Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Memory Lane for D Activists and Godfather Fans: Mayor's Race and Thoughts of the "Good Old Days?"

I suppose since many Republicans are plotting the ouster of their incumbent mayor, I should be grateful my current struggle is limited to not wanting to disappoint my friends.

In my informal polling of precinct committee people in Indianapolis, none of the most widely-touted Democratic contenders for Mayor - Jose Evans, Joe Hogsett, Melinda Kennedy, Kip Tew, or Brian Williams - are gaining "knock out blow" momentum. Most precinct folk are "watching," not "buying." Republicans will contend this is because even Democrats don't believe those in the field are electable. I think there's something simpler at play for many -- friendship.

Things were easier for Democrats in the Evan Bayh "golden finger" era. Following his election as Governor, Evan Bayh was the party. He would say "Pam Carter for AG" and "Stan Jones for Superintendent of Public Instruction," and all others stepped down quietly or went down noisily. Anybody not think former Court Clerk Dwayne Brown's career was toast (even before his foot fetish scandal) when he waged an aborted convention fight against Pam Carter (and, by extension, Ann Delaney) in 1992?

Was this approach heavy-handed? Absolutely. But did it preserve party unity? Absolutely. Evan Bayh said Joe Hogsett takes my place for Secretary of State, and there it was. A united party helped Joe keep the S0S office in 1990.

All Democrats aligned in unity behind Governor Bayh's golden children. Other candidates would make noise, then get stabled. They would make nice with the Governor, and their supporters would fall back into the fold. Up to this year, the greatest interparty "clash" Evan Bayh has had was with Frank O'Bannon, whom he made his Lieutenant Governor.

When Governor O'Bannon took the reigns, the same model prevailed. If you sought an office, you had to go through Room 206. (Yes, it was like going to see the Godfather to ask for your own family). Sure, the Governor might not tell you himself, but people like Bill Moreau and Tom New made sure you got the message. (No, they didn't put horse heads in your bed).

Fast forward two decades, and Don Corleone has left the building. There is nobody who will "make the peace," so we have a world where friends run against the friends of friends.

Joe Hogsett was literally the first man I met in politics, and I like to think we've been friends since. While his political record might not show it, Joe is one of the most gifted politicians of this generation. He simply waded into a few Republican tsunami years.

I met Brian Williams shortly thereafter when we worked together in Governor Bayh's Office and at the Indiana Democratic Party. I liked Brian because he was soft-spoken. I learned this wasn't because he wasn't passionate about his ideas. He just put substance over bluster, which explains why he cranks out ideas like a machine for the IBJ.

I knew of Kip Tew prior to 1996, but that was the year I got to work around him daily. Kip was a tenacious political fighter for Frank O'Bannon. The way he and Steve Bella hunted down information on the Goldsmith administration was a thing of beauty. Kip has always been "mavericky," too, which helped him earn my respect, even though he has irritated some folks during his career. (More power to you, my brother!)

I met Melina back in 1992 when I was working with Pam Carter. I liked her instantly, and she's done nothing to make me second-guess that assessment. She is one of the most genuine people I know, and I always enjoy talking with her. Nobody can say she doesn't know how this city runs.

I've known Jose Evans for the shortest period of time, but his mentor, former IDP chair Robin Winston, is one of the most underrated political talents in Indiana, and that alone puts Jose in good stead with me. I see Jose shrewdly and skillfully elevating his profile. Also, Jose and I share an abiding love of positive hip hop music, which has nothing to do with running a city, but everything to do with signaling that our next generation of leaders is standing on a real short horizon, folks. Watch this man.

In short, this is a formidable field...and I have to pick just one?

This is when politics gets "real." Assuming you have the cajones to say it directly, you now have to look a friend (or four or five of them) in the eye and say, "I am sorry. Nothing personal. This is just business." This is what Democratic politics now demands, and it's not pleasant. (Certain members of Congress are still catching hell from their own party over who they favored for President in 2008, and you know who you are, Baron Hill.)

In 2010, Democrats also have two extremely well-credentialed and personable men - Tom McKenna and Vop Osili - vying for Secretary of State. In 2012, we'll have at least three Democratic candidates for Governor, and I expect this list to grow before it shrinks.

Sorry, but people who are jumping early into any of these races have either worked for one of the candidates or are looking to get "bumped off"....a lot of Christmas card lists. Most activists are hoping if they wait long enough, they'll get the return of the "Corleone influence." They are like Tessio when he's about to get wacked, asking Tom Hagen:

"Tom, can you get me off the hook....for old times sake?"

And our party's leaders all say in unison: "Can't do it, Sally."

(For a profile of the current D mayoral field, check out this article from the IBJ).

Coming soon....."Memory Lane Part II: Where are Our Corleones?"


Monday, August 17, 2009

Sunday Liquor Restrictions and the Intoxication of Competitive Protection

State Representative Ron Alting (R-Layafette) says in today’s Star that the interim study committee on alcoholic beverages will be gathering information regarding Indiana’s “blue laws.” I’ve never supported half-measure morality in the public sphere. For example, I thought it was ridiculous when we decided we would allow casinos in Indiana, but only if we put the gamblers on a boat and made them go 100 feet into a body of water, as if there were a morality cleansing. going on.

What makes half-measure morality worse is when powerful interests harness people of faith’s religious-based objections to protect their own profits. I say, "No more." Until we repeal the 21st Amendment repealing the 18th, sales restrictions are nothing more than protection against competition. This is true no matter how vehemently religious leaders insert “moral” objections as a way to assert their relevance in a debate that is long over.

You probably know that Indiana currently does not let grocery stores sell liquor on Sundays. One might assume a legislative decision was made to keep people from drinking on Sunday instead of going to church, right? Then why do we let people buy as much alcohol as they want on Sunday if they do it at a restaurant or bar? But for the fact that restaurant association has a stronger lobby, does this make sense to anyone?

Also, in Indiana, only liquor stores can sell cold beer. But for the fact that liquor stores have a strong lobby, is there any reason to leave this privilege just to liquor stores? If the belief is that cold beer results in overconsumption, alcoholism, or drunk driving, why would you have it available anywhere? If “cold beer” sales are all that’s keeping liquor stores open, I emphatically support extending this privilege to every business with a license. Liquor stores are cancers on every impoverished community in America, in particular in African-American communities. I wouldn’t shed a tear seeing all of these stores collapse.

If you need to put the liquor and the displays in a separate areas like video stores do with adult movies or cigarettes, so be it. But in my world, every entity that can sell ANY type of liquor should be able to sell every type of liquor it wants. Maybe Walmart and Kroger wouldn't sell hard stuff because of its "family-friendly" philosophy, and more power to them. But let us ("us" meaning we all but Republicans mostly since "unrestricted free markets" are their guiding philosophy) not act like we come at this from any "moral" basis. This debate will be about legislators protecting their friends' bank accounts.

You might also have these powerful interests throw in a dose of the "icky people" scare tactic for good measure. That's when someone tries to make you afraid of having to be near "icky" people at a grocery store because now (s)he won't stay with all the other undesirables outside the liquor store.

We'll see if I'm wrong. I doubt I will be. Not competiting is more intoxicating than cold beer from a grocery store on a Sunday.


Friday, August 14, 2009

My Love-Hate Relationship With Gary, Indiana

Gary, Indiana:

You cradle of a pop icon, gutted remains of an industrial leviathan that made America great! You are the linchpin of my beloved Lake County Democratic Party stronghold. Any doubt over how hardcore you are was erased when you and the rest of Lake County gave 64% to....JILL LONG-THOMPSON!?! I love you for everything you do to help my party win statewide offices, and that whole 67% you hit for President Obama was a thing of beauty. I can't remember your numbers specifically, but they were staggering. Did McCain get a SINGLE vote in Gary? Not that I recall.

But, boy, you need new leadership or some PR advice. So, I'm here to help.

In today's Indianapolis Star, I learned that Michael Jackson's father and the Chi-lites have billed the city for $5,000 for attending a memorial service. Putting aside that Mayor Rudy Clay is "exporting jobs" by bringing in a group FROM ILLINOIS, is this something government should ever pay for? A concert? I also understand the total cost for the memorial was $150,000, and the city were asking for contributions to cover the cost? Say what?!? So how many other financial commitments did you make before knowing what kind of donations you would actually get? I loved Field of Dreams, but I'm not sure "Build a memorial, and they will come....and buy merchandise from which we'll get a cut" is a prudent financial planning tool for a city. Even if the ultimate amount expended was small, is this the best use of public funds during a recession?

At least in Indianapolis when we cough up for something government has no business paying for, we have the decency to run it through the Capital Improvement Board (CIB) or some other quasi-governmental, semi-autonomous entity so that we can murky up the political accountability question when we walk into the dungstorm. Come on mayor! You're not leaving just bread crumbs of accountability! You're leaving whole loaves!

Also, Mr. Mayor, you might think about staying off of TV altogether. I watched you on election night (CNN) debating with Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott over why Gary, Indiana was still "counting votes" when California's precinct committee people were all in bed, and you sounded bad, Mr. Mayor. Really bad. Separately, when you were asked on CNN about Michael Jackson being buried in Gary, your answers bordered on incomprehensible. I actually put my fingers over my eyes and partially closing them because I felt so pained for you. It was like watching a four-minute montage from America's Funniest Home Videos of nothing but guys getting hit in the groin.

To your credit, you were savvy enough to employ the politician's best tactic, which is to ignore every single question they asked you in favor of answering the one you want to answer. BUT for this approach to work, you have to actually remember what question you're answering.

This is part of why Gary can't shake its image problem. It's too easy to make it a laughing stock. Yes, some of the people who attack the city have less than pure motives, but when you know people are gunning for you, isn't the wise play is to stop handing them ammunition?


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Things You Might Not Know About Indiana's Social Service Privatization Scheme

By now, we all know that the privatization of Indiana's social services (a/k/a "the crown jewel" of government achievement according to Governor Mitch Daniels) has been a colossal failure.

According to Business Week, before the governor entered into a contract worth $1.1 billion with IBM and Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), food stamp errors occurred in 4.38 percent of cases. By January 2009, that number was 18.2!

What you might have also heard is that the governor was so upset, he called a senior IBM officer to demand improvement. (This is not surprising, of course, since nobody likes to look as clueless as to see the exact same boondoggle we are now facing unfold in Texas and then think it will be all smiles and lollipops here). Anyway, you are all thinking that we can rest easy now that the governor is putting the hammer down, right?

Oh, wait, didn't you hear? The governor's folks just added $180 million to the contract value. According to the guv's folks, these amendments reflect work not included in the original agreement, such as processing applications for the Healthy Indiana Plan, or HIP, the state-sponsored medical savings account for low-income adults, and emergency food stamps after floods last year in parts of the state. Yes, Indiana is privatizing more social services.

This makes sense because when a building is collapsing all around you, you have the same guys who built it do more construction on the roof. (Insert criticism of bank bailout here). Well, at least we won't have to pay for any of the screwups by IBM and ACS, you're all thinking. That would be stupi....

Oh, wait, didn't you hear? The new contract includes $35.14 million for "several items that addressed criticisms of the project," such as adding staff and a Web portal for nursing homes and group homes.

According to FSSA Secretary Murphy, IBM put together an improvement plan that "adds 350 people and new technology at no additional cost to the state. I'm sorry, but when did $35 million become "no cost?" Whatever happened to, "you broke it, you fix it? IBM/ACS said it could deliver something, and it didn't. Indiana should not have to spend a single extra dime to get its "bargain."

This is particularly true given that IBM is still heralding Indiana as a success story on its website. Were I the governor, I'd demand it come down because it's false advertising. (In fact, the only reason IBM can do this with a straight face is because corporations don't have faces).

My favorite quote is from Zach Main, director of Family Resources, Indiana Family and Social Services Administration:

“We’re very happy with how things have worked out,” says Main. “We’ve accomplished our basic mission, to open up new channels and increase our accuracy. Our variances are moving towards the target of 5 percent and we’re going to save a lot of money in the process. But at the end of the day, it’s really all about making the lives of our citizens better by delivering the services they need, when they need them. We’re doing that, better than ever.”

I have no idea who Zach Main is, but I do want to know if he is still working. If this is his view of success, he shouldn’t be. If this is the type of oversight the agency offers, he shouldn't be.

With such an inept effort by IBM/ACS, why didn't the guv just pull the plug now? Screw ACS, right! The Governor doesn't have any "connections" with these guys!

Oh, wait, didn't you hear? ACS was former FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob's former employer. Yeah, but how could pulling the plug on a guy who isn't even working there anymore hurt Roob? Wait...is that Mitch Roob who was the head of the Health and Hospital Corporation in 1994 during Steve Goldsmith's mayoral tenure in Indianapolis? Yes? You know who else ran in the inner circle with Mayor Goldsmith and who handled privatization for the city, no less? A guy named of "Skip" Stitt. I wonder what Skip is doing these days? Oh, you hadn't heard? An officer with ACS.

Well, that explains why ACS gave its maximum allowable corporate donation of $5,000 to Daniels in 2008, and why Stitt gave $2,500 out of his own pocket. Campaign finance records also show $2,000 from Maryland native and ACS' Chief Operating Officer Tom Burlin. Why would a guy from Maryland give to an Indiana Governor? Oh, you hadn't heard? The website says he had the responsibility "to develop and execute a strategy to reestablish IBM as a major player in the government market after the company had divested its position six years earlier." Good job, Tom! A billion and growing sure seems major!

Oh, you also might not have heard that Governor Daniels is apparently running for something. I say this because ACS wrote Governor Daniels a check for $5,000 in January of 2009. I'm sure this was just to make sure the Governor was well-funded for the election that was about to happen in....um....well, I'm sure the fact it was written right after Secretary Murphy got a whiff of the stench that was privatization was just a coincidence. It had nothing to do with the fact that the dookie was about to hit the oscillating unit.

As a final note, in 2008, ACS also gave $2,000 each to the Senate Majority Campaign Committee (R) and the House Republican campaign committee, as well as $1,000 to the Indiana House Democratic Caucus, too. Boy, ACS must just LOVE good government because it’s investing in it everywhere! What a civic-minded firm! I only wish I had time to look at IBM, too.


Monday, August 3, 2009

"Extreme" Commentary on Sex Selling Everything!

Periodically, I deviate a bit from politics to talk about American culture (though it’s not so much a conversation as me griping about it going to hell in a handbasket). Today is no exception.

I love the free market system, but consumerism is getting ridiculous. Sometimes I want to yell at advertisers, “Do you think young people are that stupid?!? We know sex sells, but do you really think it can sell everything?!?!”

Exhibit A. I’m on vacation with family and my sister hands me a can of Pringles. They’re “dill” flavored, and the word “Extreme” is emblazoned in several colors above the Pringles logo. Now, I’ve never had a potato chip that tasted like a pickle before, so it’s certainly different. But to call it “extreme” is a bit…um…extreme. Remember when you could sell food by asserting that it tasted good? Apparently, you now can only sell food to adrenalin-seeking youngsters by equating eating a fried potato to doing a Travis Pastrana double back-flip on a motorcycle. This is why everything is “extreme” now, including democracy. If twenty-one-year-olds were as susceptible to prostate cancer as forty-year-olds, I’m sure we’d hear about how one of the most “extreme” things you can do is have a finger wedged up your behind by a doctor. What a rush!

Exhibit B. Vibrating mascara by Maybelline. Now, let’s assume for a second it actually is superior at eliminating smudges, applying evenly, blah blah. Can anybody tell me this wasn’t con-cocted with a sex toy in mind? It's not a mascara stick or brush on the promo. It’s a “wand.” Also, during the promo, you hear the phrases “doing what no hand can do alone” and “feel the vibe of lashes that…” They’re not selling mascara, they’re selling psychic connection to the Sex and the City vibrator-toting crowd.

Exhibit C. Even my new favorite commercial, an “extreme”-ly amusing hip hop/techno remix of that annoying guy who hawks the Slap Chop, puts a little too much emphasis on the phrase, “You’re gonna love my nuts.” (By the way, as many advertisers and hip hop artists copy everything clever, expect to have a hip hop version of everything. You already know how funky “The Clapper” remix could be, and I’m working on one for Life Alert (I’ve fa-fa-fallen, and I can’t get up!)


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Who DOESN'T Think Mitch is Jockeying?

I know Mitch Daniels said he's not running for national office in 2012. Then why did the staff of My Man Mitch send out an e-mail a month or so ago touting all of his national press? The intro paragraph reads:

"Mitch has been grabbing all kinds of national attention lately for his focus on reform and results. While other states are cutting education and raising taxes, Mitch has proposed a budget that increases school funding and does not include a tax increase.

You've known how great Mitch is all along, but we couldn't pass up a chance to share some of the recent kudos for our favorite Gov!"

Was it a Freudian slip to say he has been "grabbing" all kinds of attention? I don't think so. A candidate who really doesn't want to run tells his people to shut down the campaign. He doesn't leave national bread crumbs everywhere so people can start following him. In the past six months, Daniels' stories have included:

"What Would Daniels Do?" - The National Review
"Mitch the Knife" - The National Review
"A Hobbled March Forward" - The Economist
"The Idealism of Mitch Daniels" - The Atlantic Monthly
"Can Mitch Daniels Save the GOP?" - The Washington Examiner
"Low-Key Governor Becomes Leading GOP Voice on Climate" - The New York Times
"Mitch Daniels: Republican Revolutionary" - The Washington Post
"Indiana Says 'No Thanks' to Cap and Trade - The New York Times
"A Hoosier in the White House?" - The Weekly Standard
"Daniels on Changing the 'Party of No' - National Journal

Somebody is churning Daniels' profile nationally, or these stories wouldn't have run, folks. And given that Daniel's campaign manager was sending out a story about his victory in December of 2008 to Michael Barone of U.S. News and World Report, you can draw your own conclusion on who that might be. (Can anybody explain why an Indiana governor would be sending information about his political strength to a national political writer, if not to raise his own profile?)

Call this "The Anatomy of a 'Draft Me' Campaign." You have your people raise your profile while you completely deny interest. Then you let the rest of the world take over. After all, one Republican nerd with the hots for a beauty queen transformed Sarah Palin into a household name.

Maybe that explains Americans for Mitch, the "Mitch Daniels for President" Facebook page, or the GOPTrunk and Republican Depot's mercs for Daniels (including some nicely-embroidered "Daniels for President" golf shirts. It also explains why Daniels is getting mad kudos in the conservatorati blog sites, like Red State. (The Daily Kos takes a preemptive swipe at Daniels, meaning (a) it's pretty clear that Democrats think Daniels is getting traction; and (b) nobody is buying his "I'm not selling in 2012" mantra.

My Little League baseball coach used to tell us to run as hard as we could can to first base even if we hit the ball right at someone because a defender can bobble the pick-up or make an errant throw, and the first baseman can muff the catch. If you slow down and then try to sprint again after you see the error, you're still going to get thrown out, but not if you run the whole time.

Daniels' people are sure running full speed, and he's sure not coaching them any differently. Maybe he's telling the truth, and he won't serve in another elected office. Can anybody say cabinet secretary Daniels?