Tag Archives: Indiana

A Case Study

Wisconsin is currently providing us with a lesson about the state of American democracy.

It isn’t just the arrogance of Republicans who are threatening to overturn the expressed will of the voters with a trumped-up impeachment of a state supreme court judge; the state is a case study for Democrats elsewhere whose voters face similarly manufactured limits on their ability to win elections.

Last December, just after the midterms, the Guardian ran a report on how Democrats had managed to fight back in what the article called “the nation’s most gerrymandered state.”

Ben Wikler spent so much time poring over polls ahead of the midterm elections that it eventually became too much to bear.

“I was throwing up with anxiety,” Wikler, the chair of Wisconsin’s Democratic party, confessed to the Guardian.

It wasn’t merely out of concern, common to Democrats nationwide in the run-up to the early November vote, that voters were set to give their candidates the traditional drubbing of the party in power, powered by Joe Biden’s unpopularity or the wobbly state of the economy.

Rather, Wikler feared that in Wisconsin his party was on the brink of something worse: permanent minority status in a state that is crucial to any presidential candidate’s path to the White House.

What the party faced in Wisconsin was dire: if Democratic Governor Tony Evers lost re-election, or if the state’s GOP achieved supermajority control of Wisconsin’s legislature, the GOP could have ensured that its electoral college votes never helped a Democrat win the White House.

As Wikler said, Wisconsin is “a state where Republicans have tried to engineer things to make it voter-proof.”

According to several studies, Wisconsin is the most gerrymandered state in the country, and the fourth most difficult state in which to cast a ballot. It also has laws that make it practically impossible to conduct voter registration drives.

But Wisconsin’s Republicans are looking to tighten access to polling places further, and passed a host of measures to do so, all of which fell to Evers’s veto pen. With a supermajority in the legislature, they would have been able to override his vetoes. In a speech to supporters, Tim Michels, the Republican candidate for governor, made it plain that if he was elected, the GOP “will never lose another election” in the state.

Amazingly, despite being faced with enormous structural barriers,  Evers was re-elected, and Wisconsin Democrats narrowly managed to keep Republicans from a supermajority in both houses of the legislature. Democrats’ success at standing their ground in Wisconsin was one of the most pleasant surprises the party experienced in the midterms.

What accounted for Evers’ robust win?

The fact that statewide races can’t be gerrymandered is obviously key. And according to various news sources, Evers had a clear advantage over Michels among those age 18 to 44 years old, an age cohort that made up more than a third of voters in Wisconsin.

Evers also had stronger support for the issues he ran on than Michels did.

The AP VoteCast survey showed the most important issue facing the country for Wisconsin voters was overwhelmingly the economy and jobs. However, Evers focused much of his campaign on abortion, which was only slightly more important to voters than the issue of crime, something Michels made a prominent theme of his candidacy.

Voters who cared most about the economy split their votes between the parties–but Wisconsin voters who said the abortion issue was very important to them were lopsidedly pro-choice. Evers attributed the strength of his win to that issue.

There is a lesson here for Indiana in next year’s statewide elections.

As with Wisconsin, Indiana’s extreme gerrymandering will be irrelevant in the upcoming statewide races. And–mirroring the Wisconsin gubernatorial contest–the Hoosier electorate cares about economic and public safety issues, but is divided on which party is best able to address those issues.

As in Wisconsin, however, Hoosiers who care about reproductive rights are lopsidedly pro-choice.

All but one of the five Republicans running for Governor are running ads professing their “pro-life” and “Christian faith” credentials. The already-endorsed Republican Senate candidate (Indiana’s male version of Margery Taylor Green) is a flat-out culture warrior who supports a ban on abortion with no exceptions, along with a multitude of other far-Right positions. (He recently called President Biden the “most corrupt person to ever occupy the White House.”  No kidding.)

I will grant that Indiana’s state Democratic party structure ranks somewhere between weak and “where the hell are you?” but the party has lucked out with strong and appealing statewide candidates–Jennifer McCormick for Governor and Marc Carmichael for U.S. Senate. Both  are on the right side of the issues Hoosier voters care about, and–if adequately funded– both can win next November.

We can learn from Wisconsin.

Democrats Defeating Themselves

E.J. Dionne recently wrote about Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, whose re-opening of a collapsed highway in a mere twelve days made news. Dionne was  (properly) impressed with Shapiro’s general approach to governing, and the article is interesting, but what leapt out to me was the following:

You’ve got to show up everywhere, and you’ve got to speak to everyone, and you’ve got to speak in plain language and in practical terms,” he told me in an interview last week in the final days of settling a tough state budget fight. He noted that in his 2022 campaign, “I went to counties the Democrats had written off a long time ago and spoke about workforce development and spoke about how we’re going to bring back the economy and talked about it in very tangible, practical ways.”

The emphasis in that paragraph is mine, because in states like Indiana, the biggest problem Democrats face is attitudinal–they’ve “written off” their chances before they even begin.

Here’s an example that still has me steaming–a discussion with my youngest son, a staunchly liberal Democrat who contributes generously to political campaigns. I told him I was enthusiastic about the US Senate candidacy of Marc Carmichael, and suggested he make a contribution. His response: he will send his money to candidates who “have a chance of winning.” He had written off Indiana as a lost cause.

My son isn’t the only presumably “savvy” political observer who begins with that defeatist attitude, and in my view, it is far and away the biggest barrier to Democratic victories in this state. It prevents otherwise intelligent observers from recognizing opportunities when they present themselves. (I have allowed him a rebuttal to my view, which you can read at the end of this post.)

Is Indiana a hard state for Democrats to win? Yes. Does this year offer unusual openings? Absolutely– especially in state-wide races where the GOP’s extreme gerrymandering is irrelevant. (By the way, the Republicans who drew those gerrymandered districts had a problem last time, because rural Indiana is emptying out–they were unable to add to their existing Red districts, and the margins in existing districts were narrower.)

Why do I see an opening for Democrats, especially in the Senate race?

  • It’s an open seat–no incumbency advantage.
  • Jim Banks will be the Republican nominee. Banks is a culture warrior far, far to the right of even conservative Republicans. His positions–he’s for permit-less carry and banning abortion and he’s a full-throated endorser of Donald Trump– are at odds with positions held by significant majorities of Hoosiers. His attacks on gay children have been ugly and mean-spirited, and his entire focus is on culture war. (He’s basically Indiana’s version of Marjorie Taylor Green.)
  • The Democrats have another excellent statewide candidate in Jennifer McCormick, whose gubernatorial campaign is likely to energize the state’s teachers and librarians.
  • Carmichael is politically knowledgable and an affable and engaging retail politician.
  • Trump–four indictments or no– is likely to be the Republicans’ Presidential nominee.
  • The abortion issue has energized women and Red state voters who otherwise don’t turn out–from Kansas to Kentucky to Ohio.

Does any of this guarantee victory? No, of course not.

Carmichael needs to raise enough money to get his message out; he needn’t match the resources that the Club for Growth and other far-Right PACs will give Banks. I think he is on his way to doing that–we’ll see when the next financial reports come out– but the biggest barrier he will face is the self-defeating conviction held by people who agree with him on the issues but believe that a Democratic victory in Indiana is beyond hope–a conviction that ignores the Democrats we’ve previously elected, and shrugs off the fact that the state voted for Obama in 2008.

That defeatist attitude permeates the state: in gerrymandered districts, all too often the party doesn’t even run a candidate. Political pundits routinely characterize campaigns by Democrats as “uphill.” Then we wonder why Democrats have problems with fundraising and turnout.

Democrats need to stop defeating themselves.

Son’s rebuttal:

First, mom, thanks for letting me respond within the body of your blog. Second, I agree with your core message that we Democrats cannot win if we don’t show up and get out the vote. Everyone should – and I will – vote!  Where we differ is on our views of political reality, and where resources can be effectively deployed to maximize Democratic – and Democracy’s – chances of success.

You characterize my attitude as “defeatist” and as the biggest barrier to Democratic victories.  Respectfully, the barriers to Democratic victories in Indiana – a poorly-educated electorate, lack of diversity in this State, a fractured media that prevents “our” messages from reaching those who might otherwise agree with us – are more complex and mountainous than my attitude (and that of others like me) can overcome in a single election cycle.

As you note, I DO give to political candidacies I see as viable, even if “underdogs.” In the last election, I gave money to Democratic Senate candidates in Wisconsin, Georgia, and a few others with “close” but winnable races. I also donated to organizations that “get out the vote.” Not all of these candidates won, but their base-line numbers were within a few percentage points, not more than 10 points, below their opponents.  With due respect to Marc Carmichael, whom I don’t know but have heard is a great guy, notwithstanding how truly despicable Jim Banks is, I think there is only ONE Democratic candidate with a chance to win the upcoming U.S. Senate race here – Pete Buttigieg – and (sadly) I don’t see him coming back to run that race. (By the way, Mayor Pete, if you do come back to run, I will “max out” to your campaign!)

Unfortunately, in the absence of a high-profile, once-in-a-generation candidate like Pete, I see Democrats’ chances in Indiana through the lens of the Diego Morales/Destiny Wells race for Secretary of State in 2020.  The Republican Morales, like Jim Banks, was a despicable, pathetic character: in the months leading up to the 2020 election, Morales – a Trumper and election-denier – was credibly accused of sexual assault, and it was reported that he had been “disciplined” and fired from the very office he was seeking, and had previously committed voter fraud by voting in a county where he lacked residency!  The Democratic candidate, Wells, was well-regarded and had generally positive press.  Notwithstanding, Morales won the race by more than 10 points.  Winning 54% of the vote, he only slightly underperformed Governor Holcomb’s 56% and Trump’s 57%. (While I think Trump being the nominee helps Dems in many places, there’s no evidence yet that it does anything but help Republicans in Indiana.  In other words, the Republican “baseline” advantage in Indiana requires more than a “can do” attitude to overcome. It requires a Mayor Pete-level candidacy.) And as for Governor Shapiro’s win in Pennsylvania, the political baseline there (according to Pew Research) is 46% Democrat/39% Republican, while the same source reports the political baselines here are 37% Dem/42% Republican (with 20% no-lean).

Now, I know you see the politics of abortion altering the political landscape (because moderate Republicans join us on this issue).  And it is true – to a point.  Where abortion is “on the ballot,” the side favoring abortion rights does win (see Ohio, Kansas, and even the State Supreme Court election in Wisconsin). But the data on how General Elections go, when abortion is just one of many issues, doesn’t (yet) tell the same story. And while Dems everywhere need to make it as central an issue as possible, I still see donations to statewide candidates in Indiana akin to buying a lottery ticket – if you don’t play, you can’t win, but the odds are pretty much the same for now (unfortunately).

Finally, I DO truly hope you are right and I am wrong!  I would love nothing more than to see Indiana Democrats win the Governorship and the U.S. Senate race here – and while I will vote, I am still going to direct my limited resources to political candidacies which I view as more “winnable,” because we risk losing the entire country, not just Indiana, if Trump and his ilk win otherwise close races elsewhere.

Okay, readers–what say you about this argument? 



Blue Cities…

That cities are “blue” has become a truism. For the past several election cycles, the nation’s urban areas have repeatedly voted Democratic, while more rural parts of the nation have remained–or become increasingly–Red.

But “blue” also means “sad,” and according to a New York Times story a few weeks back, that meaning is also applicable to cities, if –like Indianapolis–they are located in a Red state.

The article focused upon St. Louis; the author noted that while conservatives love to point to San Francisco as an example of failed “liberal” policies, places like St. Louis demonstrate the harms done by conservative state legislatures.

St. Louis’s significantly more dire problems don’t neatly fit that conservative-media narrative. Unlike San Francisco, St. Louis is a blue island in a red state, and conservative state policies have at least partly driven the city’s decline. More apt parallels to St. Louis are places like Kansas City, Mo.; Memphis; Nashville; and Little Rock, Ark. — liberal enclaves that in a macrocosm of the worst kind of family dysfunction are at the mercy of conservative state governments. The consequences of this dysfunction can be far-reaching.

The article noted that  St. Louis has been losing population for years, a situation exacerbated by the coronavirus. The pandemic especially emptied out the office workers, “who scattered away to Zoom from their suburban homes and have not fully returned.”

A July 2022 Brookings Institution analysis described urban population loss during the pandemic as “historic.” The report highlighted cities like San Francisco, New York, Washington and Boston — and St. Louis. Some downtowns have since bounced back. St. Louis, like San Francisco, isn’t among them.

The reasons are debatable, but St. Louis’s politically fraught relationship with the Republican-controlled state government certainly hasn’t helped. Even as St. Louis leaders and schools struggled to navigate the once-in-a-century plague by following federal pandemic guidelines and expert advice, they had to contend with a barrage of lawsuits from the Republican state attorney general (now the state’s junior senator), Eric Schmitt, demanding that they drop their mask mandates.

Missouri Republicans also echo the accusations of Hoosier politicians who claim that crime is out of control. In Missouri, that led to the legislature attempting a state takeover of the city’s police force.

The narrative from the right was that the city’s soft-on-crime policies were to blame for the unmoored violence that is driving the city’s economic decline, so the police need to be under outside control.

That narrative sounds very familiar to anyone in Indianapolis who has seen the television ads of this year’s GOP candidate for mayor, who (inexplicably) wants to govern a place he evidently considers an urban hell-hole.

 Left out of that narrative is the fact that gun crime here is abetted by Missouri gun laws that are among the loosest in the nation. Virtually anyone can walk around the city with a gun, with no state-mandated background check and few state-level restrictions, and there’s next to nothing the police can do about it until the shooting starts. The state has rebuffed all entreaties from the city to be allowed to enforce some kind of permit requirement.

We have precisely the same situation in Indiana, where the Republican super-majority in our legislature has ignored both public sentiment and law enforcement testimony in favor of “permit-less carry.”

Republican critics maintain it is the city’s de-emphasizing of policing that’s the real problem, and as such, the legislature in 2021 passed a state law that effectively penalizes cities that cut their police budgets. But even the largest St. Louis police force would still be policing a city flooded with unregulated guns and few tools to confront them, courtesy of the same Republican state leaders. A current effort to pass a statewide ballot referendum that would go around lawmakers to give St. Louis the authority to impose firearms permits and other reforms is the kind of Hail Mary the city is left with.

At least Missouri allows referenda–in Indiana, there is absolutely no check on the culture warriors in the Statehouse, who were elected by  to rule over us by mostly rural voters.

The state has been unhelpful in other ways. The largest-ever Missouri state income tax cut, which lawmakers passed last year, will inevitably affect St. Louis and every other city in Missouri, where basics like infrastructure and education remain chronically underfunded.

It’s the same situation in Indiana, made even more frustrating by the fact that Indianapolis is the economic engine of the state. Evidently, none of the “good old boys” running things in the Statehouse have ever heard of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs…

That GOP War On Education

It isn’t just public education that the GOP disdains–it’s also higher education. 

According to the Republicans attacking institutions of higher education, the fact that educated Americans overwhelmingly vote Blue these days is proof positive that colleges and universities are practicing “indoctrination,” turning conservative teenagers into liberal, “woke” young voters.

I thought about that GOP article of faith when I came across this July article from the New Republic, about the upcoming national convention of college Republicans, which–according to the report– is “excitedly welcoming vicious antisemite and racist Nick Fuentes as a headliner.” These are college students who somehow managed to escape that pervasive indoctrination.

The event is being hosted later this month by College Republicans United, a group that, according to its website, has been committed to “spreading America First across college campuses since January 2018.” Among its “values” are planks like “opposition to immigration and multiculturalism.”

Fuentes–the speaker they were “thrilled” to announce– has previously been banned from social media for his violent rhetoric denouncing people of color, women, Jews, immigrants, LGBTQ people, Covid-19, and much more. He’s  definitely not “woke.”

He has also proudly said he’s “just like Hitler” (whom he has also called “a pedophile … also really fucking cool”), and that “Catholic monarchy, and just war, and crusades, and inquisitions” are much better than democracy.

Fuentes will be joined by Jake Chansley, known as the QAnon Shaman,  who will also speak at the event. And the article notes that the official Republican Parties in three Arizona counties (Pima, Maricopa, and Yavapai) are backing the event.

It occurred to me, reading this, that the majority of college students who identify as progressive may be reacting against those in their midst who subscribe to–and celebrate!–the positions held by Fuentes and Chansley, rather than falling under the influence of their professors.

That said, I think it is fair to say that a sound education introduces students to the reality of ambiguity–to a recognition that the world is not black and white, that the issues they will face are complex and fact-sensitive and that people of good will can come to different conclusions about them. People who understand that complexity are far less likely to cling to the perceived verities of an ideology or the comforts offered by tribalism than people who are terrified by shades of gray. 

Ironically, what Republicans really hate about higher education is the lack of indoctrination–the widening of perspectives and the less rigid understandings that flow from a broadened world-view.

Meanwhile, however, the GOP’s war on education continues to inflict casualties: in Florida, it has led to a significant brain drain.

With the start of the 2023-24 academic year only six weeks away, senior officials at New College of Florida (NCF) made a startling announcement in mid-July: 36 of the small honors college’s approximately 100 full-time teaching positions were vacant. The provost, Bradley Thiessen, described the number of faculty openings as “ridiculously high”, and the disclosure was the latest evidence of a brain drain afflicting colleges and universities throughout the Sunshine state.

Andrew Gothard is the state-level president of the United Faculty of Florida ; he predicts a loss of between 20 and 30% of faculty members at some universities during the upcoming academic year. That would be a “marked increase in annual turnover rates that traditionally have stood at 10% or less.”

Data shows more people continue to move into Florida than are leaving, but those raw numbers don’t reflect the ages, identities or skills of those coming in and going out. It isn’t just faculty. News outlets report that immigrant laborers have left in droves, in response to DeSantis’ anti-immigrant laws, creating problems for owners of bars, restaurants and orange orchards, among others.

A recent article focusing upon the five worst states to work & live in began by noting that there are nearly twice as many job openings nationwide as there are workers available to fill them, making states with few educated workers unattractive to potential employers. It had this to say about Florida: “Rated strictly on Life, Health and Inclusion, the Sunshine State can be a dreary place.” In 2023, it gave the state a Life, Health & Inclusion Score of 129 out of 350 points–a grade of  D.

(Not that Indiana has any bragging rights: we scored 113 out of 350 points, for a grade of D-. Our universities are still functioning properly, but the students they educate mostly go elsewhere. According to a study by Ball State, the state’s disdain for education at all levels has made Indiana “ill-equipped to keep up” thanks to a less educated workforce.)

Remember that old bumper sticker about the expense of education? (“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”)  The GOP version should read: “Education endangers  Republicans. Support ignorance.”



Jim Banks–Hoosier Embarrassment

In November of 2024, Hoosiers will elect a U.S. Senator to fill a seat left open by the current occupant, who is running for Governor. The almost-certain GOP candidate will be current Congressperson and noted crackpot Jim Banks.

Lest you quibble with my “crackpot” designation, allow me to share a recent example, reported by Howey Political Report (paywall).

Indiana U.S. Reps. Jim Banks and Erin Houchin joined 68 fellow Republicans in voting to end U.S. military aid to Ukraine during debate on the FY23 National Defense Authorization Act.  They offered the following amendment (one of dozens offered by hard-Right Republicans): “Notwithstanding any provision of this or any other Act, no federal funds may be made available to provide security assistance to Ukraine.”

 It was defeated by a 358-70 margin, with all Democrats and a majority of Republicans (including U.S.Reps. Jim Baird, Larry Bucshon, Greg Pence, Victoria Spartz and Rudy Yakym) opposing the measure.

The misnamed Freedom Caucus believes that the United States should ignore Russia’s unprovoked invasion of another country and its subsequent commission of multiple war crimes. Why?

Well, according to Banks, we can’t afford it.

 “I don’t believe there was ever a parallel in American history where we’ve seen America decline as much as it has in two years with Joe Biden in the White House. So we’ve got to push the Biden administration to focus on our domestic weaknesses and the crisis in our own country before we grant billions and billions, $40 billion in this case to send to Ukraine. I looked through this bill and it was easy for me to vote against it. This bill gives every single person in Ukraine a ticket to come to the United States of America. That would be OK if we could afford it. To invite 44 million people to come here with no limits, we can’t afford it. Unlike Afghanistan, Ukraine is a wealthier country. We have to take that into account.”

Banks is one of the reliably hateful fringe that now controls  the grievance cult that used to be a political party. The fact that so demonstrably delusional a character represents an Indiana Congressional district is bad enough–allowing him to become a Senator would be immeasurably worse.

And as political strategists will affirm, if he becomes the incumbent –especially with an R next to his name in Red Indiana–he’ll be incredibly difficult to dislodge. 

One reason Republicans do well in Indiana is because Democrats have essentially thrown in the towel. They approach each race with the attitude: “what can we do? Indiana’s a lost cause.” But even in the most rural precincts of Indiana, I find it hard to believe that majorities of Hoosiers find Banks–a certified wing-nut and Trump lover who is pro-gun, anti-woman, and anti-LGBTQ–appealing.

A friend and I recently had lunch with Marc Carmichael, the former state legislator who  very recently decided to run for the Democratic nomination, after evaluating the political landscape. As he said, it’s rare in Indiana that Democrats face so promising a set of circumstances.

  • This is an open seat. Banks won’t have the advantages of incumbency.
  • It’s JimBanks–who is far, far to the Right of even very conservative Hoosiers.
  • Democrats are on the side of the majority of Hoosiers on the issues, especially  women’s rights and assault weapons.

Democrats have a candidate with political and legislative experience and the ability to run full-time. Carmichael has hit the ground running, and is in the process of putting together his website, social media strategy and fundraising plan.

What will defeat him–or another first-rate candidate, Jennifer McCormick, who is running for Governor– is the defeatist attitude of far too many progressive Hoosiers–an attitude that depresses both fundraising and turnout. 

If Carmichael raises enough money to get his message out, he can win.

 According to a Pew survey, 42% of Hoosiers are or lean Republican, 37% are or lean Democrat, and 20% report no lean. A poll (commissioned by Indiana Republicans!) found  63-percent of Hoosier voters are pro-choice. Another poll, this one from EveryTown for Gun Safety, found the overwhelming majority of Hoosiers support stronger gun laws: 56 percent of Hoosiers think gun laws should be made stronger, compared to just 8 percent who want weaker gun laws. (Support for individual gun safety laws was even higher.)

I wasn’t able to find polling on Hoosiers’ support for Ukraine, but I can’t imagine that many Indiana citizens think it’s “too expensive” to support a democratic ally–or who agree with TFG (and evidently Banks) that Vladimir Putin–currently trying to starve the world-– is a good guy.

Jim Banks is Indiana’s version of Margery Taylor Green. It’s bad enough that he continually embarrasses us in the House. We sure don’t need him in the Senate.