Transitions in the works for lawmakers

December 5th, 2012 at 9:29 pm by under Politics


Richard Lugar

The end of the calendar year following an election season is a time that’s always filled with change for the lawmakers who serve us. Here are some of the transitions in the works as we usher out 2012 and look ahead to 2013:

-Richard Lugar will announce his future plans Friday afternoon during a 3:30 news conference at the University of Indianapolis. In the past, the veteran senator -defeated in the May GOP primary- has said he plans to continue to be an active voice on the issues of energy and nutrition, but it’s unclear whether those are the issues that will consume the majority of his time. Lugar will field questions from reporters at Friday’s event. I had been hoping to sit down with Lugar for an extended interview on his 36 years of service in the Senate, but a staffer today told me it’s unlikely that will happen.

-Congressman Marlin Stutzman, who represents most of northeast Indiana, is getting a promotion for his second full term in the U.S. House. Stutzman’s office announced Tuesday that he has been selected to serve on the House Financial Services Committee, which is one of the four most influential committees in that chamber. It’s responsible for oversight of the Treasury, Federal Reserve Board, and the nation’s capital markets. The committee also has jurisidiction over international finance and efforts to combat terrorist financing. “I look forward to using this new committee assignment to help end the era of bailouts and over-regulation,” said Stutzman. This assignment, along with that of Indiana Congressman Todd Young to the House Ways and Means Committee, is good news for Indiana at a time when influential lawmakers like Dan Burton and Richard Lugar are leaving the political scene.

-Stutzman is also getting a new top lieutenant for the next Congress. Matt Lloyd, the longtime communications director for Congressman Mike Pence, will take over for Tim Harris as Stutzman’s chief of staff.  Lloyd has worked for Pence as a trusted aide in one capacity or another for almost a decade, but has opted not to follow him to the governor’s office in Indianapolis. A Stutzman staffer I spoke with today said the parting with Harris is “an amiable split”, and also said Harris deserves a lot of the credit for getting Stutzman’s office up and running over the past couple years. The staffer also acknowledged that Harris played a key role in Stutzman’s appointment to the House Financial Services Committee. Exactly why Harris is leaving and who initiated his departure is still a mystery to much of Stutzman’s staff.  


Is northeast Indiana catching up in wages?

November 26th, 2012 at 9:13 pm by under Politics

For at least a decade and a half, northeast Indiana was in the unfortunate situation of falling behind the rest of the country in terms of personal income. New data just out Monday, however, suggests that is turning around.

According to numbers from 2011 released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, northeast Indiana’s per capita personal income was 79.9 percent on the dollar compared to the rest of the country. Basically, we’re making 80 percent of what people in the country make on average. That doesn’t sound good -and it’s not- but it’s better than the 79.4 percent on the dollar northeast Indiana was taking in back in 2010.

The main group responsible for marketing our region, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, saw it as such a positive development that it sent out a news release with a headline that trumpeted: “New Data Shows Northeast Indiana Has Stopped Decline in Per Capita Income.”

The release also featured a quote from John Stafford, who heads up the Community Research Institute at IPFW: “We now have three years of data that indicate that we have arrested the decline in per capita personal income… We now have reason to believe that we have turned the corner. We must stop the decline before we can begin the trek upward, and that is what this new data shows us is happening.”  

I hope that’s true. Millions of dollars have been spent over the past few years on efforts to coordinate the economic development efforts of northeast Indiana’s ten counties. The overarching goal of it all has been to get the area’s per capita income back in line with the national average. A closely-related goal has been to bring down unemployment in our area.

I covered this effort extensively in a special report a year and a half ago. At the time, northeast Indiana business and political leaders said whether the turnaround effort is successful would depend on a couple factors:

1) Attitude. Will leaders of counties, cities, and schools in our area stop viewing one another with suspicion, and start collaborating to win jobs instead of competing with one another for them? The main goal of the Partnership is to bring this about.

2) Mindset. Will the rank and file in northeast Indiana be okay with new types of jobs fueling growth in our region? That means transitioning from being anchored by traditional manufacturing to building a knowledge-based economy; nurturing key industries like defense, advanced manufacturing, transportation, and logistics.

There’s evidence these shifts in attitude and mindset are beginning to take hold. For example, here in Fort Wayne, there’s a lot of talk going on behind closed doors about better integrating the efforts of groups like the Downtown Improvement District, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance, and the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce. There should be a plan in place for weaning these groups from some of their territorialism soon. Back in September, Mayor Tom Henry said to expect an update by the end of the year.

Just remember that this is a long-term effort that could take a decade or more to accomplish. Changing attitudes and long-held ways of thinking will require time, and it will be an uneven process. There will be setbacks and instances of failure. It appears most leaders in our area know all of this and are prepared for a long slog, as long as the overall trend line appears to be going up. The data that just came out should be an encouragement for them to keep plugging away.

The bottom line is that Monday’s numbers appear to be cause for hope along the pathway to progress, but we’re still a long way from having cause for celebration.

Are you in the market for a political job?

November 19th, 2012 at 8:50 pm by under Politics

Mike Pence

There’s not much happening in the political world as we enter the holiday season, but there are a couple items worth mentioning:

-If you’re interested in seeking a job in Gov.-elect Mike Pence’s upcoming administration, the website to go to is www.IndianaWorks.net.  Pence’s transition team is encouraging you to submit your qualifications and resume using a portal available on the site. The website will also provide info about the transition and announce key appointments within the new administration, according to Pence’s spokesperson.

 -City Councilman Mitch Harper continues to ramp up his early campaigning for the 2015 Fort Wayne mayoral election this week. Harper will be the guest of honor at a fundraising reception State Senator David Long is hosting at the Monarch Beverage Company in Indy Tuesday evening. Harper is the first Republican to start seriously laying the groundwork for a 2015 run. Other Republicans rumored to have interest are fellow council members John Crawford and Tom Didier, along with local businessman Eric Doden, who would be taking his second shot at the mayor’s office after an unsuccessful run in 2011.

On the Democratic side, Mayor Tom Henry will certainly have the right of first refusal if he’s interested in running for a third term. It’s way too early, however, to have any sense of whether that’ll be the case. Henry has said his decision will depend on whether he’s able to sufficiently move the city in the right direction during his second term, but he hasn’t unpacked in any detail exactly what that means.

Daniels: The most interesting, attractive Hispanic elected officials are Republicans

November 16th, 2012 at 9:49 pm by under Politics

Governor Daniels and President Obama

In the wake of the election, there’s been a lot of handwringing among Republicans over the future of their party. Can the GOP adjust its policies and outreach efforts in ways that will appeal to the nation’s growing and changing demographic groups, especially Hispanics?

One person who doesn’t seem so concerned is Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. When he swung by WANE-TV this week for a sort of exit interview as he prepares to leave office, Daniels was perfectly relaxed and even optimistic when talking about his party’s future prospects.

Daniels pointed out that, in American political life, death sentences are customarily pronounced upon the Democratic and Republican parties when they lose consecutive presidential elections. Yet both remain in existence and go on to win future elections, sometimes as soon as the next cycle. Daniels doesn’t see that pattern changing.

In fact, the governor was quick to point out that when it comes to Hispanic candidates who could become political stars, the GOP has some bright prospects. “By far the most interesting, attractive, idealistic Hispanic elected officials on the scene are Republicans, not Democrats,” Daniels said. He went on to mention, by name, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Senator-elect Ted Cruz, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval.

“The next time around [the GOP presidential primary] could be a very crowded and very exciting and appealing field,” Daniels concluded.

Whether that is actually the case will depend on several factors, namely how well the aforementioned politicians serve the public during the next few years. But the GOP’s appeal to Hispanics will probably also hinge largely on whether the party can work together with President Obama and other Democrats to achieve a meaningful immigration overhaul that is broadly acceptable to a majority of the American people.

Also, don’t forget that Democrats have rising Hispanic stars of their own. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro was given a prime speaking slot at this year’s Democratic National Convention. His twin brother Joaquin is an up-and-coming state lawmaker in Texas.

While Democrats rightly feel gratified at having won the overwhelming majority of the Hispanic vote the past two elections, Daniels has good political instincts and his insights should keep Democrats from growing overconfident. His words should also serve as a challenge to Republicans to do more to win a growing slice of the electorate that could consistently prove decisive in future presidential contests.

2012 elections showed power of words

November 8th, 2012 at 9:48 pm by under Politics

If the 2012 elections reinforced anything, it was this: Words have great power.

You know where I’m going with this one. Perhaps no one in the country right now wishes he could take back a sentence he uttered more than Indiana U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock. His debate comment that pregnancies resulting from rape are God’s will sunk his chances to claim Richard Lugar’s seat. His main opponent, Joe Donnelly, predictably seized on the comment and aired it repeatedly during the campaign’s final weeks.

It was a winning strategy for Donnelly, but let me suggest that while that phrase ultimately sealed Mourdock’s fate, it might not have proved decisive in and of itself. Not if it was the only gaffe Mourdock made during the race.  No, it was the larger narrative of the campaign as a whole that gave the rape comment weight and resonance. After all, Mourdock’s own loose-lipped tendencies were what made him vulnerable to begin with. How many times over the course of the campaign did we see the footage of Mourdock saying the highlight of politics was to “inflict my opinion” on others? Not to mention the sound bites in which he said our country needed “a few more zealots” and pointed out that programs like Social Security are not in the Constitution.

One of the maxims touted by skilled politicians in hotly-contested elections is this: Define your opponent early. Mourdock made that far too easy for Donnelly. When an opponent speaks in such a vivid, provocative, overly self-assured way, it is not hard to paint him as a radical. That is exactly what Donnelly did. In the end, enough people questioned Mourdock’s fitness for office that it carried Donnelly to victory. Words mattered.

Mourdock was always quick to protest that the words used against him had been taken out of context in order to distort his views and personality. He was correct. But guess what? That’s Politics 101. This is how the game works in our country. You simply have to be careful with your words when you’re running for office, especially when you’re in front of a camera and behind a microphone. The most shocking thing about this campaign, for me, was that Mourdock -a man with two-plus decades of experience in politics- couldn’t seem to grasp that. He explained away the “inflict my opinion” comment as a joke and even continued to use it in stump speeches.

There was just a tone deafness to Mourdock and his campaign this year. He didn’t seem to get that most people don’t follow campaigns with the close attention that political junkies do. It was almost like he just assumed most people would do the digging necessary to unpack the nuances and context of his words. Again, politics doesn’t work that way. Most people form their views of candidates based on quick, fairly surface-level impressions. A candidate can backtrack and try to explain the true meaning of a controversial comment all he wants. But if he has enough of those unguarded moments in which he utters a phrase that sounds unbalanced, people start to assume that’s who he is. Especially if an opponent is at work to define him that way and create a narrative for the election. Especially in a year in which another Republican Senate hopeful had already uttered a controversial statement about pregnancy and rape. 

That’s what happened to Mourdock this year. He seemed to lack awareness of the political climate and how he needed to adjust the words he spoke and the tone in which he uttered them accordingly.

The same thing happened to Mitt Romney, though his problem with words had nothing to do with pregnancy or rape. President Barack Obama had worked hard all summer to paint Romney as a rich, uncaring, out of touch plutocrat. Romney’s own words helped make that impression stick when he talked about how he liked “being able to fire” service providers and said 47 percent of Americans don’t pay federal taxes and would automatically vote for Obama. Well, we all know how that race turned out.

Isn’t it amazing that in this era of untold millions of dollars being spent to micro-target voters, build campaign warchests, and hire slick consultants, the most powerful force in determining a candidate’s victory or defeat can be the power of words? Those who are restrained and thoughtful when it comes to what they say and how they say it practically always have a big advantage. 2012, in a political sense, proved the old proverb true: Death and life are in the power of the tongue.


What I like about the candidates

November 5th, 2012 at 9:11 pm by under Politics

As one headline on a political website put it today, “It’s all over but the voting.” The candidates involved in the big races of the 2012 general election have made their best cases to the public, and the next items of any substance to talk about will be the results, which should be pouring in fast and furious all night Tuesday after the polls close. While we’re waiting, I thought I’d have a little fun on this blog entry and mention one non-political thing I like about each of the candidates:

President Obama. His theme song: U2′s “City of Blinding Lights.” It’s not quite up there with “One” or “All I Want is You”, but as a big U2 fan myself, I affirm this song as a solid choice if you’re going to pick something from the band’s more recent history.

Mitt Romney. Again, I’ll pick his theme song: Kid Rock’s “Born Free.” I’m just impressed that Romney even knows who Kid Rock is. Who could’ve imagined the two of them sharing the same stage, as they have at times this year? Politics does make for unlikely partnerships sometimes.

Mike Pence. I give Pence props for driving that big red pickup around Indiana over the past few weeks and featuring it so prominently in his campaign ads. Maybe this is because I’ve always wanted a pickup but am married to a woman who won’t let me have one. No big deal. In the name of domestic harmony, some battles just aren’t worth fighting. But I still want a pickup.

John Gregg. Simply put: the ‘stache. Need I say more? Most guys just aren’t capable of pulling it off (me, for example). But for those who can (like Gregg), more power to them.

Joe Donnelly: I appreciate his genuine regard for and kindness toward people on the other side of the aisle. This year’s Senate campaign aside, Donnelly tends to project an irenic spirit when speaking of Republicans as people, even if he opposes them on some matters of policy during work hours. If more lawmakers had this sort of demeanor, people might view politics as a more ennobling and attractive endeavor.

Richard Mourdock: Mourdock is amazingly punctual, a rare trait for a politician. He once showed up 40 minutes early for an interview with me this spring. Thinking that would be an anomaly, I tried to arrive at the station five minutes early for an interview with him this fall. Sure enough, Mourdock was already waiting in the lobby as I walked through the doors. Lateness is his pet peeve, he says. I can guarantee that he means it.

So there are some of the little, mostly inconsequential things I appreciate about some of the folks running for office this year. Now I’m looking forward to getting back to the substance of politics. I hope you’ll join us to watch the results roll in all Tuesday evening. In the meantime, happy voting!

Election night looks unpredictable and exciting

November 2nd, 2012 at 10:07 pm by under Politics

Get ready for an exciting and unpredictable election night on Tuesday. We’re looking forward to joining forces with CBS News to bring you the best coverage all night long on the air and on the web. As we head into the weekend, here’s where the big races stand:

President. At this point, no one can realistically predict with a high degree of confidence whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will emerge victorious. Judging by the national head-to-head polls, the race seems locked in a dead heat.

When it comes to the battleground states that will decide who wins the Electoral College (and thus the presidency), the contests are practically all close. Obama has the lead in more of those states, but Romney is generally within the margin of error. And some conservatives are questioning the reliability of many of those state polls, believing they may be too heavily weighted toward Democrats. A late swing toward one candidate or the other looks unlikely, so we’ll probably head into Tuesday evening with absolutely no idea who will occupy the White House for the next four years.

U.S. Senate. The first independent poll for Indiana’s open U.S. Senate seat came out Friday and showed Democrat Joe Donnelly with an 11-point lead over Republican Richard Mourdock. As you would expect, Mourdock’s team responded quickly: questioning the credibility of one of the pollsters, doubting the weighting of the data, and pointing out that another expert involved in the poll appeared to be backpedaling. The Mourdock campaign also said its own internal polling shows Mourdock with a 2-point lead.

I don’t think anyone believes Donnelly will win by 11 points, but few doubt that he now has a clear edge in this race. In a year when Romney is expected to carry Indiana overwhelmingly at the top of the ticket and could have long coattails, it would be wrong to count Mourdock out. But his recurrence of foot-in-mouth disease at the last debate has seriously altered a race that looked like it was moving Mourdock’s direction.

Governor. No poll that anyone knows of has shown Democrat John Gregg leading Republican Mike Pence. Lately, though, polls have shown Gregg gaining some traction. A survey conducted for the Democratic Governors Association shows Gregg within the margin of error, while even Pence’s own internal polling shows Gregg within single digits.

Pence was and is still the favorite. He has loads more money and came in with better name recognition. Gregg, though, has much more personality and charisma, which he has leveraged well in his creative ad campaign. Gregg’s spots have been fun and memorable, and maybe the poll numbers are evidence they’re resonating. Pence’s ads have been vanilla and boring, by comparison. It’s what political experts consider a “safe” strategy for a frontrunner, but I bet Pence is at least a little surprised that Gregg appears to have some late momentum.

Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Howey/DePauw poll released Friday shows incumbent Republican Tony Bennett with a tenuous 4-point lead over Democrat Glenda Ritz. Ritz has been spent the past few weeks pounding home her themes that the education reform of the past few years has gone too far and that state testing doesn’t really measure growth. That’s rallied many teachers who were already in her corner and should make this one of Tuesday’s most competitive races.

I hope you’ll join our team -including analysts Mark Souder and Karen Goldner- for the best election coverage on Tuesday. We’ll be here as late as we need to be!

Is Indiana governor’s race closer than we thought?

October 31st, 2012 at 9:30 pm by under Politics

John Gregg

Is the race for Indiana governor closer than most observers have been thinking? That’s certainly the impression Democrat John Gregg is trying to convey in the home stretch of the 2012 campaign.

Gregg’s campaign released a poll Wednesday showing Gregg within three points of the favorite, Republican Mike Pence. The poll, conducted for the Democratic Governors Association, surveyed 825 likely voters from October 24-26 and found 47 percent favored Pence while 44 percent favored Gregg (nine percent were undecided). That result puts Gregg within the poll’s margin of error of +/- 3.36 percent, even weighted with a 7-point edge toward Republicans.

A Pence staffer I talked to today found the results hard to swallow given that polls throughout this race have shown Pence with a clear lead, usually around double digits. State Republican Chair Eric Holcomb issued a news release this evening asking why the pollster apparently did not include Libertarian candidate Rupert Boneham in the survey.

As for Pence’s camp, its latest internal poll flies in the face of the one Gregg is touting. Pence’s pollster Kellyanne Conway surveyed 1213 likely voters from October 25-28 and found Pence with a nine-point lead, 46 percent to 37 percent. The margin of error in that poll is +/- 2.8 percent.

Pence has had a decided fundraising advantage over Gregg in this race, but Gregg has felt the whole time that if people really got to know him, he’d have a chance. Since he’s started airing his TV ads (and outside groups have also taken swipes at Pence for him in other ads), there is evidence that he’s closed the gap with Pence at least a little bit. In a year when Indiana is expected to vote overwhelmingly for the Republican candidate for president, though, Gregg has a steep challenge to overcome. We’ll find out whether the momentum he’s touting is for real Tuesday night.


Mourdock rape comment draws quick responses after debate

October 23rd, 2012 at 9:42 pm by under Politics

Republican Richard Mourdock scrambled to defend himself after making a comment Democrats and the Associated Press found controversial during Tuesday’s debate for Indiana’s open U.S. Senate seat.

Mourdock was asked whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest. He replied: “I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that’s something God intended to happen.”

Democrat Joe Donnelly, Mourdock’s Democratic opponent, released this response about an hour after the debate ended: I think rape is a heinous and violent crime in every instance. The God I believe in and the God I know most Hoosiers believe in, does not intend for rape to happen–ever.  What Mr. Mourdock said is shocking, and it is stunning that he would be so disrespectful to survivors of rape.”

Mourdock, trying to prevent the comment from derailing his campaign, sent out a statement clarifying what he meant when he uttered it: “God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does. Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick.”

 The comment, however, has become national news. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who endorses Mourdock in a TV ad airing this week, is now distancing himself from the comment.

“Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock’s comments, and they do not reflect his views,” said Romney press secretary Andrea Saul in a statement published by The Huffington Post.

Superintendent race could be interesting

October 18th, 2012 at 10:21 pm by under Politics

Dr. Tony Bennett

SUPERINTENDENT RACE: Indiana Republicans say the state superintendent, Dr. Tony Bennett, will start running TV ads next week. Bennett, of course, has taken a lot of heat from teachers and others for shaking up education in Indiana by backing measures like merit pay, school vouchers, and more testing in the name of increased accountability. The Republican has significantly outraised his opponent, Democrat Glenda Ritz, and should have a built-in advantage in this deep red state. No polling has been released, though the campaign reportedly has been doing some. The fact that Bennett’s hitting the airwaves, however, is a sign he’s not where he wants to be. As one Republican operative put it, “There’s a reason for going on the air.”

DEMS GETTING NERVOUS ON DONNELLY: Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Joe Donnelly has run a good, disciplined campaign against Republican Richard Mourdock in the battle to replace Richard Lugar. The past few weeks, most polls had shown Donnelly with a narrow lead. But the onslaught of commercials from outside groups opposing Donnelly, along with Mourdock’s considerable financial advantage, may be taking their toll. A new poll from Rasmussen gives Mourdock a five-point edge.

The race is still competitive and within Donnelly’s reach, but Democrats are concerned. They’re happy that Lugar refuses to campaign for or formally endorse Mourdock and would love for him to endorse Donnelly, but doubt that will happen. It appears Lugar will instead be out of the country and remain out of sight altogether during the home stretch of this election.