Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Daniels: GOP Couldn't Do Better Than McCain

Gov. Mitch Daniels let it be known today that he hopes Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) runs for the 2008 presidential nomination, and that the Republican Party "could not do better" than McCain. McCain was in Indiana today to campaign for Rep. Chris Chocola (R), but he dropped by Daniels' State House office for a photo op with Daniels so Daniels could sing his praises.

This apparently was Sen. McCain's first opportunity to respond to Sen. John Kerry's controversial statement today on the Iraq War. Kerry told a group of students: "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." This is an even more stupid comment than the one Kerry made during the 2004 presidential race when he said he voted for funding the Iraq War before he voted against it.

McCain, like all Republicans today, immediately pounced on Kerry's statement. The Star's Mary Beth Schneider reports:

McCain, also a decorated veteran and former prisoner of war in Vietnam, had a rebuttal drafted and, when no one asked about Kerry at the Statehouse news conference, volunteered that he thought Kerry owed an apology to the troops in Iraq "who answered their country's call because they are patriots and not because of any deficiencies in their education."

"Americans from all backgrounds, well-off and poor, serve in the armed forces of the United States because they are dedicated to the cause of freedom and democracy. They deserve our respect and deepest gratitude," McCain said. "The suggestion that only the least educated Americans would agree to serve in the military and fight in Iraq is an insult to every soldier serving in combat today. This should offend the American people as well."

Indiana's State House reporters were no doubt pleased that McCain chose today to pay his visit to Daniels. I liked the part of Schneider's story where she said McCain, who had a prepared response to Kerry's statement, had to prompt State House reporters to ask him about it. The State House reporters must not have been reading the Internet before the McCain visit. That's all the political blogs were talking about all afternoon and still tonight.

Poll: Allen County Dems Abandon Lesbian Candidate

A new poll taken by the Fort Wayne New-Sentinel for the Allen County Sheriff's race indicates that more than half of the people in Allen County who identify themselves as being Democrats are not supporting the Democratic candidate for Sheriff, Tina Taviano, who is believed to be one of the first openly lesbian women in Indiana to seek public office. According to the poll, Taviano is trailing her Republican opponent, Ken Fries, by a 57%-16% margin. An independent candidate, P.J. Smith is drawing 15% of the vote, or just one percentage point behind Taviano.

Although Taviano's political opponents have not raised her sexual orientation as an issue in the campaign to date, the wholesale abandonment of Taviano by her own party seems hard to explain otherwise. Only 46% of the Democrats polled said they supported Taviano, while Republican Fries picked up support from 19% of the Democrats and another 11% said they supported independent Smith. By comparison, Fries is capturing 85% of the vote of Republicans. Also, the poll showed a higher percentage of undecided voters among Democrats than any other group. While 12% of those polled overall declared themselves undecided, double that number, or 24% of Democrats, declared themselves undecided.

Former state representative and Fort Wayne Observed blogger Mitch Harper said of the poll results, "The numbers are historically unprecedented." "The results would mean that Ms. Taviano has lost a huge amount of the base Democratic vote." He added, "Mr. Smith probably benefits from Ms. Taviano lack of support within what should be the Democratic base."

Taviano's campaign has received enormous financial support from the national Victory Fund PAC, a gay rights political action group, which has kicked in $19,425 to her campaign. According to a Fort Wayne News-Gazette summary of the campaign financial reports for Fries and Taviano, she has competed head-to-head with him in fundraising to date and has more than sufficient funds to run a competitive campaign against Fries.

Minister Tells Bush To Go To Hell

In a complete defiance of federal nonprofit tax laws barring churches from engaging in partisan politics, Indianapolis' Eastern Star Church is playing host to a conference called "National Dialogue and Revival for Social Justice," which is nothing more than a partisan, Bush-bashing event intended to mobilize black voters to get out and vote for Democratic candidates. In a shocking, Christian defying statement, one of the keynote speakers at the event, the Rev. Frederick D. Haynes, told an applauding audience that President Bush is going to hell. The Star's Robert King had a similar reaction in his news report today on Haynes' speech:

There are probably few places in Indiana -- typically a Republican stronghold -- where you can hear a preacher stand in a church and say President Bush is going to hell, but it happened Monday in Indianapolis.

The Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III, pastor of an 8,000-member church in Dallas, told an applauding audience at Eastern Star Church that the Bush administration has been exposed "for the hypocrites they are" by abandoning the poor.

"Jesus is going to say, 'Inasmuch as you do to the least of these, you also did to me. Go to hell, George Bush,' " Haynes said, in a raucous crescendo to a fiery message met with a standing ovation from an afternoon crowd of nearly 200 people.

Haynes' fury was just one of the expressions of political concern voiced Monday during the first day of a two-day conference at Eastern Star called The National Dialogue and Revival for Social Justice in the Black Church.

Concluding tonight with a speech from the Rev. Al Sharpton, the conference is aimed at turning the public's attention to issues dear to the black community at a time when some leaders say moral issues are too often limited to abortion and same-sex marriage.

While the Eastern Star's audience may have liked what Rev. Haynes had to say, the IRS might think differently. The church might want to take a look at a letter the IRS sent to the All Saints Church in Pasadena, California after a minister delivered a sermon during the 2004 presidential election condemning Bush and urging parishioners to support Sen. John Kerry (D).

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a former Democratic presidential candidate, is also scheduled to speak at the event. He is renowned for engaging in race-based politics. He's also had an anti-Semitic past, having referred to Jews as "diamond merchants" and stood by as a supporter threatened to burn down a Jewish shopkeeper's store, who Sharpton called a "white interloper." One supporter in a crowd outside the man's shop set the store afire after Sharpton left, resulting in the killing of several people.

According to a supporter of Rep. Julia Carson (D), she also spoke at yesterday's event at Eastern Star church. Wilson Allen, in a comment posted on AI yesterday, said, "I was out today with incumbent Congresswoman Julia Carson where she was the invited keynote speaker at a major church conference on social justice at Eastern Star." He added, "She was warmly received."

Monday, October 30, 2006

Justice For Jill Behrman

A Morgan County jury found John Myers guilty in the death of IU student Jill Behrman six years ago after deliberating less than one hour--forty-five minutes to be more precise. I'm sorry, but this was a case built strictly on circumstantial evidence. The prosecution presented no direct evidence linking Myers to Behrman's death. The circumstantial evidence may well have been sufficient to convict Myers, but I would expect a jury to spend more than forty-five minutes reviewing all the evidence they've heard over the past couple of weeks. At least give us the impression you engaged in serious deliberations to confirm your conclusion before rushing out a verdict.

Morris On Hillary's Flip-Flop On Gay Marriage

Worried that her well-stated position against gay marriage was hindering her support in key battleground states in her quest for the 2008 presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) is doing what her husband was quite good at doing--reinventing herself. Sen. Clinton is trying to explain that she and her husband's support of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 had nothing to with their opposition to gay marriage. Quite to the contrary, she now claims. Their support for the federal DOMA was "a strategic decision to help derail a constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage." Former Clinton advisor Dick Morris calls that explanation "nonsense." Morris writes:

I was in the room at the White House strategy meeting and was sitting next to the president when he decided to promote and sign the bill. Nobody was even talking about a constitutional amendment back then - 1995-96 - and no one in the meeting so much as mentioned the possibility. His decision to sign the bill closely followed my announcement of polling data that suggested overwhelming support for the legislation. His announcement to his staff and advisers that he would sign the bill was, indeed, a strategic decision, but one that related to his re-election prospects rather than to any push for a constitutional amendment.

The bill was passed by Congress because of fears that legislation in Vermont, signed by Gov. Howard Dean, allowing same-sex "civil unions" might force other states to recognize unions formed under Vermont law. The worry was that same sex couples could force the other 49 states to recognize a marital relationship allowed under Vermont law by invoking the U.S. Constitution's full-faith-and-credit clause, which requires that states recognize the actions of their fellow states. To forestall this possibility, the Defense of Marriage Act tried to prohibit courts from making states recognize gay marriages or civil unions allowed by another state.

Hillary supported her husband's decision to sign the bill and has often reiterated her position. Her recent announcement that she would now approve of state action to allow gay marriage is a flip-flop, pure and simple.

Sen. Clinton is no different from her husband in one key respect: She is completely lacking in any principle. She, like her husband, will do or say anything if she thinks it will help her politically. What other woman in America would remain married to a serial adulterer like Bill Clinton? Bill isn't a husband to her; he's a means to an end and means nothing more to her. If she thought divorcing Bill would help her politically, she would be down at the courthouse tomorrow. Is this the kind of person we want to put back in the White House? If the GLBT community falls for her flip-flop, it will deserve the screwing she will undoubtedly give them as soon as the heat for her new-found position is turned up on her after she gets the nomination.

Morris also adds this little item about Bill's attitude towards the reaction of members of his staff who would be deeply disturbed by his support of DOMA. Morris writes, "During the discussion at the White House strategy meeting at which the president told us he would sign the bill, adviser George Stephanopoulos cautioned President Clinton to 'give us several days' to break the decision to White House staffers who might object." Clinton replied to Stephanopoulos, "Tell them we've created 4 million new jobs, and that they ought to go out and take a few of them." Nice guy, that Bill.

Hayhurst Shock Ad: Suggests Homosexuality Is Crime Against Man And Nature

A new attack ad Dr. Tom Hayhurst (D) is running against Rep. Mark Souder (R) in Indiana's 3rd congressional district uses homophobic rhetoric in reference to the scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R) which should not sit well with gay rights advocates, or one of his fellow Democratic candidates on the ballot in next week's election. The ad scrolls through the photos and names of disgraced Republicans, including former Rep. Randall Cunningham, Rep. Tom DeLay and Rep. Bob Ney. When the ad reaches the name and photo of former Rep. Mark Foley, it says these men "broke the laws of man and nature", with added emphasis, an obvious reference to Foley's admission that he is gay. The full text of the ad, which you can view by clicking here, reads:

They sold us out, lined their pockets, broke the laws of man and nature. Now, that same Washington gang is fighting to protect Mark Souder who says he's proud of their vicious attacks on Tom Hayhurst. Our congressman . . . Proud of distorting the facts? Proud of twisting the truth? If Mark Souder believes these are Hoosier values, he's definitely been in Washington too long. I'm Dr. Tom Hayhurst, and I approved this message.

In case Dr. Hayhurst isn't familiar with the Supreme Court's ruling in Lawrence v. Texas striking down sodomy laws, it says that private, consensual sex between adults of the same or opposite sex is legal. By perpetuating the religious right's argument that same-sex relationships are against the "laws of man and nature," he isn't only advancing bigotry towards gays and lesbians. In case Hayhurst hasn't noticed it, the Democratic candidate for Sheriff in Allen County, Tina Taviano, is an openly lesbian woman. She has been endorsed by the Victory Fund, a gay rights political action group. Taviano's Republican opponent, Ken Fries, has been very careful not to make her sexual orientation an issue in this year's race. It's too bad that Hayhurst, a prominent Fort Wayne city councilman and community leader, thinks it should be an issue.

The attempt by the ad itself to connect Souder to the persons named is tenuous at best. Souder has long earned a reputation for being independent within the House Republican caucus. The ad implies that Souder endorsed the acts of these other men because he has accepted financial support from the National Republican Congressional Committee and other Republican leaders. Although Hayhurst has outspent Souder considerably in this campaign, dipping into his own pocket, a new poll released by the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel poll shows Souder ahead by 12 points. According to the new poll of 400 likely voters, Souder leads Hayhurst by a 52%-40% margin. With less than a week left in the election, those numbers don't appear to portend any upset in the making.

Gay rights advocates have been blasting Republicans for making gay marriage a divisive wedge issue in this and recent elections. Let's see how quick they are to condemn a liberal Democrat like Tom Hayhurst for playing off people's prejudices against gays and lesbians. I wouldn't hold my breath. A big hat tip to Fort Wayne Observed's Mitch Harper for bringing the Hayhurst ad and the new poll numbers to AI's attention.

Congressional Candidates On The Issues

The Star gave Indiana's congressional candidates an entire free page to respond with their position on three key issues, including the war in Iraq, illegal immigration and reducing gas prices and dependency on foreign oil. Three candidates didn't bother to provide any response, including the 1st District's Rep. Pete Visclosky (D), 7th District candidate Eric Dickerson (R) and the 8th District's Rep. John Hostettler (R). It is beyond me why any candidate would turn down a free opportunity to communicate their position on the issues to the voters. Perhaps Visclosky and Hostettler didn't feel the need to respond to a questionnaire from a newspaper outside their district, but in the case of Dickerson, it is the single, largest medium for reaching the district's voters. It costs absolutely nothing to complete a questionnaire, and it has the potential of picking up a few thousand votes for you from undecided voters. I've heard Dickerson provide very thoughtful answers to each of these pressing questions. Unfortunately, most of the voters in the district will never hear about those positions because he didn't fill out a simple questionnaire.

As for the rest who responded to the questions, the responses are pretty brief; however, to be fair, the Star notes that their responses were edited for space. In the 7th District, Rep. Julia Carson said we "should transfer power and training over to Iraqis" as part of a major strategic change in strategy in Iraq. As for illegal immigrants, Carson's answer is confusing. She says illegal immigrants already in the country should be allowed to work toward citizenship, "but only following the path provided by law." As an immigration attorney, I can tell you that there is no path to legalization under current law for the vast majority of the 12 million undocumented workers in the U.S. The current law must be changed to allow a path to legalization for these undocumented workers. Carson also said she "support[s] subsidizing the development and production of alternative fuels and have written and passed legislation to help do that."

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Libertarian Upset In The Making?

The Indiana Daily Insight is reporting that a poll taken in House District 54 shows Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville) locked in a three-way race with his Democratic and Libertarian opponents. The IDI reports, "[T]he Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian candidate are all within the margin of error, with none of the candidates more than four percentage points from another, and none of the three with even 40% of the vote." The IDI adds, "Libertarians make a big push for last minute cash for their HD 54 nominee, Rex Bell (R), who polling shows running only two percent behind Rep. Tom Saunders (R) in a tight three-way race."

This adds an extra dynamic to control of the Indiana House this year. Could a win by the Libertarian candidate throw a monkey wrench into either party's control of the House? What happened to Saunders' son last year seems to be weighting him down in this year's election. A little more than a year ago, Saunders' son, Andrew, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident causing death, a Class C felony, and operating a vehicle while intoxicated and endangering a person, a Class A misdemeanor. He had originaly been charged with reckless homicide before his charges were reduced as part of a plea agreement. Some area residents at the time thought Saunders' son was let off too easy. There were also questions raised about the time that elapsed between Saunders' discovery of his son's involvement in the hit-and-run and his reporting of it to police.

Indianapolis Recorder: Carson-Dickerson Race Down To Wire

The Indianapolis Recorder, which one would assume is heavily biased in favor of Rep. Julia Carson (D) because of its owner, businessman Bill Mays, actually has a reasonably balanced story on the Carson-Dickerson race. Brandon Perry's look at the race is actually better than any news story I've read in the Indianapolis Star to date for this race. To read Perry's look at the race, click here.

I can't say as much for Amos Brown though. His column this week explains why the 7th District representative is only supposed to represent the interests of blacks and how Eric Dickerson isn't talking to the black community because he hadn't appeared on Brown's radio talk show--that is until last week. Brown writes:

From his heavenly residence, Rev. Mozel Sanders got Eric Dickerson to do what he hadn't done this entire fall campaign--come speak to our black community via its Black media.

Dickerson came, uninvited, to WTLC's "Afternoons with Amos" Mozel Sanders Thanksgiving Dinner fundraising luncheon Monday. For the first time since the primary, Dickerson spoke to our black community, through its Black media; after publicly saying he wouldn't.

Brown goes on to complain about biased polls and to trash Dickerson's campaign, which he refers to as "Black-hating blacks." He says, "I'd like to tell you where Eric Dickerson stands on the issues, but I can't because until Monday he refused to speak to Black folks via Black media." "Preferring to communicate through right-wing radio talk shows and racist, hatemongering websites," he adds. Dickerson's greatest sin, if Brown is to be believed, is being both black and Republican. Apparently, Brown would have us believe that the only way to communicate to Indianapolis' African-American community is through him. Brown might want to read and listen to his own words before he accuses others of being "racist" and "hatemongering."

Crooked Creek Candidate's Forum

Both candidates for the 7th District congressional race appeared at a candidate's forum last week at Crooked Creek. Unfortunately, the mainstream media once again failed to cover one of the few events this year at which both Rep. Julia Carson (D) and Republican Eric Dickerson appeared. I did not learn that both candidates were going to appear at the event until the night of it, so I wasn't able to make it. Apparently the event organizers didn't know that Carson was going to be present either until she showed up. Sir Hailstone sends us these two photos he took of Carson and Dickerson at the candidate's forum

Prosecutor's Office For Sale?

The Indianapolis Business Journal's Peter Schnitzler analyzes the campaign finance reports for incumbent prosecutor Carl Brizzi (R) and Melina Kennedy (D). He concludes that Brizzi has a huge financial advantage over Kennedy, outraising her $2.5 million to $1.2 million. He compares the amount raised by candidates for the office in 2002, where the combined amount raised by Brizzi and Democrat Jim Osbourne was about $1 million.

Not surprisingly, Schnitlzer's story finds government watchdogs, like Common Cause, complaining that the candidate who raises the most money is the one most likely to win. He also suggests that the rising crime rate has sparked interest among weary business leaders, causing them to kick in more for the race than usual. I'm less concerned about how much money they're raising than from whom they're raising their money.

Brizzi's single largest contributor by far is local businessman Timothy Durham, who has contributed almost $160,000 to Brizzi's campaign. Durham is chairman of Obsidian Enterprises, Inc., a private holding company that invests in small and medium-sized companies primarily in the manufacturing and transportation sectors. He's also a former partner at Ice Miller. He tells Schnitlzer he's known Brizzi for a long time and pledged to support him before Kennedy entered the race.

Evansville businessman Steven Chancellor has contributed $40,000 to Brizzi's campaign. Why does an Evansville businessman care who is Marion County prosecutor? He tells Schnitler he "gave $40,000 in recognition of Brizzi's attempts to press the General Assembly to strengthen Indiana's child-predator laws." Huh? That answer sounds a bit contrived; however, Chancellor has a long history of contributing big bucks to Republicans all over the country. Local businessman P.E. MacAllister gave Brizzi $25,000, and he too has a long history of contributing a lot to Republicans across the board.

The Marion Co. Republican Party has given Brizzi $79,250. One has to wonder whether that money would have been better spent on its other candidates for county office, such as sheriff and court clerk, both of whom have raised very little for their respective races. The law firm of Baker & Daniels has contributed $35,000 to Brizzi's campaign, topping all other law firms in town. Speedway Advertising has contributed $75,000 to Brizzi. Someone is going to have to help explain why this business would give so much to Brizzi.

Melina Kennedy's largest contribution is also her most troubling contribution. Mayor Peterson's campaign committee has contributed $125,000 to her campaign, while Peterson's mother, Dolores, kicked in another $10,000 for Kennedy's campaign. Mayor Peterson has also campaigned throughout the city with her and has been promoting her in television ads. The prosecutor's office is who the public must rely upon to keep our local government leaders honest, particularly since the local FBI and U.S. Attorney's offices seem to care little about local government corruption here. Because Kennedy owes so much to Peterson professionally and politically, can we honestly expect her to weed out any corruption that is uncovered in his administration?

Mel Simon's wife, Bren Simon, kicked in $25,000 to Kennedy's campaign. The Simon family has proven themselves to be quite adept at leveraging political clout to win hundreds of millions in public subsidies for their private business ventures in Indianapolis, including the Pacers, Circle Centre Mall and their new corporate headquarters, which shadows our State House. Because Kennedy was a part of the administration which has had something to do with at least part of those public subsidies, Simon's contribution is to be expected, although it's a mere drop in the bucket when you value the windfall they've won from the Peterson administration.

Kennedy's second largest contribution comes from the United Auto Workers in the amount of $75,000. Local autoworkers might want to fire their union bosses for this decision, particularly after the recent announcement that the Ford Motor Company will likely put as many as 2,000 local autoworkers out of a job. Kennedy's claim to fame in the Peterson administration was the great job she did at wooing new jobs to Indianapolis as part of her economic development efforts. These workers will now have to go looking for new jobs down at the new Honda plant in Batesville if they want to continue working in the automobile industry.

Emmis Communications' CEO Jeff Smulyan gave Kennedy over $15,000. Smulyan, a Democrat, has a long history of making generous contributions to Democrats locally and across the country. His contribution should come as no surprise. He is very close to Mayor Peterson. A surprising contribution comes from Christine Merchent, a member of the Rooney family who founded Golden Rule Insurance. She contributed $15,000 to Kennedy. Former GOP gubernatorial candidate Patrick Rooney has been one of the largest contributors in the country to the GOP.

Local real estate developer Michael Browning contributed $11,000 to Kennedy. Again, this contribution is not surprising. He is quite tight with Mayor Peterson. Keep a close eye on the city's decision among the three hoteliers competing to build a new hotel in downtown Indianapolis. Browning is behind the bid for the Intercontinental Hotel at the site of the PanAm Plaza. Interestingly, Browning's bid seemed to have a leg up because it built into its proposal a plan to have a very large ballroom in its hotel. It seems the new convention center expansion will result in the loss of a large ballroom. Who knew? At least Browning did. My money is on Browning winning this competition. And then you can say goodbye to the skating rink at PanAm Plaza.

Another odd contribution Kennedy received was a $10,000 contribution from the Hammond Democratic Party. Why would Democrats in Hammond care about who gets elected Marion Co. prosecutor? Hoosiers for Indiana contributed $10,500. This makes a lot of sense. There's nothing more that state Democrats would like than a Democratic prosecutor in Marion County to scrutinize the Daniels' administration.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Shaky Stadium Financing

As area taxpayers begin financing the $675 million Lucal Oil Stadium for Colts' owner Jim Irsay, the Star's Karen Eschbacher provides us an excellent analaysis of the shell game our city leaders have played with the financing of the 22-year-old RCA Dome slated for demolition. The RCA Dome, she tells us, cost $77.5 million to construct; however, charitable donations brought the total financing for the project down to just $47.2 million. Here comes the shocker. The taxpayers still owe $75 million on the RCA Dome and will be paying off that debt for another 13 years.

Instead of paying off the debt with the local taxes levied for this purpose, city leaders instead used those revenues to refinance and borrow money for more improvements. It's sort of like borrowing $75,000 for a $100,000 house on a 30-year mortgage, refinancing several times and borrowing more money so that you wind up owing $100,000 after you've been paying your monthly mortgage for 22 years. The only difference is that you're paying for an asset that's continually appreciating in value. In the case of the RCA Dome, we're going to spend a decade paying off a building that no longer exists.

Taxpayers should be absolutely outraged by the fiscal practices of the city on the RCA Dome, but the city has no qualms about what it's doing. "The average person has the right to feel like this is a jive deal, that they're continuing to pay for improvements for a stadium that is no longer going to exist," said Fred Glass, head of the city's Capital Improvement Board, which runs the Dome and is on the hook for the debt. "The fiscal realities, though, are that if we were going to move forward with a project with which we need to move forward, this is the only way it can be done," Glass said.

The RCA Dome fiasco helps explain why state lawmakers and the governor insisted on an entirely different funding scheme for the Lucas Oil Stadium. Like the RCA Dome, the new stadium is being initially financed by 30-year bonds. The state stadium finance authority, which is handling the financing, will pay off that debt with the new tax revenues being collected for that purpose. That is also one of the reasons that the state insisted that city leaders find an alternative source for paying for the new stadium's operating and maintenance expenses. With the additional $275 million being spent on convention center expansion, the taxpayers will wind up paying $1.8 billion for the stadium when interest costs are factored in to the costs. When the RCA Dome was first built, city leaders promised taxpayers the new taxes levied to pay for the stadium would be repealed once the stadium was paid off. They sure didn't keep that promise.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Indiana Week In Rehash

The Indiana Week In Review panel rehashed their same out-of-touch perspective on Indiana's competitive congressional races, along with the Marion Co. prosecutor's race. To be fair, I'm going to limit most of my criticism this week to host Jim Shella, who is supposed to be WISH-TV's State House reporter, but who obviously has become too lazy to do any independent research of any of the candidates or issues. Former state representative Luke Messer substituted for Mike McDaniel, and Martin d'Agostino of the South Bend Tribune substituted for Jon Schwantes. They actually offered a refreshing perspective to the embittered Ann DeLaney and Star business columnist John Ketzenberger, with emphasis on the word "business" (i.e., he's not a political reporter).

The panel reviewed the 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th and 9th District races. Jim Shella used only WISH-TV's poll results as a set up for discussing each of these races, except for the 3rd, which begs the question of why they're claiming this is a competitive race. Has anyone seen a published, reputable poll result showing the race between Rep. Mark Souder (R) and Tom Hayhurst (D) to be competive? I didn't think so. Let's move on.

Jim Shella begrudgingly showed the tightening of the race between Rep. Julia Carson (D) and Eric Dickerson (R) to within the margin of error, even under WISH-TV's poll. He ignored a WTHR poll showing Dickerson in the lead. He began the discussion of the race by backhanding Dickerson with his uninformed opinion that Dickerson really has no message to his campaign other than it's time for a change. Anyone who has bothered to take the time to listen to Dickerson speak, which Shella obviously has never bothered to do, would understand that his compelling message for a fresher and more energetic representative in Congress is the very reason he's performing so well in the polls.

Exposing his corporate media bias, he suggested that any congressional campaign that isn't advertising on television can't be taken seriously. He didn't even bother to learn that the Indiana GOP has agreed to purchase radio ads for Dickerson's campaign to keep him on the air through election day. Even Matt Tully picked up on that today over at his blog. Ketzenberger, to his credit, suggested Dickerson's unconventional grassroots campaign shouldn't be underestimated. D'Agostino reminded Shella of the cost of advertising on his TV station and the millions already flowing into Indianapolis' TV stations from Washington to purchase money for the 9th District race between Rep. Mike Sodrel (R) and former Rep. Baron Hill (D).

The discussion of the other congressional races was more of the same. The three incumbent Republicans are going to lose. Will Bush's visit to Sodrel's district help or hurt him? DeLaney assures us Bush's low poll numbers will hurt all Republicans this year. Shella says Bush's approval rating in Sodrel's district is 49% according to WISH-TV's poll. A Louisville Courier-Journal is less favorable for Sodrel and Bush DeLaney counters. I was amazed that there was no discussion of this week's New Jersey Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage and whether it would have an impact on any races in Indiana.

As for the prosecutor's race, DeLaney says to forget those poll numbers showing Brizzi with a big lead. This is going to be a complete Democratic blowout this year in Marion County. All countywide Democratic candidates will be swept into office on an anti-Republican tide, comparing this year to 1994 when incumbent Prosecutor Jeff Modisett (D) was upset by his Republican challenger, Scott Newman (R). Six months ago, I would have probably agreed with her on that point. A lot has changed in Marion Co. in the past 6 months. There is a growing discontent with Mayor Peterson's and Sheriff Frank Anderson's mishandling of crime-fighting efforts, concern about misplaced budget priorities, rising taxes, employment losses and government corruption in Marion County. Because Democrats are in control of the city, voter discontent is likely to be taken out on the Democrats in local races.

Johnson Pleads Guilty To DWI

The Star reports today that Lacy Johnson, III, one of the lead partners in the controversial proposed bar in the Julia Carson Government Center, has pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated:

The majority partner in a proposed bar in the Carson Government Center pleaded guilty Thursday to driving while intoxicated.

Lacy Johnson III, 27, is leading a group of investors in the 300 East venture, which has faced opposition.

He was pulled over Aug. 26 on Michigan Road near 68th Street. He pleaded guilty in Marion Superior Court, and a public intoxication charge was dropped.

Roger Rayl, spokesman for the Marion County prosecutor, said Johnson's penalties include a $100 fine, six months on probation and 24 hours of community service. He must undergo alcohol evaluation and treatment, Rayl said, and his license will be suspended for another month.

I wasn't aware that Johnson was the majority partner in the bar as this story indicates. Businessman Bill Mays, who says he's personally invested over a $100,000 in the bar, has been the most outspoken investor associated with the bar.

Tully Knocks Bosma For Hiring Pal For Christian Prayer Suit

House Speaker Brian Bosma's face was probably all smiles as he read the Star's front-page story about his fight to block gay marriage in Indiana, but his red face probably turned purple when he read political columnist Matt Tully's column today taking him to task for hirinig a partner in his own law firm to work on his ridiculous "Christian prayer" lawsuit. Tully describes it as a "clumsy and old school move" to pay William Bock, III, more than $27,000 for his work on the lawsuit.

Tully mentions it, but he doesn't raise any hackles over the fact that Bosma also pays Bock to serve as the House parliamentarian--so the obvious conflict of interest began even before he awarded the work on the lawsuit to Bock. Bosma is still fuming from Tully's last column criticizing him for wasting time with the lawsuit, calling him an "election-year warrior" and "Bosma the Bibleman."

Bosma Continues Fight Against Gay Marriage

House Speaker Brian Bosma and his Republican colleagues chose gay marriage, the day after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that its state constitution's equal protection clause requires recognition of same-sex relationships on equal terms with opposite-sex relationships, to highlight their support of a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages and more. Quoting Bosma, the Star's Mary Beth Schneider reports:

The New Jersey decision 'raises the gravity of the pledge we make today," said House Speaker Brian C. Bosma, R-Indianapolis. "If Indiana is going to make a decision to change the definition of marriage in the future, that decision should not be left to an appointed judge. It should be left to elected legislators and the citizens of this state."

Schneider notes my reaction that the New Jersey court decision is the Democrats' worst nightmare because it is likely to energize "values voters", who have to date been demoralized, to get out and vote. Regardless of who controls the House next year, an amendment will be voted on by the House. Schneider writes, "House Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said that if Democrats win the majority, 'there will be a vote on this matter, even though I believe a constitutional amendment is redundant.'" She adds, "Republican 'efforts to make this a divisive campaign issue will not succeed,' Bauer said, accusing the GOP of a frantic attempt to divert voter attention from other issues, including property taxes and the leasing of the Indiana Toll Road."

Schneider notes both my and Orentlicher's observation that the amendment, as proposed, will affect more than just same-sex couples:

The amendment has two parts. One defines marriage as between a man and woman. The second says that neither the constitution nor any state law can be construed as giving "the legal incidents of marriage" to unmarried couples or groups.

Bosma said that will not affect the inheritance and property rights, medical decision-making and visitation, insurance and other benefits that nonmarried couples often share. Those are protected by other laws, he said.

But Welsh and others, including state Rep. David Orentlicher, D-Indianapolis, were skeptical. Orentlicher, a physician and attorney who teaches at Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, was one of the handful of legislators, all Democrats, who voted against the amendment in 2005.

He noted that in Michigan, which adopted a similar constitutional amendment, the attorney general has ruled that government bodies, including cities and universities, cannot offer domestic-partner benefits. And in Ohio, he said, some lower courts have ruled that the amendment means the state's domestic-violence laws do not apply to unmarried couples.

Many believe that if the Democrats recapture the House, the second paragraph of the amendment will be taken out of SJR-7. That, of course, will restart the time clock on the amendment. It will then have to be approved by two successive sessions of the General Assembly, meaning the first date it could appear on the ballot is 2010. If no changes are made to the amendment, it will appear on the ballot in 2008.

It is disappointing that Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) chose to wade into this issue on the side of its proponents. "I believe in the traditional definition of marriage," he said Thursday. "That's not an excuse for discrimination or other violations of people's civil rights, but marriage has a very special, very sacred, very specific meaning, and I think it ought to be affirmed."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Carson Calls On Jacobs And Others For Help

Former Rep. Andy Jacobs (D), who has endorsed Rep. Julia Carson in every single race, including this year's race, made another appearance today to endorse her again. Jacobs assures WISH-TV his re-endorsement has nothing to do with her sagging poll numbers. WISH-TV reports:

The race for the 7th District Congressional seat held by Julia Carson has gotten much closer. The 24-Hour News 8 Indiana Poll shows Republican challenger Eric Dickerson has closed the gap from 20 points to five.

Thursday, former Congressman Andy Jacobs, Jr. endorsed Carson. But he says the slip in the polls has nothing to do with his endorsement.

"I think that if I were going to take Julia Carson out of Congress, I would not pick this district, I would not pick this year, come to think of it I wouldn't pick Julia Carson. So I'm quite optimistic. I know I see polls, but you also know the history of polls in the case of Julia," Jacobs said.

In past elections, polls have shown Congresswoman Carson not doing well, but on Election Day she has won with comfortable margins.
Carson is also getting last-minute help from some of her congressional colleages. Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) kicked in $2,000 each this past week, and Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) kicked in another $1,000 a piece. She picked up another $1,000 from a banker's PAC. One has to wonder why her colleagues are bothering to give her any money. She already had $324,000 sitting in the bank waiting to be spent at the beginning of the month. By all indications, she is spending very lightly in the closing days of the campaign. Is she holding back the money to give to her grandson, Andre Carson, who RiShawn Biddle speculates she might annoint as her successor?

HRC Employee Fired For Role In Exposing Foley

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has fired a member of its staff after it learned that he was responsible for creating a bogus website, stopsexpredators.blogspot.com, at which e-mails between former Rep. Mark Foley (R) and a former House page were first posted. The bogus website prompted ABC News to conduct its own investigation of Foley. According to a NY Times report, the fired staffer used HRC resources to expose Foley. Ironically, Foley had one of the highest ratings of any Republican member of Congress according to its latest scorecard, scoring a 75% rating. The NY Times reports:

A liberal gay rights group said Wednesday that one of its employees, acting anonymously, had created the Web site that first published copies of unusually solicitous e-mail messages to teenagers from former Representative Mark Foley, which led to his resignation.

A spokesman for the group, the Human Rights Campaign, said it first learned of its employee’s role this week and immediately fired him for misusing the group’s resources. The scandal surrounding Mr. Foley, a Florida Republican, has been a burdensome distraction for members of his party in the month before the midterm elections, and some Republicans have speculated that the e-mail messages were planted by a Democrat.

The rights campaign’s spokesman, David Smith, said the employee, whose name he declined to disclose, was a junior staff member hired last month to help mobilize the organization’s members in Michigan. “The minute we learned about it we took decisive action,” Mr. Smith said.

HRC has long been criticized for being too partisan on behalf of Democratic candidates. When HRC's Joe Solmonese visited Indianapolis last year, he told AI that HRC was making a concerted outreach to Republicans. When ABC News first reported on Foley, Solmonese issued this statement:

Gay or straight, Democrat or Republican, it is completely inexcusable for an adult to have this kind of communication with a minor. Congressman Foley brought shame on himself and this Congress by his horrible behavior and complete lack of judgment. We strongly condemn his behavior.

This revelation is likely to severely damage HRC's credibility with Republican members of Congress. It also bolsters Republicans' argument that the Foley issue had more to do with partisan politics than it did about exposing Foley for his improper conduct with House pages. Incidentally, Solmonese cut his teeth in politics when he worked as a paid DNCC staffer for Rep. Julia Carson's first congressional campaign in 1996. Do you think he learned anything about dirty tricks then?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

New Jersey Gay Marriage Ruling Democrat's Worst Nightmare

As much disdain as I have for the use of gay marriage as a political wedge issue, there is little doubt in my mind that today's New Jersey Supreme Court ruling--providing constitutional recognition of same-sex relationships--will effectively stop short the wave of momentum Democrats have been riding so far in this year's congressional elections--perhaps even enough to deny them control of Congress. This is the exact opposite conclusion I held in mid-August where I suggested that the gay marriage issue would have little impact in this year's congressional elections.

There are eight states this year on which there is a ballot measure concerning gay marriage. They are: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. When I expressed my earlier view that gay marriage would not be a determinative issue, only Tennessee had a competitive Senate race. Since that time, the race in Virginia between Sen. George Allen (R) and Jim Webb (D) has become highly competitive, and Sen. Jon Kyl's (R) lead in Arizona, although still strongly favored, has shrunk considerably. In New Jersey, which will feel the direct impact of today's ruling, Sen. Robert Menendez (D) is locked in a tight race with Tom Kean, Jr. (R). Two months ago, there were just six competitive House races in those eight states. Today, according to Realclearpolitics.com, that number has grown to eight when you add another race in Arizona to the earlier list and a race in New Jersey. Democrats need to gain six Senate seats to win back the Senate and 15 seats to win back the House.

Two months ago, the importance of gay marriage, in terms of being a threat as it is perceived by the religious right, was ebbing as a political issue after high courts in two liberal states, New York and Washington, successively rejected gay marriage rights. At the same time, voter concerns weighed more heavily on the Iraq War and concern about rising gas prices. While the Iraq War remains a major concern, plummeting gas prices have effectively provided a big tax cut to working class voters going into this November's elections.

Prior to today's ruling, there was a consensus that dissatisfaction with perceived Republican corruption in Congress and, more recently, the Foley page scandal would turn off so-called "value voters" who make up a critical component of the Republican Party's base. In one fell swoop the New Jersey ruling shifts the focus away from the negative stigma of the Foley scandal and back to the values issues which have worked for Republicans in recent elections. Similar rulings in Massachusetts and Vermont were easy to dismiss as an aberration because of their historically liberal inclinations, New Jersey is more like a microcosm of the United States in terms of its cultural, ethnic and racial makeup. It becomes easier for proponents of gay marriage bans to sell their argument that if it happened there, it can happen here. The rallying cry the religious right was missing yesterday to get out their vote is back today.

While gay rights advocates, including myself, celebrate today's victory, the reality is that it may prove to be a short-term setback for gay rights to the extent it proves decisive in helping Republicans extend their majority in Congress, albeit a smaller majority, on the back of this issue. In Indiana, it is less likely to have as much of an impact because there is no ballot initiative. It may, however, elevate the issue in a few key, state legislative races. As for three Democratic challengers in the 2nd, 8th and 9th Districts, they can thank Rep. Pat Bauer (D) for keeping the gay marriage amendment off the ballot in Indiana this year. If it had been on the ballot, it could have proven to be a lifesaver for Rep. Chris Chocola (R), Rep. John Hostettler (R) and Rep. Mike Sodrel (R), each of whom represent rural districts heavily populated with the so-called values voters.

UPDATE: My point in this post is confirmed by a statement Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., (D), who is locked in a tight Senate race against Bob Corker (R) in Tennessee, put out immediately following the New Jersey ruling. He said:

I do not support the decision today reached by the New Jersey Supreme Court regarding gay marriage. I oppose gay marriage, and have voted twice in Congress to amend the United States Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. This November there's a referendum on the Tennessee ballot to ban same-sex marriage - I am voting for it.

Ford was on FOX News this morning complaining that Republicans were misrepresenting his position on gay marriage. He wanted to make it abundantly clear he opposes it. Ford stirred controversy earlier in the campaign when he used a TV commercial showing him inside a church in a deliberate appeal to win "values" voters.

New Jersey Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Same-Sex Marriages

The New Jersey Supreme Court, without dissent, has ruled today on equal protection grounds that the legislature must either amend the state's marriage law to recognize same-sex marriages or confer a similar benefit in the form of civil unions. In Lewis v. Harris, the Court has given the legislature 180 days to bring the state's marriage laws into line with the state's constitution. It is important to point out that, unlike other states where the issue has been considered by the courts, such as New York and Washington, New Jersey did not have a state marriage law defining marriage as between one man and one woman, a so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

The New Jersey court is following a path similar to that of the Massachusetts Supreme Court a few years ago in allowing the legislature time to correct the law through legislative action; however, the Massachusetts court, unlike New Jersey's, has determined that recognition of civil unions alone will satisfy the state's constitution. In this respect it is similar to an earlier ruling by the Vermont Supreme Court allowing marriage equality through civil unions for same-sex couples.

In this landmark ruling, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the state's equal protection guarantee prohibits the state from discriminating against same-sex relationships. Although the court found that "no fundamental right to same-sex marriage exists", the "unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners [could] no longer be tolerated under [New Jersey's] state constitution." To achieve equal protection, the court ruled:

To comply with this constitutional mandate, the Legislature must either amend the marriage statutes to include same-sex couples or create a parallel statutory structure, which will provide for, on equal terms, the rights and benefits enjoyed and burdens and obligations borne by married couples. We will not presume that a separate statutory scheme, which uses a title other than marriage, contravenes equal protection principles, so long as the rights and benefits of civil marriage are made equally available to same-sex couples. The name to be given to the statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits to same sex couples, whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the democratic process.

Although the court determined that the right to marry is a fundamental right, it concluded that it was not a right that historically had been recognized for same-sex couples as it had traditionally been recognized for opposite-sex couples. In a concurring and dissenting opinion, three of the court's seven justices disagreed with the majority opinion and argued that a person's due process rights are also denied if he or she is denied the opportunity to participate in a state-sanctioned marriage ceremony, in addition to the equal protection claim.

Today's ruling will no doubt bring greater attention to this issue in this year's election. Gay marriage amendments are on the ballot in eight states this year, including Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. The issue could impact the outcome of control of the U.S. Senate. Both Virginia and Tennessee have closely contested races where the religious right vote could make the difference for the Republican candidates, Sen. George Allen (R) and Rep. Bob Corker (R). The issue is being raised in both congressional and state legislative issues by Republican candidates in Indiana, although there is no ballot initiative. Indiana could have such an issue on the ballot in 2008, however, if the legislature approves the pending SJR-7 constitutional amendment, which has already been approved once by the legislature.

Tully On Bosma's Conflict Of Interest

It's bad enough that House Speaker Brian Bosma has been wasting taxpayer dollars to fund his "Christian prayer" case for purely political purposes, but it turns out he's also using it to line the pockets of one of the partners in his own law firm. Matt Tully reports over at his blog that Indiana taxpayers have paid $27,139 for the legal services of Bosma's law partner, William Bock, III, on the prayer lawsuit. Bosma also uses taxpayer funds to pay Bock to serve as the House's parliamentarian.

Nuvo Election Coverage Disappoints

Indy's alternative weekly newspaper, Nuvo, has all the appearances from its cover of having good local election coverage, but its looks are deceiving. As for the candidates, Nuvo's Kyle McClurg discusses only the three congressional races all the mainstream media have been discussing ad nauseum since the beginning of this election year--the 2nd, 8th and 9th Districts. He writes, "And with three congressional districts . . . projected to be tight races, all eyes are on Indiana." His discussion of the candidates in these three races is nothing but a regurgitation of what has been written countless times before. His complete failure to acknowledge the tight race in Indianapolis' 7th District is completely inexcusable. Afterall, 90% of Nuvo's readers live in the 7th, and nobody in those other three districts reads the publication. Has Nuvo forgotten what an alternative newspaper is all about?

The weekly redeems itself somewhat with Laura McPhee's story about "Sex and the Statehouse", which draws attention to the fact that who controls the Indiana General Assembly will have a major impact over the next two years on the extent of government regulation of our sex lives. McPhee provides a good rundown of what's at stake, including efffort to outlaw abortion (constitutional or not), artificial reproductive choices, same-sex marriage and sex education, to name just a few. She does not, however, discuss the candidates involved in several hotly contested Marion County legislative races which will help decide which view will prevail, such as Orentlicher v. Densborn, Buell v. Barnes, Bosma v. Fuldauer and Merritt v. Brown.

In a separate article, Michael Snodgrass focuses on "New Nativism"--the push for anti-immigrant legislation. The inclusion in the story's headline of "The Republican answer to immigration" is misleading, because it is hardly a straight Republican v. Democrat issue, which even Snodgrass acknowledges. In fact, President Bush and a number of moderate Republicans led by Sen. John McCain, have led the push to provide a path to citizenship for the more than 12 million illegal aliens in the country, along with tougher enforcement--a fact Snodgrass concedes in his article. Democratic congressional candidate Brad Ellsworth has been trying to run to the right of Rep. John Hostettler (R) on the immigration issue, and that takes some effort given Hostettler's hardline view and attention he's given to the issue. Again, though, the article fails to tie where the respective candidates stand on the issue to be instructive to its readers.

MLK Street Designation Issue Heating Up

Although the biggest concern on many people's minds in Indianapolis right now is the rising crime rate, City-County Council President Monroe Gray has decided to take a break from his efforts to get a bar in the Julia Carson Government Center (his wife owns a piece of it) to get a 3-mile stretch of Michigan Road renamed Martin Luther King Drive. The proponents of the change don't like a compromise reached back in 1985, which renamed the street south of 38th Street after the slain civil rights leaders. They say "this effort to honor King does not fully encompass his vision for the 'beloved community,' a community of unity and peace for all people." Renaming all of Michigan Road after King "would show the unity that Dr. Martin Luther King stood for" according to Gray.

The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy reports that a group of civic leaders have been working on this proposal for six to eight months. Interestingly, the city-county councilor who represents most of the affected portions of Michigan Road, Angela Mansfield (D), did not learn of the proposal until just a few days ago. She supports a memorial designation for the affected stretch of the street, but not a name change, which many businesses along the route oppose. She tells O'Shaughnessy that several businesses along the road use "Michigan Road" in their company name.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hotline On NRCC's Surprise Ad Buy For Souder

Apparently the National Republican Congressional Committee has a lot of money to waste. The NRCC made an independent expenditure against Rep. Mark Souder's Democratic opponent, Tom Hayhurst, in the amount of $72,000. Hayhurst doesn't have a snowball in hell's chance of beating Souder. Hotline reports:

In its latest independent expenditure filing, the NRCC just bought ad time on behalf of Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN 03) after conducting a poll in the district last week. The buy totals over $72,000 -- a relatively small amount. The Democrats have a self-funding candidate running, Ft. Wayne City Councilman Tom Hayhurst. But it's a solidly GOP district -- Pres. Bush won here with 68% in 2004, and Souder has won over 60% every cycle since 1998.

Outside Ohio, Indiana's provided the roughest state environment for the Republicans. Gov. Mitch Daniels' unpopularity (because of privatizing the Indiana Toll Road, implementing Daylight Savings' time) has made the re-election bids of Reps. Chris Chocola (R-IN 02), John Hostettler (R-IN 08) and Mike Sodrel (R-IN 09) very precarious. Could that same environment make Souder's re-election more challenging than he once expected?

The NRCC also made an additional $157,043.80 independent expenditure against Brad Ellsworth (D) on behalf of Rep. John Hostettler (R). That brings the NRCC's total expenditures on behalf of Hostettler to $1,830,891.64. If the folks at the NRCC had half a brain, they would dump $100,000 into the 7th District race against Carson on behalf of Dickerson, and save the money they're wasting in the Hostettler and Souder races.

Rep. Mike Sodrel (R) will get a second presidential visit of the year when President Bush joins him on Saturday in Sellersburg. Some might consider that a risky move given Bush's low approval numbers as of late, but Sodrel seems to think that Bush is still relatively popular in his district.

On another note, Hotline is reporting that the New Jersey Supreme Court will issue its long-awaited same-sex marriage decision tomorrow. After the New York and Washington court decisions earlier this year, it would be a real shocker if the New Jersey court sided with the same-sex marriage proponents.

Indiana's Stealth Race

Reacting to the latest WISH-TV poll showing that Republican Eric Dickerson has erased most of the 20-point lead the same poll showed Rep. Julia Carson (D) with just six weeks ago, the Star's Mary Beth Schneider and Theodore Kim contribute to a story which dubs the 7th District race as "Indiana's stealth race." They write, "Though garnering little national attention, it could be as close as or closer than the state's three races in the national spotlight." They cite her health as the major issue dragging her down in the polls. "Democratic U.S. Rep. Julia Carson, trailing in at least one recent poll, is confronting questions about her health and vigor as she tries to build on a personal connection with voters that has served her well in the past," the two write.

National pundits, such as one from the Cook Report, say they've seen it all before. "It's the same story every year," said Amy Walter, who tracks congressional races for the Washington-based Cook Political Report. "And then she pulls it off." I'm guessing Walter hasn't met Carson in person, at least in the past year. The speculation is that no national money will be sent in at the last minute to aid Dickerson. Ed Patru of the National Republican Congressional Committee tells the Star he thinks Carson is beatable because "she has gotten increasingly out-of-touch." "This race has the potential to be the sleeper race of the cycle," said Patru. Patru is the man who has been frequently quoted in Indiana's other three congressional races where the NRCC has dumped millions. The NRCC would have been better advised to have dumped that last $109,000 they put in the 8th District race here in the 7th District.

"She says she was instrumental in getting federal money to help repair local roads and streets, keep IndyGo running and redevelop blighted parts of Indianapolis as part of the Fall Creek Place project," the Star reports on Carson's defense of her record. "I've reached out from the heart," Carson said in an interview. "My record just shows up as hard work. I don't care what (Dickerson) says. I know what I've done." Actually, Carson had very little to do with the federal funding for these projects. The funding was actually handled by other members of Indiana's congressional delegation with the clout to get the earmarks with the assistance of lobbyists paid by the City of Indianapolis.

The proposed bar in the Julia Carson Government Center is another issue dogging Carson, in addition to her health. The Star writes, "Dickerson also has sought to tie Carson to an unpopular plan to add a restaurant and bar to a semipublic building in Indianapolis that bears Carson's name: the Julia Carson Government Center in Center Township." "Carson says she has no connection to the endeavor and no authority to stop it." Yeah, right. On that point, Abdul is reporting over at Indiana Barrister that Carson's financial supporters are seeking to block the slating of two Democratic members of the city-county council next year, Angela Mansfield and Patrice Abdullah. It seems Carson's backers aren't too happy with their opposition to the Savoy dance club and 300 East, respectively. To these folks, it's not a good thing to listen to your constituents as Mansfield and Abdullah did in this instance. We only help people who help put money in our pockets. It's all about us. The hell with the people.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Has Lance Had His Last Bite?

Former House Speaker Paul Mannweiler's pet bulldog, Lance, is no longer welcome at a Lake Monroe subdivision according to this week's Indianapolis Business Journal. The IBJ reports:

Homeowners there have become so feaful of "Lance" that they have asked a Monroe Circuit Court to banish from the premises the pooch with a penchant for biting.

The lawsuit brought Oct. 5 by several people details incidents in which they, or someone they know, were bitten. One of the victims, though not seriously injured, is Jason C. Darko, the 33-year-old son of Indianapolis lawyer Richard Darko, a neighbor of Mannweiler's at the lake retreat who is representing the plaintiffs.

A carpenter constructing a log cabin suffered severe enough wounds that the Mannweilers offered to take him to the hospital, the complaint claims . . .

The complaint charges that the Mannweilers are committing a nuisance by maintaining a dangerous dog of such "vicious propensities" . . .

According to the IBJ report, Mannweiler has promised to keep Lance confined to his property, but that's not sufficiently reassuring to the weary neighbors. They wanted an assurance he wouldn't bring Lance back to his Lake Monroe home. Mannweiler would not agree to that condition so they're headed to court.

Ironically, the report notes that Mannweiler authored legislation in 1993 as a legislator which made dog owners liable for their dogs' actions. The law makes dog owners responsible for damages resulting from a bite, and it subjects them to a Class C misdemeanor for intentionally failing to restrain a dog. Mannweiler currently works as a lobbyist for Bose Treacey & Associates.

WISH-TV Poll Good News For Republicans

A WISH-TV poll shows Republican candidates making up big ground in their respective races for the 7th District congressional seat and Marion Co. Prosecutor's race. Last month, this same poll showed Rep. Julia Carson (D) with a 20-point lead over Republican Eric Dickerson. The new numbers show that Dickerson has cut Carsons lead down to just 5 points, and that's within the margin of error. Carson leads Dickerson by 48%-43% with 9% undecided according to the poll.

Carson is supported by 75% of black voters, indicating that Dickerson is succeeding in attracting more black voters than Republicans have previously been able to garner in her other five races. The poll shows him attracting 13% of the black vote. Among white voters, Dickerson is favored overwhelmingly, 58%-36%. Carson typically draws as much as 95% of the black vote. Dickerson leads among male voters, while Carson leads among female voters. If you average this poll with last week's WTHR-TV poll, the race is a dead heat with Carson getting 45% to Dickerson's 44%.

Dickerson did not respond to Shella's request for a reaction to the new poll. He tells Shella he's chasing votes not polls. A feeble Carson, not sounding altogether optimistic, told Shella, "You know one of my favorite sayings is it ain't over till the fat lady sings. And we're hoping the fat lady does an appearance in behalf of yours truly."

In the race for Marion Co. Prosecutor, Brizzi has taken a 50%-42% lead over Democrat Melina Kennedy with 8% undecided. In last month's WISH-TV poll, Kennedy led Brizzi slightly by a 43%-42% margin. A WTHR poll taken last week showed Brizzi with an even larger lead of 51%-35%. Interestingly, Brizzi's showing was only 1% different between the two polls, while Kennedy polled 7% less in the WTHR poll. If you average the two poll results, Brizzi leads Kennedy 50.5%-39%. Brizzi had a big lead among men and independents. Kennedy had a slight lead among women voters.

The demographics of the poll arguably favored Democrats. The breakout is as follows:

Democrats 172 (43%)
Republicans 124 (31%)
Other 104 (26%)
White 264 (66%)
Black 104 (26%)
Other 32 (8%)

Tonight's poll is confirmation of a trend towards the major Republican candidates in Marion County just two weeks before the election. It also confirms that the WTHR-TV poll was not off-the-wall. I suspect that voter concerns about crime and government corruption is working in favor of Republicans this year in local Marion County races--the exact opposite as what is happening at the national level. As Tip O'Neill used to say, "all politics are local."

New Poll Results From WISH-TV

WISH-TV will offer new poll results from the 7th District race and the prosecutor's race tonight at 6:00 p.m. AI hears this poll will show Carson with a slight lead over Dickerson, at 48%-43%, but well below the 55% mark she polled in last month's poll. Dickerson, as shown by the WTHR-TV poll, has picked up considerable ground in his bid to unseat the 10-term congresswoman, narrowing the gap to just five points. As some argued that the WTHR-TV poll was skewed in favor of the Republicans, some will also argue that the WISH-TV poll favors Democrats. Jim Shella teases us with this bit of information about Rep. Julia Carson at his blog:

Republican Eric Dickerson wants Democrat Julia Carson's health to be an issue in the 7th. A woman working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee questioned that strategy last week, offering that the Congresswoman looks pretty good. I pointed out that Rep. Carson's appearance changed markedly in recent years and that she's only 68. "Oh," came the response, "I thought she was, like, 80."

Legislative Candidates Struggle To Get Noticed

The Star's Mary Beth Schneider has a story today prominently featuring the 86th District race between Rep. David Orentlicher (D) and Kathryn Densborn (R). In our bloggers' forum last week with Orentlicher, state representative candidate John Barnes (D) and state senate candidate Russell Brown (D), we discussed the struggle state legislative candidates have in trying to get mainstream media coverage of their campaigns. Barnes pointed to a front-page story in a neighborhood newspaper on the city's eastside. Unlike other news stories, this was one his campaign had to purchase.

Orentlicher's and Barnes' campaigns received a big boost when the Star endorsed their candidacies last week. While Barnes' District 89 race against Rep. Larry Buell (R) did not get the attention Orentlicher's race got today, I suspect his race is every bit as competitive as District 86. Republican Jon Elrod, an attorney, also got a boost from a surprise Star endorsement last week in his uphill fight against Rep. Ed Mahern (D), as did Robin Olds (D) in her bid to unseat Rep. Phil Hinkle (R). Susan Fuldauer (D) has been campaigning tirelessly against House Speaker Brian Bosma, but her campaign has gotten little attention from the media, presumably because the district is so Republican.

Some of these candidates have wisely elected to use bloggers to help get out their message, while others have pretty much ignored them. The way I look at it, it's free media. With the high cost of mounting a campaign, a candidate can extend his/her reach considerably by reaching out to the blogs.

Indiana's Congressional Clout

The Star's Maureen Groppe takes a look at the clout of Indiana's current congressional delegation and what will happen to it if the Democrats take over Congress as many observers now expect. She concludes the state's influence will dwindle. She writes:

Indiana's congressional clout would immediately diminish if Democrats take control of the House and Senate, a scenario that appears increasingly likely as Republicans struggle on multiple fronts.

Indiana -- at least initially -- stands to lose more committee chairmen than it would gain in a power switch because the delegation is now dominated by Republicans, many of whom have been in Washington long enough to head committees.

Sen. Richard Lugar, for example, would lose his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee if Democrats take control of the Senate. Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Monticello, would no longer head the House Veterans Affairs Committee if the GOP loses control of the House.

U.S. Reps. Dan Burton, R-Indianapolis, Mark Souder, R-Fort Wayne, and John Hostettler, R-Wadesville, would no longer run subcommittees under that scenario.

On the upside, Groppe sees Indiana's congressmen gaining two new leadership roles. Rep. Pete Visclosky (D) is likely to take over a panel that handles spending bills for energy and water projects. Groppe also speculates that Rep. Mike Pence (R) will gain a new leadership role as the GOP shuffles its leadership. Only one member of the congressional delegation gets no mention in Groppe's article--Rep. Julia Carson (D). That should tell folks something.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Speaking Of Failed Businesses And Candidates For Public Office

Apparently, some supporters of Rep. Julia Carson (D) would like people to believe her Republican opponent Eric Dickerson is a failed businessman as suggested by comments from her supporters on area blog sites, including this one. They suggest that by selling his Buick dealership this past summer this somehow confirms that he must be a failed businessman. One blogger, in support of Carson, referred to “Dickerson’s failed Buick dealership” in the same breath he accused others, including your’s truly, of slinging mud on behalf of Dickerson. Let’s examine the facts a little closer and compare Dickerson’s business success to that of Carson’s.

Dickerson rose up through the ranks of General Motors and Rolls Royce beginning 27 years ago and became a successful business executive. In 1999, he became a business entrepreneur by opening a Buick dealership he successfully operated for 7 years before selling out to Ed Martin. While Carson’s supporters wish to portray the sale as evidence of him being a failed businessman, it had much more to do with the changing automobile industry. It is no secret that GM is engaged in a major downsizing and consolidation effort. The Buick division has been reduced to just three model lines. These changed circumstances made it unwise for anyone in Dickerson’s shoes to continue operating a single, dwindling automobile line. His decision to sell it was a practical business decision as much as anything else. In addition to his Buick dealership, Dickerson also purchased a Maggie Moo franchise last year.

For those who insist on making his business success or failure an issue in this campaign, I think it is only fair to compare his business record to that of Ms. Carson’s. While she has spent most of her adult life as a career politician, she did venture into the private sector by opening an upscale fashion boutique, J Carson, in Claypool Court in downtown Indianapolis in 1985. As the Indianapolis News described the clothing store in a October 1, 1985 new story: “Offering women the latest fashions at reasonable prices is just another way the legislator believes she can serve her constituents. “No conflict of interest,” then-State Sen. Julia Carson told the News. Or was there?

A little more than a year later the Indianapolis Star’s George Stuteville reported on November 19, 1986, that a few Center Township workers were facing reprimands over a clothing dispute with Carson. It seems that Center Township had established a voucher program which allowed poor Center Township residents to redeem vouchers at approved vendors to purchase clothing for themselves and their children. The approved vendors included Stacy’s Discount Clothes, Zayre, Today’s Fashion and J. Carson. One of those vendors alone was granted a special benefit. Carson chose to participate in a program which permitted the vendors to rent space in the township’s warehouse to display their clothing. Carson, however, was permitted to display her clothing in the Center Township officers where the vouchers were being issued because she complained there was no heat in the warehouse. Carson then complained after picking up only 5 of the 37 vouchers initially issued that the township employees were discouraging the recipients from her. Stuteville reported:

[Center Township Trustee Charles] Walton said it looked as if her store was being boycotted by trustee workers who thought the veteran state legislator must have had an unfair advantage by placing her merchandise in the township trustee’s office building.

“Julia has political enemies. There is a lot of infighting going on: partisans of the other vendors don’t want J. Carson’s to get the vouchers. It looks like they took it upon themselves to make that decision,” said Walton.
The flip side of the argument was that the trustee workers were actually doing the taxpayers and the voucher recipients a favor because the prices on the clothing offered by the other vendors were less expensive. Carson’s take was obviously different. She told Stuteville, “I could see my enemies screaming if I were giving indigents poor quality clothing, but I am competitive with my costs. I don’t do no markup on them. Why not let a poor kid have a damn good coat?”

Favoritism or not, it was not enough to save J. Carson’s from failure. The Indianapolis Star reported on October 15, 1987 that her landlord, Claypool Development Co., sued her for more than $74,199 in back rent and unpaid assessments for her clothing store. It appeared she hadn’t paid rent for some time as the story reported her monthly rent was $2,923. Carson shared a different view of the situation with the Star: “We reached an agreement two weeks ago and I guess it’s a matter of not communicating the agreement,” Carson said. “This is just an error that they filed the lawsuit.” On February 24, 1990, the Indianapolis News reported that “State Sen. Julia M. Carson’s wages are being garnished to help pay off a debt from a failed business venture.” The News said Carson was the only member of the legislature to have her wages garnished.

At the same time, the News reported that Carson was delinquent in the payment of more than $10,000 in property taxes on two properties she owned. Carson told the News, “I don’t apologize for not making a business work.” In a separate news story, Carson told the News she disputed the taxes owed on one of the properties. “The apartment building itself has been dormant for over 10 years,” Carson said. “It’s only the house that should be taxed and not the apartment building.” “But it’s not.” “It’s a single-family dwelling,” she added. That’s an argument that hardly works with an honest assessor.

Later, when Carson would become Center Township Trustee, she revamped the voucher program so that only one store, Doris’ Outlet, qualified to provide clothing to the poor. The store was owned by Doris and Louis Morse, who refused to answer questions of Indianapolis Star about the arrangement. A Star analysis in 1993 of the store’s prices determined that they were much higher than those at discount stores. Carson called it an oversight at the time according to the Star. “It will never happen again as long as I am trustee,” she told the Star. But when supporters of her Republican opponent for Congress in 1996 purchased clothing from Doris’ Outlet, they discovered that some clothing items cost several times the cost of the items at discount stores like Value City. Carson defended Doris’ Outlet because it was closer than the other stores. She told the Star she had to purchase transportation for clients if she sent them to stores like Value City with their vouchers. To her Republican opponent, Virginia Blankenbaker, Carson was ripping off the taxpayers. “She is gouging the taxpayers,” Blankenbaker told the Star on October 10, 1996. “Julia had some questionable things going on. She said they would be corrected, and in fact they weren’t,” she added. Blankenbaker also criticized Carson for giving township jobs to her own daughter and two grandsons. Carson defended the hiring of family members. “I have no qualms,” she told the Star.

Now, supporters of Carson will invariably scream that it’s mudslinging to raise legitimate news stories that have been written about Carson’s past. These are matters which are a part of the public record. Instead of accusing AI and others of making up stories about Carson, her defenders would do well to take a trip over the state library or the Marion County library and search the news archives as this blogger did instead of sitting on their butts and attacking anyone who dares to report on her record. It’s all right there in black and white. If you want to accuse someone of mudslinging, then start with the newspapers who reported these items as newsworthy in the first instance. And when you do that you might find a few more items of interest, including the following:

· While then-state senator Carson thought it was just fine for the township to fork over more money to let the poor buy her clothes, she was less charitable towards the needs of the poor when she became Center Township Trustee. Incredibly, one of Carson’s first policy decisions in office was to tell AFDC recipients that they would be ineligible for poor relief. Can you imagine if a Republican had done the same thing? Her handling of poor relief triggered a lawsuit on behalf of recipients by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, which forced her to rescind the policy, as well as a process that denied benefits without due process. As to an argument made by Ken Falk of the ICLU that she was trying to discourage people from applying for poor relief, Carson said, “That is not true. He’s having a pipe dream. We’re throwing money around here like south going north.” Indianapolis Star, February 28, 1991.
· Carson was right on target when she said the township was “throwing money around here like south going north.” Carson got her own salary increased 63.5% during the 6 years she served as Center Township Trustee. Carson made the decision to purchase the former Standard Life Insurance building, now known as the Julia Carson Government Center. When she acquired it with taxpayer funds for $350,000, she said taxpayers would have to spend another $2-$3 million to renovate the building. As it turned it, it cost $5 million to renovate the building. While she promised to make it one-stop shopping for all Center Township needs, only a small part of the township’s offices were ever re-located to the building. Not long after she said that, Carson announced the township would not need all the space and “some would be leased and some may be used for “entrepreneurial opportunities.” We’re looking at forming small businesses for people,” she said. When she was elected to Congress, she insisted on having her own congressional office in the building with a view of the downtown skyline. “This is the office where you watch fireworks,” she said, admiring her view of Downtown. Indianapolis News, April 15, 1994; Indianapolis Star, June 19, 1996; Indianapolis Star, October 10, 1996.
· Carson demonstrated how she exacts revenge on people who don’t obey her command when she served as township trustee. She fired three township employees who refused to support her candidate for township constable, Mark “Tony” Duncan, who was running to succeed a previous constable, Taylor Seaths, who pleaded guilty to federal mail fraud charges. The township eventually settled a lawsuit for $60,000 and tens of thousands in wasted attorneys fees at the urging of Carson’s attorney, Virginia Dill McCarty, in 1996 as she launched her bid for a congressional seat. The Star reported, “Despite a state unemployment ruling to the contrary, McCarty and Carson maintain the men weren’t fired.” “They just didn’t show up for work,” Carson said. The ICLU saw it differently. “These guys didn’t get rehired because of politics,” Rich Waples said. “They have a right not to be denied these jobs.” He described it as “a straight First Amendment claim.” Indianapolis Star, March 28, 1996.
· In 1994, the Indianapolis Star reported that the Marion County Election Board had determined that a political action committee operated by Carson and her successor, Carl Drummer, known as Democrats United for Victory, had used the PAC’s funds improperly by making gifts and loans from the PAC to township employees. Carson told the Board the PAC had stopped making illegal loans and gifts to employees. “It’s unfortunate,” she said of the violations. “It’s nothing that was deliberate.” The Board voted 2-1 to let Carson and Drummer off with a warning after their pleas for leniency rather than refer the two to the Marion County prosecutor's office for prosecution. Indianapolis Star, December 14, 1994.

Eugene Anderson Redux

The Star's "Behind Closed Doors" column mentions an item which was first reported in the blogosphere more than two weeks ago. Commenting on reports by WXNTS's Abdul Hakim-Shabazz and Indy Undercover that assistant Deputy Mayor Eugene Anderson had resigned due to a previously undisclosed domestic violence arrest, AI had commented at the time that Rep. Carson had taken aim at her Republican opponent but had hit Anderson instead. "Behind Closed Doors" agrees that political attacks can come full circle:

The recent resignation of Eugene Anderson, an Indianapolis assistant deputy mayor, appears to illustrate the axiom that political attacks can come full circle.

In mid-September, U.S. Rep. Julia Carson, a Democrat, dropped the news of an old domestic abuse incident involving Eric Dickerson, the Republican challenger for her congressional seat. Dickerson faced preliminary charges of battery and disorderly conduct, but the case was dismissed after his wife and daughter declined to testify.

While the mayor's office would not discuss why Anderson resigned, Deputy Mayor Steve Campbell said Anderson in late September informed chief of staff John Dillon of a 1997 domestic abuse incident. Anderson, who was in charge of special events for Mayor Bart Peterson, a Democrat, resigned shortly thereafter.

Anderson's misdemeanor battery charge may not have shown up in a background check when he was hired in 2002 because he went into a diversion program and later had the charge expunged.

AI noted previously that Dickerson, like Anderson, could have legally had his record expunged. It made much more sense in Dickerson's case because he denied the charges, which were eventually dropped. By entering a diversionary program, Anderson did not contest the charges; rather, he agreed not to commit the same crime again in exchange for leniency. If Anderson had the charge legally expunged, it begs the question of how the arrest became public. It is my reading of the statute which allows defendants to have their criminal records expunged that it is illegal for a law enforcement officer to disclose an expunged record.

There may be another explanation for the public disclosure of Anderson's record. I recently read where criminal defense attorneys are telling their clients that expungment isn't as effective as it once was. That's because numerous databases store arrest records as a service for employers and others checking out a person's criminal background. When a person's arrest record is expunged, it doesn't remove the arrest associated with their name from these other publicly accessible databases. The Marion Co. Juvenile Detention Center was forced to fire another employee this past week because of a previously unknown criminal record. In that case, the employee had legally changed his name and a criminal background check of his current name did not disclose his criminal past.

Star Picks Brizzi

Believe it or not, the Indianapolis Star editorial board finally made an endorsement that seems logical. Voters should re-elect Carl Brizzi as Marion Co. Prosecutor because he has a record and experience which merit re-election. They concluded his prosecutorial record on serious crimes was at least as good as the national average, notwithstanding Melina Kennedy's charges to the contrary. Under cross-examination, Kennedy told the editorial board she had only examined one witness in a court room and that was in small claims court.

The editorial also takes some hits at Brizzi. It says he spends too much time trying to "thrust himself into the center of media attention." It also says he is "too eager to score political points against his adversaries." The editorial doesn't mention that he's often been on the receiving end of Democratic efforts to score political points against him--a point the Star itself has made this past year. All in all, AI suspects Brizzi will be happy with today's endorsement.

For those of you interested in how the Star makes its endorsements, editor Dennis Ryerson explains the process here in today's Star. The editorial board is made up of persons with widely divergent political philosophies. They include Editorial Page Editor Tim Swarens, Jane Lichtenberg, RiShawn Biddle, Dan Carpenter, Beth Murphy, Russ Pulliam and cartoonist Gary Varvel.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Supreme Court Orders Enforcement Of Arizona Voter ID Law

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled to overturn a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals order blocking enforcement of Arizona's new voter ID law, citing a procedural error of the Court of Appeals in granting the injunction before the district court had tendered its findings of fact and law and without explaining its ruling. Indiana's voter ID law, which has been upheld by the district court, is on appeal in front of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. It is important to note that Arizona's voter ID law is written more broadly than Indiana's. It allows a valid photo ID or two other non-photo forms of ID with their name and address, such as a utility bill. Indiana's law requires voters to show a valid driver's license or state-issued photo ID.

College Football On A Saturday Afternoon

I don't typically take in college football games on a Saturday afternoon, but I made a special exception today. My nephew, Derek Eitel, is a freshman quarterback for Rose-Hulman. The Engineers had a tough day down at Franklin College. A tough defense kept the game within 3 points until the 4th quarter when the Grizzlies scored two touchdowns, giving them a 28-11 victory.

The Engineers were dealt a number of setbacks as a result of extremely poor officiating and a time-keeper who was working over-time to help out the Grizzlies. The clock had to be reset three times, largely because Engineer fans screamed out at the referees to correct the madness going on. When the Engineers had the ball on the one-yard line, referees called a personal foul on two Engineer players who were reacting to a Grizzly player who knew how to finger a guy in the eye through his helmet after the play was dead. The referees missed that and penalized the Engineers 30 yards. Needless to say, the Engineers didn't score on that play. The real kicker came at the end. The Grizzlies proved themselves to be bad winners by provoking a brawl that involved about half the players of each team and a couple of the coaches after the game ended.

The Engineers' starting quarterback, Cameron Hummel, is shown on the left next to my nephew. The action photo is one of the plays Derek quarterbacked. Unfortunately, that photo was taken immediately before an Engineer turnover. Starting quarterback Hummel led the offense most of the game. Derek has actually started about three games this year due to injuries suffered by Hummel early in the season.

Federal Grand Jury Probing Mortgage Fraud

Finally, the feds have stepped in and are taking a look at the mortgage fraud going on in Marion County. The Star reports that U.S. Attorney Susan Brooks has convened a grand jury to look into fraud allegedly committed by Robert Penn. AI hopes the investigation goes much further than Penn. There are others engaged in the similar practices.

More On Blogger's Forum With Legislative Candidates

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down with three Democratic legislative candidates in Marion County, who are all in very tight races. Rep. David Orentlicher (D) is facing a tough challenge from Kathryn Densborn (D). Challenger John Barnes (D) is seeking to unseat long-time serving Rep. Larry Buell (D). And challenger Russell Brown (D) is taking on Sen. James Merritt (R). The candidates shared their views on a wide range of topics. What I was most impressed from all three of them was how well they seemed to have researched the issues and developed thoughtful positions. While their views were in line with many in their party, their own positions were not taken in a knee-jerk manner. Here's some of what they had to say.

Top Legislative Priorities
All three candidates listed education as a top priority. Full-day kindergarten has been an issue Russ Brown has been touting a lot. In a recent debate with his opponent, Merritt switched his past opposition to full-day kindergarten to one in support Brown notes. Orentlicher has supported full-day kindergarten during his two terms in the legislature. On the question of education funding, Barnes reminds us that the state constitution doesn't give us a choice--the state's role in funding a public education system is clearly mandated, and the state has not been fulfilling its constitutionally-mandated duty. Brown used the opportunity to tout his proposal to provide tax incentives to encourage Indiana employers to help retain Indiana college graduates to stem the brain drain.

They all agreed that dealing with the problem of the insured must be a high priority. Orentlicher noted that he has participated in a health insurance reform study for some time. A model adopted by the VA hospitals is one that he thinks Indiana should take a closer look at. Brown believes the state needs to create a small business health insurance pool as a means of combatting the problem of the uninsured.

The candidates agreed that property tax reform that allows local governments alternative options for raising revenues to reduce dependency on the property tax is a top priority as well.

SJR-7 (Constitutional Amendment to Ban Gay Marriage)
All three candidates are opposed to SJR-7, which would adopt a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages, as well as prohibit the recognition of the legal incidents of marriage for unmarried couples, whether straight or gay. Orentlicher voted against the measure when it was adopted by the General Assembly in 2005 in the first of a two-part process to place the amendment before voters in 2008. The candidates were all familiar with the second paragraph of the proposed amendment. Brown remarked his astonishment that during debate on SJR-7, Sen. Brent Herschman (R) freely admitted that he had no idea what the second paragraph of SJR-7 meant. He thought many of the members were similarly uninformed about the language in the amendment. Barnes observed that, once an amendment to the constitution is adopted, it is almost never repealed.

Each of the candidates unique perspectives help explain their position on this controversial issue. All three candidates agreed that SJR-7 and other hot button social issues are creating an unfavorable perception of Indiana and hindering its ability to attract cutting edge industries and a highly-educated workforce. Orentlicher notes that a successful legislative effort to ban all research pertaining to cloning and continuing efforts to ban research on embryonic stem cell research has had the effect already of driving out researchers from the state. Brown grew up in Ft. Collins, Colorado where HP had a large presence. A culture of acceptance and diversity helped that community grown and thrive. And Barnes, as a long-term educator in Warren Township schools, has seen first-hand the benefit of promoting a culture of tolerance and acceptance of diversity in our public schools.

All three candidates agreed that the state's civil rights law should be amended to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Orentlicher cautioned, howevever, that with any legislative change, he would want to be extra careful not to effectively repeal any current local ordinances already on the books.

Voter I.D.
All three candidates oppose the state's current voter identification law. This will be the first general election at which voters will be required to submit a state-issued ID, such as a driver's license. Unlike some Democrats, these three candidates didn't reject out of hand the idea of requiring some form of ID. Their opposition is based on the restrictive nature of the law's requirement. They all agreed the law would be more palatable if the forms of ID permitted under the law were broadened considerably. They all agreed that the legislature should be more concerned with addressing election fraud in the form of absentee balloting as opposed to voter impersonation, a problem they see as being much greater. Their fear is that the current law will effectively disenfranchise voters for no other reason than it will create longer voting lines and people will walk away from the polling places.

All three candidates expressed concern about the current administration's desire to privatize many government services. Orentlicher concedes that privatization in some cases is desirable, but there are many services which are not suited for privatization. In the context of the toll roads deal, one of Orentlicher's greatest concerns is a provision in the new law which will allow the Governor to privatize other public roads without legislative input. He sees a real danger in such an open-ended law. They felt that the toll road deal was too rushed. Barnes points out that his opponent freely admits he didn't consult with his constituents on the toll road initiative. Instead, Buell voted his conscience. Brown lamented that the paultry sums local governments were getting from the deal in his district weren't worth the risks of a 75-year deal.

Part-Time Legislature/Conflicts of Interest
While Indiana's legislature is still considered a part-time, citizen legislature, the candidates find that most constituents don't understand this. Orentlicher, who is a professor at IU, notes the challenges in deciding what issues pose a conflict of interest. Some would argue that he should recuse him from voting on all matters pertaining to IU, including its budget. He thinks the broader public interest should allow him to vote on IU's budget. Talking to voters, Barnes finds people who assume he will be required to give up his full-time teaching job if he's elected. He intends to continue teaching like other teachers in the legislature if he's elected. Brown sees a need for tighter controls. He notes one senator who is a hog farmer helps write laws regulating hog farms. He sees an apparent conflict of interest in that.

Some people have asked why there were no Republican candidates at the blogger's forum. That question should be addressed to Bil Browning at Bilerico, the organizer of yesterday's event. As for my part, I make myself available to any of the Republican legislative candidates who want to share their views with me for publication on this blog.