Friday, April 30, 2010

iPOPA Thanks Mainstream Media, Fellow Bloggers for Catching Up; Speaks on City-County Councillor Folly

When I tell my wife she looks amazing, she thanks me, but I’ve noticed it's only when her friends tell her the same thing that she finally believes it. I guess if you expect compliments as part of the marital pact, it's only when "outside validation" occurs that something becomes really true.

Bloggers have that same kind of relationship with the mainstream media.

Earlier this week, the Indianapolis Star's Francesca Jarosz wrote a stellar analysis yesterday detailing how the Mayor's funding for sidewalks and roads through the Cit Gas transfer is basically a hidden tax increase because it would necessitate higher future rates.

Both of my closest blogger buddies, Terry Burns at Indianapolis Times and Jon Easter at Indydemocrat, posted praises here and here and Advance Indiana, my colleague from across the aisle, followed suit, as if Jarosz had discovered the rosetta stone of MOU's.

I'm green with envy because here's what I wrote about Citizens Gas and the Mayor’s water deal on March 20, 2010:

Or how about this. Why (doesn't Citizens) just assume the debt and forget the $262 million? [Ed. Note: I never bought the $425 million]. We all know the cash is just an advance against an even higher, future rate increase. Why not forget the cash and have lower rates in the future, Mr. Mayor?

One day you all will believe me when I say your shoes look nice. Sniff.

For his part, Democratic Mayoral candidate Brian Williams continues to raise pertinent questino about the deal, and the one that's captivated my imagination at the moment is the fact that City-County Councillor Mike Speedy's resolution has the council voting on a memorandum of understanding (MOU), NOT the final agreement. What is the difference? An MOU is how the parties hope things will work out. A definitive agreement contains the actual, final terms, so we'd know what we're actually getting, not a guess.

Think about that. There are members on the City-County Council who are voting for a "general idea." Can you imagine a Republican member of Congress voting for "healthcare reform" generally with all the actual details to be worked out later by the Obama administration? Of course not.

You say, yeah, but iPOPA, I'm sure votes were definitely cast with an intent of changing the reform bill later. Fair enough, but you prove my point. Congress can always make a law better. Once the City-County Council says, "Do the deal," they lose authority to say anything. What Councillor in his or her right mind would totally abdicate his or her oversight role by voting for something that is NOT the final product?

Stay tuned for...

...who in the Democratic caucus is looking to jump the fence on the Mayor's water deal; and

...iPOPA's Weekend Political Round-Up (an overview and commentary of all pre-primary political activity at all levels)


Monday, April 26, 2010

Strong-Arm Tactics in the Wyser Camp?

Two separate oppponents of Republican Hamilton County prosecutor candidate (and Carl Brizzi chief trial deputy) David Wyser allege that Wyser doesn't play nice.

Lee Buckingham, a current Hamilton County deputy prosecutor who is running against Wyser, alleged that Wyser told him if he ran and lost, he'd lose his job. When asked about his comments, Wyser used the "personnel matter" cover to refuse comment.

Steve Stoez, a Hamilton County who dropped out of the race, said Brizzi spokesman Mario Massillamany called him and told him that if he stayed in, he'd have a hard time getting plea deals from Wyser. Unfortunately for Mario (who resigned from Brizzi's office after being arrested for a DUI), Stoesz taped him. Now Mario claims he wasn't instructed by Wyser and that his remark was meant as a joke.

I'm sure the tape will tell the tale (anybody heard it yet?), but even without the tape, we can all agree that Brizzi's associates have a strange sense of humor.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Random Thoughts on "The Market," Racinos, Carl Brizzi's Amazing Luck, and Larry Brodeur's Bad Fortune

For the second time this year, insurer Wellpoint announced that it will delay rate hikes on individual policies in California. Did “the market” make Wellpoint wait, or was it fear of government scrutiny or regulation? Even those who despise “government” have to admit that it’s a useful vehicle for reigning in prices when the market doesn’t (which is a strange notion because isn't the market already supposed to deliver the lowest price?) Sometimes the thing that drives “the market” to innovate quickest is the fear that if it doesn’t, government will step in. This is probably why after President Clinton took a swing for the fences in 1993 but failed, medical inflation still slowed.

Regarding “the market,” if Republicans so detest government bailouts, why would any self-respecting GOP member vote for slot machines (or anything else) for racing tracks to “keep horseracing viable” (i.e., to keep an unprofitable product afloat)? Why don’t Republicans let this industry fail? Does it have anything to do with the fact that a lot of wealthy Republicans are the ones who raise and race the horses? Seriously, can you envision in your wildest dreams Republican legislators voting to let Navistar put up slot machines?

Speaking of hitting the jackpot, this weekend Carl Brizzi did an interview on WIBC with Steve Simpson. It was too maddeningly incomplete and evasive to recount blow by blow, but the most intriguing tidbits are these:

1. When Carl Brizzi and Paul Page bought a building in Elkhart for $825,000 as co-owners, they didn’t put any money down.

According to Brizzi, the purchase “was collateralized by the building and the lease(s).” But only one lease has been disclosed – the one with the State of Indiana for over one-quarter of the entire purchase price per year. Friends, would any bank give you a loan in such a circumstance without a signed lease? No? Then wouldn’t that mean that BEFORE Brizzi even obtained the building, the State had a deal with him? If so, the State could have bought the building itself and saved hundreds of thousands over the building’s life. If anybody in real estate can explain how something doesn’t smell rotten in this transaction, I’m all ears.

Also, I'm still waiting for Brizzi to explain how he happened to be trolling around Elkhart looking for office space. My thinking is that if I had a really good friend (cough - John Bales - cough) in real estate whose job is to get governmental units office space, he might know about an agency looking for some space, and he might know where and when they need it.

2. When speaking about the Mobarecki plea deal (you know, the one where Brizzi gave a guy with five pounds of dope, sixty thousand worth of drugs, and sixteen thousand in cash in bags of chicken in his freezer just a D felony plus ten of his cash back), Brizzi threw an unnamed John Doe on his staff under the bus.

What Brizzi said was that he had to be so lenient because "serious allegations" had been made against somebody in his office about what the deal for Mobarecki's cooperation was. Can anybody envision how that could be anybody but Larry Brodeur, the prosecutor who was on the case whose e-mail went public on Brizzi's bad decision? How awesome for Brizzi. By pulling the old "I can't say why because it's a personnel matter," Brizzi leaves us to infer, and there's only one person we know of who could be under that microscope - the guy whose e-mail hosed Brizzi publicly.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Healthcare and What Markets Won't Do

Remember back when dual-blade disposable razors came out, and everyone said you’d get a closer, more comfortable shave because two was better than one?

Time passed, and Gilette introduced the Mach-3, with three blades and a conditioning strip for your skin. Next, Schick came out with the Quattro. (Guess how many blades that one had)? Gilette responded with the “Fusion,” which features five blades with an even better conditioner.

Nobody saw where this thing was headed? How many dollars of “research” and advertising could have been saved if somebody had just jumped ahead to the razor with ten blades and conditioning strips with aloe vera between every blade? Who wouldn’t want a razor you can move an inch and your whole face is whisker-free and moisturized?

I’m being facetious, but my point is that often “the market” doesn’t give us what we want because it’s not profitable. Without a one-blade-at-a-time improvement, you don’t have over a decade of “new and improved” to boast about.

Or, to paraphrase Chris Rock:

We’ve got engineers who can put together metals that we shoot into space that can come back through the atmosphere unblemished, but Cadillac can’t made an El Dorado with a bumper that doesn’t fall off? Of course, it can. But they’re not going to do something that (expletive) stupid.

The money is in consistent returns, not durability and customer satisfaction. (This might also explain why Microsoft has a new operating system every other week).

Do consumers get wise? Sure. At some point, they throw their hands up and say I’m going with Apple, or they pull out the old dual blade and say, “This never killed me.” But what a colossal waste all delivered to you by ”the market." Adam Smith equated the market to an "the invisible hand" that, in the aggregate, would benefit society if we just let selfish, individual desires run wild.

Now, lest I be accused by some teapartier of being a socialist, communist, fascist, tyrant, or all four, let me be absolutely precise: market-based competition is the most-efficient approach for how a society distributes goods and services. But as Time's Justin Fox noted after reviewing Smith's seminal works:
Smith also calls for regulation of interest rates and laws to protect workers from their employers. He argues that the corporation, the dominant form of economic organization in today's world, is an abomination.

. . .

Asking "What would Adam Smith say?" is a lot easier than conclusively answering it. It is pretty clear, though, that he wouldn't just shout, "Don't interfere with the invisible hand!" and leave it at that.

Subscribing to the view that that "the market" will magically work everything out shows staggering ignorance of history. Many things we now hold sacrosanct were never delivered by "the market." Here are a few off the top of my head (feel free to add your own in the comment section):

A Forty-Hour Work Week. How many companies paid time-and-a-half for over forty hours, had per week hour limitations, and gave holidays off, even without pay, before government stepped in? I bet 1 percent, if that.

Children Don't Work in Sweatshops. Doesn't "the market" work in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa? Then why are 158 million kids working in sweatshops globally, but almost none in the U.S.? (Shhh! It wasn't "the market" that made us better on child labor, it was "the government.")

Safe Working Conditions. Out of curiosity, for those who hate "federal regulations," do you think "the market" would compel the mine where 29 men died recently to tell you the truth about why it blew up? If federal authorities hadn't been all over the Exxon Valdez, do you think "the market" would have compelled Exxon to tell us about a drunk sea captain?

Safe Food. Anybody remember Upton Sinclair's The Jungle? (Gag reflex) Or for a more recent example, did "the market" make Centerplate Catering invest sufficient dollars to remedy mice infestation at Lucas Oil Stadium, or was it the public disclosure of health code violations, a government achievement? In fact, without "government regulation," would Centerplate have told us all about its problems? I seriously doubt it, and as all economists know, for "the market" to work, we need "perfect information" so consumers can decide whether we want Centerplate's rat-tailed teriyaki kabob or an oversized pretzel instead.

Family Medical Leave. On August 5, 1993, Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act, which is what lets you take time off without pay, mind you, to care for a dying spouse. This is the same bill George Bush vetoed twice saying, "The federal government should not tell employers what benefits to offer their workers." (Fair enough, Mr. President, then why didn't you work to repeal the 40-hour work week or the minimum wage, another thing "the market" certainly didn't deliver).

Discounted Student Loans. Do you have student loans? Did you pay during college for the loan you took as a freshman? Did you have a hard time finding a job fresh out of college? Did you take a forebearance? Would "the market" have let you do that? Go take a $4,000 loan and tell them you want to just hold off until you get on your feet. Let me know how that works out for you.

Clean Water. Are we better off than in the 1970s? Yes?

Clean Air. Are we better off than in the 1970s? Yes?

How come air and water only got measurably better after government regulation? Why wasn't "the market" able to keep the Cuyahoga River from catching on fire? Why doesn't "the market" keep the Chinese (who are actually big market fans, by the way) from sending us dangerous consumer products? I say we get the government out of the way and let "the market" work. When enough people die from the diethylene glycol in Chinese toothpaste, we'll stop buying, won't we?

(As a quick aside, don't you love how back when Democrats wanted to just limit emission of pollutants factory by factory, the Republican response was, "No, let's just create an aggregate cap, then we can use the free market so that companies that do better than others can sell their allowances, thereby creating an incentive to pollute less. Now Republicans hate it - it's called "cap and trade").

And most importantly...

Health Insurance That Doesn't Discriminate Based on Pre-Existing Conditions. Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole once said that anybody could get health insurance. He’s absolutely right. If I gave an insurance company all of my medical claims for the past ten years, and they averaged $100,000 per year, I bet if I agreed to pay $500,000 a year in premiums, they’d cover me. As long as I have an extra half-mill floating around, I’m golden.

From Hoosier Access:
If we force insurance companies to provide coverage without regard to pre-existing conditions, that completely misses the point of insurance. If someone can get “insurance” coverage when they are already sick, that is not insurance because that is not pooling risk. That is redistribution of wealth.

This is an intriguing philosophical statement by conservative commentator Scott Tibbs, but am I to believe Republicans didn't know this until now? So why did they all say they were for this provision? Oh, that's right. Because seventy-six percent of Americans favor this idea. But has "the market" delivered it yet?

Republicans say, "Oh, that's not fair. We've restricted the market by not letting companies sell across state lines." Sounds great, but every state in the union has a Department of Insurance that heavily regulates the product. Once these companies can sell across state lines, who will regulate them to ensure they don't deny people coverage because of pre-existing conditions or deny claims for bogus reasons? Wouldn't only a (gasp) federal agency have the jurisdiction to regulate "federal" plans?

Republicans also say healthcare prices will go down if (a) hospitals post prices on a wall chart like Jiffy Lube does for oil changes; and (b) consumers pay more out of pocket so they have the incentive to "price shop," thereyby seeking cheaper services or foregoing treatments altogether.

Well, of course, we will. Who wouldn't chose a plasma TV over an MRI? But aren't there 40 million Americans without health insurance, meaning there are already a lot of "out-of-pocket" payors?

Isn't it also true that only 57% of Americans (157 million) have dental insurance, meaning over 153 million fully out-of-pocket dental consumers? But have you ever seen a dentist's website advertising the "cheapest root canal in town?" Why hasn't "the market" delivered price listings? And if the market hasn't done it and won't do it, who will? Do you seriously think any hospital wants to tell you what they charge you for an aspirin? They all get over on us.

Herein lies the double-edge blade for Republicans. They want "the market" to solve our problems, but it hasn't, and to the extent Republicans say this is because "the market" is broken, the only thing that can really fix "more government." Sweet dreams, GOP.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Williams Ad Busts Mayor on Fuzzy Math

Democratic mayoral candidate, Brian Williams, has released an ad on Youtube calling into question the $425 million figure the Mayor has consistently touted as what the City would receive should it sells its water and sewer operations to Citizens Gas. Take a look:


American Conservative Union Calls Dan Coats "Old Man"?

Mary Beth Schneider of the Indianapolis Star reports that Marlin Stutzman has received the endorsement of the American Conservative Union (ACU) in his bid to become the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. But even David Keene, the chairman of “the oldest and largest conservative group” that made that endorsement, won’t call out Coats on any vote or specific policy issue.

Keene said:

There are other good people running in this race who are good people, but the fact of the matter is that the problems we have today require a new generation of conservative Republican leaders. Dan Coast was a fine senator and represented this state well. But frankly that was then, and this is now. We need new energetic leadership. We need people who can take these problems and really try to wrestle them to the ground.

Is the GOP electing a senate candidate or a contender for the WWF title? If there are no policy differences between Stutzman and Coats the ACU finds salient, and Coats did such a bang up job, how can anyone read the ACU’s statement as anything more than saying Coats is too ancient and feeble to serve?

Look at the code words – “new,” “energetic,” and “that was then, this is now.” The ACU (and Stutzman) would have been better off had they made a specific vote-based critique. But the ACU wouldn't speak on it, undoubtedly out of fear that if Coats wins, they’d be outside looking in.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Indiana Department of Child Services Unveils More Cuts To Abuse Prevention

I’ve written repeatedly about how the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) held back its FY 2008 child fatality task force report for nearly two years.

When DCS released it, it revealed the number of child fatalities increased by 10, from 36 to 46 over the prior reported year, which Governor Daniels touted during his campaign. (We still don’t have a report for FY 2009, though it ended in July of last year, and I anticipate it will have at least as many fatalities as the 2008 report).

I hypothesized that the reason for DCS' evasion was because they knew that if lamakers saw the increase in child deaths, they might want to stop any agency cuts to abuse prevention services. For this reason, I said you shouldn't expect the report to materialize until after the legislative session ended.

As regular readers know, I was right. Even though, by DCS’ own admission the report was "published" in January, it wasn’t released until April 1, 2010. The General Assembly adjourned on March 13.

Well, guess what? The Evansville Courier & Press reports today:

The state is further cutting the budget of a successful program that provides counseling to families at risk of child abuse and neglect, leaving it with about a third less of the annual funding that it received just a few months ago.

Funding for the Healthy Families program, slashed from $42 million to $35 million earlier this year, will drop to $27.9 million for federal fiscal year 2011 that begins October 1 and to $24.7 million in 2012, Director Jim Payne of the Department of Child Services told program managers Monday.

Does anybody think legislators at the Indiana General Assembly would have let the first cut go, let alone the additional reduction, if they had known the real number of child abuse and neglect fatalities in Indiana?

In my opinion, putting the stats in a hole for budget protectionism is the most inexcusable act of Director Payne’s tenure.

Well, except for the cuts themselves. When we get the FY 2010 numbers in 2012, you'll see I was right. Actually, make that 2013. You might not get any more child fatality numbers until Governor Daniels is secure in his next job.


Congressman Dan Burton Steps In It With Faux "Sidewalk Conservative" Ad

Dan Burton is running an ad he calls "Sidewalk Conservative."

In the ad, one of the individuals says that Burton is "one of us." Turns out by "one of us," he means an Ohioan.

Burton used actors from a Columbus, Ohio ad agency.

One of Burton's chief rivals for the Republicans nomination, Luke Messer (go Wabash!), undoubtedly understanding that all political ads have some stagecraft, busted the Congressman's chops from the right angle:

After 28 years in Congress, you'd think you could find someone in the district who would say some nice things about you.


When asked about the ad, Burton responded like he was Lincoln Plowman on tape. His response was nearly incomprehensible, which is why I'm providing it in its entirety from the story because you just have to read it:

They told me if you have some people who want to talk about specific issues that you stand for, it probably would be a good thing. I didn't solicit any of these people. I don't even know who they are. One guy says, 'Dan Burton does this' and another woman says something else. You'd have to ask the people who did the commercial on that. They came over and talked to people, different places.

The Star story ads that when told the actors were not even Hoosier voters, Burton responded:

They may be. I don't know. You ask me questions about that, I don't know. I really don't know. The only thing I did say, 'I'm Dan Burton, and I approve this message.' The message I think is probably pretty accurate, but you'd have to ask them who did the commercial.

In what universe is this ad accurate? It represents that Burton has people in his district who relate to and appreciate him. So I guess this ad is "pretty accurate" except the part where it doesn't have anybody from the district who relates to or appreciates Burton.

Next time Burton should put "A dramatization of support for Dan Burton" on the ad.


Double Shock Power Wednesday for Brizzi, Judge William Young

Fox 59’s Russ McQuaid (who has been on Brizzi like onions on a Harry & Izzy’s steakburger) reports that a waitress for the restaurant name dropped Brizzi and Peyton Manning to a police officer following her arrest for operating while intoxicated.

Her case was ultimately (and properly) handled by a special prosecutor. You might say, “So Brizzi's policy of recusing himself worked? What’s the issue?”

McQuaid reports that Judge William Young “turned down the special prosecutor request three times to display his displeasure with Brizzi's ownership of the bar, the inherent conflict of interest, and the expense of administering such a relatively minor case.” (Unfortunately, the story does not report what the actual cost is for a special prosecutor).

Ring. Ring.

“Hello, Kettle? Yes, this is the pot calling to tell you you’re black.”

Judge Young is worried about how much it cost in one case to appoint a special prosecutor?

How about the cost that we’ll all pay for the class action lawsuit because the Judge has been charging extra money for people to take their traffic cases to trial, in pretty clear violation of, oh, what’s that called again…...oh, right, the Constitution?

My rule of thumb is that if the Indiana General Assembly approves a law and the Governor signs it specifically to undo something I did, that’s a pretty good indication that I’ve screwed up majorly, and I might just want to sit down and keep quiet.

Also, the Indianapolis Star's Jon Murray reports that after Brizzi's press secertary Mario Massillamany resigned following his DUI arrest, Brizzi hired the PR firm of Hirons & Company.

According to Murray, this deal actually saves the taxpayers money because, at $6,500 per month, it ends up being $78,000 annually, which was $2,000 less than Mario's salary, and that's before including benefits. (In fact, I'm astonished Mayor Ballard hasn't outsourced every public information officer job yet in exchange for campaign cash from the PR firms. But I digress).

Two things bothers me about this story. First, the bar shouldn't be how much would we have paid if Mario stayed. It should be how much can we save now that he's gone. Am I to believe that, in this economy, Brizzi couldn't find anybody with a PR background who would serve in his office for eight months?

I'd say with almost certainty that Brizzi didn't even try for fear that posting the job publicly would result in too many punchlines. But I'd bet with, again, almost certainty that some young upstart would come in for a $50,000 salary, the chance to throw massive money into a deferred compensation plan, and an opportunity to say (s)he managed the hardest PR campaign in Marion County history. If you survive that, what agency wouldn't hire you?

But Brizzi needed "professional" crisis management. I understand there's always going to be an overlap between the PR related to the operation of the office and the PR related to the candidate in the office. But we shouldn't have to pay for the impossible - an effort to rehabilitate Carl Brizzi's image.


Michael Steele: Your Fifteen Minutes As Republican National Chairman Are Running Out

All I can say is, "Wow." Apparently, when Republicans call for fiscal restraint, they don't mean with respect to the organization they run.

Hotline On Call's Reid Wilson reports that the Republican National Committee spent $340,000 on a three-day retreat to Hawaii in January of 2010.

The cost included $167,000 for accommodations at a "posh" Waikiki resort for all 168 members of the RNC, $90,000 more for the lodging of 32 RNC staffers and officials who made the trip, and the remainder from airline flights, travel, and meal reimbursements.

All I can say to Michael Steele and these 168 folks is thank you, thank you, thank you. You've made it much easier for Democrats to prevail in a combative national climate by ensuring none of your donors' dollars actually go to any candidates.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Councillor Speedy Lives Up To His Name; iPOPA Asks, "Where's the Fire?"

Maybe City-County Councillor Mike Speedy should change his name to Mike Premature.

Today he filed a proposal to transfer the City's water and wastewater facilities to Citizens Energy Group. Here's the problem, and let me say this as clearly as I can: the principals have not completed the due diligence on this deal yet. What kind of city-county councillor would authorize this transfer without first knowing fully the final terms for settlement and having a full accounting of the risks?

I also have to wonder why Mayor Ballard is pressing ahead so urgently. Hmmm. Has anybody heard of any impending deadlines for paying anything that might make it important to get this deal to closing quickly so he can get the cash ASAP? Hmmm.

It struck me as odd that the guy who introduced this resolution is the one who's bailing out of the city-county council to take over Mike Murphy's Indiana House District 90, but if you look at Speedy's website, you know this deal is rife with Speedy's "political currency" - sewer bragging rights. Speedy notes, "My accomplishments include securing funding for over $13 million in construction projects for street re-surfacing and sewer projects."

Imagine the largesse Hizzoner will dole out to Speedy for carrying his water (no pun intended).


McGoff Ad Takes Humor Out of Appendicitis

Humor in political advertising, if done right, is the best weapon for a shoestring budget campaign. It can make a TV ad so memorable it need be seen only once to be remembered and shown only 4-5 times to completely permeate the public subconscious. This is because a truly funny political ad prompts viewers to talk about and seek out the ad, as opposed to the traditional sprint for Funions that most people do the millisecond red, white, and blue flags pop up on the tube.

Funny ads (again if done right) can completely take the edge off of a negative attack. You can get nasty on somebody and somehow it doesn't offend if you can just get people to laugh in the process.

Here's a classic example courtesy of John McCain's consultants:

Unfortunately for Dr. John McGoff, a humorous ad can't just be humorous. You can't say, "A priest, a rabbi, and Dan Burton walk into a John McGoff!" The ad has to have meaningful content woven throughout that moves votes. As much as I'd like to see Representative Dan Burton retire, Dr. McGoff's ad fails completely on that score.

Dan Burton vs. The Appendix from John McGoff on Vimeo.

However, I do have a great follow-up idea for Dr. McGoff. He should compare Dan Burton to a large intestine and say that while they both started off digesting things and eliminating fat from the body politic, in the end, they both turned into a-holes people were constantly cleaning up after though nobody wants to see them publicly.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Two Coats Still Can't Cover Dan's Record

On April 9, I ventured into the lion’s den as a commentator for the GOP Roundtable Discussion with all five Republican candidates for U.S. Senate –Don Bates, Jr., Richard Behney, Dan Coats, John Hostettler, and Marlin Stutzman – hosted by Indiana Barrister blogger and WXNT-1430 AM talk show host Abdul Hakim-Shabazz.

All of the commentators at the debate – myself, Josh Gillespie from Hoosier Access, Thomas Cook from Blue Indiana, and Mike O’Brien of WRTV’s Capitol Watch Blog – believed that to gain ground on presumptive favorite, Dan Coats, the other four would have to attack. None did.

This might be, in part, because Coats started the debate complimenting everyone for being so conservative and wanting what’s best for America. This is a mandatory and ingenious ploy for any candidate who leads the field, and it is often followed with, “America doesn’t want us engaging in negative attacks against each other because that doesn’t solve problems.” Attacking somebody after they’ve sucked up to you? That’s your grandmother telling you she likes your Sunday suit, and you respond with, “Your hat looks stupid.”

Consequently, the “debate” was more like a boring Fox reality show called “The Amazing Chase,” with the winner being determined by who could cram the most anti-Obama comments in one sixty-second spiel.

Anybody who doesn't believe in "the visual" aspect of politics should note how Coats' frontrunner status was amplified by the fact he was at the center of the table because the candidates were alphabetized, and he was the only guy who took his jacket off, as if to say, "I can go casual and still own these guys."

For my money, Don Bates, Jr. did the best job of stoking the populist fire. He called for a 5% congressional pay cut and came the closest to “going negative” by saying that he had none of the decades worth of government service at the table. Had I been a GOP voter without a lot of knowledge about the candidates, he would have been my guy.

Self-professed tea party activist, Richard Behney, who earned a rebuke from Indiana GOP Party Chair, Murray Clark, after Behney said he'd be "cleaning his guns" if the election in November didn't go well, did little to improve his image.

Behney repeatedly responded to whether he would support proposal x, y, or z by saying “over my dead body,” and he packed his remarks with gun-toting metaphors. On immigration, for example, he said that if somebody comes in the front door of his home and can speak English, the two might have a good conversation. But a person who sneaks in the back door "might get shot."

To his credit, Behney was the only candidate who stated that he supported repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Behney noted that he served in the military with gays and said he even knew some gay people from his time in the “music business.” Unfortunately, that one courageous position couldn’t alter my belief that Behney’s campaign slogan should be “The Fringe Unhinged.” He’s the embodiment of what makes people scared about Tea Partiers, and the fact Coats wouldn’t say anything against his violent rhetoric tells you all you need to know about the influence the GOP believes Tea Partiers wield.

Coats offered no chastisement, even though Behney also waved his hand right in front of Coats’ face while talking so often, I expected a melee to break out. (Behney might want to learn to stop “taking over” other people’s personal space before he starts in on federal government takeovers).

For his part, State Senator Marlin Stutzman wanted us to know he grew up on a farm. He said it so much, I had a post-traumatic stress flashback to the Jill Long-Thompson's campaign. (Did any of you know she has a PhD?)

To steal a question Abdul has been asking, why do we still mythologize a profession that is almost exclusively agribusiness now? My parents live in Hendricks County, and the farmers around them all have tractors with air conditioning, CD players, and DVD players. This isn’t Thomas Jefferson with a team of oxen, okay? Sure, they might get up at 5:00 a.m., but so does a guy working the early shift at a factory. And if anyone thinks being raised on a farm automatically means you're wholesome, check teenage pregnancy rates in rural communities or watch the Dukes of Hazzard.

I expected John Hostettler to at least “backdoor insult” Coats, but he said nothing. He didn’t say anything in the follow-up appearances either, which is curious given that Hostettler had already put up a Youtube ad attacking Coats for voting for Ruth Bader-Ginsburg’s confirmation, the Brady Bill, and the assault weapons ban.

Undoubtedly because of Hostettler’s ad, Coats is now running an ad that will earn him the “2010 Cojones Grandes” award for political advertising because he claims he’s “Pro-2nd Amendment. “

As a quick aside, the ad also said Coats would "Repeal Healthcare," but we're going to follow The Weekly Standard's view that the ad was just clunky, and Coats meant he would repeal the "Obama healthcare reform package," not turn into a Kevorkian death panel of one ensuring nobody has any type of healthcare. Of course, if Coats were into precision, he'd have filed his financial disclosure statement on time. Coats will not give a date certain for filing this report, and you should suspect it will NOT be released before the primary because it will disclose the insane amount of cash Coats got as a lobbyist, and it's not healthy having that kind of information floating around before the primary election. (Isn't it cool that Senators can go, "Yeah, I know there's a law I'm violating, but, oh, well. What's that toothless tiger FEC going to do? Fine me $250?)

Anyway, I’m more pro-gun than some of my Democratic colleagues, and I was okay with Coats’ votes for the Brady Bill and assault weapons ban. What’s wrong with checking somebody’s background for, say, insanity, before you let them buy a gun? But in conservative, NRA circles?!? That’s not just anathema; that’s voters in apoplectic convulsions. To vote for the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban while claiming you’re pro-2nd amendment in this crowd would be like an abortion doctor claiming he’s pro-life.

This is why, according to Hostettler, RedState reported that if Coats wins, the NRA will endorse Democrat Brad Ellsworth. That would be major.

With such a shaky record on some core conservative issues, will Coats win the primary? Absolutely. Because when his opponents could have attacked him for free, they didn’t, and none of them have enough money to effectively attack him when there's an actual cost. Even though he's seriously below fundraising expectations, Coats has raised over $378,000, and his next closest competitor, Marlin Stutzman, raised around $125,000 in the last reporting period.

Herein lies the tragedy in American politics. Dan Coats can whitewash his 2nd Amendment record while wearing a shirt that looks like he borrowed it from Lamar Alexander's Presidential election, and nobody can pay enough to tell you it’s a myth.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Clarification on Kennedy Firm Status, Ryan Vaughn, and Attorney Silence

I reported last week that Melina Kennedy is a partner at the Indianapolis law firm of Baker & Daniels. In addition, when a commenter stated (preposterously, in my opinion) that Kennedy was mum because she was looking forward to her cut from the legal fees generated by the Citizens Gas deal, I rebutted by stating that she'd be lucky to make $1,800 given the total number of B&D partners.

Here's the problem. She's not a partner. Her relationship with Baker & Daniels is "of counsel," which means she doesn't get a cut. People can pick whatever reasons they want to vote for or against a candidate, but they should be factual, and if I get it wrong, I make amends. My apologies to Ms. Kennedy.

Many have asked about what makes an attorney unable to speak against a government action like the Cit Gas deal, and there are many prohibitions at play in the Rules of Professional Conduct for Indiana attorneys.

Rule 1.6 makes confidential information disclosed in the attorney-client relationship. Rule 1.8(b) states that a lawyer "shall not use information relating to representation of a client to the disadvantage of the client unless the client gives informed consent." Rule 1.9 makes the prohibition in 1.8 apply to former clients as well, and these prohibitions are imputed to all personnel in a firm.

What does this mean?

Attorneys such as Republican City-County Council President and Barnes & Thornburg attorney Ryan Vaughn (go Wabash!) may find themselves unable to engage the bully pulpit to speak out against a deal that would be bad for their constituents, even in cases where the firm had created a "Chinese wall" to keep information out of that particular attorney's hands. On the flip side, if some unknown positives for the Councillor's constituents were in the details, he couldn't go out publicly to sell it in a way he might without the ethical prohibitions in place).

(I asked Vaughn via Facebook if B&T has any connection with the City's water deal as counsel or if it anticipates becoming involved on the bond work, financing, etc., and if so, whether he would recuse himself from voting on the deal. He has not responded yet, but as soon as he does, I will let everyone know his reply).

Not to give fuel to people who are harsh about lawyers, but because we have a stronger obligation to our clients than most professions, we have a higher burden to bear. We can only hope that our elected official reach the right balance and recuse themselves when a conflict exists between their professional duties and their electoral ones.


Navistar Clawback Cave Another Mayor Ballard Sellout for Immediate Financial Gratification

Ever notice how politicians who make the most references to doing things for "our children" or for "our future" are often most eager to sell out that future for their immediate political benefit?

Take Greg Ballard. Literally.

The Citizens Gas water deal? You've heard me ad nauseum on how we're mortgaging future water rates for sidewalks now.

But I predict you’ll see a similar story on downtown parking meters soon. The City wants to lease them to a contractor. Such a deal could pay a percentage of total dollars collected each year or a flat fee each year. But I foresee the mayor taking a lump sum up front in exchange for a lease term lasting the remainder of his permissible time in office times two.

(Maybe that’s why the Mayor is so confident that he won’t use the Cit Gas money to pay the $15 million in Conseco maintenance costs for the Pacers. He knows the money train is choo chooing into town).

But there are other indicia of Mayor Ballard's short-term fixation.

A few weeks ago, the Indianapolis Star’s Ted Evanoff reported on the City’s Navistar “clawback.” For the uninitiated, when city officials kowtow to business owners by giving them tax breaks, they do it frequently under the condition that a certain number of jobs will be created.

Indianapolis gave Navistar $18 million. When Navistar tanked and laid off 1,000, the City went to get its money. Navistar said no.

From the story:

When Navistar refused to repay the money, the city faced a long dispute in court. Rather than run up a big legal bill, Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration agreed the city would accept $5 million from the company.

First, the Office of Corporation Counsel is all sunk costs. The City pays the same amount to its lawyers whether anybody in the office works or not. So what the Mayor is admitting is that nobody in his office can litigate a contract case? Yow! That’s scary.

But for the sake of argument, let's run with his idea that his folks are too incompetent to handle this. Say litigating the case could have earned Indy an additional $4 million, or half of what we were promised. If so, eight Indy attorneys billing $250 per hour could each spend 10 hours per week every week for two entire years, and we'd still double our money.

Can any attorney out there conceive of how a contract interpretation case could have required more work than that? I can't envision how one would cost more than $250,000.

In short, the Mayor could have gotten the City a LOT more money, but he took pennies on the dollar. What good would more money do him if it didn't come until his successor occupied the 25th floor of the City-County Building?


Friday, April 16, 2010

Pete's Sweet State Barrage

If I were Richard Mourdock, I'd be nervous.

This guy, Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic Party's candidate for State Treasurer, is running one of the best executed down-ballot races I think I've ever seen, he's showing great message discipline, and his every PR move is a masterstroke.

(Also, somebody with his campaign or the Indiana Democratic Party knows how to run the video editing bay because this "compilation clip" is outstanding (if a bit grainy at times, but that's on the networks).

Do I think Pete will win? We're Indiana and down-ballot, statewide races are always a struggle for Democrats. But it's not because Hoosiers won't vote for a Democrat for Treasurer; it's that down-ticket races have to be elevated to rise above the fray of all the other campaigns and, traditionally, Democrats haven't been able to raise enough cash to get get there.

If Pete can parlay his free media into some fundraising success and harness young Indiana voters, things might get interesting, indeed.


Tom McKenna, Vop Osili, Brad Ellsworth & Identity Politics

I’ve never feared conversations about race. Today is no exception.

When a few people (translation: mostly white Republicans and white, Hillary-supporting-Democrats) complained that some African-Americans were voting for Obama because “he's black,” I laughed. If you've never had someone who shares your identity rise to exalted status, of course, you will give more benefit of the doubt.

Did it shock the conscious to see disproportionate support among Muslims for Keith Ellison, gays for Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Latinos for Bill Richardson, women for Hillary Clinton, or evangelicals for Pat Robertson in 1988? This, of course, doesn’t mean support from whatever “group” we originate is automatic. If it did, Alan Keyes would at least be an alderman somewhere and Clarence Thomas would be a beloved justice among African-Americans. (Shhhh! Don't tell him, but he’s not!)

Nobody can deny identity politics is more prevalent than ever (see this great article by James Poniewozik in Time on Sarah Palin), and as much as we want to declare America is post-racial, race remains a key identifier.

Democrats strive for, and with decent success, achieve racial diversity.

Republicans? Well, in his book Right Now, beleaguered RNC chair Michael Steele claims that “Republicans reject identity politics.” I’m assuming he wrote this ironically.

Republicans routinely engage in the practice, just not well. For example, they might elevate a not-particularly-savvy African-American to national party chair so they can criticize the black Democratic president. Or, they might make sure to get the one Asian guy and the one African-American woman in the crowd into the frame on the close-up. Watch for at least 30 seconds, and you'll know what I'm talking about). Or the Indiana GOP might front a guy on its webpage who they know they wouldn’t but for his ethnicity (though maybe youth as well, as age is an identifier).

Identity politics was going to be a political headache for Tom McKenna in his competition with Vop Osili to become the Democrats’ candidate for Secretary of State. But when Evan Bayh stepped down, things turned migraine.

Before going further, know that the Secretary of State position is critical politically. The Secretary of State is our tie-breaker for Speaker when the Indiana House of Representatives splits 50/50. As McKenna has argued repeatedly during his campaign, a D Secretary of State can stave off future Republican efforts to impose new burdens on voting that will likely prejudice Democrats at the polls in 2011 and beyond.

There are local effects as well. The party whose Secretary of State candidate garners the highest vote total in each county determines which party appoints precinct committee inspectors and which party is placed first on the ballot.

In Indiana, Democrats don't choose their Secretary of State candidate in a primary; they decide in a state convention (this year on June 26) populated by up to 2,288 delegate, with each county allotted a share based on an equation only slightly less complicated than the school funding formula.

When you look strictly at political considerations for those delegates, Vop has a formidable advantage.

In the 2008 general election, 381,000 votes were cast in Marion County, President Obama got 241,000 (or 63%) of those votes, and 135,000 (35%) of which were straight-ticket Democrat. Only Lake County delivered a higher percent of Obama votes (67%), and only four counties topped Lake's 70% turnout. In short, give Lake County the right candidate, and it performs. These two counties helped Obama become president while carrying only fifteen of Indiana's ninety-two counties. Given the high concentrations of black folk living in Marion and Lake, is it a stretch to hypothesize that African-Americans are the single best source of Democratic straight-ticket vote in Indiana?

Smart politicos maximize straight-ticket votes, so a savvy delegate might ask, this question:

"Which Democratic state-wide line-up delivers the high turnout, straight ticket (African-American) voters we need to keep our Senate seat now that it's going to be a battle royale without Evan Bayh? The one with Brad Ellsworth (white guy) for Senate, Tom McKenna (white guy) for Secretary of State, Pete Buttigieg (white guy) for Treasurer, and Sam Locke (white guy) for Auditor, or the one that gives African-Americans the chance to elect Indiana’s first black Secretary of State and put him in position to become Indiana's first black Lieutenant Governor?

(Hey, if Evan Bayh runs in 2012, he’ll need a running mate who can smooth African-American ruffled feathers from all his anti-Obama statements and votes).

Some may think I'm naive to not consider the "identity politics" downside for Vop, given the GOP's historic skill at running the campaigns of the type that can generate subconscious (or even outright) fear of Vop's name, race, heritage, or all three combined.

To those folks, I would say studying the 2008 election results certainly depressed me at first blush. Given ballot fatigue, we would expect Obama to be the highest vote getter across the board, even in the counties he lost, right? But he wasn't.

In seven counties where Democratic Attorney General candidate Linda Pence and Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Dr. Richard Wood won and Obama didn't, both gained more total votes than Obama, even though fewer people voted. For example, in Fayette County, 9,457 people voted for President, and Obama got 4,389 votes, or 46.4% of the vote. Linda Pence polled 288 more votes than Obama (for 53%) in Fayette County, even though 681 fewer Fayette residents voted for AG.

This means that even in seven "Democrat" counties, Obama didn't poll highest at the top of the ticket, even as the first Democrat to carry Indiana since Lyndon Johnson.

But that's not all. Pence or Wood outpolled President Obama in a staggering 38 counties in which all three Democrats lost. (In contrast, where the President won, he was only outpolled by his downticket colleagues in three counties - Starke and Madison by Pence and Vermillion by Wood).

But then I realized something critical. In 2008, both Pence and Obama got 49% of the respective votes cast for their offices (President Obama actually won by a plurality if you don't round up). But statewide, the presidential contest drew 153,000 more voters than the AG's race did, and Obama outpolled Pence by 95,000 votes overall.

In contrast, in 2004, both John Kerry and Democratic Attorney General candidate Joe Hogsett had 40% of the respective votes cast for their offices. But statewide, the presidential contest drew 79,500 more voters than the AG, and Kerry had 15,500 more votes than Hogsett. In other words, Obama owned the overvote with 61%. Kerry only got 20% of his overvote.

If Indiana suffered from a pervasive and deep-seated race-based antagonism, I don't see how Obama would have done as well outpacing his national predecessors. At a minimum, we can say that the counties that went for Obama went all the way.

Of course, to suggest that just because Obama won Indiana, any African-American Democrat can do it minimizes the uniqueness of the decentralized Obama campaign and the President's formidable PR skill set. But at least it can be said that the political advantage from identity politics can clearly outpace any identity downside, whether it be perceived or actual for Vop Osili.

Here's why.

If you combine the delegates of all seven counties where both Pence and Wood won and Obama lost, it's only 79 total delegates. Even if you add all counties that either Wood or carried and Obama lost, you only get to 207.

You see, Indiana is populated with a lot of counties that Jesus couldn't crack 45% in if he came back and ran as a Democrat. And if no Democrat can win the county, a savvy county chair will likely persuade his folks to do what (s)he can to help the statewide ticket, including Brad Ellsworth, who will need every vote he can get, and the candidates for Indiana House of Representatives.

The two counties with the strongest African-American populations, Lake and Marion, have 547 combined delegates, or half of the total needed to clinch the nomination. If you add the 15 counties Obama carried, you get over 50% of the total needed.

In short, Vop doesn't have to be liked everywhere, just strongly liked in the areas where astute party operatives know he can boost turnout and benefit both the candidates above and below him.

I know and like both of the candidates, and this post isn’t intended as an exhaustive assessment of their relative strengths, or in Vop’s case, intended as a dismissal of the same because its focal point is on his identity advantage. It’s intended solely as a raw political analysis. (Of course, we'll probably get a good hint if I'm right when the campaign finance reports come out today, so stay tuned).

I will say I like Tom McKenna’s passion for the central issue of his campaign - voter protection. I also think from strictly a resume perspective, his lengthy government service puts him in better stead, and he definitely knows the state better right now and lives in GOP candidate Charlie White's backyard (Hamilton County), so he might make inroads in a GOP stronghold.

That being said, I have no reservations whatsoever about Vop being able to perform the SoS job based on his impressive business success and broad vision for the office. Plus, he doesn't need to wow Hamilton County. He just needs to run up the numbers in D strongholds.

Also, I have never begrudged somebody a political job because they're looking past it (and nobody thinks Vop would be content to be just a Secretary of State). Some of the best public service is rendered by people intent on executing their duties flawlessly to create a testament to their ability to manage a bigger office.

In sum, Democrats have two equally-matched and well-qualified candidates. Unfortunately for Tom McKenna, on the rare occasions when that happens, all that's left to break the tie is the politics.

UPDATE: I haven't studied the reports closely to see if there are any self-loans, big "insider" donations, or other tricks that candidates use to puff their reports, but Vop Osili raised $138,067 during the last reporting period to Tom McKenna's $115,049. However, Vop spent $69,489 to Tom McKenna's frugal $21,434, meaning Tom has $93,614 left in the bank to Vop's $68,577.

Both Democrats outraised the GOP candidate, Charlie White, who pulled in $52,067, spent $12,504, and has $39,563 c-o-h.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Easter Says Pacers Put Eggs in One Fragile Basket

My colleague, Jon Easter, has a poignant and piercing post today regarding Jim Morris's statement that the Pacers would consider moving if the City doesn't come up with $15 million to absorb the Pacers' contract obligation to pay for the operation of Conseco Fieldhouse. Basically, Easter lets J-Mo know his basket is going to get squashed. No way I can improve on this analysis.

Some of my fondest memories are from Reggie Miller's glory years, and I have no doubt the Simons have been good citizens. But this city has been extremely good to them, and the Pacers have always been a loss-leader hobby for their principals. Now that the family dynamics are changing, all of a sudden they need cash? (Simon Property Group is still able to finance a bankruptcy rescue of a competitor in this deal after all).

If the Pacers and J-Mo had ANY game smarts, they would have waited for a year or two until the team got better and/or the economy improved. Why the urgency, unless the fear is that if they can't get the deal done when the powers that be at Barnes & Thornburg are running the city, it might not get done. Either way, this was just disastrous PR. I am certain that 9/10ths of the Marion County citizenry right now thinks Jim Morris should go achieve an anatomically-unlikely venture involving his own self-gratification.

But I'm a problem solver, so here's a thought. To gross $15 million, we need to raise $365,000 per home game. What's wrong with using the Simon's Circle Center parking rate idea? If you park at the mall on most nights, you pay a reasonable $1.50, the thought being that you don't want to discourage people from parking when they can go to Keystone at the Crossing for free.

BUT when big events are in town, the cost goes up to $20, which you pay unless you can prove you bought $20 worth of stuff at the mall. Why? Because the Simons know you probably aren't shopping; you're free riding (well, not free, but "below-market" riding).

I doubt anybody books a hotel to see a Pacers game. But some might eat dinner before or drink after a game, and we know they have to park to go to the games. And these two entity types should pay the entire cost in the form of an "event" charge.

If you assessed a flat "event night" tax on the (what 200 total restaurants?) they'd each pay $1,800 night. If you assessed an "event night" charge on all the parking lots, the restaurant cut would probably go down markedly. They could then decide whether they'd take a cut in profits in an effort to capture customer loyalty or pass the cost on to their customers.

(As I think about this, I don't believe Simon Property Group charges the "event" rate on the nights of Pacer games. I could be completely wrong on this, but if I'm recalling this right, does that strike any else as strange? Circle Center accommodates 5,300 cars. At an additional $18.50 per car at capacity for 41 games, we're talking an additional $4 million in income. But why would a company do that and risk possibly angering customers if you can get the City to absorb the cost?)

Anyway, would the restaurants and parking garages be outraged by such an "event night" fee? Not if they were really making money on the Pacers, but I suspect that of the 14,000 who come downtown for games, many leave town after the games because they're already broke paying for the ticket, parking, and $5 for a pretzel.

Is what I propose even legal? To create a special "game night" taxing district with varied rates depending on the provider? I seriously doubt it. But any solution to this problem needs to approximate this approach as closely as possible.

Understand that I actually have nothing against billionaire owners, millionaire ballplayers, or downtown restauranteers in the abstract. I'm just not going to shut down a public library for them. I was at Glendale Public Library on Thursday, and every computer station was occupied. Maybe print is dead, but words on monitors aren't, and the public library is the single greatest remedy to the technology gap.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Barth On Water Deal: "Independent Analysis Needed"; iPOPA on Town Hall: "Well-Orchestrated, Mayoral Pimpage"

Democratic at-large city-county council candidate, John Barth weighed in on the Mayor's water deal this week. (No, that's not him to the right. That's pimp legend Don "Magic" Juan).

Barth, the Compliance and Regulatory Affairs VP for Managed Health Services, takes on the Mayor for not being more transparent about the details (and risks) of the deal and for holding only four public meetings. Barth also calls for an independent, outside analysis of the deal.

It has become a meme among some Democrats that there are few, if any, people who can give the party (and the public) the straight dope because so many of our prominent Democratic attorneys have had their law firms gobbled up in this deal.

After attending the Mayor's presentation at Nu Corinthian Church this week, I can see why outside assistance is needed (and immediately). We are getting snowed and owned by the Mayor's PR might.

Aside from the accoustics being so terrible that it was like listening to Charlie Brown's teacher for an hour-and-a-half, the format was set up to keep us in the dark while giving the appearance of blazing sunlight.

Permit me to explain.

After the presentation, Mayor Ballard and Cit Gas CEO Carey Lykins took every question, including one that asked the Mayor to state point blank that none of this money would go to pay the Conseco maintenance (he did).

But the problem is that the format didn't allow for the follow-up questioning that is critical to understanding the devil-packed details of this deal.

For example, I asked whether Cit Gas had cash reserves, and if not, whether it would be fair to say the purchase would be financed by rate hikes. The part of the response I heard was that no, Citizens Gas didn't have cash sitting around (if they did, they'd have to give it back to rate payers), and something about bonds being issued based on the expected "synergy" savings, yada yada.

To paraphrase, say I own a company and my annual budget is $100 million, and I get $100 million in income from rate payers. Then I do a consolidation that makes my costs $60 million. The next year, I'll have $40 million on the upside. I have two choices that next year and every year thereafter: (1) reduce rates; or (2) keep rates the same as before the consolidation and "monetize" the savings by picking a number of years arbitrarily and saying, "Cit Gas, pay me the savings we'd get over, oh, ten years, but give it to me now in an insanely discounted lump sum because "it's my money and I need it now" to help me get re-elected!"

Because I foolishly phrased my question as "won't we pay for this with higher rates," Mr. Lykins could say "no" and be absolutely right because we'll pay for this through the absence of lower rates, which for crafty word twizzlers like the Mayor, is a completely different thing.

The same thing applies for the Conseco question. The Mayor could say, "None of this money will go to Conseco" because nobody could follow up with, "Are you saying you wouldn't take money already budgeted for, say road construction, and use that to pay the CIB because now you can pay for the construction using these dollars?"

Perhaps the most insane thing uttered was a comment the Mayor made of extreme indifference on whether the due diligence should be completed before the City-County Council would vote to approve the deal. Does that make sense to anybody breathing?

The Mayor also talked about how this deal will create 10,000 construction jobs. (Cough - bovine feces - cough!) He got his number based on some INDOT study that says $x spent equals y jobs "created." But he said at the meeting that some of the dollars will be used for abandoned houses and some will be used for some non-descript economic development venture to lure companies to the city. How can you claim 10,000 unless you know how the money will be spent? The Mayor has no problem using figures that are inconsistent, even within the framework of his own methodology.

Understand that only 10% of my concern about this deal surrounds irrevocably giving up authority over the water company. In this respect, I may be in the minority.

My concern is that it's a completely lousy deal on the financial end. If this is a long-term solution that will save $40 million per year, why not have Cit Gas pay the city $20 million per year in perpetuity and put it into a construction fund? If they know they can get those savings, why couldn't they commit to that?

See folks, all this is about is the Mayor being able to say "10,000 jobs" and "This sidewalk (coming soon) brought to you by Greg Ballard."

And in one of the most cynical ploys I've seen of late, the Mayor's website and the packets at these forums have questionnaires about how we spend the money that we haven't even gotten authorized. "Pardon me, Joe Citizen. Do you want to spend your millions on sidewalks or streets? Rate it for me."

The Mayor wants people to walk out of these meetings salivating over what they'll be getting (just like how my mom used to get me to behave by showing me toy catalogs in March), then those folks will beat up their Councillors if they oppose this.

You don't think these meeting locations are tactical?

George Washington HS Cafeteria,
2215 West Washington Street

Aldersgate Free Methodist Church,
9035 East 21st Street

Nu Corinthian Church’s Family Life Center,
5935 West 56th Street

Lynhurst 7th and 8th Grade Center,
2805 South Lynhurst Drive

Where's the meeting in Perry? Franklin? Decatur? North Central?

No, this is straight up, grade-A mayoral pimpage. Hizzoner is going to get you strung out on the smell of that new concrete in your broken down neighborhood, and you'll forget that you're getting financially back-handed long-term through his payday loan scam.


Brian Williams' Lonely Voice On Water Deal

Let me start off by saying that I obviously can't read or hear every TV news segment, radio interview, newspaper story, blog post, or even press release, so this might be a case of selective reception on my part. But when I try to list elected or want-to-be-elected Democrats opposed for any reason to Mayor Ballard's effort to sell our city's water assets, the inkwell dries up quickly.

As of yet, no opposing voice has emerged from the City-County Council, which is strange given that the Mayor will wrap up his four "town-hall meetings" with one this Tuesday (6:30-8:00 p.m., Nu Corinthian Church's Family Life Center, 5935 West 56th Strett) and the last the Tuesday thereafter (6:30-8:00 p.m., Lynhurst 7th & 8th Grad Center, 2805 South Lynhurst Drive). Actually, City-County Councillor Jose Evans was the first to get "into the water" by twice questioning the management of the city's water, and he questioned the deal generally on the Amos Brown show.

But when it comes to what I'd call a thoroughly substantive critique, there's one name in the game - mayoral contender Brian Williams.

Williams tells specifically why the deal is perilous, and he continues to raise the right unasked questions. If you want to see Williams' most recent tug on the curtain of Ballard's faux financial wizardry, read below.

April 8, 2010 Statement[1]

By virtue of his opposition, Williams is garnering media attention.

My fellow Democrats might ask how Melina Kennedy, our party apparatus's perceived frontrunner, can cede this much mic time to her most formidable rival?

She has no choice.

This is one of the tragic drawbacks to being an attorney at Baker & Daniels, one of, if not, Indy's largest law firm. By virtue of being an attorney there, and by virtue of B&D representing one of the principals, she is bound by the rules of professional conduct, and she cannot speak ill of the deal, even if she were so inclined.

Williams clearly knows this, which is why he has repeatedly referred to this deal as the most significant enterprise Mayor Ballard has undertaken. Call it self-serving if you will, but Williams is right, whether you view this as being the result of the enormity of the water company deal or the paucity of other sizeable mayoral accomplishments. What we can say is that every time Williams publicly talks about the deal, somebody unaware of the Baker & Daniels/Melina conflict might think, even if just subconsciously, "Where is Melina?"

And what makes the forced silence more intriguing is that one of the board members for Citizens Gas is Anne Nobles, a senior VP at Eli Lilly who also serves as Melina's campaign chair. (In the interest of full disclosure, Anne was also my mother's boss when she worked for then Governor Evan Bayh, and Anne is one of the most brilliant people you'd ever meet). Because of Melina's current employer, we don't know whether Melina would have shown her moxy and gone womano-a-womano with a powerful friend. I think Melina could have held her own in such a debate, but we'll never know.

This is maddening, mostly because I always get wanked when I see Republicans do something to us that we've done to them.

You see, back when Bart Peterson was Mayor, the expression "getting Keelered" was ushered in. The Marion County GOP Chair, John Keeler, was working as an attorney at Baker & Daniels, and because the city had the firm on retainer, Keeler couldn't chastize Peterson. It was like having a political criticism immunity card card for two years.

We see the same thing here. Whether it was driven by shrewd politicking or simply the natural outgrowth of having so many big players in the Cit Gas deal, every big firm in Indiapolis with anyone inclined to say "Wait a minute," including my party's perceived frontrunner, has been gobbled up.

Let's just hope Melina can get out of the stomach of the beast before the Mayor cooks up his next big idea for public consumption.

UPDATE: I did not wish to imply that the Democrats on the City-County Council have done nothing, as Minority Leader, Joanne Sanders, submitted a resolution on behalf of the caucus requesting an open and transparent discussion of the sale. But this resolution can be fairly described as a "process" resolution, not a substantive critique akin to what Williams has provided. It is curious that the hearing of the resolution before the Rules & Public Policy Committee is set for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday (Room 260 of the City-County Building). This is one hour before the townhall on the far Northwest side. Great way to guarantee maximum participation by Democratic councillors at the Mayor's little forum - creating a potential scheduling conflict for the caucus members.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Gary Varvel Cartoon I Like!

I love his artistic style, but for the most part, not his politics or his humor. But I'm excited today because this almost NEVER happens. I agree with Indianapolis Star editorial cartoonist Gary Varvel!

Maybe there is hope for America if we can come together on an issue.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

IBJ Asks Brizzi to Step Down. Mr. Mayor, Governor?!? Where are you?!?

Today, the Indianapolis Business Journal joins the cavalcade of folk asking Carl Brizzi to hang up his spurs.

From today's editorial:

Brizzi, 41, now is dismissing calls for his resignation from leaders of both parties as “ridiculous.” But we join the chorus calling for him to step down and are incredulous that he’s trying to hang on until his second term concludes at year-end.

Consider what Brizzi himself wrote to supporters in December, as he was taking heat for his brief stint as a director of Fair Finance Co., an Akron, Ohio, firm co-owned by Durham that government investigators now suspect was a Ponzi scheme.

“As a public official, I am, understandably, held to a higher standard—and any association or action is subject to greater scrutiny,” Brizzi wrote.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine an elected position in Indiana where impeccable ethics is more essential. As the top prosecutor in the state’s largest county, he has a tough job. His effectiveness is hindered if other players in the process—from deputy prosecutors and defense attorneys to defendants and sitting judges—perceive him as tainted by scandal.

To be sure, not everyone calling for Brizzi to step aside has the purest of motives. Republicans are eager to distance themselves from a politician with no political future. And Democrats are eager to use the controversies involving the prosecutor to cast doubt on the integrity of the entire GOP. The stakes are high as Democrats seek to return to the high-profile post for the first time in 16 years.

But this is more than a bunch of political posturing. Brizzi ruined his political career through his own bad judgment. Those lapses have hurt Brizzi’s ability to do his job—“to relentlessly pursue the bad guys,” as he likes to say. It’s time for him to stop putting his own interests ahead of the city’s and step down.

Amen, IBJ. I know it will hurt my Democratic party to have Mark Massa take over now, and he'd be all but a lock as the replacement. But if there's any officeholder who must bestow confidence upon the public at all times, it's the one holding the scales of justice. As I reported yesterday, it's time for Brizzi to take his thumb off of those scales.

Also, why haven't Mayor Ballard or Governor Daniels joined the call? Okay, let's be frank. Mayor Ballard probably doesn't know Carl Brizzi has problems because nobody's put it in a comic book yet. But the Governor? Why hasn't Indiana's biggest GOP bat taken a swing? Doesn't he care about the mockery this office has become? Or is he simply too afraid that his growing national political clout will look feeble if Brizzi completely ignores him? Or, is it something much more personal?

So what's the deal, Governor? We're listening.

(Tumblewoods blow past).


Friday, April 9, 2010

The Brizzi Chronicles Continue; iPOPA Asks, "Where are Mayor Greg Ballard and Governor Mitch Daniels?

Russ McQuaid with Fox 59 reported yesterday that Carl Brizzi sold out an alleged rape victim, Amy Lindsey, by giving her assailant a beneficial plea deal because he worked for attorney Paul Page, Brizzi's business partner.

According to Ms. Lindsey, Brizzi worked out a plea deal over lunch with the alleged assailant, Robert Odendahl, along with Mr. Page and attorney Carolyn Rader.

Here's the story from Lindsey:

It is critical to note that former Deputy Prosecutor Courtney Curtis, who was on the case, told McQuaid she never told Amy Lindsey that. Instead, Curtis said Lindsey's story was suspect, which is why the office agreed to the reduced charge of criminal confinement, which would keep Mr. Odendahl off the sex offender registry and permit him to later petition for modification of his sentence to a misdemeanor.

Regardless of whether Ms. Lindsey's story is true, this case is disturbing on many levels.

First, Ms. Curtis's phrasing is interesting. She doesn't say the lunch meeting never happened. She says she never told Lindsey that the meeting happened. Wouldn't that be simple enough to check out by asking Page or Brizzi? (I'm thinking Brizzi might not return my call, so can somebody else check?)

And if this meeting happened, how can Brizzi say he's not playing favorites with Page? Breaking bread with the alleged criminals you're prosecuting is what he does with everybody? That's hardly the right signal for a guy supposedly advocating for victims. (If you do criminal defense and you've met Brizzi for lunch with your client, please contact me...because I want to see if you're on Brizzi's donor list).

Also, if the rape story was so suspect, why was Odendahl charged? Didn't the prosecutor screening the case talk to the victim, or does Brizzi's office just charge people with rape willy-nilly to let them correct any mistakes on the back end, provided they have the right counsel?

Elsewhere in the GOP nightmare known as the Brizzi Administration...

The Indianapolis Star joined the chorus of folks asking for Carl Brizzi's resignation. Here's the read:

One of the saddest aspects of the Marion County prosecutor's financial ties to defense attorneys is that they're legal.

The law, however, only opens the door to conflict of interest. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi has walked through, more than once. Two key members of his party have said "enough," and so should Brizzi.

Mark Massa had plenty of strategic reason for demanding Brizzi's resignation Wednesday in the wake of revelations by the Indianapolis Business Journal of Brizzi's intervention in a criminal case on behalf of a client of his business partner.

Massa is the GOP candidate to replace Brizzi, who is not seeking a third term. Democrats will run against Brizzi, in effect, so Massa needs to distance himself.

That said, there is no way Massa's criticism -- seconded by GOP County Chairman Tom John -- can be dismissed as "a political stunt" by an obstinate prosecutor.

It was at best abysmal judgment for Brizzi to have become half-owner of an office building with a criminal defense lawyer. It raises red flags that Brizzi had to put up no money toward the $900,000 investment with Paul J. Page.

Then to personally push through a lenient plea deal for an accused drug dealer who was a Page client, over the objections of the deputy prosecutor, and to order the return of $10,000 confiscated from the defendant, takes observers beyond skepticism to cynicism.

Nor is it the first time.

There is the continuing FBI scrutiny of Brizzi's ties to financier Tim Durham, his 2006 campaign finance chairman and the target of a securities investigation.

And there's the case of Paula Willoughby. Sentenced to 110 years in prison in 1991 for hiring a man to kill her husband, Willoughby walked free in 2009 via a sentence modification Brizzi's office supported. Her father, businessman Harrison Epperly, along with defense attorney Jennifer Lukemeyer and Lukemeyer's law partner James H. Voyles Jr., were election campaign contributors to Brizzi. Brizzi gave back Epperly's $28,500 -- after the sentencing change -- and said it played no role in his decision.

The public should not have to trust him on that, because the entanglements Brizzi has indulged in should not exist in this critical office. Laws and rules, not just personal behavior, should skew toward credibility and independence at all costs. Massa's pledge of a batch of reforms, including eschewal of outside business dealings, sounds bold, if a bit self-serving, in the current atmosphere. It ought to be moot. The old temptations must go, and so must the man who has succumbed to them.

Lucky Carl Strikes Real Estate Gold

First, I'm not sure why people keep reporting Brizzi's Elkhart buildling buy was for $900,000; it was for $825,000. (Look at 1659 Mishawaka Street for the Abnikcar sold to L&BAB LLC entry).

Second, isn't anybody curious about how Brizzi just happened to come upon a property which had 13 of its 15,000 square feet rented by the Indiana Department of Child Services within five months for $248,000 per year on what I'm told (and still trying to confirm) is a "triple net lease"? Under this type of lease, not only does the landowner get a lease payment for the space, renter (in this case, the State of Indiana) would also pay for the real estate taxes, utilities, and maintenance, which means there is literally no risk for Brizzi and Page. At that rental rate, the two would own the building free and clear in just over three years.

Can I ask a question?

Why wouldn't the State of Indiana have just bought the building, which the Department of Administration could have done under Indiana law. Obviously, DCS was in the market for a lot of space. Wouldn't somebody have looked around and said, "Hey, here's a building we can buy for $825,000 that's just the right size! That would sure be cheaper than idiotically leasing that same space for $248,000 a year for ten years!"

Maybe somebody with the state did know DCS was looking. Maybe they were the person looking. And maybe somebody told somebody else about it. Is this conspiratorial supposition? Maybe.

Don't you have to ask how Brizzi got so lucky? What compelled him to look at commercial properties in Elkhart? Was it the thriving Elkhart real estate economy? I bet if you asked, he couldn't answer any better than he could tell you why he bought Cellstar stock.

Also, how does Brizzi get away with listing a 50% interest in an $825,000 building as being worth $50-$100,000 on his Statement of Economic Interests?

First Place Media Strategy

On the politics end, there's been a robust debate in Democratic circles about whether D's should have been first to call for Brizzi's resignation, and I apologize to the Democratic candidates for prosecutor, Terry Curry and Greg Bowes, if anybody took away from my critique the idea they were comfortable with what was going down in Brizzi's office.

I've heard Curry "on the stump" quite a bit, and what this office has become sickens him. But until Massa spoke, nobody had called for Brizzi's resignation publicly or weighed in on Brizzi as strongly as Massa did. Once the dam broke, Curry then took it up a notch and asked for a special prosecutor to investigate Brizzi. Fortunately, this angle got covered by Channel 13. (Well played, sir).

Greg Bowes also took a swing at Massa after the fact:

Yesterday, the Republican candidate for Prosecutor announced he would establish a "Public Integrity Unit" to investigate crimes committed by public officials. On February 12, 2010, when I filed my candidacy papers, I announced to the press that I would establish a public integrity unit. I am glad to see the Republican candidate likes my idea.

Bowes also pointed out his long-standing suspicion of Brizzi's estranged relationship with truth. Bowes reminded voters that in December of 2006, he filed an extremely detailed complaint with the Indiana Disciplinary Commission in which he argued that Brizzi knowingly lied at a public hearing. Bowes wrote:

On July 19, 2006, Carl Brizzi . . .in his capacity as Marion County Prosecutor, gave testimony before (the City-County Council's Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee) regarding Marion County’s collective efforts to manage the problem of overcrowding in its jail.

While discussing the high-profile release of an detainee, James Stewart, who was later accused of murdering seven people, Mr. Brizzi stated, “He was asked to be held, and the judge made a decision not to hold him.” Mr. Brizzi went on to say, “it was his record that caused my front line deputy to ask that henot be released.” He later said Stewart “was OR’d over our objection.”

These statements were false.

The transcript of Stewart’s initial hearing where he was released shows that no deputy prosecutor asked that Stewart be held, and no deputy prosecutor objected to his release, because there was no deputy prosecutor present.

Now, there is a school of thought that cannot be easily discounted that Democrats ingeniously and intentionally kept silent. The theory goes that by waiting for Massa to ambush Brizzi, Democrats ensured that Brizzi's reaction was to lash out, which, sure enough, he did immediately. Brizzi called Massa's press conference a "political stunt," and then referred to Tom John as one of the most "ineffective chairmen Marion County has seen in decades." I dare say we should expect the "payback is a (expletive)" bud to go full bloom before we leave Spring, and Republicans will devour each other for months to come.

But, reasonable minds can differ, and tactically, I still think Democrats missed the boat on this one.

Here's why.

If Democrats had gone out first, Massa absolutely gets an ostensible out for his action. He can say to Brizzi, "Hey, I want to let you know I have to do this because the Democrats put me in a box." But I can't fathom any universe where Brizzi's anger is lessened when Massa craps all over him, and folks, he was going to haveto do it. Whether you agree with me hinges on whether you think a deep cut from within the family shallows if you see it coming and you can blame somebody else for it having to happen. On that score, I just feel certain we would have seen the "Brizzi backlash" even if Dems had gone first, and we would have picked up the PR bump in the process.

One comment posted on this blog today said I'm wrong because:

(1) Democrats would have been accused of "pulling a stunt" in asking for Brizzi's resignation; and

(2) Republicans are in a circle shooting at each other, and it's best to let them be.

With all due respect to Councillor Jose Evans, a political stunt is when you go to the Mayor's Office and hand him a letter asking for the resignation of the water department director. That's grandiose political theater that everybody knows won't change anything. But here, Brizzi had gone so far over the line, there's no way it would have played like a stunt foremost. If you think I'm wrong, go back up and read the portions of the Star's editorial I italicized.

On the GOP self-slaughter, yeah, once a fracas breaks out among all the principles, you can step back. That's conventional wisdom. But until it broke out, we had the chance to impress upon independent voters that D's were leading the charge to clean up the pervasive Durham-Brizzi-Plowman-(Massa?)-(Daniels?) axis of corruption.

Terry Curry, Greg Bowes, Ed Treacy, and Melina Kennedy all made public statements about Brizzi/Massa, but not before Massa stepped to his microphone. Did you see any of their names in the Star editorial?

Why are Ballard and Daniels Tight-Lipped?

Two big names we haven't heard from on Brizzi are Mayor Greg Ballard and Governor Mitch Daniels.

As I previously reported, Kennedy called on Ballard to ask for Brizzi's resignation as well. The Mayor hasn't replied, and I think I might know why. Ballard's campaign consultant (to the tune of $10,000 per month) is Jennifer Hallowell, the political strategist who got Brizzi elected twice and, by quite a few accounts, either had or currently has a social relationship with Brizzi. That's gotta make things dicey for Hizzoner. How do you publicly bust the chops of your political consultant's boyfriend?

And where is Governor Daniels on this? Does he support Massa's call for Brizzi's resignation? If so, why hasn't Mitch publicly conceded that his biking buddy is "riding dirty?"

Does it have anything to do with the fact that the Governor's Office has to approve leases under Indiana law? I'm sorry, who approved the Brizzi building lease?