Tuesday’s General Election is noteworthy for the resurgence of political
parties at the state level and their decline at the local level.
Governor Mitch Daniels has injected an unhealthy dose of Hoosier
partisanship into the body politic that overwhelms the personal stands and
background of individual candidates. Republicans and Democrats running for
the state legislature have been forced into the straight jacket of party
discipline. More than at any time in the past 20 years voters must look
beyond the individual to the party in casting votes for state office. We may
not like it, but there it is.
At the county level the reality is quite the opposite. Personalities and
factions are dominant with many long-time party activists — especially
Republicans — crossing over to support candidates of the other party.
Bi-partisan backbiting and factionalism are nothing new. What makes this
year different is the degree to which this is being done in public. At the
county level voters should forget party label and vote for competence and
position on the issues.
The Daniels Effect
The 600-pound gorilla in all the state legislative races is the Mitch
Daniels administration which has shown a remarkable ability to invent new
ways to anger voters and hurt the state and Northwest Indiana in particular.
A vote for the Daniels administration is a vote against the steel industry,
against the environment, against improved government service. A vote for the
Daniels administration is a vote for privatization, the outsourcing of
Indiana jobs, a private hotel in the Dunes State Park, the closure of the
Chesterton BMV license branch and, worst of all, the betrayal of generations
yet unborn by the selling of the Indiana Toll Road.
Candidates supportive of the 75-year lease/sale of the Indiana Toll Road
have shown arrogance, suggesting that the lease is a great deal for Indiana
even if the public is too dumb to understand why. There have been plenty of
twisted comments about what the lease did and did not do. Here is what the
$3.8 billion deal did not do:
—The lease was not needed to stabilize the Northwest Indiana Regional
Development Authority. The RDA already had $100 million committed to it by
the state, regardless of the Toll Road lease. When Daniels announced last
year that the tolls would be hiked, he outlined where that increased revenue
would go. His plan at the time included $10 million a year for the next 10
years for the RDA.
—The lease was not needed to fund the majority of Major Moves, the
governor’s 10-year transportation plan. Of the $10.6 billion plan, toll
hikes and projected Indiana Department of Transportation budgets were
identified as the funding source for about 74 percent of all the projects.
If the Toll Road lease bill failed, and the state found no other way to make
up for this shortfall, then the governor would have had several other
options including cutting spending or prioritizing by need.
Here’s what the lease did do:
—It covered the $2.8 billion shortfall in the Major Moves plan, giving the
governor money for all his projects and political photo ops— including the
new I-69 highway from Evansville to Indianapolis.
—By mixing Toll Road funds into the statewide pot it took money from
northern Indiana economies and moved it to central and southern Indiana pork
—It handcuffed generations of future lawmakers and governors, who must now
depend on the courts to force the Toll Road lease owners to operate the road
in a safe manner for the public good.
The debate over the Toll Road lease should have been an involved one with
abundant public input. The debate should have focused on whether the
benefits of a one-time, get-rich-quick deal for the state outweighed the
negatives of having the travelling public paying tolls to a private company
through 2081, when the governor, lawmakers and nearly everyone reading this
will be long dead. Instead, the plan was rushed through with no meaningful
dialogue with the public.
Endorsements — State Offices
For State Senate, District 4: Democrat Karen Tallian. She showed leadership
on the Toll Road issue, and she brings a needed enthusiasm to the Statehouse
fighting for workers, civil rights and consumer protection. She is also
about the only candidate who has made the environment one of her top
For State House, District 10: Democrat Duane Cheney. His positions and
experience in public education are a plus. His view on the role of
government as opposed to the private sector is right on target.
For State House, District 4: Democrat Sylvia Graham. She is a fighter who
has entered the race with gusto. She was one of the first candidates to
oppose, along with the rest of Daniels’ privatization schemes, the private
hotel in the Indiana Dunes State Park. Her opponent Ed Soliday is a man of
intelligence and qualifications. If the legislature had any prospects of
making room for those qualifications he would be a good choice, but his
support for the Indiana Toll Road lease puts him in lockstep with the
Daniels clique. His argument for opposing the closure of the Chesterton
license branch— that the closure was premature because the BMV’s
computerization was not yet successfully in place — is doubletalk. Plain and
simple, the BMV closure was wrong because it cut essential government
services to the public.
Endorsements — County Offices
For Porter County Center District Commissioner: Democrat Robert Harper.
Harper has done much good as a County Commissioner including his push for a
curbside recycling ordinance in the unincorporated areas, new stormwater
rules and an erosion control ordinance. He has also emerged as a leader in
buying land for future county park needs. Probably his worst act was
appointing an un-elected political crony to the board that oversees the
South Shore commuter service. His push for better controls on growth and
proper planning are much needed.
For Porter County Council, 1st district: Democrat Robert Poparad. Poparad’s
politically convenient pledge of “no new taxes” four years ago has now come
back to haunt him. After opposing income taxes that would provide money for
services to county residents he voted for the income tax to fund the
Regional Development Authority. His Republican opponent Shane Stillman is
right to point out Poparad’s record, but what really matters is that
Stillman and Poparad agree on the RDA. Good or bad, it is a non-issue in
Poparad clearly has emerged as a leader on the county council, demonstrating
a thorough knowledge of the complicated tax structure and county budgets. He
pushed for a county-funded homestead credit as a condition for his pro-RDA
vote. That credit resulted in the equivalent of a 5.6 percent tax cut on
homeowners’ tax bills this year.
This year, the council’s four district seats are on the ballot. The Duneland
community only votes for the 1st District seat. In addition to Poparad and
Stillman, the race includes Libertarian candidate John Schick.
County Auditor: Republican James Murphy. His past experience in this
critically important county office gives him the edge over James Kopp.
County Clerk: Democrat Pamela Fish. She has demonstrated a thorough
understanding of what the clerk’s office does and appears competent,
level-headed and positive.
County Assessor: Republican William Sexton. Of the two candidates, he is the
one more apt to bring new ideas and a fresh approach to county government,
especially at a time when the role of assessors might change dramatically
due to changes in the property tax structure.
However, the mudslinging in this race has reached new lows and reflects
poorly on both camps. Sexton, in particular, should have denounced the calls
by his supporters for the forced ouster of opponent John Scott as Portage
Township Assessor. The concerns raised — that Scott hasn’t achieved
certification in his 16 years as township assessor — have little to do with
his candidacy for county assessor. Neither Sexton nor Scott are certified
assessors, but both are free to run for the county post and obtain
certification after their election.