Thursday, November 30, 2017

Councilor Jeff Miller May Not (Willingly) Leave the Indianapolis Council After All

Last week came the shocking news of the filing of child molestation charges against Republican Indianapolis City-County Councilor Jeff Miller who represents a center township-downtown district that includes IUPUI, the Zoo area and Fountain Square.  According to the charging affidavits, Miller liked to give 10 year old children massages at his home.  It is unclear how far his hands went on those massages.  Nonetheless, it is not a good idea to give 10 year old children, especially ones to whom you are not related, massages.

Indianapolis Councilor Jeff Miller
Miller did not help himself by talking to investigators and saying he would confirm anything the children said he had done to them.  Of course in these types of cases, it is easy to coach children to say certain things (ask the defendants in the McMartin case) which is why investigators need to strictly adhere to certain protocol so false allegations are not manufactured.  A good defense attorney knows this is a fertile area upon which to mount a defense.  Miller's stated intention to endorse anything the children said happened may have given that away.

One thing that is concerning about the charging affidavit is the inclusion of purely salacious comments about Miller's personal habits which have nothing to do with the charges, but which appear more at publicly humiliating the councilor.  One can only surmise that the inclusion of this evidence was to humiliate Miller into pleading guilty and resigning his highly-competitive seat.  It is just not an ethical thing to do.  I should point out that Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry is a Democrat who campaigned for Miller's opponent.  In the past, Prosecutor Curry has shown questionable ethics on how he he resolved the Omnisource criminal investigation and his use (and expansion) of civil forfeiture.  Curry has ran roughshod over civil liberties in this county.  Yet local Democrats don't seem to care because he has a "D" on his jersey.  Miller's attorney is very right to ask for the appointment of a special prosecutor to try his case.

Let me be clear.  I am no fan of Jeff Miller.  He is the worst kind of Republican.  During the term of Greg Ballard, Miller supported every one of the Mayor's proposed 40 plus tax and fee increases has well as every corporate welfare scheme the Ballard people could cook up.  There is nothing remotely "Republican" or "conservative" about Jeff Miller.  He is a big taxing, big spending liberal.

But you have to ask yourself why would Miller resign now?  He gets nothing out of it. The bargaining chip of his resignation from the council (which would likely be part of a plea deal) is thrown away while getting nothing in return.

And looking at the climate in today's Republican Party, one has to wonder if giving non-sexual massages to 10 year old children (assuming Miller is accurately describing those massages) is a disqualifier for the GOP.  On the infamous Access Hollywood video, Donald Trump gloated that his fame allowed him to sexually assault women.  Then some dozen women stepped forward to confirm in detail how Trump had done to them exactly what he described in the video.  Yet Trump went on to became President.  Then you have the case of Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore who,  in the light best to him, dated 16 and 17 year old children as a 30 year old man, an action which while technically legal, still makes him the worst sort of creep.   In the worst light, one of those children was actually 14 years old and thus under the age of consent in Alabama (16).  As an adult, she now accuses Moore of actions that would make him a child molester.    As a side note, some mistakenly call those allegations pedophilia.  Actually pedophilia is a party type of child molestation that involves children who have not yet started puberty.  A 14 year old is outside that window.  Still molestation.  Just not pedophilia.

I would be remiss if I failed to point out that the Democrats have their own share of sexual predators.  At the top of the list is former President Bill Clinton.  There isn't a dime's bit of difference between Clinton and Trump when it comes to their treatment of women.

My guess is Miller will still resign. But my guess is his defense attorney told him not to give away that bargaining chip until the criminal charges against him are resolved.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Does Hamilton County (Indiana) Present an Opportunity for Democrats in 2018?

Last Tuesday featured a shifting electorate in which heavily populated suburbanites turned out in droves to cast ballots for Republicans Democrats.  Even though Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie did extremely well in the Trump rural counties (so much for the theory that Gillespie's problem was that he wasn't Trump enough) he got utterly destroyed by high turnout in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.  Those highly-educated, wealthy, mostly white voters were casting votes for Democrat Ralph Northam.  Previously, Republicans did fairly well with that constituency.  But in the Trump era, those suburbanites suddenly are pulling the Democratic lever.

The 2017 GOP debacle wasn't confined to Virginia.  (In that state commonwealth, the scores of losses in the Virginia House of Delegates were actually much more noteworthy than the Governor's race.)  In other suburban areas that were once Republican bastions, Democrats were suddenly winning.  The message in many of those districts were simple:  Show up on November 7th to vote against Donald Trump.  That message drove an astonishing level of anti-Trump turnout, propelling Democrats to win in areas they have not been competitive in for decades, if ever.

Indianapolis, with over 900,000 residents, is the 13th biggest city in the United States. But
Indianapolis, unlike other smaller cities, does not have a large metro population.  You drive out of Marion County and you will in just a few miles be in farm country.

Discussion of Indianapolis's suburbs typically focuses on the so-called "doughnut" counties, i.e. those counties which touch upon Marion County, which county encompasses all the City of Indianapolis.   Despite some growing suburban cities such a Greenwood and Avon, doughnut counties like Morgan, Hancock, Shelby and Hendricks are still dominated by rural areas within those counties.  But there is one notable exception.  Hamilton County.  That county just north of Indianapolis features Carmel, Fishers and Westfield, three booming population centers that contribute to make it the fourth largest county at 316,373 people, more than 1/3 the size of the population of Marion County-Indianapolis.

Could Hamilton County Democrats run a "Vote against Trump" campaign in 2018 and be successful?  Long a student of Indiana politics, I have to be skeptical.  While Hamilton County's GOP numbers have slipped a bit, it remains a source of a large GOP margin in most state-wide elections.

But here's the thing.  Donald Trump is not popular in Hamilton County.  In 2016, he received only 56.8% of the vote in the county.  And that was with his opponent being Hillary Clinton, the most unpopular candidate the Democrats have ever nominated.  How many of that 56.8% of Trump voters dislike the New York businessman, but voted for him solely because of who he is running against?  If Hamilton County Democrats successfully ran a 2017 style Trump-referendum campaign in conjunction with a slate of candidates, could they defeat the once dominant, Trump-tainted Hamilton County GOP?

Of course, that scenario contains a big "if."  Associating a candidate with an unpopular national political figure is always a challenge, especially when you're talking about local races.  But the Trump brand of toxic politics might make the President an exception.

Probably the biggest obstacle for Hamilton County Democrats is that they have not had much time to build a team that is ready to take the field in the event that the GOP in that county stumbles.  In 2016, Hamilton County Democrats finally found candidates for county-wide office.  In 2014, the election comparable to 2018, Hamilton County Democrats did not field a single candidate for county-wide office, conceding such races as Prosecutor, Sheriff and Clerk to the Republicans.

Does Hamilton County present an opportunity for Democrats in 2018?  Yes, but it's a long, long shot. But that's better than no shot, which is exactly what Hamilton County Democrats had before Trump won the Presidency.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Trump Brand Proves Toxic to GOP Candidates in 2017 Elections

When the history of the early part of this century is written, historians will point to November 8, 2016 as the turning point for the Democratic and Republican Parties.  Casual observers look at the election results that day and conclude they mean the Republican Party, led by President Trump, was in its ascendancy, having soundly vanquished its Democratic foe giving the GOP control of all three branches of government.  But a more analytical approach might conclude that seeds of a coming Republican disaster were sown in the those 2016 election results.

President Trump and his supporters like to claim the President resoundingly won the 2016 election as
the American public enthusiastically bought the Trump brand.  Of course, students of history know Trump's victory was far from overwhelming.  Trump's win in the Electoral College was the 9th closest in American history and he lost the popular vote by more than 3 million votes.

Trump did not win the 2016 election because of his brand.  He won in spite of his brand.  People were willing to overlook his hate-mongering, divisive politics because they hated Hillary Clinton more.  They wanted a change and Donald Trump was the only game in town when it came to fulfilling that desire.  Any other Republican would have trounced Hillary Clinton badly.

But despite Trump's and his supporters constant attempts to revive her, Hillary Clinton is gone.  The Trump brand stands alone and it is a toxic brand of politics that poisons everyone associated with it.

I dipped my political feet into the water in 1980 when the conservative movement came of age.  That year I attended seminars and other meetings in which conservative ideas were discussed. There was no talk then of harboring contempt for liberals and others who didn't share our views. They were merely viewed as people to be persuaded.  We conservatives sure did not hate people because of their race or religion.   In fact, we expressly rejected the ideology of the white supremacists (now called the "alt right") as not being consistent with the freedom and opportunity represented by our brand of conservatism, a brand that resulted in the (real) landslide election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

I knew during the late hours of November 8, 2016 that we conservatives and Republicans had lost an historic election.  Those results meant that for the next 20 years or more, the conservative movement of my youth and the party I had chosen to join, would be tarnished with the Trump brand.  I knew from that day forward, we Republicans would lose a lot of elections and, for decades to come, the liberal ideology would prevail.

Prior to last night, there were a number of special elections in the U.S. House. Trump supporters gleefully pointed to the success of the Republican candidates in all those races of proof of the popularity of the Trump GOP brand.  It was a ridiculous suggestion.  All those races were run in heavily Republican districts that the GOP candidates had won by large double digits in 2016.  Yet, in every one of those heavily Republican districts, the Democratic candidates in 2017 ran competitively, losing by only a few points.

Last night, even the most fervent Trump supporters, if they wanted to look, could see the electoral cliff their "Trump Train" is heading for.  It was not just the surprising margin of victory of the Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam.  (Trump tweeted this morning that Republican candidate Ed Gillespie is at fault for his loss to Northam because Gillespie did not act Trump enough.  Of course, nothing is ever Donald Trump's fault.)  n Virginia, Republicans went from having a super-majority in the House of Delegates to possibly losing control of the chamber. And it was not just Virginia.  All across the country, Democrats were winning in areas they had not won for decades  In one county in Pennsylvania, the Democrats for the first time since the 1700s won a county-wide office.  They didn't just win one county-wide office; Democrats swept all four of those offices in that county.

From top to bottom, Democratic candidates employed the strategy of tying GOP candidates to Donald Trump.  And those Republicans, tethered to Trump, sank to the bottom of the political river.

Now the media talking heads are spreading the conclusion that "Trumpism without Trump" doesn't work.  Nonsense. Trumpism with Trump doesn't work either .   The independents and some Democrats who supported Trump over Hillary Clinton a year ago are long gone.  They are not coming back, unless of course the Democrats would be so stupid as to nominate Hillary Clinton again.   I can almost rule that out.  Almost.

But 2020 is not the election on the horizon.  The 2018 mid-term elections featuring 435 U.S. House  and 33 Senate seats are next in line.  While many point to the fact that gerrymandering protects the Republican majority in the House, there is an ugly truth about the process that is rarely discussed.  In a gerrymander, the goal is to create a large number of close but safe seats for the majority while conceding by a large margin fewer seats to the minority party.  Typical margins of majority districts in a gerrymander might be 60-40, while minority districts run 20-80.  The problem with gerrymandering is that when the rare large wave election happens, the political dam bursts and the flooding takes out more majority party incumbents than it would if they were drawn with larger margins than 60-40.

Certainly the Republican party will lose seats in the U.S. House in 2018.  (Unlike other analysts, I don't think it matters one bit what legislation Congress passes.)  Losses are inevitable.  The question is how many.  I am fairly confident that gerrymandering won't prevent the Republicans from losing the majority in the House.  The U.S. Senate is another story because the Republicans are protecting so few seats in swing states while several Democratic Senators face re-election from districts Trump won in 2018.  Still, after last night, I think the Trump brand is so toxic that the Democrats do have an realistic, albeit still a long-shot, chance of winning control of the Senate.

Donald Trump is not the savior of the Republican Party.  He is GOP cancer and the sooner he is gone the sooner my party, and the conservative ideas it stands for, can start the long process of recovering.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Tolling of Indiana Interstates Moves Forward with Study

Unlike some of my fellow conservatives, I did not loudly protest the substantial increase in Indiana's gas tax this Spring.  Instead I was more worried about the tolling authority the legislature gave the Governor in the bill, a provision which got little publicity.   But when the issue came up, our Republican members of the legislature assured us that any tolls were way down the road and, besides, they are only a last resort type of thing.  Not to worry.  Besides we have a Republican Governor.  What could go wrong?

Indiana legislators had barely left town when Governor Holcomb's Department of Transportation began putting the wheels in motion to toll Indiana
Governor Eric Holcomb
interstates.  The Associated Press reports on the first step, a study which gleefully announces how much more Indiana can soak Hoosier drivers:

Indiana could see between $39 billion and $53 billion in toll revenue from 2021 to 2050, according to study of a proposed statewide tolling program. 
The feasibility study conducted by the state Department of Transportation estimated how much money would be generated from tolls on six interstates: 64, 65, 69, 70, 74 and 94, The Journal Gazette reported . Potential toll rates ranged from 4 cents per mile for automobiles to 19 cents per mile for heavy trucks. 
An estimated 9 percent to 22 percent of drivers would choose to travel on local roads instead of paying the tolls, the report said.
A law approved this year requires the Department of Transportation to perform feasibility studies and seek approval from the Federal Highway Administration for charging tolls on the interstate routes. Lawmakers also raised the state gas tax by 10 cents to raise funds for road maintenance.
Proponents of tolls argue they are just a user fee, that only the people using the roads are paying.  I would point out the gas tax already is a user fee.  Those who are driving on the roads are the ones directly paying the gas taxes.  Nonetheless, I have never supported the notion that user fees should be the only mechanism for funding roads.  Everyone benefits from good roads,whether they are actually driving on them.
Tolls will hit working class Hoosiers particularly hard.  If the Republican super majority gives us a record gas tax increase and toll roads it is time to reconsider whether we should re-elect those tax and spend Republicans.