

I have tended to laugh when enraged Rightwing parents demand that schools and/or libraries “ban” book X or Y–in our digital age, access to that material is generally a click away. And that’s in addition to several organizations pushing back with offers to send a free copy to any kid who makes a request.

As a parent, I learned early that if you want to get a child–or especially a teenager–to read something, the most effective thing you can do is tell them they can’t.

But there are some more insidious ways to subvert American libraries, and I recently came across an article highlighting one of them.

The article began by pointing to the great value of America’s public libraries

“There aren’t many truly public places left in America,” Jennifer Howard writes in Humanities Magazine. “Most of our shared spaces require money or a certain social status to access. Malls exist to sell people things. Museums discourage loiterers. Coffee shops expect patrons to purchase a drink or snack if they want to enjoy the premises.

“One place, though, remains open to everybody,” she continues. “The public library requires nothing of its visitors: no purchases, no membership fees, no dress code. You can stay all day, and you don’t have to buy anything. You don’t need money or a library card to access a multitude of on-site resources that includes books, e-books and magazines, job-hunting assistance, computer stations, free Wi-Fi, and much more. And the library will never share or sell your personal data.”

It’s evidently the fact that libraries are “public” that most irritates the Right. The article takes an in-depth look at the private company currently pushing a privatization agenda, adding the current political assault on history, diversity, and racial justice to the purported glories of privatization.

That’s what what happened in Huntsville, Texas, where the city council voted to outsource the Huntsville library’s operations after some residents objected to a book display themed around Pride Month.

Lest you shrug and think “well, of course– it’s just Texas,” think again.

According to the article, a one-time software company called Library Systems & Services (LS&S), backed by  Argosy Capital Group, a private venture firm, has doubled its size and in the past decade has taken over 17 library systems in five states. It runs over 80 branches, and is now the nation’s fifth-largest library system.

So what happens when the private sector takes over a public good–in this case, the public library?

When LS&S takes over, it receives a set fee from a local government. The corporation gets control over the collection, services, and programs. Most important, it takes over staffing. Librarians at these facilities are no longer public servants; they serve at the pleasure of LS&S. Although it has been building its portfolio since the late 1990s, LS&S has met with little competition; its CEO likes to brag that it boldly goes “where angels fear to tread,” namely, into local fights with committed activists who love their libraries and librarians. The LS&S proposal to privatize the Prince William County, Maryland, library would have achieved its promised savings by laying off 20 percent of the staff, trimming benefits, and cutting pensions. The library trustees said the proposal was “unfair to employees” and rejected it.

The American Library Association has outlined numerous issues surrounding privatization of libraries: “quality of library services, loss of local community control, governance, loss of control of tax dollars, and collection development.”

The ALA also pointed out that privatization often leads to the loss of community involvement with foundations, nonprofits, and Friends groups.

During the pandemic, local public libraries served as community hubs providing a variety of services; in addition to other services, they distributed more than 2.5 million free, at-home COVID-19 test kits. Forgive me if I don’t see a for-profit, private operator doing that–or providing the other numerous free services that our local library provides–everything from access to computers for poor kids whose homes lack them, to help with tax returns. (Somehow, I doubt these privatized libraries host Drag Queen story hours, either–and I’m sure that’s one reason proponents support them.)

Citizens depend upon their public libraries for access to information–all sorts of information, whether their neighbors approve of that information or not.

Wikipedia identifies five fundamental characteristics of public libraries: they are supported by taxes; they are governed by a board to serve the public interest; they are open to all, and every community member can access the collection; they are entirely voluntary, no one is ever forced to use the services provided and they provide library and information services services without charge.

Wikipedia says “Public libraries are considered an essential part of having an educated and literate population.” Precisely what the Right doesn’t want.

I Rest My Case

Okay-I probably won’t really “rest my case” so long as Indiana lawmakers continue to prove my point–but I thought I’d give readers a smattering of information about the government produced by Indiana’s gerrymandering. 

First up: we’ve recently learned that Indiana State Rep. Jim Lucas will offer an amendment to the state budget bill–and it’s a doozy. Lucas wants to provide a $2000 tax credit for any Hoosier citizen who purchases an automatic or semi-automatic gun in the next two years.

You read that right. At a time when the proliferation of weapons more suited to war is facilitating daily mass shootings, Lucas wants to encourage people to add to their arsenals. 

Our daughter occasionally looks at Lucas’ Facebook page, and reports that it’s a fetid swamp of racism, anti-Semitism, pro-Trump conspiracies and–of course–“Second Amendment” devotion. Lucas was quoted defending his proposal by saying

“I am very concerned about the safety of our Hoosier families during this next national election period”, said Rep Lucas. “In a circular logic that makes perfect sense to me, our system of elections is breaking down and every citizen needs to be prepared to defend themself from the angry, armed mobs I anticipate we will see”, Rep Lucas said.

Indiana doesn’t keep all of its wacko extremists in the General Assembly; we send more than our share of theocrats and culture warriors to Washington. I’ve mentioned Jim Banks before; currently representing Hoosiers in the House, Banks now intends to run for the Senate seat being vacated by yet another culture warrior, Mike Braun, who wants to be Governor. 

Banks recently emphasized his anti-choice credentials in a radio interview.

Hoosier congressman seeking to represent Indiana in the U.S. Senate is expressing support for reducing abortion options in other states.

During an interview on Fort Wayne’s WOWO-AM radio, U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, responded favorably Thursday to a suggestion by host Pat Miller that more needs to be done to restrict abortion in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24, 2022, Dobbs decision repealing the right to abortion established in 1973 by Roe v. Wade.

“Our work as a pro-life movement is far from over,” Miller said. “If a young lady can hop in a car in Fort Wayne and in an hour and a half she can be in a place in Michigan, or in just under three hours she can cross the line into Illinois, and achieve what she was (un)able to do with abortion clinics here in Indiana, the fight is far from over.”

Banks subsequently denied that he wants to impose travel restrictions on Indiana citizens (someone who had actually read the Constitution evidently pointed out that such a restriction would likely be struck down), but re-affirmed his support for a national ban modeled on the one passed by Indiana’s legislature, currently embroiled in a challenge pending  before Indiana’s Supreme Court.

Banks has been busy in the House of Representatives.  According to State Affairs,  Banks recently formed the “anti-woke” caucus.

Earlier this month, he formed the “anti-woke caucus,” explaining at the Claremont Institute, “This utterly un-American doctrine would be comical were it not so powerful and it is powerful because it is enforced not only by every major national institution. It is promoted and funded by the federal government itself.”

Shades of Ron DeSantis…

Then of course, there’s the ongoing saga of Todd Rokita, Indiana’s current Attorney General, who is positively frantic to prove that no one can outdo him when it comes to pandering to the deplorables. I’ve previously posted about Rokita’s tenuous connection to ethics, conclusions that have recently been corroborated by a court decision confirming that his constant PR efforts violate Indiana law.

Rokita has been in the news most recently for his vendetta against the Indiana doctor who performed an abortion on the ten-year-old rape victim from Ohio.  He also made news by defending Kanye West,after West’s anti-Semitic comments hit the news, tweeting

“The constant hypocrisy from the media is at an all-time high. They have now gone after Kanye for his new fashion line, his independent thinking, & for having opposing thoughts from the norm of Hollywood.”

I could probably devote several other posts to Rokita, but he is so widely despised (even by members of his own party) that it hardly seems worth the trouble.

I don’t for a minute think these extremists represent the average Hoosier, but thanks to the GOP’s chokehold on Indiana elections, they’re what we get.

I’ll just end with a great quote from comic Jim Gaffigan.  

“I’m from Indiana… In Indiana it’s not like New York where everyone’s like, ‘We’re from New York and we’re the best’ or ‘We’re from Texas and we like things big’ it’s more like ‘We’re from Indiana and we’re gonna move.’”  

 

Fish Rot From The Head

Americans who follow politics know that even critics of party A and Congressman B  are likely to defend their own Congressperson. (Sort of like the critics of public education who defend their own school–it’s always those others that are failing. Back in the day in Indianapolis, Republicans who detested Democrats nevertheless repeatedly voted for Andy Jacobs, Jr.)

In this blog, I tend to focus on national politics. That focus may implicitly suggest that the faults and foibles of the people we send to Washington or empower to govern the state are somehow different- from–and worse than–those of the political folks closer to home.

As the song goes, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

Here in Indiana, I was recently made aware of a court case in Adams County, in which the Court invalidated an election for Union Township Trustee. The court found that Alice Weil, the Republican who won that election, was ineligible for public office due to the fact that she had previously been adjudicated a habitual offender. The court found that the Democratic candidate had  garnered the most votes awarded to eligible candidates; that person now holds the position.

The case generated little or no media coverage, and I think that’s very unfortunate, because it is yet another illustration of the way corruption at the top inevitably permeates an organization. Fish rot from the head, but the rot travels quickly to the rest of the body, and the wholesale deterioration of the GOP is a current, prime example.

It isn’t as if this candidate had fooled local party elders, ala George Santos.The Third District GOP Chair knew his candidate was ineligible–he was heard telling someone he’d have to “swap her out” if it was discovered.

Had the Third District Democrats not chosen to sue, Union Township would now have a convicted criminal as its Township Trustee. But the lawsuit cost the district Democrats six thousand dollars, which it is scrambling to cover. (The court declined to award costs–if there’s a generous reader out there, throw them some dollars!)

Third District residents (not just Democrats) have really suffered enough–their Congresscritter is Jim Banks, who now wants to be one of Indiana’s Senators.

In Washington, Banks was one of the founders of the (grotesquely misnamed) Freedom Caucus–the legislative caucus that includes such sterling defenders of the rule of law as Matt Gaetz, and deep thinkers like Marjorie Taylor Green and Lauren Boebert. Banks recently told  a radio host that he wants to find a way to stop “young ladies” from hopping in a car” to get abortion care outside Indiana.

Hoosiers outside the Third District who may be unacquainted with Banks’ interesting approach to “freedom” were recently introduced to his Senate campaign through its attack on prior Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who is rumored to be considering a run for that same Senate spot. The attack paints Daniels as “too liberal” for Hoosiers.

Please retrieve your jaw from the floor. Granted, Mitch Daniels was not one of the committed culture warriors so beloved by today’s GOP, but calling him liberal is…well, let’s just say it’s quite a stretch.

Banks is a “conservative” in the mold of Ron DeSantis. Think racist, homophobic and “anti-woke,” anti-immigrant, anti-choice, pro-privatization of education…on and on. (I put conservative in quotes, because calling  the radical, theocratic wing of today’s GOP “conservative” is deeply unfair to genuine conservatives.)

Interestingly, people in the Third District tell me that Banks used to be a “traditional Republican”–that once he was in Congress, he “lost his mind” and became steadily more radical and unreasonable. Assuming the accuracy of that description, it mirrors reports of other Republicans who have succumbed to the temptations of power and self-aggrandizement during the past several years.

When the people at the helm of a political party embrace lies Big and little, when the man to whom they pledge their loyalty is a grifter and a con artist, when the party abandons even the pretense of policy positions in favor of “hate your neighbor” culture war/identity politics–is it any wonder that the obedient “troops” follow suit?

Then there’s the saddest lesson of all: When there is no longer local media capable of rooting out local corruption, it doesn’t take long for the rot to travel downward.

 

 

Average/Median–Or Lying With Statistics

I have previously mentioned–and sometimes quoted–my friend Morton Marcus. Marcus   is an economist; he is retired from Indiana University, where for many years he headed up the Kelly School’s business research center. Morton and I have been friends for a long time, and have just co-authored a book on the women’s movement. (More on that when it’s published.)

Morton also writes a weekly column on economic data  called “Eye on the Pie,” explaining in relatively simple language what various data points tell us about Indiana. That column runs in a number of the remaining small newspapers around the state. In a recent column, he made a point that I think is so important I feel compelled to share it.

Morton fashioned his column as “A note to Gov. Holcomb,” and began by saying that normally, he doesn’t write to the Governor.

But this week is different. A few days ago, you gave your “State of the State” address to the General Assembly. It was a nice talk and very well presented.
You had some good ideas for our state, but, and this is awkward for me to say, you don’t have a staff that keeps you from making the same mistake time-after-time. You’re not the only Governor who makes this mistake. I’ve known them all from Gov. Whitcomb onwards and they all make the same mistake.

And what was that mistake? (I must admit, it’s an error I have often made too.) Let Morton explain:

Almost always the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC – bless their hearts) tells us the average wage going to be paid by a firm they have arranged (lured, bribed) to open or expand in Indiana.

Most of the media (bless their hearts) regurgitate the press release because they don’t have the time or energy to remember that the average is the mean of a set of numbers. It can be heavily influenced by extreme (high or low) values.

The median, however, tells a different, more meaningful story (if you’ll excuse a little pun there). The median is the wage above which half of the employees will get paid and below which the other half of the workers will be paid.

Let’s say the top gun gets paid $150,000 per year. The #2 gets $75,000, the other eight get $30,000 each. That’s a total payroll of $465,000 for ten employees or an average (mean) annual wage of $46,500. Yet the median pay is $30,000. That’s $16,500 (35%) below the IEDC-advertised average.

From what I hear, Governor, you’re not the type who intentionally misleads or lies to the people of Indiana. But by using the average (mean), rather than the median figure, you’ve been passing on some real whoppers over the years.

If I might have just a bit more of your attention, let me note the average (mean) annual pay for all occupations in Indiana in 2021 was $50,440 (37th in the nation) or $12,110 (32%) above the median Hoosier pay of $38,330 (39th among the 50 states).

With just two years left in your term of office, you said you were going to work harder than ever for all Hoosiers. Maybe you could get IEDC and your staff to give you the most accurate, realistic numbers. Then the people of Indiana would not continue to be misled by excess enthusiasm and just plain ignorance.

When I read this column, it immediately reminded me of a book I read several years ago, debunking several of the claims that were then being made about the “failures” of the nation’s public schools. The authors noted that much of the data being uncritically reported about “averages” was similar to the rather misleading result one would get when averaging a mouse with an elephant.

If you average my income with that of Bill Gates, you’ll come up with a pretty impressive average…

Actually, Morton’s column does inadvertently highlight a failing of the education system: too many Americans (including, I am sorry to say, the one writing this blog) are innumerate–lacking a basic knowledge of mathematics and arithmetic. That innumeracy encourages the use of statistics to mislead. As the saying goes: statistics don’t lie, but liars (and innumerate folks) do use–or misuse– statistics.

The Governor’s error perpetuates the erroneous belief that Indiana is succeeding with an economic development approach that relies almost entirely on keeping the state’s  taxes low–and ignores the fact that those low tax rates prevent the state from spending tax dollars to achieve a quality of life that would be far more likely to attract the businesses and skilled workers we need.

More on that to come….