Saturday, October 31, 2009

Secretary of State Rokita Channels Reverend Lovejoy

This is the second in a three-part analysis of the recent activities of Republican Secretary of State and gubernatorial hopeful, Todd Rokita.

After landing a solid redistricting jab, Rokita came over the top this week with a clever, new public service announcement warning people of the dangers of "faith-based affinity fraud."

My issue is not with necessity for this ad, as I recall a case in Sullivan County of an ex-pastor operating a faith-based ponzi scheme. There are numerous, tragic examples across the country of people who take advantage of the trust built up through shared faith.

What struck me was when Rokita says it’s hard to detect fraud “especially when it's done in the name of the Lord.” Notice how Rokita doesn’t say “in the name of religion” or “in the name of faith” or “even in the name of God." He specifically refers to “the Lord,” an undeniable, not-so-subliminal statement of his Christian faith.

Lest some contend "Lord" is probably intended to refer generically to God, recall that the "Our Father" is also called "The Lord's prayer" because it was conveyed to the apostles by Jesus. In addition, a common refrain at most Christian churches, including mine, is "our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ." Non-practitioners and practitioners alike may refer to the Deity as "God," but in my lifetime, I'm never heard any non-Christian (be (s)he Jew, Muslim, Hindu, pagan, agnostic, or atheist) refer to God as "the Lord," except ironically.

If you're a guy who wants to create a psychic connection with Republican values voters without using campaign funds, this is a great way to do it. Will Rokita be the GOP nominee? Can he prevail over Becky Skillman? Who knows. But nobody can say he isn't getting the most out of the hand he's been dealt.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Rokita Part I: "Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me a Map!"

This is the first of a three-part analysis on Republican Secretary of State and gubernatorial hopeful Todd Rokita's recent activities.

Say you’re a term-limited Hoosier Republican, you’re seeking higher office, and you’re worried about the presumptive front-runner for the office you seek getting a jump on you. Put another way, say you’re Todd Rokita. What do you do?

How about making self-interested politicians your whipping boy and connecting with the faithful via a subconscious shout out to the Supreme Being?

A few weeks ago, Rokita launched Rethinking Redistricting and embarked on a statewide tour to convince Hoosiers that it’s bad public policy to let legislators create their own district boundaries.

In the abstract, nobody would have ever counseled Rokita to dive into the alligator den by alienating lawmakers, particularly fellow Republicans, House Minority Leader Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Temp David Long. After all, if the Republicans take back the House of Representatives, Bo-Lo will be wielding the big cutlery on the atlas.

And, sure enough, both men pounced on Rokita for being a nosenheimer. In a saucy putdown, Long stated, "I don't think it's (Rokita's) business." Ooooo, snap, girlfriend!

Given his options for elevating the profile of his largely ministerial office, though, Rokita's play is not as politically ill-advised as one might think. If Rokita wasn't likely to earn the support of Bosma or Long for Governor (he wasn't), he loses nothing. But he has garnered massive free media, he's becoming the darling of every civic-minded editorial board and Common Cause chapter in the state, and he has a ready-made Speakers' Bureau-style roadshow that will help him connect with voters on an issue on which nobody except politicians can disagree, and not even all of them will.

Governor Daniels supports Rokita's effort (probably to the consternation of Lieutenant Governor Becky Skillman). It was as if the Governor said, "Hey there, Hoosiers, Todd and I are too clean to stay in the political muck with these legislators. Yo, Todd, we're Audi 5000."

I understand why the Guv jumped on board after observing Rokita's presentation recently at the Muslim Alliance of Indiana (MAI)'s annual conference. It piqued my interest, and it was potently populist. It started with a quirky video of average Hoosiers trying to identify what is depicted in outlines of the sprawling, contorted legislative districts we currently use.

Rokita then beat the bejesus out of "them," the ominous and elusive phrase politicians use to conjure up images of overweight, bald, cigar-smoking other politicians carting around briefcases full of lobbyist cash. Sure, there were interesting policy arguments about how constituent confusion would lessen if we had more districts mimicking county and/or township boundaries and how neighborhoods right now are split down the middle of the street. But the soundbite is what caught my attention: "We should pick our representatives; they shouldn't pick us." Nice.

According to Rokita, political considerations, such as review of the addresses of sitting legislators or the voting history of geographic areas to determine whether to include them in a district would be forbidden.

Unfortunately, the cynic in me won't release the notion that Rokita and Daniels know a random draw in a state with a larger baseline Republican vote is going to favor Republicans at least six times out of ten. In other words, the Rokita concept might throw these Republican leaders out, but it's less likely to throw out Republican leadership.

This is, of course, beautiful for Rokita because the best thing that could happen to Rethinking Redistricting is the media beating Democrat House Speaker Pat Bauer about his opposition because it knows he can't say D's are more likely to lose the House in a straight up fight.

My only concern about this project has been the laughable defense of the cost. Rokita's chief of staff pointed out that Rokita didn't use "new money," by which he meant to say that the SoS did not spend all of his allocation from the General Assembly, but instead of sending it all back to the state, took out a $110,000 chunk for this project.

The key with this "new money" accounting concept then is to ensure your office gets a sizeable over-appropriation annually. This way whatever you spend in excess of what you expected to not spend doesn't count. Got it?

Of course, while that price tag seems steep for some maps, a website, some brochures, and a video, the cost is probably equal to the paperclip budget for the BMV, and it will be worth every dime to see the masses get riled up about something they won't be able to change while legislators sweat over how to not support it while looking like they are.

Stay tuned for Rokita, Part II: "So sayeth the Loe-ord!"


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mayor Ballard Plays Cloak and Dagger

Matt Tully has a great piece today in the Indianapolis Star on how Mayor Greg Ballard leaned on Republican city-county councilors in a secret cloakroom meeting to ensure that no smoking ban ordinance would ever reach his desk. He did this because he didn't want to have to veto the measure.

Many Republican bloggers contend Mayor Ballard had no ultimate hand in the measure not passing, as he didn't influence any votes.

That's really your defense?!?! That, yes, the mayor did put a dagger in the back of public health advocates by pressuring counselors to vote against the ban that he publicly supported during his campaign, but it's okay because he's so ineffectual as a leader that he couldn't persuade a single member of his own party to do an about-face?!?!

If I were City-County Councilor Ben Hunter (R), I'd be irate. Nothing is worse in politics than getting beaten up for a tough stand when you don't get the positive result. Had Hunter known the Mayor would veto the measure, does anybody think he would have been carrying the water for so long and taking arrows from every bar owner in Indy? Way to leave your guy hanging, Mayor!

At least now we know the Mayor's position on a full ban. There was some ambiguity before Tully's investigation. On WTHR-13, the news reporter actually said the following:

"The Mayor had previously stated that he was not sure if he was ready to sign such a bill (a full ban) into law. He said tonight that his position on the measure has not changed."

I laughed out loud. He actually told a member of the media that his position, which was to not have a position, remained the same. Way to remain fully your own ambivalence.

Mayor, let me introduce you to a well-known phrase from Congressman Andre Carson: bold leadership. Try it sometime. If you had done so, you wouldn't have public health advocates and Ben Hunter at your throat now, and Luke Kenley wouldn't be sore at you for disappearing into the rabit hole while he was taking political shrapnel for you with a CIB bailout proposal.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Justice Frank Sullivan Lays Down the Law (Politically Speaking!)

On Thursday of last week, Indiana Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan delivered an excellent keynote address at the Muslim Alliance of Indiana's "Access to Justice" luncheon, which promoted MAI's modest means legal clinic. But Sullivan's remarks raised eyebrows.

Sullivan advocated a merit selection system for all judges, which was a gutsy move for a guy in a room full of elected Marion County judges.

If I put aside personal affection for many members of the local judiciary, what Justice Sullivan said makes terrific sense. We need a judiciary more insulated from political pressure than one mindful of getting slated by a handful of politically-active Democrats and Republicans, which is how Marion County picks its judges.

Two quick exhibits on that score.

I am absolutely certain that Democrat Judge Annie Christ-Garcia got it right when she found Democrat City-County Councilor Doris Minton McNeil not guilty. (I never believed the State would be able to establish an intentional touching of the officer required by the battery statute, as opposed to an intoxicated "falling into"). But would anybody believe that Judge Christ-Garcia never thought, even in passing, about the political repercussions of convicting versus not convicting? How could you not do so if you are human, in particular when you are part of a system that makes you play politics.

Doesn't every judge say, "Crap!" when a politically sensistive case hits the docket? And, because of judicial elections, won't some people assume an extremely capable and fair-minded Democrat judge put it in the tank for a Democrat city-county councilor because of fear of political retribution, regardless of what really happened?

I was not present for the Hamilton Avenue trial, and based on how strongly Judge Robert Altice (R) was recommended by the Indianapolis Bar Association (96% favorable), we should assume he also ruled correctly on the evidence. But can anybody say with certainty that Altice, a former prosecutor, never thought, even for an instant, about the political ramifications of entering a not guilty finding in Indianapolis' biggest murder case ever? That it never occurred to him that he could potentially doom his own electoral chances, but in addition, hand Democrats a shovel with which to bludgeon Carl Brizzi politically?

Are we supposed to also believe that Brizzi never envisioned Judge Altice thinking about the ramifications when he gave away the death penalty for nothing more than having a bench trial before Altice? Seriously, who does not believe Brizzi played handicapper and reached the conclusion that the political damage of foregoing the death penalty would be minor compared to the outcry if he didn't get a conviction. If Brizzi wasn't pretty confident that Judge Altice would convict, would he have made the deal? I've heard some say that Brizzi's stronger concern was that a CSI-obsessed jury would never convict without any physical evidence. That's a fair point. But what if Brizzi had been in, say, Democrat Grant Hawkins' court? Would he have still made the deal?

Even if Judge Christ-Garica, Judge Altice, and Prosecutor Brizzi could all prove politics never crossed their minds, and maybe they can, isn't there intrinsic harm from a system that has even lawyers wondering to what degree these kind of considerations might influence decision-making, even if only subconsciously, in close cases? And can't we objectively see how public skepticism about judicial decisions in political cases would be engendered by a slating system?

There is a reason federal judges have lifetime appointments. The Federalists knew it would be necessary to insulate judges from political pressure to ensure that they make accurate but politically unpopular decisions.

Some may correctly point out that even lifetime judicial appointees can play politics on the highest level, a la Bush v. Gore, but any step toward more judicial independence is still a positive step. If we switched to merit selection and retention elections every four years (instead of every six like with the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court), we would improve faith in our judicial decisions while giving the electorate a modicum of ability to bounce a judge for particularly egregious conduct.

Would this hurt the political parties by taking something valuable away from precinct committeepersons? Yes. They would have fewer offices to slate. But a merit-based system would take away equally, so there is no competitive disadvantage suffered by either party by support of this idea.

Lest someone in my own party suggest iPOPA is on a quest to oust sitting judges, I would respectfully submit that the only ones who should be nervous are the ones who know they wouldn't keep their offices if judged on their merits. In other words, you'll learn a lot listening to who is complaining about this post.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How Much Idiocy Can We Blame On A Parent?

Anytime a kid does something stupid or criminal, most of us ultimately ask, "Where were the parents?" However, given that we live in a world where the influence of peers, television, music, and movies can edge out saner voices and years of positive upbringing, how fair is it to place blame on a parent? Frankly, I'm torn.

Demetrius Smith, age 18, the son of City-County Councilor Kent Smith (R-At Large), was arrested for bringing a knife to school. The day before, a parent called and advised the school that a student was going to bring a weapon. That tip resulted in a search of all students that uncovered Smith's knife.

The Channel 13 story actually states without attribution:

"He's described as a good student who made a poor choice." By whom? I ask because I would describe him as a complete idiot. If the comment that follows the Channel 13 story is, indeed, from his friend, then Smith was on the verge of graduating with pretty good prospects for a full-ride to college. Now, if he doesn't get expelled, it will only be because principals of schools don't generally mess with sons of city-county councilors. Any other kid would be toast under the school's zero tolerance policy.

On the "merits," let me just say that nobody brings a knife to school with an altruistic motive, so we have to wonder what his endgame was. Since he was caught, I'm sure he'll tell everybody he was just going to use it to dissect a frog in biology. Sorry, but if your judgment is so poor you'd take a knife to school, I'd call it even odds that you'd use it if provoked or give it to somebody who would.

This gets me to my original question. Is this Kent Smith's fault? Even a little? Are we entitled as a citizenry to suggest when something like this happens that there are more important things Kent Smith should be doing than attending city-county council and Republican club meetings? Or do we just say, "Some kids are just going to be mislead or go bad and but for the grace of God, go us all?"

What's your take, friends? Help me solve my dilemma.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Primer for Helping Bigots Know When They're Bigots

Louisiana justice of the peace Keith Bardwell refused to marry an interracial couple. He did so, he said, not because he's a racist, but because he needed to ensure bi-racial kids aren't born because they are not accepted by either the black or white community. Didn't Barack Obama get 96% of the African-American vote? Doesn't Tiger Woods have a monstrous white following? Where exactly are all these suffering bi-racial children?!? Let's start a telethon!

In his defense, Bardwell said the following:

"I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way. I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."

Are you kidding me?

Nobody describes their friends as "piles." Sorry, but that's an adjective reserved for manure, which might very well be what the guy was thinking. (One blogger who I can't recall asked rhetorically if the friends were still alive, as it's hard to put living people into piles).

More importantly, when people defend themselves against an accusation, they do so by pointing out noteworthy things that run strongly contrary to the assertion. Someone says John McCain is a Republican party lackey, and he highlights votes where his party needed him desperately, and he said no. Persuasive stuff that.

But anybody who thinks that letting a black person use your restroom is noteworthy in the same way isn't just a racist; he's a closet segregationist. "See folks? I'm not racist. I let black people do what has been mandated by law for over forty years now - I let 'em use a white man's toilet!' Bardwell's completely idiotic comment reminds me of every man accused of being sexist whose response is, "I'm not sexist. I have a mother, a wife, and a daughter."

Most Americans will write Bardwell off as a crazy old crank from Louisiana, not someone who should disrupt our post-racial, Obama-in-America euphoria. They would be wrong.

In 2005, Gallup conducted a poll on interracial dating that revealed over a quarter of Americans still object. As poll respondents consistently mask true feelings to give the politically correct answer, the real percentage is undoubtedly higher. Had the question asked about interracial marriage, it would have been higher still.

The survey showed that black men stir unease in white people (shocking, I know!). Even among the 72 percent of white respondents who approved of a white man dating a black woman, seven percent of those didn't approve of a black man with a white woman. In contrast, Latinos and African-Americans who support interracial dating didn't care about the gender/race component.

Sorry, but if you think that there is a problem with people from different races dating or marrying, you’re most likely a closet bigot. Nobody complains about dating among equals. I understand many people of all races may think interracial dating will be too difficult because of cultural complications, but if you say you are against it across-the-board before you even consider the other person's education, socioeconomic status, upbringing, family sentiments toward interracial dating, and the like, you're just a bigot.

Sorry, but at least now you know who you are and you can start confronting your issues head-on instead of sounding like an idiot while you say some of your best piles are black.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Daniels' Definition of "Job" Needs Clarification

In his 2008 State of the State address, Mitch Daniels repeated the popular Republican mantra:

"Government doesn't create jobs."

Question for the Governor. What do you call it then when you pay a wage to somebody who does labor for you?

I ask because you used $24 million in federal stimulus funds to create 1900 jobs for Hoosiers between 16 and 24 years old through the Young Hoosiers Conservation Corps, which is basically our version of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Your party HATES this kind of federal jobs program, Governor. Ask any of your presidential frontrunners. Ask Mike Pence. But we understand you had to do this. You got federal money, so you could ONLY use it for this, right? But, thankfully, it expires this week.

What's that? It worked so well that you decided to extend it another year?


Governor, since these Hoosiers obviously don't have "jobs," should they call your Department of Workforce Development about unemployment?


Friday, October 16, 2009

Governor Daniels Gets Credit for Childlike Honesty

Say your child comes to you and tells you about something he or she did wrong. Here's your conundrum. You have to take action because of the bad conduct, but if you're too strong, you're going to discourage future disclosures.

Meet our man-child du jour, Governor Mitch Daniels.

The Indiananpolis Star reports today that the Guv has pulled the plug on the IBM/ACS-led welfare system overhaul because it's an unfixable, lamentable mess. What is refreshing is that the Governor actually admitted it was a mistake.

He could have blasted IBM/ACS and said that the problem wasn't privatization of social services, but rather the vendors. He didn't. He gave the full confession and admitted the idea itself was ill-bred.

The Guv made his concession knowing blogs, both local and national, would blast him in an effort to undermine all privatization efforts and his ascendant national spotlight. (Sorry, but if he isn't running for President, he's definitely posturing for a future cabinet post or job as CEO of some conservative-led company. Nobody feeds the national media beast and takes shots at the President the way the Guv has lately without an ulterior motive).

Governor, thank you for your honesty on this issue. But at the same time, I can't give you a free pass anymore than I can my child.

How anybody who knew what transpired in Texas under IBM/ACS's lead could think privatization of social services would work in Indiana was engaging in massively self-delusional behavior that comes only from being so committed to a flawed notion that it overwhelms reason. This is the exact philosophical adherence that caused a misdirected war in Iraq (when we should have been in Afghanistan).

But at least the Governor had the courage to say, metaphorically speaking, "Yeah, there aren't any WMDs, so we're pulling out now." That makes him a step above the "never admit a mistake" president under whom he once served.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Friendly Advice for Marvin Scott


That's my advice. Just say no. You announced you are running as a Republican candidate for U.S. Congress against Democrat Andre Carson. My only question is why? Are you a glutton for punishment? Do you have that much free time to spend on self-aggrandizing, pointless pursuits?

Are you not aware of the people in my own party who had reservations about an extremely gifted political figure, Joe Hogsett, because he had run for office a few times and been defeated? Respectfully, you're not as politically gifted as Hogsett, and at least he was elected Secretary of State in 1990. You lost to Andy Jacobs, then to Julia Carson, and then to Evan Bayh.

You can claim only persistence, which I suppose is cool in a kind of rogue Pat Paulsen/Ron Paul/Ralph Nader/Bobby Hidalgo Kern kind of way. But there is no scenario under which you can be elected. The district is too Democrat, the Congressman is working too hard, and if anybody in the national party felt you were anywhere near striking distance, they would open a floodgate of funds to protect an incumbent seat.

Obviously, you believe you have the skills to be worthy of being one of the 535 decision makers for this country. Frankly, I do not know you well enough to say whether this is true or not.

But if so, take that energy, skill, time, and money and invest it in the Indianapolis non-profit community. Imagine how empowering you could be as a mentor with Big Brothers. Imagine what you could do as a volunteer for Child Advocates, Inc. Imagine the money you could amass if, instead of spending time trying to get people to set their money on fire (which is about the same thing as donating to your campaign), you told them to donate to United Way, which is struggling this year.

I thought Republicans' believed in the market because it would compel people to move to the highest valued use for their skills. Yet, while you have unlimited choices for trying to make Indianapolis better in a tangible and meaningful way that would result in gratitude from most of your neighbors, you choose the one that will never bear fruit while simultaneously making you look politically delusional.

Time to rethink this thing, professor. Class dismissed.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friendly Advice for Carl Brizzi

As most people know by now, the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission lodged a complaint against Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi for "public comments" made in two cases.

Respectfully, the mainstream media has not done a good job of explaining this brouhaha, and non-lawyers may wonder what the hubbub is all about.

Simply stated, lawyers must comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct, and Rule 3.6 prohibits any lawyer from making an (a) extrajudicial statement that (b) the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and (c) will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.

If Prosecutor Brizzi makes a comment to the media, which he did here, then a & b are already satisfied. The only remaining issue is whether the comment is likely to prejudice an "adjudicative proceeding" (known to laypersons as "a trial").

That language is pretty subjective, I can hear some non-lawyers saying. How would somebody know whether there is a "substantial likelihood?" Oh, you know because Rule 3.6 sets forth in mind-numbing detail the specific information that can be recounted by an attorney, in particular, a prosecutor.

The integrity of the criminal judicial system is built on the idea that a defendant can get a fair trial, but public comments by someone with first-hand knowledge of the case can inflame a community and make it impossible to get a jury that can render a fair decision. Adverse pretrial publicity, even if it happens without comments by a prosecutor, can lead to a case being transferred out of county.

The legal profession demands that its members forego the desire to score political points or try to get a leg up by commenting on cases or judges. It's easy to forget this mandate because most cases have heightened emotion and talking is innate for most politicians. Plus, lawyers who are also public office holders have a lot of microphones and cameras at their disposal, which means their every utterance, even if imprudent, gets captured.

I will never forget my former boss, Attorney General Jeff Modisett, getting chastized by the Indianapolis Bar Association after he crumpled up an order dismissing his tobacco law suit. The IBA had the same harsh words for Governor Daniels recently when he called a recent Court of Appeals decision an example of "judicial arrogance." Lawyers know that the general public holds the profession in low regard, so we damn sure aren't going to let other lawyers pile on.

And that leads me to my advice for Prosecutor Brizzi, which all politicians might keep in mind. DON'T talk when you're angry. Let a surrogate do it, or you will do or say something you'll regret. Brizzi already did. When told of the complaint, his response to the Star was "I find the timing curious."

The Commission itself is a bipartisan body with members appointed by the Supreme Court. Do you really want to come off as accusing the Commission that is investigating you of doing so for political reasons? Run it by Helen next time. She'll help you get it right.

Ultimately, if any action is taken against Brizzi, it's will be just a public reprimand, which will have almost no impact on his standing. Sorry, fellow lawyers, but very few non-lawyers care what lawyers think. To those who don't already oppose Brizzi, this will likely come off as much ado about a prosecutor hurting the feelings of some murderous scumbags.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Would Indiana Fare Better? Don't Bet the House

Three out of four Oklahoma high school students don't know who the first U.S. president was.

It gets worse.

Only slightly over a quarter know the two bodies that make up the U.S. Congress.

From a survey of 1000 students, we learn that only 3% could pass the citizenship exam. According to data from the Immigration Service, 92% of those actually taking the exam pass.

Isn't this what we've always known? When something comes free, you take it for granted?

In fairness, I'm sure the students would have done better had they been studying for an exam in the same way the prospective citizens were, but there's no excuse for only forty-three percent knowing the two major political parties in the U.S. The only way you don't hear "Republican" and "Democrat" on a daily basis is if you never read a periodical (even Seventeen is political at times!) and only watch Twilight.

At the risk of sounding like one of those guys who complains about "these crazy kids today," does anybody over 30 remember people our age being that ignorant, even in high school? (Notice I didn't say stupid, which implies lack of intellectual capacity. Ignorance can be cured through education and desire).

As a country, we have to do better explaining our government to our kids because, if we don't, misinformation will be easier to spread than it already is. We have to do better ourselves, as well.

For the record, I don't absolve myself. One of the questions asks how many members there are on the United States Supreme Court. Obviously, I know it's nine, but when I went to name them for the fun of it, I couldn't recall Justice Kennedy. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I had an easier time remembering eight of nine original members of the Wu Tang Clan!