Listen To My Friend Morton…

As regular readers of this blog know, Morton Marcus (who comments here from time to time) is a longtime friend with whom I co-authored a recent book on women’s rights, “From Property to Partner.”

Morton also writes a statewide newspaper column, primarily focused on data about Indiana, and occasionally comparing the actual activities of our dreadful legislature with his opinions about what that body ought to be doing. A recent column was so on target, I decided to share those recommendations. (Not that our supermajority Republican legislative overlords will pay the slightest bit of attention–they’re too busy micromanaging local government, destroying public education, pandering to the gun lobby, and imposing “Christian” behavioral restrictions on Hoosiers.)

The day before yesterday, you got Gulley, today you get Marcus.

The first of Morton’s recommendations was focused on legislative operations, which is sort of “inside baseball,” but important. He advocates releasing legislators to “act without the discipline of the Caucus. Let’s make the bold assumption that our 150 elected legislators are grownups. They can make their own decisions without the dictates of a repressive party leadership fully inebriated on the power of a super-majority of automatons.”

That will happen when pigs fly–or when we elect actual grownups.

Morton’s second recommendation–passage of independent redistricting– hits at the very center of Indiana’s continuing dysfunctions. Getting rid of gerrymandering would allow voters to choose their representatives; now, as sentient Hoosiers know, those representatives choose their voters. Gerrymandering is an absolutely wonderful mechanism for vote suppression–if your vote isn’t going to count, why cast it?

Morton also points out that an independent redistricting process would “likely rationalize districts such that two adjacent House districts would constitute one Senate district. No House districts would be divided.” As he notes, “Currently the Senate and the House district maps are independent of each other. It affords chaos and cover for the ambitions of individuals who seek lifetime membership in the General Assembly.”

His third recommendation hits on something else I’ve long advocated (there’s a reason we’ve been friends so long; we have similar, albeit not always congruent, views on the issues). He advocates adoption of the Maine Electoral College allocation rules.

Now the winner of the popular vote in Indiana gets all of the electoral votes in a presidential election. Under the system used in Maine, a notoriously left-wing coastal state, the winner of the statewide popular vote gets two electoral votes. The winner of each congressional district gets the one electoral vote of that district. No Constitutional amendment is needed for this move toward a more equitable system.

In 2020, instead of all 11 Indiana electoral votes going to the Repulsive candidate, that person would have received nine electoral votes and two such votes would have gone to the party that is Bidin’ its time.

(My apologies to those unfamiliar with the Gershwin songbook and who know only Taylor Swift lyrics.)

Morton also wants legislative study committees that would consider legislation reducing the number of townships in each county, and the number of counties in the states. (There are 92 counties in Indiana, in case you are wondering; California–somewhat larger– has 58).

 Why should Warren, Fountain, Parke and Vermillion not be joined into one or two counties? Perhaps Jasper and Newton counties should be returned to their former singularity. Let’s not neglect Blackford with Jay, Ohio with Dearborn or Switzerland.

I would miss the detailed data on each separate area, but my fetish is not the concern of the state. Likewise, cost cutting should not be the dominant objective, but rather improving service to citizens in line with the structure of society in the 21st century rather than the 19th century.

This last recommendation recalls that of the bipartisan Kernan-Shepard Commission, convened by then-Governor Mitch Daniels, that examined the operations of Indiana government and recommended merging or otherwise eliminating a number of the 1008 townships that each pay township boards and trustees and the expenses of trustee offices–artifacts of a time when reaching the county seat via horseback took half a day. As I wrote back in 2011, the Commission had the temerity to suggest that–in the age of the internet and the absence of virtually all of the other tasks with which those townships had originally been tasked– we should rethink them…

As members of that Commission discovered–and as Morton, a longtime Hoosier, clearly knows–Indiana legislators don’t “re-think.” Most of the time, they don’t really think in the first place.


Our Legislative Overlords Strike Again

As I have repeatedly pointed out, Indiana has nothing remotely approaching home rule. Our legislative overlords consider themselves to be arbiters of both state and local decisions, entitling them to impose their personal prejudices and “unique” viewpoints on municipal governments.

The fact that local legislators–chosen by the residents of those municipalities–may have different priorities is irrelevant. (Remember when Bloomington wanted to forbid the use of plastic grocery bags? The legislature said no can do.)

It was bad enough when Indianapolis had to go to the Statehouse for three sessions to get permission to hold a referendum to determine whether we could tax ourselves for mass transit. And even then, the legislative pooh-bas took light rail off the table–no, we couldn’t ask Indianapolis citizens if they wanted that particular method of transit. And ever since the city voted–overwhelmingly–for the transit we were allowed to consider, Aaron Freeman, a member of the legislature (not the City County Council) has been trying to stop construction.

Because his lordship disagrees with the results of the democratic process. Other members of Indiana’s legislative self-appointed aristocracy want to reverse the City’s decision to limit right turns on red. It evidently hasn’t occurred to these autocrats that if Indianapolis citizens disagree with these decisions, we can vote for different municipal legislators. We have the veto; the legislature does not. At least, it should not.

As aggravating as these examples are, however, they don’t hold a candle to what was reported yesterday.

Indianapolis residents would lose access to free bus rides on Election Day under new legislation filed by a state senator from southern Indiana.

IndyGo buses were free to ride during the 2022 and 2023 general elections because of a sponsorship from AARP Indiana, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of older residents.

The AARP sponsored similar efforts in Fort Wayne, Gary and Evansville, and is currently considering another sponsorship in Indianapolis for the 2024 general election — which will contain the high-profile elections of attorney general, governor, U.S. senator and president.

But those rides would be stopped under Senate Bill 187, which contains a single sentence: “A public transportation agency shall not implement free or reduced fares on a general, primary or municipal election day.”

Sen. Gary Byrne, R-Georgetown, said his legislation is about ensuring all voters have the same access to the polls.

“It’s a fairness thing for me on voting,” Byrne told Mirror Indy on Thursday. “The area that I live in, there’s no public transportation, and to say one part of the state gets a free ride to go vote sort of discriminates against other people in the state who don’t have that opportunity.”

Fairness my patootie! The real motive here is suppression of the urban vote. Byrne is Republican. In Indiana–and elsewhere–Republicans depend upon the votes of rural White folks to retain office. Anything that facilitates turnout in urban parts of the state–especially turnout by “those people”–minority citizens and poor folks–must be stopped. Why…it’s “woke.”

The transparency of motive, however, is beside the point. The point is, this none of the legislature’s business. Tax dollars are not being spent. Government bodies are not the sponsors. A private non-profit organization is sponsoring this effort to ameliorate some of the burdens experienced by municipal citizens.

The next time you hear a Republican talk about “freedom” or “keeping government from interfering with private business decisions” you should understand that what the members of that cult really mean is: “we are only in favor of interfering with decisions that we disagree with, or decisions that might make it more difficult for us to win elections. So long as you use your uterus and your nonprofit dollars in ways we approve, we won’t interfere.”

If Byrne really cared about “fairness,” he”d sponsor a bill to help his poorer rural constituents get to the polls–he wouldn’t be trying to suppress the votes of people who live in the urban areas of the state.


Feeling The Heat, Todd?

Can you stand one more post about Indiana’s infantile Attorney General? (I wouldn’t keep commenting if he didn’t keep pooping in his mess-kit…)

A lawyer friend sent me a copy of Rokita’s latest filing in the ongoing soap-opera tracing responses to his ethical lapses and his fury about those responses. After reading that pleading with some amazement, I have to agree with the Indianapolis Business Journal’s characterization of it as “bombastic.” (And then some…)

According to the IBJ:

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita submitted a new and bombastic filing on Wednesday accusing the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission of caving to outside pressure in a “political melee,” saying it could no longer give him fair treatment.

“The Commission needs to be disentangled from ongoing politics driven by political commentators. If the Commission is not cordoned-off from the political stage, then its meetings need to be made fully public…” the filing read.

As my lawyer friend noted, the pleading was Trump-like, with Rokita lashing out at those he clearly perceives as his enemies : an amorphous “Left” and liberals in general, of course,  but also “the establishment,” a nefarious Disciplinary Commission and its staff, a former Dean of IU’s Maurer School of Law, a reporter for the Indiana Lawyer, and others who have ever dared to suggest that he was in the wrong.

Clearly, they’re all out to get him, and it isn’t fair!

Many of the filings and decisions of the commission are private, unless the Indiana Supreme Court decides it would be in the public interest to publicize them — which the commission petitioned for in his disciplinary case. Rokita said he doesn’t oppose a motion to unseal the conditional agreement, so long as all of the deliberations and meetings related to him fall under the same “extraordinary circumstances.”

In his conclusion, Rokita said that his “style and content” were not grounds for the Commission to discipline him as a lawyer.

An excellent example of that “style and content” followed. Here is Rokita’s concluding paragraph (in which he continued to refer to himself in third person).

Respondent is vocal, aggressive, and successful regarding policies important to Hoosiers. He speaks in a manner that the ‘Establishment’ abhors. The content of his conservative message offends the Left, if not Liberals,” the filing continued. “… His press release (in November) made clear those facts in his combative style, but nothing written rendered his Affidavit false or defied the Supreme Court.”

His “combative style” reminds me of a couple of my kids when they were three-year-olds…

For those who’ve (mercifully) missed the preceding tantrums, the IBJ offered a helpful backgrounder:

In a November split decision and public reprimand, the Indiana Supreme Court found he had violated two of the Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers:

They said Rokita’s comments constituted an “extrajudicial statement” that he knew — or reasonably should’ve known — would be publicly disseminated and would prejudice related legal proceedings.

They also said his statements had “no substantial purpose” other than to embarrass or burden Dr. Caitlin Bernard. The misconduct stems from his televised comments about Bernard, an OB-GYN who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio and was later disciplined before the Medical Licensing Board for discussing the procedure publicly.

In an interview with Fox News commentator Jesse Watters, Rokita called Bernard an “activist acting as a doctor” and said his office would be investigating her conduct.

However, both Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justice Christopher Goff dissented in a 3-2 split ruling, saying Rokita’s punishment — which included $250 in court costs — was too lenient.

Following the reprimand, Rokita shared a lengthy and unrepentant statement defending his “true” remarks in which he attacked the news media, medical field and “cancel culture.”

Shortly after, the disciplinary commission filed to unseal Rokita’s conditional agreement, saying, “Respondent’s actions flouted the authority of the Court, called into question the sincerity of Respondent’s assertions to the Court in his Conditional Agreement and affidavit, and caused damage to the public’s perception of the integrity and justness of the attorney discipline system…”

In his response, Rokita actually accused the Disciplinary Commission of knuckling under to “political pressure.” After all, it couldn’t possibly be the case that Todd Rokita had stepped over a line.

There’s more, of course, all along the lines of “how dare the Indiana Supreme Court and  Disciplinary Commission respond publicly to my ethical lapses? How dare a commission set up for the sole purpose of sanctioning unethical lawyer behavior sanction me? Don’t they understand how important I am?”

I think the word is “self-important,” and I think our pompous and delusional Attorney General is beginning to feel the heat.


An Even Bigger “Big Sort”

I’ve referred previously to the important 2004 book The Big Sort, which documented the way in which Americans have been “sorting” ourselves by choosing to live in areas we find philosophically and politically compatible. The book, by Bill Bishop, cast light on one of the underappreciated reasons Americans are so culturally and politically divided.

Much more recently, a lengthy article fromThe New Republic documented a sharp increase in that sorting. Red states have been bleeding college graduates for a while now–in Indiana, the “brain drain” is a persistent source of concern at the statehouse– but there is considerable evidence that “hard-right social policies in red states are making this dynamic worse.”

Let me just quote a few paragraphs from the article, which–as I indicated–is lengthy.

The number of applications for OB-GYN residencies is down more than 10 percent in states that have banned abortion since Dobbs. Forty-eight teachers in Hernando County, Florida, fed up with “Don’t Say Gay” and other new laws restricting what they can teach, resigned or retired at the end of the last school year. A North Carolina law confining transgender people to bathrooms in accordance with what it said on their birth certificate was projected, before it was repealed, to cost that state $3.76 billion in business investment, including the loss of a planned global operations center for PayPal in Charlotte. A survey of college faculty in four red states (Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina) about political interference in higher education found a falloff in the number of job candidates for faculty positions, and 67 percent of the respondents said they would not recommend their state to colleagues as a place to work. Indeed, nearly one-third said they were actively considering employment elsewhere.

Until very recently, college graduates had split their votes between the parties. But with the arrival of Donald Trump,

college graduates left the Republican fold for the foreseeable future. Trump dropped the Republican share to 44 percent in 2016 and 43 percent in 2020. If Trump wins the nomination in 2024, the GOP’s share of college voters could drop below 40, and I don’t see any of Trump’s challengers for the Republican nomination doing much better. It isn’t clear they even want to, because today’s GOP sees college graduates as the enemy.

Then there’s the accelerating exodus of OB-GYNs from states governed by Republicans who–in Barney Frank’s memorable phase–believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.

It was hard enough for red states to hold onto their OB-GYNs even before Dobbs. A little more than one-third of all counties nationwide are “maternity care deserts,” typically in rural areas, with no hospitals or birthing centers that offer obstetric care and no individual obstetric providers (not even midwives), according to the March of Dimes.

It isn’t just OB-GYNs and the relative handful of doctors who assist transgender children. It’s also educators.

Since January 2021, 18 states have imposed restrictions on how teachers may address the subjects of race and gender, according to Education Week’s Sarah Schwartz. These include most of the Dobbs Fourteen and a few add-ons, including Florida and New Hampshire. According to a 2022 study by the RAND Corporation, legislative action not only accelerated after 2021 but also became more repressive, extending beyond the classroom to restrict professional development plans for teachers. Let’s call these teacher-harassing states the Morrison Eighteen, in honor of the late Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, whose The Bluest Eye is number three with a bullet on the American Library Association’s 2022 list of books most frequently targeted for removal. (The 1970 novel ranked eighth in 2021 and ninth in 2020.)

Taking a tour of the Morrison Eighteen, we find Texas teachers quitting at a rate that’s 25 percent above the national average. In Tennessee, the vacancy rate for all public schools is 5.5 percent, compared to a national average of 4 percent. South Carolina has teacher shortages in 17 subject areas this school year, more than any other state.

But Governor Ron DeSantis’s Florida is the undisputed champ. A 2022 study led by Tuan D. Nguyen of Kansas State University found that Florida had the most teacher vacancies in the country, followed by Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama (all Morrison Eighteen states). Florida also logged the highest number of under-qualified teachers.

Remember John Edwards theme of “Two Americas”? He wasn’t talking about the culture wars then, but the phrase certainly seems appropriate.

In 2010, the GOP’s incredibly successful Redmap project--its “gerrymander on steroids”–installed rightwing legislators in a number of formerly competitive states. Those lawmakers proceeded to pass the culture war policies that are motivating the exodus of educated citizens and professionals–aka “smarty pants”–  resented by the angry know-nothings who are now the GOP’s base voters.

And so here we are. Click through, read the entire article, and weep….


Perception And Reality

Here in Indianapolis, where the candidates for Mayor in this November’s election are spending unbelievable amounts of money on political advertisements (and not just television–You Tube, FaceBook, etc. etc.), there has been an overwhelming messaging focus on crime from the Republican candidate.

In a line that reminds this old-timer of Nixon, the Republican candidate–one Jefferson Shreve– assures us that he “has a plan.” Meanwhile, the effectiveness of his message depends upon voters agreeing that Indianapolis is a dystopian hellhole, where criminals roam the streets murdering people with abandon.  

I live in the urban core of this “hellhole,” and I feel quite safe–a feeling backed up by local crime data– so I welcomed this explanation of mis-matches between perception and reality in a recent op-ed by Paul Krugman.

Remember “American carnage?” Donald Trump’s 2017 inaugural address was peculiar in many ways, but one of the most striking oddities was his obsession with a problem — urban crime — that had greatly diminished over the past generation. For reasons we still don’t fully understand, violent crime in America fell rapidly from around 1990 to the mid-2010s:

True, there was a crime surge after the pandemic, which now seems to be ebbing. But that lay in the future. Trump talked as if crime was running rampant as he spoke.

Yet if Trump had false beliefs about trends in crime, he had plenty of company. Gallup polls Americans about crime every year, and all through the great decline in violent crime a majority of Americans said that crime was increasing:

Contrary to the widespread belief that criminal behavior was on the rise, Krugman pointed to the reams of evidence showing that even people who responded–and evidently believed– that crime was rising were behaving as if it was falling. That was especially true when considering the wave of gentrification–the movement of large numbers of affluent Americans into those presumably scary central cities. 

Krugman compared that mismatch of perception and reality to another current example–the disconnect between Americans’ attitudes about the economy and their own situations. The data shows that we Americans are relatively upbeat about our own financial circumstances; but we’re certain that a bad economy is harming other people–perhaps not locally, but nationally.

I thought it might be useful to draw parallels with the discourse on crime, where there is a similar disconnect between what people tell pollsters they believe is happening and what the available facts say. In fact, the resemblance between how people talk about crime and how they talk about the economy is eerily strong.

I know his next observation will shock you, but it turns out that both of these “mismatches” are grounded in partisanship. As Krugman notes, perceptions of crime, like perceptions about the economy, have become strongly partisan.

People become more pessimistic when the party they don’t support holds the White House, and that same partisanship undoubtedly explains the disconnect between perception and reality of crime in cities–both one’s own city, and urban America in general. 

As it happens, the Republican perception of Los Angeles and New York as unsafe compared with southern cities is wildly off base. Both have low homicide rates — half as high as Miami’s — and New York City is overall one of the safest places in America.

What does all this tell us, besides the fact that Americans are very confused about crime? It shows that on an important public issue, people can hold beliefs about what is happening to other people — people who live in other places, or in the nation as a whole — that are not just false but also at odds with their personal experience.

It isn’t just beliefs about people who live elsewhere. If those interminable campaign spots tell us anything, it’s that at least some inhabitants of my city feel considerably less safe than I do.

It will be interesting to see how our local campaign for Mayor plays out, and whether the Republican candidate’s effort to focus on fear of and belief in rampant crime–to the exclusion of the multiple other issues of municipal governance he might be discussing–succeeds in ousting the incumbent.

If it does (count me a doubter–among other things, in his ads, Shreve comes across as rather creepy), it will be really interesting to see whether his vague, much touted “plan” suddenly becomes concrete (not to mention municipally affordable), and whether it makes residents believe that Indianapolis has become less dangerous.

In all fairness, Nixon’s “plan” did eventually get the U.S. out of Viet Nam….