The paper's readers were asked the following question: State Senate President Pro Tem Robert Garton (R-Columbus) said he is considering changes to an insurance plan that provides lifetime health insurance benefits to state senators who have served more than six years--what is your position? A resounding 92% responded that he should end the perk altogether. Only 3% said he should leave the program alone, and another 3% responded that senators had earned the benefit. Only 2% of the respondents were undecided.
To make matters worse, Star political columnist Matthew Tully unloaded on Garton and his colleagues. "A group of Indiana Senate leaders from both parties stood together Wednesday -- proud and united in their out-of-touch, inept selfishness," Tully said in describing the announcement that the plan is being scaled back--so they say. Tully continued:
How bad was it? In my 14 years in journalism, I've covered hundreds of news conferences. But I've never seen one that was more ridiculous, more downright offensive than this.
Senators double-talked about health care for "poor people" but admitted they were taking care of only themselves this year. They acted like they were scaling back their perks, when really they didn't even come close to that.
The focus of the news conference was the lifetime health-care benefit. This ensures subsidized health care for retired lawmakers -- you know, after they become lobbyists -- and covers everyone from their kids to their ex-spouses . . .
How much Garton didn't want to react was evident Wednesday. Standing with top Republicans and Democrats beside him, he announced an empty bag of hollow changes.
The biggest is that the health plan will now be open only to senators who retire after the age of 50 -- not a big deal in a nursing home of a chamber, where about 80 percent of the senators are over 50.
The most offensive part of the news conference came when the senators insisted their boondoggle might lead to more health-care coverage for low-income Hoosiers.
They said, without laughing, that they were just setting a good example.
Then they acknowledged doing nothing this year to address the 500,000 or so Indiana residents with no health care.
Garton's action this week is more good new to his Republican and Democratic opponents. It is hard to see voters in his district returning him to office after 36 years of service in the Senate when he is no more responsive to his constituents than he has demonstrated over the last several weeks.