Thursday, March 13, 2008

When is a Republican not a Republican?

When it's Judge James Payne, the director of the Indiana Department of Child Services. I always give respect and praise where it's due. I 'm told people nationally herald Judge Payne as a visionary juvenile court judge. But NOBODY should herald him as a "true" Republican.

A "true" Republican (of which there are probably only seven or eight hundred in the country anyway) is someone who not only talks about, but also, actually delivers: (a) less government; (b) "local" control; and (c) accountability.

From a Democrat perspective, I say it is to Judge Payne's credit that he made it a priority to hire new case managers so that each case manager has fewer families to supervise. That's a great thing for children. BUT it's also a huge growth in government employment, isn't it? TRUE Republicans hate that. In fact, they probably want to privatize DCS so they can easily fire case managers who don't carry their weight.

In addition, Judge Payne favored SB 105, which would have created a new system of administrative law judges to establish child support orders. The bill was defeated after very vocal opposition by every county bar association in the state, and the Indiana State Bar Association's family and juvenile law section. Everybody wants more money to be collected (which is a decidedly different goal than establishing more support orders), but creating a whole new governmental apparatus in your agency makes no sense if you're a Republican. Moreover, this bill would have taken away local judges' discretion to not require support orders in CHINS (Children in Need of Services) cases where the parents were already overwhelmed with the task of completing services to get their children back.

The Republican party has historically been the party of "state's rights" and "local control." But HB 1001 (a/k/a "the property tax relief bill") as passed, took a LOT of control out of the hands of local judges in deciding what services judges offer to parents in CHINS cases. Admittedly, this was done because the state has assumed more of these expenses, and it makes sense to have the person writing the check supervising what is purchased. But if "local government knows best," why would you take away local decisionmaking?

Here's why. Because, like Judge Payne, most people who call themselves Republicans don't actually believe in local control. I've always thought that Republicans hoisted one of the best pubic relations scams of all time on the American populace when they started talking about how it's better to leave decisions to "local government." (The only better PR move was renaming an anti-aristocracy tax paid through estates as "the death tax"). Why have bureaucrats in D.C. or in Indianapolis decide how you run YOUR affairs?!? We'll leave that up to local people. This is great pandering to the states and local government officials who feel warm and cozy with the confidence bestowed upon them by Republicans.

At the same time, MANY (but not all) Republicans support nationwide tort reform, a nationwide prohibition on gay marriage, and a nationwide prohibition on abortion. In other words, if you want to know when a state or a local government SHOULDN'T decide for itself, here's your handy dandy test question:

Do we, the Republican Party, agree with the decision the "local" government has made? If yes, go to our "state and local government rights" talking points. If no, act like we have no "state and local government rights" talking points.

But back to Judge Payne. On the issue of accountability, HB 1001 adds a provision that says the DCS Director, officers, and employees are not liable for their actions, except to the State of Indiana. Now, who might have wanted this provision and why might they have wanted it? I mean, has anybody read anything bad in the news about DCS or its employees lately that might give some insight into why this is suddenly necessary? Anybody? Oh, yeah. That. Tajanay Bailey.

I may be in the minority on this, but I think immunity is a good thing because DCS would be getting sued every time they took a kid from a home and every time they sent a kid home. No actor in the system can see the future, and even in the Bailey case, the critics are talking in hindsight. Nobody could have predicted that marijuana use and a domestic dispute would lead to a dead child. If those two "symptoms" were the telltale signs of a dead child, we'd have 500 dead kids every day in Indianapolis. But even as one favoring immunity, I recognize I'm hard-pressed to say it doesn't run contrary to accountability.

That's been the Judge Payne's legislative agenda, though - expanding government employment, taking away local control, and taking away accountability. I'd also be lying if I said I didn't agree with Judge Payne more than I disagree with him. But the difference is that I don't claim to be a small government Republican, and I'm not sure you should get credit for claiming to be something you aren't. Of course, now that I think about it, I'm not sure I've ever heard Judge Payne refer to himself as a small government Republican. Maybe for a good reason.


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