Wednesday, January 31, 2007

More Than A Third of Legislators Heading To Super Bowl

At $600 a pop, a Super Bowl ticket and the associated travel cost for attending the game in Miami this weekend is beyond the financial reach of most Hoosiers. The several thousand-dollar trip is not beyond the reach of many Indiana lawmakers, however. More than fifty of the 150 members of the Indiana General Assembly plan to attend Sunday's game where the Colts will face off against the Bears. The Star reports that the House of Representatives has cancelled business for Monday, and according to Jim Shella, only the Senate's staffers will be working on Monday. Keep this in mind the next time you hear a legislator complaining that legislators are underpaid.

Senate Profiles In Courage

With the protection of individual liberty so low on the priority of Indiana lawmakers these days, it is imperative we recognize those courageous legislators who see no vice in the defense of liberty, even at the risk of offending a tyrannical majority. Today, four Democratic senators who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee chose defense of liberty over defense of one's political career by casting votes against SJR-7, a mean-spirited attempt by the religious right to foment hate and bigotry against Indiana's gay and lesbian citizens and strip them of rights guaranteed under our constitution. Earning recognition for their profiles in courage are Sen. Anita Bowser (D-Michigan City), Sen. John Broden (D-South Bend), Sen. Sam Smith (D-East Chicago) and Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson).

Earning their white sheet and hood and a thumbs up from former KKK Grand Wizard D.C. Stephenson looking up from his home in hell are: Sen. Jeff Drozda (R-Westfield), Sen. Brent Steele (R-Bedford), Sen. Teresa Lubbers (R-Indianapolis), Sen. Joe Zakas (R-Granger), Sen. Richard Bray (R-Martinsville), Sen. David Ford (R-Hartford City) and Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette). These seven legislators, many of whom I'm sad to say are attorneys, voted to write discrimination into our state constitution against an "unpopular minority" for the first time in the state's history.

A vote of 7-4 sends SJR-7 to the full Senate for consideration, where it is expected to pass by a wide margin just as it did two years ago. Although some proponents of SJR-7 claim their intent is only to prevent legal recognition of same-sex marriages, they showed their true colors when they turned back an attempt to remove the controversial second paragraph of the proposed amendment, which prohibits any legal recognition of the incidents of marriage to any unmarried couples or groups.

On the point of the second paragraph, it is unmistakable that the proponents of SJR-7 wish to take away from the legislature any power to recognize civil unions, heath care or inheritance rights for same-sex couples at some point in the future. I at least give Eric Miller credit for his candor on this point. Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, however, is being less than honest about the purpose behind the second paragraph. At Kenn Gividen's blog, he posted the following comment:

SJR 7 does not prevent the legislature from creating civil unions, what it does do, is prevent an unelected, runaway judge from telling the legislature that it must reject 200 years of state law and centuries of common wisdom and embrace homosexual marriage. SJR 7 does not take away any rights that do not currently exist under state law. All SJR 7 does is allow the people of Indiana to decide this issue, instead of a court or an ACLU lawsuit.

Clark's assertion that SJR-7 does not prevent the legislature from creating civil unions is patently false. Any reasonable interpretation of the language could lead one to no other conclusion than it prohibits recognition of civil unions because such a law would afford same-sex couples the "incidents of marriage", even if it's not called a marriage. Unfortunately, legislators like Sen. Teresa Lubbers are accepting this misinformation about SJR-7 from the Christian right. In a response to a constituent writing to her on SJR-7, Lubbers offered this view of the second paragraph of SJR-7:
I do not believe that sexual preference should be the basis for discrimination against our fellow Hoosiers. I also do not believe that current legislators should bind the actions of any future General Assembly. In other words, it is my opinion that this resolution does not prohibit legislators from passing laws to provide new protections. Subsection B of this resolution speaks to the powers of the judiciary and not the actions of the legislature. Likewise, I do not believe, based on the testimony I heard and my personal study, that SJR-7 prohibits the establishment of domestic partner benefits by employers.
The paragraph in question reads: "This Constitution or any other Indiana law may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups." Sen. Lubbers would have us to believe the legislature will have the power to recognize civil unions, domestic partner benefits or other incidents of marriage even after SJR-7 is adopted; she seems to think it only acts as a restriction on what Indiana courts can do. The plain language of the amendment does not limit its application to judicial opinions as she suggests; therefore, it must extend to the legislative and executive action as well. It is so frustrating to see lawmakers conduct the business of amending our state constitution with such reckless disregard for its consequences.

Although the mainstream media continues to ignore the hypocrisy of SJR-7's author, Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Wheatfield), alternative media is not. In this week's Nuvo, Laura McPhee tells Nuvo's readers about past claims by Hershman's ex-wife that he forced her to have an abortion, even driving her to the abortion clinic in Merrillville, only to file for divorce one week later. The focus of McPhee's story is the obstacle Sen. Pat Miller (R-Indianapolis) has posed in the Indiana legislature to enact meaningful, reproductive health reform laws. McPhee observes that Hershman has been a loyal soldier for Miller in the Senate. She writes:

Sen. Brandt Hershman is perhaps Sen. Miller’s staunchest cohort in the anti-abortion delegation of our state legislature. Each year, Sen. Hershman joins Miller in introducing a number of his own bills that seek to make abortions unavailable until they are illegal.

Sen. Hershman favors legislation that makes performing an abortion illegal, unless the mother’s life is at stake. The laws were a little less strict on May 30, 1997 when Sen. Hershman reportedly drove his then wife Tracy Hershman to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Merrillville and, she claims, paid for her to abort their child.

Though the couple had been married for nearly eight years, Sen. Hershman asked his wife for a divorce a week later. He has since remarried. When asked about the abortion during his campaign in 2000, Sen. Hershman told reporters: “I will not discuss my ex-wife or my personal relationships with anyone.”

If the mainstream media scrutinized the bedroom of lawmakers like Hershman who are hell-bent on sticking the government's nose in everybody else's bedroom, I can assure you we would see a lot less of these efforts to legislate the religious right's version of morality. The hypocrisy of these folks is staggering. As former Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) was fond of saying, "Keep the government off our backs and out of our bedroom."

They Just Don't Get It

The proponents of SJR-7 insist there is no need to fear a part of the constitutional amendment to limit marriage between one man and one woman that does more than just that. The Star's Bill Ruthhart takes up the issue on the day the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on SJR-7. Ruthart writes:

Two years ago, the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to place the ban in the Constitution even though Indiana law already defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman. But this time the debate is likely to center on how the amendment affects more than gay couples.

Opponents plan to attack the plan by pointing to the second sentence of the proposed amendment, language that they say carries the potential for workers in some government or education jobs to lose so-called domestic-partner benefits and for single women to lose protection under domestic violence laws . . .

The first sentence of the amendment defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

While that troubles opponents, they're just as concerned by the second sentence, which says that neither the constitution nor state law can be construed as giving "the legal incidents of marriage" to unmarried couples or groups.

On the second paragraph, Walter Botich of Stop The Amendment tells Ruthart, "These senators are apparently willing to sacrifice everyone for the sake of a little more gay-bashing." "They're playing politics with people's lives," he added. The sponsor of SJR-7, who couldn't even explain the second paragraph under questioning during debate of the amendment two years ago, still hasn't made an effort to understand his own amendment. "I think there has been a concerted effort to muddy the waters on this issue," said Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Wheatfield, author of the amendment." "All the legal reasoning I've seen suggests the second section does none of the negative things that the gay community has suggested it does."

Ruthart makes no mention of recent news stories circulating the Internet raising questions about Hershman's own hypocrisy. Hershman's ex-wife told the Logansport Pharos-Tribune in 2000 her ex-husband drove her to an abortion clinic in Merrillville and forced her to get an abortion before filing for a divorce one week later. Although Hershman denied at the time he forced his ex-wife to get an abortion, he didn't' deny the fact she obtained the abortion or he filed for divorce a week later.

The twice-married, hypocritical Eric Miller of Advance America boasts to Ruthart the amendment will have more support from lawmakers this year than it did two years ago. "We don't want courts to have the opportunity to rule that marriage can be between two men or two women," said Miller, founder of Advance America, a Indianapolis-based conservative group. "I think it's very important we put it right into the Constitution to help protect the institution of marriage."

Ruthart's story also includes a comment from one of Indiana Equality's paid lobbyists. "John Joanette, a lobbyist for Indiana Equality, a gay-rights group, disagreed, saying that more and more Hoosiers oppose the amendment and that most think debating the issue is a waste of time." Some members of the GLBT community are questioning the loyalties of Joanette's partner and fellow lobbyist, Mark St. John. In an editorial of the current edition of The Word, editor Ted Fleischaker raises questions about St. John's role in communicating to House Speaker Pat Bauer on behalf of Indiana's GLBT community that people would understand if he gave up the fight to block SJR-7. You may recall Bauer dropped a bomb on Indiana's GLBT community shortly before last November's election announcing he would allow a vote on SJR-7 if he became speaker again, saying, "It's not worth the time." Fleischaker writes:

Who speaks for us? Who speaks for you or for I? Do we get to choose or does a small group of often self-important and self-appointed folks claim they are the voice of the gay and lesbian community?

Sadly, this newspaper thinks that is the case, as many of the mainstream views we find in the community are either being misrepresented to the outside world or ignored by a small clique who whitewash over the fact that what’s being told to the outside is their, not a consensus view of how we as gays and lesbians feel . . .

A prime example is circulating about an alleged “leader” who supposedly more or less told a politician gays and lesbians wouldn’t really be too upset if he pleased the right wing and gave them what they wanted on a certain issue. Now folks are demanding to know why this happened, who made the decision and who the group is (or thinks they are) to speak for us. Sadly, in this case we can’t step back and start again...the damage is done and the cat is out of the bag.

Fleischaker thinks someone should be held to account for St. John's actions. "If holding them to account means resignations or firings, then so be it, but we can no longer appear to be Laurel and Hardy, Cheech and Chong and Bart Simpson rolled into one or two individuals when we are asked to speak before a camera, city or legislative committee," he said.

Sources confirm the account described by Fleischaker. Observant AI readers will recall our own criticism of a $500 contribution St. John made to Rep. Woody Burton (R-Greenwood) in the last campaign cycle. Burton, of course, sponsored Indiana's Defense of Marriage Act, and has consistently advocated against GLBT rights during his legislative career. St. John defended the contribution on the basis Burton had assisted him with another client unrelated to his work for Indiana Equality, but his divided loyalties have undermined the credibility of IE. Most of the money raised by IE goes directly into the pocket of St. John to pay his lobbying fees. This is one of the many reasons I will not contribute another dime to IE despite my past support for the organization. At some point, Indiana's GLBT community needs to figure out the extent of the harm IE has done by its past actions and build a new statewide organization that speaks for the larger community, and not just a handful of self-appointed leaders.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

House Dems Divide and Conquer

House Democrats successfully passed a minimum wage increase today coupled with a doubling of the state's inheritance tax exemption by a vote of 71-29, capturing 20 GOP votes along the way.

HB 1027 raises the state's minimum wage $2.35 in a three-step process beginning September 1 of this year until it reaches $7.50 per hour by September 1, 2008. The state's minimum wage is currently $5.15. The bill also doubles the inheritance tax exemption from $100,000 to $200,000. And it authorizes the Department of Labor to pursue wage claims against employers in amounts up to $6,000. Current law limits the Department of Labor to $800 in wage claims.

It's understandable that close to half the Republican members decided to join their Democratic colleagues in supporting HB 1027. There are good arguments for each of the bill's provisions. The wage claim statute, in particular, is a very strong protection for employees who are beat out of their wages by dishonest employers. Because employees are required to hire an attorney if their wage claim exceeds $800, many claims go uncollected because the employee can't afford to front the payment for the attorney's fees. An employee can recover attorney's fees under the wage payment statute, but most attorneys won't front the costs for the litigation and the employee is often jobless when the claim arises and unable to cover the costs. Typically, only the larger wage claims get litigated.

Star Wants Gray Censured

The Star's RiShawn Biddle thinks it's time for City-County Council President Monroe Gray to go, but the Star's editorial board thinks a censure by the council will suffice for his failure to disclose the business relationships his concrete company has with city contractors. The Star writes:

As president of the Indianapolis City-County Council, it's incumbent upon Monroe Gray to set the highest ethical standards for himself and other elected leaders in the city.

But Gray's failure to disclose his business connections with a city contractor shows the reverse -- a lack of ethics that reflects on the entire council and every member of his party, including the mayor. He deserves the council's censure.

Gray, a Democrat, signed an ethics form last year stating that he had not received compensation from any company that did business with the city. In fact, a construction company that Gray founded in 2004, Mid Region Concrete LLC, did
extensive work with Trotter Construction, which had sewer contracts with the city.

The Star also hasn't forgotten about Gray's ties to the 300 East bar in the Julia Carson Government Center. It adds:

It's not the first time Gray has been less than forthcoming when mixing personal and public business. Last fall, Gray failed to disclose his wife's investment in a controversial bar/restaurant proposed for the Julia Carson Government Center.

That deal reeked of political coziness. Not only was Gray's wife involved, but one of his campaign contributors, Lacy Johnson, was a lead investor. In addition, the zoning examiner who initially approved the restaurant is married to Lonnell Conley, Gray's chief deputy on the council.

And the paper isn't altogether happy with Mayor Bart Peterson's lack of leadership on the matter. Their advice to the Mayor:

Mayor Bart Peterson, as his political party's top leader in the city, was disappointingly quiet as the Carson Center deal played its way out last fall. Now, with the revelation of Gray's close ties to a city contractor, the mayor has a second chance to set a high tone concerning ethical standards.

Peterson needs to make it clear that full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is critical. Even the appearance of using public office for personal gain must be avoided.

When the council president fails to reveal his close ties to a city contractor, it's a serious matter. Monroe Gray must understand that. Bart Peterson can help make sure that he does.

Actually, the Star could have just as easily written this editorial against Peterson. Let's not forget that his administration enabled the 300 East deal to happen every step of the way. It was his administration which turned a blind eye to the code violations, facilitated the removal of the playground equipment from the neighborhood park, gave an okay to the zoning variance and tacitly supported the investors' alcohol permit. And it should have come as a surprise to no one in the Peterson administration that Gray's concrete company was performing work on city projects. Peterson's own chief legal advisor, Kobi Wright, has provided cover for Gray's ethics violations. As the saying goes, the fish rots from the head first.

Democrats Challenge Soliday's Residency

Voting records indicate Rep. Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) and his neighbors reside in House District 4, but a map of the legislative district says otherwise. And that has led to the filing of a complaint with state election officials by Democrats questioning Soliday's residency according to the Northwest Indiana Times Bob Kasarda. He writes:

State election officials are researching a complaint that newly elected state Rep. Ed Soliday does not live within his legislative district as is required by law.

Maps of the district, including one linked to Soliday's own legislative Web site, place his house on Throughwoods Drive in Valparaiso's Harrison West subdivision just outside the district line.Yet Soliday said Monday the maps are wrong and what matters anyway is the description of the 4th District as it is spelled out in state code.

"I'm very confident I'm in the district," he said.

Soliday said he researched the residency issue before deciding to run for the seat and the findings were confirmed again last week by state Republican officials and fellow Republican Porter County Clerk Dale Brewer.

Brewer said she based her determination on current and past voter registration records."It wouldn't be the first time a map was drawn wrong," she said.

If Soliday is correct and the district as defined by Indiana Code includes his residence, that should trump whatever is shown on a map. Some Republicans may find the Democrats' decision to challenge Soliday's residency as unwise. More than a few folks have wondered how a certain Democratic lawmaker, who has a lovely home on Indianapolis' northside, legitimately claims residency in his Fort Wayne district.

Monday, January 29, 2007

What Grossman Can Expect In Miami

As Super Bowl Sunday nears, some fun photos of Bears quarterback Rex Grossman have been popping up on blog sites around the country. These are a couple of my favorites. I'm sure Colts fans are hoping Sexy Rexy (as some Bears fans think of him) spends too much time partying in Miami this week and has moments like this one on the field. The big debate is whether the partying picture is Rex or some other guy who looks a lot like him.

More Rhetoric From Christian Right on SJR-7

The AFA's Indiana leader, Micah Clark, is adding to the absurd arguments his national leader, Don Wildmon, advanced last week in an effort to win approval for SJR-7, a proposed contitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages and prohibit the recognition of any legal incidents of marriage for unmarried couples or groups. Clark falsely advises his followers that SJR-7 "does not take away anyone's rights." Instead, he says its only purpose is to prevent courts from forcing legal recognition of "same-sex marriages, polygamy and other living arrangement." Clark writes:

Indiana is halfway through our amendment process, which if adopted by the voters would prevent a judge from forcing the legislature to create civil unions, (homosexual marriages by another name) and it prevents a judge from completely overturning our marriage laws to force legal recognition and endorsement of same-sex marriages, polygamy and other living arrangements.

It is important to understand SJR 7 does not take away anyone’s rights. It merely preserves Indiana law as it currently exists and as it has for centuries. SJR 7 recognizes that marriage, the bringing together of the two sexes, is an institution that is important to a strong society and to future generations. It understands that mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, are neither interchangeable, nor unimportant.
While it is true that SJR-7 doesn't change the status quo with respect to Indiana recognizing only marriages between one man and one woman pursuant to Indiana's Defense of Marriage Act, which was enacted more than a decade ago, the second paragraph does take away rights. Current law permits governmental bodies and public education institutions to offer domestic partner benefits to unwed, same-sex couples and some do, such as IU and Purdue. Further, the Indiana legislature would be free to provide unwed, same-sex couples inheritance rights, rights concerning health care decisions, or even to allow recognition of a civil union. SJR-7 removes an entire realm of legislative authority and would effectively strike down any domestic partner benefits offered by an existing governmental body or public education institution.

The reach of the second paragraph of SJR-7 is a mean-spirited attempt to extend the discriminatory effect of the amendment. It reads, "This Constitution or any other Indiana law may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups." If enacted, the amendment will represent the first time in the history of the state that our state constitution has been amended to take away rights from any of our state's citizens. It has been related to me that lobbyists for Purdue and IU have been telling legislators that SJR-7 will not affect their domestic partner benefits. That is absolutely false, and employees of our state universities should be bombarding their paid lobbyists with phone calls, letters and e-mails demanding they stop this disinformation campaign. These lobbyists have apparently been co-opted by the state's extremist Christian right organizations who are advocating SJR-7's passage.

SJR-7 is scheduled to receive its first hearing this year in the Senate Judiciary Committee this Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. in the Senate chambers at the State House.

Get Well Wishes To Ed Mahern

The Star is reporting that former Rep. Ed Mahern (D-Indianapolis) underwent surgery this morning at Methodist Hospital for an "aneurysm in his head". He is listed in critical but stable condition according to a hospital spokesman. Mahern lost re-election to his seat last fall to Rep. Jon Elrod (R) by just 8 votes. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Council Taking Up 75% Pay Raise

To demonstrate just how out of touch they are, Democratic city-county councilors are taking up a proposal at tonight's council meeting to raise their own pay 75%. While council members like you to think they are paid only $11,000, the reality is they are paid about $16,000 per year when you factor in the per diem allowance they get for attending council meetings. If the raise is approved, council member's annual pay would be boosted $8,500 to nearly $25,000 per year. A big perk to the job is the ability to join the city's health care plan for employees. How many part-time jobs offer health care benefits?

Today's Star article lists the pay of council members in other major cities to demonstrate that council members are underpaid compared to their counterparts in other cities. This comparison is extremely misleading. The size of Indianapolis' council, 29 members, is much larger than that of many cities. The Star points out that Austin's city council members are paid $45,011. A few years ago, I managed a project to install an Agenda Management System for the Austin city council when I worked for an IT company in Carmel. Austin's council consists of just five elected members. They are full-time lawmakers with full-time paid staff. They meet more frequently than Indianapolis' city-county council, and they have a much larger agenda. Austin has a weak mayor compared to Indianapolis, delegating more power to the council.

After reading in yesterday's Star that City-County Council President Monroe Gray is having $350 garnished from his paycheck every two weeks starting February 15 to satisfy judgments related to his concrete business, it becomes a little clearer why Monroe is trying to force the pay raise through in an election year.

UPDATE: At tonight's city-county council meeting Rozelle Boyd withdrew as the author of the proposed ordinance providing a 75% pay raise for council members, which effectively killed the proposal.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Law Isn't Gray

Six weeks ago, I filed a written request with the city's ethics board for a copy of the statement of economic interest filed by City-County Council President Monroe Gray, along with several other key officials. Under state law, I should have been notified of a response to my request within 7 calendar days. I've received no response to date. But I find a front-page story in today's Star by Brendan O'Shaughnessy raising questions about Gray's business ties to a concrete company he owns and questionable work it has performed on city work. That same story includes a copy of Gray's statement of economic interest, noting his failure to disclose his ownership of the concrete company. Could this have something to do with the city's refusal to respond to my request in violation of state law?

Gray is supposedly a full-time firefighter with the Indianapolis Fire Department, but the demands of the job weren't enough to keep him from founding Mid Region Concrete, LLC in 2004. According to the Star story, much of the company's work consists of work it is performing as a minority subcontractor on various public works projects for Trotter Construction. Based on the record revealed in a large number of lawsuits and judgments entered against the company, its work is less than satisfactory. Oddly, the city's chief legal counsel Kobi Wright agrees with Gray that he wasn't required by ethics rules to disclose his interest in the concrete company. O'Shaughnessy writes:

Neither Gray nor Kobi Wright, the secretary of the city-county ethics board and the city's lead attorney, said he believed that it was necessary for Gray to disclose his relationship with Trotter.

Gray said he likely will disclose on ethics forms due in May another business relationship: Mid Region's work last summer for a company that manages maintenance of city sewers.

During four terms on the council, Gray has been employed by the Indianapolis Fire Department and today is a division chief. It was only in July 2004 that he started Mid Region Concrete, capitalizing, he says, on an interest in construction that started with a job in high school. H said thee idea for the company came from a friend and business associate, James P. Black, who by then already had his own history of financial problems . . .

"You have to understand there's a friendship there with Trotter and Jim Black," Gray said.

"This is a small city, and all the black people that's doing anything know one another." Black has owned at least a half-dozen other concrete companies since 1986, and either he or his companies owe more than $400,000 in state taxes, federal tax liens and civil judgments, according to Black's 2005 bankruptcy disclosure and a review of lawsuits naming Black or one of his companies as defendants.

Gray, 63, said he knew Black had had problems with previous businesses, but the idea was for Gray to bring his good credit to the company while Black would run the business.

"He said his personal credit rating wasn't something we could build a company on," Gray said. "I guess that was bad judgment on my part. It was one of those mistakes where friendship overruled judgment."

Wright begrudgingly admits, however, Gray should have disclosed his interest in worked performed by Gray's company for the city's wastewater system. O'Shaughnessy writes, "Wright said Gray, however, probably should disclose his company's work for United Water, a multinational company that has managed the city's wastewater treatment system since 1994 through a public-private entity called the White River Environmental Partnership."

Yet another troubling aspect reported in this story about Gray's failure to disclose his interest in the concrete company is the fact that his business employs city-county council attorney Aaron Haith to defend the claims against his business. Haith is also defending another city-county councilor, Ron Gibson, on charges Gibson committed assault on a police officer last summer during Black Expo. This raises serious ethical questions about Haith's ability to serve as attorney for the full city-county council at the same time he is enmeshed in criminal and civil litigation on behalf of individual members of the council. The likelihood of a clash in those dual roles is troubling to say the least.

True to form, Gray is pleading ignorance to the work Trotter performs for the city. O'Shaughnessy writes, "Gray rejects any notion that he broke the city's conflict-of-interest disclosure rules, saying not only did his business have nothing to do with Trotter's sewer work for the city, but he didn't know Trotter had any contract with the city." O'Shaughnessy adds that, while Gray does not personally award public works contracts, he makes appointments to the city's public works board which does award those contracts.

O'Shaughnessy makes no mention of Gray's similar reluctance to disclose his wife's interest in the 300 East bar in the Julia Carson Government Center. Star political writer Matt Tully had a difficult time dragging that out of Gray only after he initially misled him. The bar had to obtain a zoning variance from the Metropolitan Development Commission and the Marion County Alcoholic Beverage Board, to which the council appoints members of both. The MDC hearing officer who approved the bar's petition, Judith Conley, is the wife of City-County Counselor Lonnell Conley, a close friend and ally of Gray's.

The Star story focuses on Gray's claim on his economic interest statement that he received no "compensation from any business entity which, to the best of your knowledge, is doing . . . business with an agency of the City of Indianapolis or Marion County during your term of office or employment with an agency of the City of Indianapolis or Marion County." Gray doesn't even answer the following question: "Do you, your spouse or your minor children own stocks, bonds or other investments which represent ownership of 5 percent (5%) or more of a business entity or have a value in excess of $5,000 and which business entity, to the best of your knowledge, is doing or contemplates doing business with an agency of the City of Indianapolis or Marion County." Also, Gray's ethics statement discloses the city-county council as his employer, but it makes no mention of the fire department where he's employed full-time.

So what should happen to Gray? If he's treated like an ordinary government employee, he, at a minimum, should be suspended from his job as a firefighter for a period of time. More appropriately, he should be fired. He should also be investigated by the prosecutor's office for possible ghost employment and violating the state's conflict-of-interest rules, both of which are felony offenses. He should be forced by his fellow city-county council Democrats to give up his role as the council president. Don't bet on this happening. After Ron Gibson was charged with criminally assaulting a police officer last summer, most of his Democratic colleagues on the council conducted a press conference outside the city-county building to demonstrate their support of Gibson.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Super Bowl Tickets For Legislators Raising Ire Of Some

Hey, the Indiana legislature made it possible for the Indianapolis Colts to get a $700 million stadium built courtesy of the taxpayers. So why shouldn't every lawmaker have an opportunity to purchase two tickets to the Super Bowl? Because there are a lot of long-time Colts season ticket holders who were denied a chance to purchase tickets despite their support of the team during some pretty low times in the past. As the Northwest Indiana Times Patrick Guinane writes:

Twelve-hundred bucks and a little clout will get you a pair of tickets to Super Bowl XLI.

The Indianapolis Colts have given state politicians, including legislators, congressmen and local officials around Indianapolis, the chance to cut in front of season-ticket holders who didn't get a change to buy tickets to the Feb. 4 game in Miami.

An e-mail from the team late Thursday offered each lawmaker the chance to purchase a pair of tickets at the face value of $600 apiece . . .

Gov. Mitch Daniels on Friday told reporters he will be in Miami for Super Bowl weekend and is trying to set up a reception that would allow him to network with business leaders interested in bringing jobs to Indiana. The governor said he didn't know if he will be going to the game as a guest of the team or if he'll have to shell out for tickets.

House Speaker Pat Bauer told WTHR's Kevin Rader yesterday he couldn't afford to go to the game. He figured the total cost of the trip to be at least $3,000--the tickets being $1,200 of that cost. My understanding is this same ticket offer was extended to Indianapolis' city-county council members. Those who take advantage of the deal will no doubt defend the offer because they had to pay face value for the tickets. The reality is they are being offered a benefit not extended to the general public, or even the Colts' own ticket holders. Without the offer, lawmakers would have to purchase the tickets for the price they are fetching from scalpers, which runs into the thousands of dollars. So in that sense, the offer is really a gift to lawmakers worth potentailly thousands of dollars. Making matters worse is the timing of the gift while legislation is currently making its way through the legislature to provide unprecedented income and sales tax breaks for NFL team owners participating in a Super Bowl game to enduce the NFL to select Indianpolis as the site of the 2011 Super Bowl.

My fear is that some unscrupulous lawmakers will use the chance offer to make money off the tickets. They could purchase the tickets for face value, and then turn around and triple their money by scalping the tickets. If you think that would be beneath lawmakers, think again. I've heard several stories in the past of lobbyists giving Colts or Pacers tickets to legislators, only to later learn they were scalped for more money. I specifically recall a trade group giving one legislator two courtside tickets to a Pacers game a number of years ago. When the lobbyist for the trade association arrived at the game, there were two other men sitting in the seats the lobbyist had given to the legislator. When the lobbyist ask the two men where they got their tickets, they told him they had purchased them from some guy in a bar in Anderson .

Friday, January 26, 2007

Another Profile In Courage

Rep. Jeb Bardon (D-Indianapolis) earns a profile in courage for authoring HB 1716 to extend Indiana's civil rights laws to include protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identiy. At least 17 other states and the District of Columbia have civil rights law that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Bardon's legislation would conform state law coverage to Indianapolis' human rights ordinance and the state's equal employment opportunity policy for state employees as provided by executive order. The civil rights protections would extend to such things as public and private employment, public accommodations, government contracting, insurance coverage and housing.

Many people may be surprised to learn that Indiana's current civil rights law was enacted in the early 1960s before Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Former Indiana Gov. Matt Welsh (D) was instrumental in the passage of progressive civil rights laws. As Welsh wrote in his book "View From the Statehouse":

Indiana has a situation that cried for effective action, and my administration made significant progress at a time of deepening national concern over the developing racial conflict. In view of our reputation as the most northern of all southern states, or the most southern of all northern, this is saying a lot. Few states at that time could boast of both racial progress and racial peace, but the good sense of Hoosiers and effective action by public officials and concerned private citizens produced results. No millenium was reached, but step by step the cause of decency was advanced, without doing violence to the person, property, or rights of anyone, white or black.
Welsh was elected in 1960 when religious intolerance was running high in Indiana because of John F. Kennedy's presidential candidacy and his catholicism. Welsh wrote of the time, "Religious intolerance was particularly vicious in the same cities where the Klan had been strong in the 1920s." "The sheets may have been changed, but the minds had not," he added. Welsh bravely laid out his civil rights agenda at the Madame Walker Theater in Indianapolis prior to the 1960 election. "We must act now to provide employment on the basis of ability," he told the crowd of African-Americans, noting that many businesses in Indiana discriminated in employment. He went on to defeat his Republican opponent, Crawford Parker, by 23,000 votes while Nixon carried the state over Kennedy by more than 200,000 votes.

It is interesting to observe that Welsh's initiatives in advancing civil rights received bipartisan support in the legislature. He credited support from labor, the Indiana State Chamber of Commerce and even churches for success in civil rights progress. As he summed it up, "Indiana's record was the result of a statewide effort of a truly concerned community and is a fine testament to the basic goodness of our people."

What Rep. Bardon proposes to do with HB 1716 is in the spirit of what former Gov. Welsh described as the "basic goodness of our people." The bill will no doubt face stiff opposition from the religious right, which has fought the enactment of local ordinances in Indiana tooth and nail, sometimes with success. In all fairness, though, HB 1716 is more important for symobolic purposes than its legal reach. Indiana's civil rights law, compared to federal and other state laws, is relatively weak. As an Indianapolis employment lawyer, Kevin Betz, recently described it:

Hoosier employees who want to bring a civil rights suit against their employer for discrimination face an insurmountable set of obstacles. To get a trial, the employee and the employer must agree in writing to submit the case to a judge. Most employers who have been accused of discrimination prefer to keep the matter out of court and refuse to consent to a trial. We were unable to find any case where an Indiana civil rights case has ever gone to trial under Indiana law. This is a testament to our State’s meaningless laws and the total void of any leadership in our State on this issue. Even if the employee can get the employer to consent, there is still no right to a jury trial. Even if the victim prevails in a trial before a judge or administrative proceeding, the damages are so limited it is a worthless undertaking.
While Indiana was a bit of trailblazer in the area of civil rights in the early 1960s, very little has been done to enhance them over the past 40 years. Many employment lawyers will agree that, if you can't bring a claim under federal law, the state law claim is hardly worth the effort. I hope Indiana's business and labor community can unite in its support of HB 1716, even if they can't agree upon supporting a strengthening of the law for enforcement purposes.

AFA's Donald Wildmon Cranks Up For SJR-7

The American Family Association's Donald Wildmon is sending out e-mail action alert messages to drum up support for SJR-7, the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages and to prohibit the recognition of any legal incidents of marriage for any unmarried couples or groups. Wildmon's bigotry against gays and lesbians is on full display. He writes:

Your voice is urgently needed in the Indiana State Senate. SJR 7, the Marriage Protection Amendment is going to be debated by a Senate Committee on Jan. 31st. If SJR 7 passes the legislature without any changes, Hoosiers will be able to vote next year, to take this issue out of the hands of unelected judges, radical homosexual activists and groups like the ACLU.

Passage of SJR 7 will protect the importance of mothers and fathers by preserving Indiana’s marriage laws, which have always recognized that marriage is the bringing together of the two sexes for the benefit of children and society.

Allowing same-sex marriage or civil unions means the opening of a Pandora's box of social problems and moral chaos for America. In a world where anything goes, traditional marriage will lose meaning and be degraded to simply another
living arrangement. Sadly, in the destruction of traditional marriage, the hardest hit among us will be the children. Many may never know both a mother and a father.

In order to preserve the institution of marriage for our children and grandchildren, we must do all we can today to support Senate Joint Resolution 7. This bill must pass the legislature one more time, exactly as it did in 2005 in order to place marriage protection on the November 08 ballot and into the Indiana Constitution, just as 27 other states have already done.

Wildmon's message is quite clear. He and his bigoted allies want to do more than just deny same-sex couples the legal right to marry. Wildmon laments that children will be the hardest hit because "many may never know both a mother and father" if same-sex marriages are legally recognized. Is his head buried in the sand? Is he not aware of how many children are being brought into this world outside of marriage, or the high rate of divorce in the absence of gay marriages? I am still waiting for one of the proponents of this constitutional amendment to explain to me how it will discourage straight couples from getting divorced or prevent more children being born out of wedlock.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tax Breaks For The Super Bowl

When Mayor Bart Peterson (D) was selling the public on a new publicly-financed stadium for the Colts, some of you may recall a little extra push added by the NFL, which more than strongly hinted Indianapolis would be rewarded with the 2011 Super Bowl if it built the new stadium. Without it we were told Indianapolis would never serve as host for the blockbuster event. So Indianapolis taxpayers foot the $700 million price tag for building the Lucas Oil Stadium and now we're being told that's not enough.

We first hear from CIB Chairman Fred Glass that at least $15 million will have to be raised to pay for costs associated with hosting the big party for the rich and famous. Then there was talk that Indianapolis would have to come up with a second practice facility as a condition to meeting the site selection requirements. The Colt's existing practice facility just won't cut it. The $50 million public subsidy for a 1000-room Marriott Hotel we're told will help us shore up the minimum hotel room requirement for hosting the event.

Apparently, the generosity of Indianapolis taxpayers to greedy NFL owners is still not enough. Our esteemed legislature is now considering extraordinary tax breaks specifically for the Super Bowl event. The AP is reporting on efforts to extend sales and income tax breaks for the NFL and the two football teams competing in the event:

State lawmakers could consider giving tax breaks to football teams and the NFL in an effort to bring the 2011 Super Bowl to Indianapolis.

A Senate bill would give a sales tax exemption to the NFL and the two teams that would be in the Super Bowl, said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville. Lawmakers might also consider amending the bill to include an income tax exemption as another incentive.

"It's part of this cat-and-mouse game," Kenley said.

Not all lawmakers are enthused about giving teams the tax breaks, Kenley said, and the bill could change as it moves through the legislative process.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis officials have been sounding out business leaders' willingness to donate cash and services if the city makes a bid for the 2011 Super Bowl in the new Lucas Oil Stadium, which is being built to replace the RCA Dome.

Indianapolis has until April 2 to submit a bid, a challenging process that requires securing 27,000 hotel rooms, lining up locations for dozens of events and detailing how it would accommodate thousands of fans as well as media that would descend on the city.

The 32 NFL team owners likely will choose the location for the 2011 game at their spring meeting, scheduled for May 21-23. Dallas and Arizona also are considered serious contenders.

So as the legislature for the umpteenth time debates whether to fund full-day kindergarten or provide free textbooks for the children of low-income families, it finds yet another way of subsidizing billionaire NFL team owners. Will this state ever get its mind off all-things sports and start focusing on what really matters?

Major Moves = Major Fraud

Senate President Pro Tem David Long and Sen. Tom Wyss (R-Fort Wayne) today announced their support for building new toll roads proposed by the governor, including the Indiana Commerce Connector and the Illiana Expressway. What disturbed me was a claim by Sen. Wyss during the press conference that I-69 could not be built without a privately-financed outer toll road around Indianapolis, unless taxes were raised. Sen Wyss is quoted by WTHR as saying:

"The connector is the basis for completion of I-69. Without the connector and being a toll connector, I believe the continuation of I-69 from Evansville is impossible. There is just not going to be the funds available for that unless there are some dramatic tax increases that we want to do to gasoline for that section. It can't be done," said Wyss.
Excuse me Sen. Wyss, but I'm not an idiot. When the legislature passed Major Moves last year allowing for the privatization of the Indiana Toll Road, the public was told unequivocally that the plan would allow for the construction of not only I-69 from Indianapolis to Evansville, but also a Hoosier Heartland highway from Lafayette to Fort Wayne, I-31 expressway from Indianapolis to South Bend and 2 new bridges over the Ohio River among other projects. The toll road deal netted $3.8 billion, more than anticipated by the governor. That money has been sitting in the bank drawing interest, and not a single one of these projects has moved forward in any meaningful way.

Yes, the plan called for I-69 to be a toll road from Evansville to Martinsville, but apparently that is now all forgotten. This latest development is too much like my recent experience refinancing the mortgage on my home. Everytime I thought I had struck a bargain with the mortgage broker, some new condition appeared out of nowhere. It's no fun chasing a moving target, but that's what we apparently got with Major Moves last year. Let's not mince words and call it what it really is: Major Fraud.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Gay Activist Files To Run For Fort Wayne Mayor

Fred Steinke was the first Democrat to file for Fort Wayne mayor today, but as Fort Wayne Observed notes, the only thing the newspaper could find to say about him was that he was an "unknown." FWOB editor Mitch Harper (R), who is running as a Republican for the council seat being vacated by Tom Hayhurst (D), writes:

The News Sentinel headlined its story, "Unknown Democrat files for mayor."

The headline is amusing. While Mr. Steinke may not be known in political circles, no one is unknown to their friends, neighbors and family members.

Fort Wayne Observed talked with Mr. Steinke earlier this evening. He says he is in the race to the finish on primary election night and he "will not be deterred" from seeking the mayor's position. He described himself as "honest and aboveboard" and will use the platform the mayor's race affords him to talk about issues important to him.

Mr. Steinke wants to speak out on what he believes is a scourge of crime and drugs. He pointed out that West Central has been dealing with severe issues regarding drug houses in the neighborhood. He believes the community has more important issues than the smoking ban and opposes the idea of the downtown baseball stadium.

He is a longtime resident of Fort Wayne. He has been an activist on issues such as HIV/AIDS and has made numerous trips to Indianapolis to lobby on HIV/AIDS matters.

Mr. Steinke was featured in one of a series of portraits taken by Fort Wayne photographer John Gevers in his exhibit "Facing HIV/AIDS," which was recently on exhibit in California and was part of a CBS News documentary on the LOGO Channel.

Isn't it interesting that a Fort Wayne blog would provide more information about Steinke's candidacy than the newspaper?

There are also two GOP candidates in the race, including Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters and Matt Kelty, a local architect. Fort Wayne's Democratic mayor, Graham Richard, is not seeking re-election. Unlike Marion County, the Republican Party in Fort Wayne and Allen County has remained strong even after a Democrat was elected mayor. Maybe Marion County Republicans could take some tips from their friends up north.

N.C. College Football Players Charged With Hate Crime

Three football players at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina are charged with ethnic intimidation after they allegedly beat three Palestinian students without provocation, while calling them "terrorists" and uttering other racial slurs. The AP reports:

Three football players at Guilford College, a school with a Quaker background, face assault and ethnic intimidation charges after an attack on three Palestinian students, authorities said.

The victims were beaten with fists, feet and brass knuckles early Saturday by attackers who called them "terrorists" and used racial slurs, the News & Record of Greensboro reported Tuesday . . .

"It was the most horrific experience of my life," Awartani told the News & Record. "This was a horrible, unprovoked hate crime."

Awartani said he was found to have a concussion and had trouble walking on his own for several days after the attack.

It is worth noting that North Carolina has a distinct criminal offense for the crime of "ethnic intimidation." I point this out because HB 1459, which has been introduced in the Indiana House by Rep. Porter (D-Indianapolis)this year, does not create a new criminal offense. Rather, it allows a judge to impose a tougher sentence if the offender committed the crime because of bias against the victim's race, national origin, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or sex. In this sense, HB 1459 is a weaker hate crime law than what some other states like North Carolina have enacted. I'm not complaining because I believe HB 1459 is an improvement over the current law, but it's an important distinction lawmakers should keep in mind as they consider its passage.

Tale of Two Parties

The fortunes of the two political parties in Marion County is self-evident as the period for filing declarations of candidacy for the city-county council races officially opened today. Marion County Democrats put out a press release announcing that all 15 incumbent city-county councilors would be seeking re-election to the seats they currently hold, most of whom filed this morning.

On the Republican side, meanwhile, incumbent councilors are dropping like flies. Last month, veteran councilor James Bradford abruptly resigned from the council. Earlier this month, long-time GOP councilor and minority leader Phil Borst announced he would not seek re-election. A string of others are now following suit. Isaac Randolph, Lynn McWhirter and Scott Schneider have all announced they are not seeking re-election. Many expect Earl Salisbury to make that same decision. At least three of these seats I count as winnable by the Democrats.

And while today was the first day for filing for the 2007 municipal election primary in May, the Marion County Clerk's office has posted absolutely no information on the election at the Election Board's website. A check of press releases issued by the Clerk's office produces the same result. Is there a reason we want to keep information about this year's election a secret from the public?

Evansville's Integra Bank Burned By Boy Band Mogul

Lou Pearlman is best known as the quirky, oversized man who started up several successful boy band groups, including Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync. He's apparently fallen on some tough times, and that has put Evansville's Integra Bank at risk for $17.7 million in delinquent loans Pearlman has with the bank. I found it odd that an Evansville bank would be loaning money to the Florida businessman. As the Evansville Courier-Press explains:

Mike Vea, chairman, president and CEO of Integra, said no one currently at the bank was involved in the loans. He said the bank has since discontinued this type of lending, which was done through brokers to out-of-area borrowers, and that these were the last of such loans on the bank's books.

I recall one of those "Behind the Music" pieces on VH-1 which explained Pearlman's relationship with his former boy band clients. Band members of both Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync terminated their contracts with Pearlman after they hit it big. Essentially, Pearlman would go out and recruit guys like Justin Timberlake to join these start-up bands before they had a career in music. As I recall it being explained, he paid them a small stipend and provided them a clothing allowance, and he financed all the costs of the band. He found music for them to record and he owned their trademark and the song royalties. Once the bands became successful, the members didn't like the bargain they had struck with Pearlman. As I recall, in the settlement with one of the bands, Pearlman wound up continuing to own a one-sixth interest with the other five band members, even though he had no further financial or management ties with the band.

Fort Wayne Approves Tough Anti-Smoking Ordinance

A couple of years ago, the Indianapolis City-County Council struggled to pass an anti-smoking ordinance. What eventually passed was so watered down with exceptions it's easy to forget the city has an ordinance. Last night, the Fort Wayne Council easily approved one of the state's strictest smoking bans on a vote of 7-1-1. As the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette describes the ordinance:

The ban prohibits people from smoking in almost any public place, including restaurants, bars and bowling alleys. It exempts up to 20 percent of a hotel’s rooms, some private nursing home rooms and all retail tobacco stores. Private residences are not included in the ban.

Because Indianapolis still allows smoking in bars and some restaurants, it's hard to avoid unwanted second-hand smoke. I remember the first time I visited New York after it passed its tough smoking ban. It was so much more pleasant to be able to return to my hotel room after being out on the town without feeling and smelling like I had been smoking all night long. For asthma sufferers, the smoking bans are a God-send. The lobbying of bar owners in Indianapolis had a lot to do with our weak ordinance. I recall a conversation I had with one local bar owner at the time who insisted he would lose 20% of his business if his customers weren't allowed to smoke.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fighting Back

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hear Sen. Brandt Hershman's proposed constitutional amendment (SJR-7) to discriminate against unmarried couples, both gay and straight, on January 31, 2007. Hershman believes the institution of marriage is threatened unless our constitution specifically limits marriage to one man and one woman and prohibits the government from recognizing any legal incidents of marriage for any unmarried couples or groups. AI recently pointed to Hershman's hypocrisy on the issue of family values. While Hershman as an elected legislator advocates protecting marriage and laws opposing abortion, his ex-wife once publicly alleged he forced her to get an abortion and then filed for divorce a week later.

To my disappointment, this story continues to be ignored by the mainstream media. A fellow blogger, Bil Browning at Bilerico, is now taking up the fight and asking questions about Hershman's hypocrisy, as well as that of a number of other legislators whose public positions collide with their own personal lives. Browning advocates a full airing of these legislator's dirty laundry. As Browning writes:

I'm sick and tired of these hypocritical Hoosier legislators who think that my sex life or relationship status is any of their business. Do I intrude on who they're sleeping with? I didn't, but I'm going to start now. I think we need to shame them into doing the right thing and voting against discrimination. We need to show them that unnecessary intrusion into someone else's sex life is not only unwelcome but unwarranted unless it involves children or animals. We need to burn their hand so they won't touch the stove again.

Consider this a call to arms gossip. (We're gay, we can do this tastefully and without violence! *grins*) I want to know the scoop. Tell me the stories that will embarrass those conservative bigots that are backing a constitutional ban on our formalized relationships. Send me gossip about who's a philanderer, a kink fiend, a drug addict, a porn addict, or had a divorce, an abortion or even a stay in rehab. Ask your friends and family for the dirt. Look it up on the internet. Sniff out a lead and send it my way.

Browning's post discusses specific acts of hypocrisy by several legislators without mentioning them by name. One of my personal favorites is the senator who befriended a much older, wealthy gay man who left a sizeable estate to him, then used the man's money to self-finance his campaign for the state senate, and has ever since established a record of supporting legislative efforts to discriminate against gays and lesbians without exception.

I know a lot of people have reservations about making an issue of a public official's private life. Anyone entering public life, in my view, gives up a complete claim to a right to privacy. When a public official aggressively participates in the pursuit of a public policy agenda promoting government intervention into matters of sex and sexual relationships among consenting adults, then private actions of the public official which are at odds with his public policy positions are fair game in my judgment. To paraphrase the New York Times' Randy Cohen, it is the denying to others what the politician does himself that provokes and warrants public disdain of the politician.

And so it is with Sen. Hershman the height of hypocrisy to advocate a constitutional amendment to "preserve the sanctity of marriage" and to support anti-abortion laws, while demanding of his ex-wife that she abort their unborn child and then conveniently terminate their marriage by filing for divorce. It is unthinkable and unconscionable for our media to ignore this glaring hypocrisy. The state's paper of record, the Indianapolis Star, found it important enough to out the identity of a man in a chicken suit, who's been dogging the mayor about his record on fighting crime at public events, and report on his alleged criminal past. And yet the private life of a state senator poised to succeed in his efforts to write discrimination into our state's constitution against unmarried couples merits no discussion by this same newspaper?

When I first reported on the news story which appeared in the Logansport Pharos-Tribune, I ran an exerpted version of the story. I'm reprinting the full story below as it appeared on November 7, 2000:

Ex-wife of candidate endorsed by Right to Life says that he paid for her abortion in 1997
Indiana Senate District 7 candidate Kathy Altman says Republican Brandt Hershman misrepresented her pro-life stand.

By DAVE KITCHELLPharos-Tribune staff writer
The open seat for one Logansport area legislative race is encountering an open season on a controversial issue as the campaign enters its final day.

The former wife of Republican State Senate candidate Brandt Hershman said Monday that his pro-life positions and endorsement by Indiana Right to Life do not conform with his personal beliefs. Tracy Johnson Hershman said when she became pregnant in early 1997, Hershman asked her to have an abortion. On May 30, 1997, she claims he drove her to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Merrillville where he paid for her to abort their child. Hershman asked her for a divorce a week later, she said.

"This is about somebody who really isn't who he says he is," said Johnson Hershman, a former Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger reporter who now resides in Michigan City.

Hershman said he considers her comments a vicious attack that comes from the campaign of his opponent, Democrat Kathy Altman of Monticello.

"It's dirty politics is what it is," said Hershman, who has been a member of Rep. Steve Buyer's staff and formerly worked in the White House during the Bush administration. "I obviously had an unpleasant divorce."

Hershman said the last-minute revelation is similar to the one facing the Republican candidate for president. Last week, George W. Bush was reported to have been arrested for drunken driving in Maine in 1976. Two subsequent arrests also were disclosed.

"They tried it against George Bush and now they are trying it against me," he said. "I won't revisit or wish any ill will to my ex-wife. I will not discuss my ex-wife or my personal relationship with anyone."

Tracy Johnson Hershman, who says she is a Republican, said he forced her to have an abortion. Brandt Hershman said, "I did not force anyone to do anything, ever, period." Tracy Johnson Hershman's response is that he may not have forcibly made her have an abortion, but he made it clear he wanted her to abort their child.

On Oct. 10 this year, the Indiana Right to Life Political Action Committee announced it had endorsed Hershman in his race. In the announcement, Mike Fichter, executive director of the PAC, said there is a clear "black-and-white choice" in the race. "Brandt Hershman is firm in his commitment to restoring and protecting the sanctity of life whereas Kathy Altman supports abortion on demand."

Altman, a Roman Catholic with four children, said that is untrue. Altman said she never sought the endorsement of Right to Life.

Hershman said a transcript of a Clinton County debate between the candidates confirms her pro-choice stand. A copy of the transcript provided by Right to Life that pertains to Altman's response to the question "What are your views on the abortion and partial abortion issue?":
"I'm a Catholic. I'm a religious woman. I'm pro-life ... however, I absolutely believe that a woman has a right to choose. I absolutely believe in our Supreme Court's judgment and that it is no one else's decision. It is the woman's right to choose. As far as partial(-birth) abortion, I think its horrorous (sic) because you see these pictures and it's so disgusting -- but it's nothing but another abortion and no abortion is pretty. You see that these are the facts and you don't mess around. But it is a woman's choice."

Hershman said if he is elected, he will support a bill that would require the same health standards for abortion clinics that are required of other Indiana outpatient surgical centers.

"It's where I stand and it's what I believe," he said. "For Kathy Altman to dignify this kind of personal attack is beyond humanity.

"Katie Wolf never had to do anything like this to get elected, and that's what this is about."
"I have said publicly and categorically that I would seek to ban partial-birth abortions and at such time as the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade with the exception of rape, incest and the life of the mother," Hershman said.

In response, Altman, the director of the Indiana Commission on Agriculture and Rural Development, said her position has been misrepresented by Hershman.

"I do not support any type of abortion. I do not support partial-birth abortion."
Hershman said he has kept the campaign between the two of them a clean one.

"I don't attack her beliefs. I don't attack her personally. I don't attack her family. I don't sling mud."

Hershman said he has asked Altman to pull ads, but she has refused.

"I've always been willing to discuss issues in a multitude of public forums, but I won't engage in this kind of public behavior now or later."

At the Indiana Republican Party Fall Dinner Oct. 27, Hershman was selected to lead the invocation. In a release from the Indiana Republican State Committee, State GOP Chairman Mike McDaniel said, "Brandt Hershman represents the future of our state. Hershman supports strong, conservative values."

Tracy Johnson Hershman, who is also Catholic, said her former husband did not want her to go to church.

"If he just got religion, he just got religion," she says.

"I am the one with the Catholic guilt over (the abortion)," she said. "I'm the one who sat there and cried over the entire thing."

The couple had been married since 1989.

Tracy Johnson Hershman said she is not out to assassinate the character of her former husband, but the truth has to be known, but she learned of some of the claims her former husband was making after his campaign supporters called on a former business associate.

Altman and Hershman are vying for the seat held by three-term incumbent Katie Wolf, D-Monticello. The district includes all or part of Carroll, White, Howard, Pulaski, Clinton, Jasper, Tippecanoe and Starke counties.

Dave Kitchell may be contacted at 722-5000, Ext. 5150, or via e-mail at

Judy O'Bannon Backing Richard Young For Governor

The Star's Mary Beth Schneider is reporting today that former Indiana First Lady Judy O'Bannon is chairing the Democratic gubernatorial campaign of Senate Minority Leader Richard Young (D-Milltown). Schneider says Young filed his exploratory campaign papers with the Indiana Election Division this morning. I suspect O'Bannon's early decision to back Young may come as a surprise to many Democrats.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Why You Can't Believe Everything You Read In The Newspaper

A noted early-American journalist, Joseph Pulitzer, once wrote: "Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together." "An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery." "A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself." "The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations."

When Pulitzer spoke of a "cynical, mercenary, demagogic press," he must have had someone like Star editorial writer RiShawn Biddle in mind. Biddle offered some thoughts today about what is before the Indiana legislature. Speaking of one piece of legislation, HB 1459, offers these comments:

Can the supporters of the hate crimes penalities proposed in House Bill 1459 muster up evidence that gays are being murdered or assaulted at any higher rate than the rest of the population? More importantly, doesn't the laws currently on the books against murder, assault and the like already assure that those committting hate crimes will spend time in prison anyway?

If Biddle were writing propaganda for one of those religious right organizations, which often flaunts its influence in the legislature to craft laws which discriminate against minority groups like gays and lesbians, his comments would be standard fare. Unfortunately, they are words spoken by a man who is responsible for helping to formulate the Star's editorial positions. Even worse, they were words deliberately chosen by the writer to mislead the Star's readers.

Mr. Biddle suggests the legislation is being proposed because "gays are being murdered or assaulted at [a] higher rate than the rest of the population." As Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi addressed the Star's own editorial board on which Biddle sits just a week ago about the legislation's purpose, Biddle should know better, or at least bother to pick up a copy of the bill and actually read it for himself before spouting off inaccurate information about it.

Contrary to Biddle's assertion, the bill does more than allow for tougher punishments for offenders who commit crimes against a person because of their sexual orientation. It makes commission of a crime because of the color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex of the victim an aggravating circumstance that may be considered by a judge when the judge imposes a sentence for the crime. All but five states in the nation have a law similar to what is proposed by HB 1459.

The law's purpose is very simple: to combat crimes which are the direct result of a divide that exists between groups in society. Opponents always try to make the argument that such laws create "special protection" for certain groups. This is simply a false characterization of these laws. They are focused solely on the motivations of the offender, and they do not specify the race, sexual orientation, or religion of the victims. And to that latter point, they protect everyone equally.

What a hate crime law says to our citizens is that we aren't going to treat a hate crime as equal in harm to their parallel crimes. A person can commit criminal mischief by vandalizing your property on Halloween night, and a person can vandalize your property by spray-painting hate messages on your home because of your race, religion or sexual orientation. While the crime actually committed may be the same, the motivating factor behind the hate crime causes far more harm to both the victim and the neighborhood.

What HB 1459 does not do is create a separate crime. It merely adds these factors to a long list of aggravating factors the legislature has already decided in past years warrant consideration by a judge for a tougher sentence. For example, the law permits a harsher sentence if an offender committed a crime against a child, mentally handicapped person or a senior citizen, or if the offender has a prior criminal record. By contrast, this bill does not do what the legislature did last year in enacting a new law to create a felony offense for engaging in disorderly conduct within 500 feet of a funeral.

HB 1459 is also not premised on a belief that certain crimes are committed against members of a particular group in a higher percentage. Do such crimes happen? Of course, and if Biddle bothered to read the pages of his own newspaper he would know this. Brizzi's office just last year prosecuted several individuals who burned down homes on the city's near-southside because they feared they were going to be purchased by African-American families. In Terre Haute this past summer, an African-American family awoke to find the letters "KKK" burned into their front lawn. This blog detailed how armed robbers tortured and beat two Indianapolis men in their home a few years ago because the offenders believed they were gay.

These are all things Biddle could have learned if he had bothered to listen to Brizzi's presentation to the Star's editorial board, or if he had picked up a copy of the bill and performed a little research for gathering news information like a journalist is supposed to do. Instead of choosing to inform the Star's readers, he chose to engage in the cynical demogoguery Pulitzer warned against.

UPDATE: Biddle is now attempting to dig himself out of the hole he dug for himself. Click here to see for yourself. He continues to make misrepresentations about HB 1459, but I've learned from past experience that Biddle never admits to a mistake and believes he's smarter than anyone else in the room so I won't waste any more of my time on him.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Super Bowl XLI: Bears V. Colts

Trailing 21-3 at one point in the first half, the Colts managed a record-breaking comeback to defeat the New England Patriots 38-34 to claim the AFC title. Coach Dungy credited the Lord with the win. For the first time in the franchise's history in Indianapolis, the Colts will make an appearance in the Super Bowl, facing off against the NFC winning-Chicago Bears. Peyton Manning finally proves he can win the big game. I personally didn't think he could do it. I suspect NFL broadcasters aren't too excited about having two neigbhoring Midwest teams in the Super Bowl game in Miami this year. The matchup may not produce the ratings a Patriot-Bears matchup would have earned, but it will definitely give folks in the northern part of the state, who are primarily Bears fans, plenty to debate with Colts fans in the rest of the state between now and February 4. GO COLTS!

Indy Chicken Tarred And Feathered

A man dressed up in a chicken suit has been showing up at a lot of places where Mayor Bart Peterson (D) appears lately. The man in the chicken suit's message is that Mayor Peterson is to blame for the city's rising crime problem. It did happen on his watch. Do I care who the man is wearing the suit? Do you?

Well, the man in the chicken suit has really been getting under the skin of Mayor Peterson and local Democrats. The mere presence of a man dressed in the chicken suit standing in a room holding a sign reading "Bart Lies" is a bit unsettling when you're trying to deliver a speech. Over at IndyUndercover, people have been complaining that the Mayor's folks resorted to using law enforcement to follow the man in the chicken suit after he left appearances in an effort to learn his identity. I guess there's not enough crime in the city to keep these law enforcement officials busy. The mystery has been solved at long last. It turns out the man in the chicken suit is Ernest Shearer. And the Star's political reporters are taking credit for learning his identity. We open up today's newspaper and find this item in the "Behind Closed Doors" column:

While his identity remains under cluck, er, cloak, political observers believe the man in the chicken suit is an Eastside resident who owns an estate liquidation business.

A 6-foot-2-inch man in a chicken suit has taken to showing up at city meetings to protest against Peterson, hatching an endless string of chicken jokes from city politicos.

An old hearse with a chicken decoration on top was spotted at the City-County Building after one meeting this past week. The hearse also has been spotted regularly along the 8400 block of East Washington Street.

Putting the chicken and egg together, Your Favorite Column tracked down the business owner, Ernest Shearer.

"I don't admit it or deny it," Shearer said, "but I do agree with the message the chicken is putting out."

Fliers that the chicken passed out say that government leaders haven't done enough to slow the city's rising crime problem.

Employees of the Democratic Party, who didn't think the chicken was so amusing, took it a step further last week.

Suspecting Shearer, they researched his background and found a 1998 arrest.

Shearer, 52, confirmed that he was arrested for failure to pay taxes and related charges. Court records, however, show the charges were dismissed.

Shearer said he never owed the money prosecutors alleged that he owed.

Now, it's one thing to unmask the identity of the man in the chicken suit. It is quite another to dig up an old arrest record and report it as news when court records show the charges were dismissed. Sadly, the Star has become the enabler of Democratic Party operatives in smearing anyone who challenges the Marion County Democrats. There are far more important matters the Star is failing to report on its news pages. We could do without this crap. Why does the Star feel compelled to report to its readers about an unproven charge against this man other than to aid and abet local Democrats' efforts to personally destroy him?

Observant AI readers will not be surpised by this latest development. This is not the first time the person outed by the Star today has been the victim of the local Democrats' bag of dirty tricks. "You Know Who" posted a comment to this blog falsely identifying this same man as another Indianapolis man who has a penchant for posting sexually explicit solicitations on the Internet in an effort to destroy him because of his vocal support of Republican congressional candidate Eric Dickerson. This same commenter has also posted numerous comments about supporters of Dickerson on this blog which, at a minimum can be described as unflattering, and at worst can be considered downright defamatory. Here's a taste of one of his most recent comments:

Thank you . . . . Whatshername for the above anonymous comment. Of course, folk should know deadbeat . . . . is a renter who moves frequently - she doesnt pay rent and gets sued but doesnt pay. She has quite a few unpaid judgments against her (isnt CivicNet great?). Most people know poor . . . . . as the perennial candidate who always comes in last...
While there may be a temptation for the victims to stoop to their level, I would discourage it. One such person has already crossed the line by posting a bounty on his blog for anyone with "verifiable dirt on one Jennifer Wagner." Wagner, of course, is the communications director for the Indiana Democratic Party and blogs at Taking Down Words. I have a pretty good idea who dug up this information on the man in the chicken suit, and I strongly suspect it was someone other than Wagner. She, in fact, denies being the source of the arrest record, but she does unnecessarily fan the flames in my opinion by reporting even more details about the unproven charges. Besides, Sir Hailstone's post was just in poor taste to say the least.

UPDATE: The Indy Chicken has posted a response to today's reports at IndyUndercover, which you can view by clicking here.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Why The Rule Of Law Matters

It's been several days since the Marion County Alcoholic Beverage Board unanimously voted to approve an alcohol permit for the 300 East bar in the Julia Carson Government Center over the protestations of several neighborhood remonstrators. I deliberately withheld comment until I had a chance to review the recorded hearing on WCTY. I watched the hearing the other night, and I must say it was as disillusioning to watch as the zoning hearing a couple of months earlier. Now, before anyone trots out the argument that opposition to the license came from partisan Republicans and anti-Carson forces, stop and listen. This issue has always been about the rule of law so don't try to obfuscate the real issue. Allow me to explain.

Under the principle of the rule of law, nobody can claim privilege above the law. Rather, rules are set forth in advance, are published for all to read, and are applied impartially to rulers and ruled alike. The rule of law preserves limited government because it forces everyone, including all people in positions of authority, to obey the laws. It is more, however, than just having written laws. The “rule of law” abhors arbitrary and capricious “rule of men.” It is essential to ordered liberty that nobody be allowed to decide for themselves what the law is and how and when the law is to be enforced.

What I saw watching the hearing on 300 East was a complete breakdown in the application of the rule of law. Under Indiana's alcoholic licensing system, after applying for a license from the Indiana Alcoholic and Beverage Commission, applicants are required to appear at a public hearing conducted by the local board after satisfying certain statutory requirements. If members of the public appear to remonstrate against the proposed licensee, the board is required to conduct a hearing at which the remonstrators are allowed to present evidence against the issuance of the license, while the applicant is permitted to cross-examine the remonstrators and offer rebuttal evidence and testimony in support of its license. Theoretically, that took place at the hearing, but for reasons I shall discuss, the process fell short of upholding our tradition of adhering to the rule of law.

Let me begin with the manner in which the hearing officer conducted the hearing. Van Barteau, an attorney and member of the local alcohol board, acted as the hearing officer for the remonstrance hearing. The hearing officer's job is to ensure that the proceeding is conducted in a fair and impartial manner. There were several occasions during the hearing where Barteau expressed his own personal opinions, stated legal opinions not supported by the law and even offered testimony in support of the applicant's petition. His conduct of the hearing was inappropriate and completely unnecessary. The applicant was ably represented at the hearing by two very competent attorneys from Ice Miller. They didn't need the assistance of Mr. Barteau in presenting a case for their petition.

During the hearing, local attorney Ross Stovall raised a number of legal points on behalf of the remonstrators. Stovall challenged the sufficiency of the notices provided by the applicants. Specifically, he complained that the notice of the hearing mailed to the neighbors failed to identify the type of license being sought by the applicant. Indiana law details the type of notice and to whom the notice must be mailed so many days prior to a hearing at which a license is being considered. The statute lists several things the applicant "must" include in the notice, including information on "the type of license applied for." This bit of information is extremely important because there are more than three dozen types of retail alcohol permits which can be issued under Indiana law. And in the case of this particular applicant, the nature of the permit has been a moving target. It was first promoted as a private, social club, then a bar and later as a family restaurant.

Stovall, to my surprise, claimed that all assurances the applicant had made during its zoning hearing before the Metropolitan Development Commission as to its proposed operations had only been verbalized and were not written into the zoning variance approved by the Commission. Stovall also noted that the large orange placard applicants are required to post on the building of the proposed establishment facing a common thoroughfare was not posted properly, or at least in a place where it was easily accessible to the public.

Without any prompting from the applicant's attorney, Barteau dismissed the deficiencies in the notice raised by Stovall. He offered his own opinion that the applicant's license had been widely discussed in the local media and had become an issue in the election; therefore, he surmised that nobody could challenge the sufficiency of the notice required by the statute. The affidavits filed by the applicant said notice had been properly given, and that was all that was required as far as he was concerned. If Barteau read the statute, he would understand that it says the applicant "must" and not "may" include certain items in its notice. One of those requirements is the type of license applied for. Is it a 2-way or a 3-way license? Is it for a liquor store, a social club, a restaurant or a bar? Do they allow carry out? These are matters lawmakers decided were important enough to require the applicant to include in its notice to inform the affected neighbors of the nature of the alcoholic establishment being proposed for their neighborhood.

During Stovall's testimony, another local board member, Belle Choate, angrily dressed down Stovall for failing to provide a list of people to whom he wanted notice given of the hearing. The applicant's hearing was continued from an earlier hearing at which the Board had apparently asked Stovall if he would provide such a list to the applicant's attorneys. He agreed to do so, but the applicant's attorneys noted at the outset of the hearing he had never provided them a list. As a point of order, a remonstrator has no legal duty to provide a list of who gets notice of an applicant's license. The statute clearly delineates who must receive notice of the hearing, and it imposes the burden of providing that notice solely on the applicant. Stovall didn't contest that mailed notice had been given; only the content of the notice. Choate's outburst at Stovall was disturbing and inappropriate. It sent a message loud and clear that she was completely antagonistic toward his arguments about the inadequacy of the notice, regardless of what the law provided.

Stovall also raised a point I've raised on this blog a number of times in the past--the lack of an executed lease between the Center Township Trustee and the applicant in accordance with state law. An applicant must disclose whether he owns the building or has a valid leasehold interest in the premises where the proposed licensee is to be located. Trustee Carl Drummer candidly admitted in an interview with WXNT's Abdul Hakim-Shabazz that he had never executed a lease with the owners of 300 East. He simply turned the premises over to the 300 East owners nearly a year ago, allowed them to completely alter the space with a half-million dollars in improvements, all without obtaining the necessary building permits, abiding by state and local building code requirements or having the appropriate zoning approvals. And the 300 East owners have yet to pay any rent to Center Township taxpayers.

Again, Barteau was very dismissive of Stovall's argument. Barteau very matter-of-factly stated that Indiana law does not require townships to abide by any competitive requirement to ensure the adequacy of a lease. I've read the statute authorizing local governments to dispose of government-owned real estate by lease or sale, and I find no exemption from the law for townships. But more to the point, the applicant's attorney were unable to provide a copy of the lease to Barteau when he requested a copy because no lease exists to this day. Stovall noted that several public records request failed to produce a lease.

A little more than a year ago, I was indirectly involved in assisting an applicant with a transfer of an existing license to a new location--exactly what was being proposed at this hearing. During the hearing, a dissident family member of the owner of the premises where the licensee was to be located came forward and falsely asserted that the applicant had no valid lease with the owner. A lease was produced which had been approved by a court order. Barteau and Choate, nonetheless, urged a continuance of the hearing until proof of the court order could be presented to the Board. Under the circumstances, I felt the Board's actions then were appropriate. It's just hard for me to understand why Barteau and Choate would impose a higher burden of proof on an applicant involving two private citizens than it would impose on an applicant involving a governmental entity and a private business. Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer didn't even appear at the hearing to testify for the applicant, or to explain the lease.

While we're on the point of legalities, an extremely important legal argument was raised during the hearing by another attorney remonstrator, Darla Williams. Williams questioned the legal authority for the Commission to issue an alcoholic permit for an establishment to be located in a government office building. She observed that the state statute governing alcohol permits provides a specific grant of authority in every other instance where alcohol is permitted to be sold on government-owned property. And sure enough, right there at I.C. 7.1-3-1-25, the statute clearly sets out authorization to permit the sale of alcoholic beverages at certain public facilities, such as the RCA Dome, Conseco Fieldhouse, community social centers, golf courses and so on.

If the sale of alcohol on government-owned property were generally permitted, why then are there all these specific authorizations in the statute? It is a maxim of statutory construction that the expression of one thing in a statute means the exclusion of others. "A statute specifying the method by which something shall be done evinces a legislative intent that it not be done otherwise." In other words, the statute doesn't permit the sale of alcoholic beverages at the government-owned Julia Carson Government Center or any other government-owned building, except as authorized in the statute. Barteau was noticeably silent on this point, and the attorneys representing the applicant didn't seem anxious to take up the argument either.

Let's now move on to the issue of the desirability of the applicant's petition. Indiana law makes it clear there must be an investigation of the desirability of the permit in regard to geographic location before issuing a permit. The statute spells out several factors that are to be considered, including: (a) the need for such services at the location of the permit; (b) the desire of the neighborhood or the community to receive such services; (c) impact of such services on other business in the neighborhood or community; (d) impact of such services on the neighborhood or community. The overarching concern here, you can see, is what is in the best interests of the neighborhood. On this point, the local board heard compelling testimony from a long-time resident of Mapleton-Fall Creek, David Leonards. He presented compelling evidence of overwhelming opposition to 300 East from the neighbors most immediately impacted. He carefully surveyed area residents and presented signatures of those residents expressing their position on the proposed license.

A particularly troubling aspect of Leonards' testimony was the extent to which two neighborhood leaders, Claire Warner and Al Polin, had gone to thwart the clear will of the majority of the neighborhood residents. Leonards testified it had been a long-standing policy of the neighborhood association to support the will expressed by a majority of the residents most directly impacted by a zoning change. His survey showed virtually all the closest neighbors opposed 300 East. He testified about parliamentary maneuvers of Warner and Polin at neighborhood meetings prior to the hearing, which had the effect of preventing an official position being taken by a vote of the neighborhood association. Instead, Polin and Warner represented to the Commission and again to the local alcohol board, that they had surveyed the neigbhorhood and most supported it.

The remonstrators also raised questions about the character of the applicant. Indiana law specifically provides that it is appropriate to consider, in addition to prior criminal offenses committed by an applicant "the esteem in which the person is held by members of his community, and such assessment of his character as may reasonably be inferred from police reports, evidence admitted in court and commission proceedings, information contained in public records and other sources of information." The 300 East was an appropriate case to consider the applicant for two reasons. Firstly, the person whose name appeared on the original application, Lacy Johnson, III, was convicted of driving while under the influence while the petition was pending. Johnson was noticeably absent from the hearing. In his place, wealthy businessman Bill Mays, one of the principal investors in 300 East, appeared on behalf of the applicant. Mays also owned the controversial Savoy nightclub on the city's northside, which was recently forced to close its doors because of numerous city and zoning code violations, as well as a public nuisance it had created in the St. Vincent Hospital neigbhorhood, which raised the ire of its neighbors. It was also disclosed that the Savoy's application for a zoning variance included petitions containing a number of forged signatures of neighbors. Take it however you want, but suffice it to say, the board was not moved in the least bit to consider the character of the applicant.

Notwithstanding any number of reasons the local board could have relied upon to deny 300 East's application for an alcohol license, or at the very least, delayed action until patent deficiencies were resolved, the board unanimously approved the license. How could this happen? How could so many laws and rules be ignored in the consideration of this petition. Unfortunately, the answer is that if you are a wealthy business owner who makes generous campaign contributions to political officeholders and you're represented by the state's most powerful law firm, the written laws are going to be applied more generously to your benefit than if you are just an ordinary citizen asking the government to grant you a privilege of owning an alcohol license.

The remonstrators can appeal the decision of the local board to the state's Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, but they must do so within 15 days of the decision. That can prove costly and time-consuming to the remonstrators, but as a matter of principle, I hope they do.