Tag Archives: referendum

Whatever Happened to Integrity?

I concluded yesterday’s post by saying “We have spoiled toddlers running state and federal offices, but at least adults run the cities.” Evidently, some of those adults are less  praiseworthy than I suggested.

Indianapolis recently held a referendum on transportation. It wasn’t easy convincing the General Assembly that residents of the city should be allowed to decide for ourselves whether to impose a modest tax increase dedicated to the expansion of the city’s painfully inadequate bus service. It took a couple of years, but we finally did.

The vote was advisory, meaning that it will inform members of the City-County Council, whose votes will be dispositive. I think it is fair to say that voters expect the Councilors’ votes to reflect the clear results of the popular will.

The referendum won handily. But some Councilors– in districts where constituents voted decisively for the transit expansion– are vacillating. According to several people who have talked to them, the reluctant Council members are ambitious politicians who plan to run for higher office; they have been telling transit proponents that they don’t want a future opponent to be able to accuse them of raising taxes.

Think about that for a minute. This isn’t about legitimate disagreement about the merits of the proposal; this is about personal political calculation– a conflict of interest between the public good and personal advantage.

These City-County Counselors were elected to serve the constituents in their districts. Those constituents have signaled their belief that improved transit is sufficiently important to them to justify the (relatively minor) tax increase required. Rather than considering the wishes of those constituents, rather than considering the needs of the disabled and elderly people who depend upon transit, or the needs of workers to get to their places of employment without changing buses and enduring lengthy commutes (when they can get there at all–see yesterday’s post), these Councilors are viewing their votes only from the perspective of their personal self-interest.

Why, they might have to defend voting for the public good in a future political campaign!

I can understand why someone representing a district that voted against the referendum would decide to ignore the interests and expressed preferences of the overall community, but when elected officials disregard the wishes and needs of both the overall community and their own constituents in order to protect themselves from potential criticism in a potential future campaign, I find that contemptible.

I think it was Maya Angelou who said “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”

And remember them.

Because if those who are threatening to vote no simply to protect themselves from criticism in a future campaign actually follow through with that threat, and if and when they do run for higher office, those of us with a different understanding of “representation” and “integrity” need to make a very public issue of their self-serving behavior.


An Interesting Observation

I attended a small political gathering yesterday, and during the “mixing and mingling” had a conversation with a member of the Indiana House. We were discussing the legislature’s refusal to allow Indianapolis to hold a referendum on public transportation, and she noted that the same people who don’t believe Indianapolis residents can be trusted with that vote are among the most vocal proponents of “letting the people decide”  whether Indiana should constitutionalize its ban on same-sex marriage.

Evidently, we aren’t capable of deciding whether to pay for better bus service, and it would be dangerous to put such a serious matter to a vote; however, we are perfectly capable of deciding whether other citizens should be denied equal access to a fundamental human right.

Tell me again–how did we elect these people?

A Lesson in the Need for Home Rule

Here’s what I don’t understand.

The City of Indianapolis and surrounding counties want to vote on whether to tax ourselves in order to support a minimally-decent public transportation system. It is widely acknowledged that we do not have such a system now.

I am strongly in support of this much-needed upgrade to our current, inadequate bus system, but I do understand that some people–for whatever reason–either do not support expanded transit or do not agree with the current approach to constructing such a system. Fine. Those are matters for debate and an eventual vote to determine whose view is more persuasive.

What I do not understand is the disinclination of some Indiana legislators to allow us to make that decision and hold that vote. I am offended–and I think Indianapolis residents should all be offended, whatever our position on mass transit–by the reluctance expressed by members of the General Assembly to allowing us to decide this issue for ourselves.

This is a prime example of the problems Indiana cities and towns face because we lack meaningful home rule. In other states, local units of government have the authority to decide such matters without having to beg legislators for permission.

Think about how ridiculous this situation is. The citizens of Indianapolis are asking the legislature to allow us to make a democratic decision on a matter that will affect only us. Self-important legislators who represent parts of the state that will be entirely unaffected by whatever decision we make are stroking their chins and taking the matter “under advisement.”

I’d love to ask them who the hell they think they are, but I know the answer. They are petty dictators who think that their exalted positions would somehow be diminished if we were allowed some measure of local decision-making authority–and who have the legal power to say “f#*k you” to the residents of Central Indiana.

Against mass transit? Fine. Against the current proposal for expansion? Okay.

Against self-determination and home rule? Despicable and unacceptable.

Southern Electioneering

The other day, I mentioned how few bumper stickers I’ve seen this election season. That observation has held as we have driven south, through Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas.

As every academic knows, you can’t draw valid conclusions from an inadequate sample. But a couple of the things I have seen are consistent with a theory–espoused by several pundits and even by John Boehner–that this election is all about Obama. (Boehner, you may recall, was asked by a voter for a reason to like Mitt Romney. Boehner basically responded that it wasn’t’ necessary to like Romney–it was enough to loathe Obama.)

On our drive, we’ve seen signs for a Congressional candidate promising to “Stop Obama Now.” And we’ve seen a couple of “NoBama” bumper stickers. That’s it. Not a single pro-Romney sign or sticker, and very few pro-Obama ones.

To some extent, of course, every election featuring an incumbent is a referendum on that incumbent, but in this election, that truism is super-charged by the incumbent’s complexion. I was stunned by the intense hatred of Obama that emerged the day after the election–well before he was inaugurated, before he had done anything. The emergence of the “birthers,” the crazies who insist he was really born in Kenya, that he’s really a Muslim (with a radical Christian pastor!)–all efforts to avoid using the “n” word–are hard to miss. But it isn’t only the obvious racists. There are a lot of people who are simply uncomfortable with a black President.

Is it possible to simply disagree with Obama’s policy choices? Of course. Will many people vote for Romney because they are good Republicans, because they don’t like the direction the President wants to take the country? Of course. To suggest that all or even most opposition to the President is racist would be ridiculous–just as denying the substantial racism that does exist would be ridiculous.

One way or the other, the “referendum effect” will be particularly potent this year, because as John Boehner conceded, it’s hard to actually like Mitt Romney.

Our Despicable State Legislature

What can anyone say about Indiana’s legislature that adequately captures the perversity, the stupidity and the venality of the place?

It is hard to believe the sheer amount of embarrassing antics they have managed to cram into a short session. From the patently unconstitutional (teaching creationism, really? Every court that has ever considered the matter has said the same thing–you can’t teach religion in public school science class) to the teaching of cursive (breaking news: you weren’t elected to the school board, and by the way, what happened to your pious devotion to local control?) to Right to Work (go ahead and spend zillions of dollars on slick ads promising jobs, but everyone knows this is all about hardball politics and Republicans weakening the unions because they have the votes), our elected Representatives have spent the session giving the middle finger to the citizens of Indiana.

As if they hadn’t done enough harm, they have now killed the bill that would have allowed Indianapolis to hold a referendum on whether to tax ourselves to support adequate public transportation.

Think about this. These are the lawmakers who’ve been pontificating about the importance of job creation–that’s how they’ve justified Right to Work, which–according to unbiased research–has absolutely no effect on job creation. Good public transportation, on the other hand, is a proven job creator and economic development generator.

So why the hypocrisy? Why deny the citizens of Indianapolis the right to decide for ourselves whether we are willing to pay a few extra bucks on our tax bill for decent transportation?

It is galling enough that we have to go hat in hand to the State for permission to conduct our own business. It is absolutely infuriating that the legislators whose rural districts survive by virtue of taxes generated in central Indiana–the state sales and income taxes that come primarily from the urban areas they routinely piss on–are the ones willing to kill the goose that lays their golden eggs. Our transportation bill was killed by the very people who would share the benefits without contributing to the costs.

I wish I thought we would throw these bums out in November, but Indiana political history suggests that we will go like sheep to the polls, and vote for the same old same old–after all, these are the candidates who promise to arrest immigrants, keep the “wrong” people from voting, and push gays back into the closet where they belong.

Harrison Ullmann was right: Indiana has The World’s Worst Legislature. But we elected them.