Indiana’s Election 2012: The Middle Finger of the South Gets Hit With A Hammer

Indiana has been called the middle finger of the South thrust up into the Midwest. The 2012 Presidential electoral map bears this out. And, after the state elections, that finger just got even redder. But, there were unexpected spots of blue. It’s as if election 2012 was an electoral hammer that smashed down on Indiana.

2012 Electoral Map

The election that I think will have the most impact on Hoosiers is that of Mike Pence to governor. He is a Congressman who seems to have done nothing but unsuccessfully pursue conservative social legislation while in the House of Representatives. He hid his socially conservative light under a bushel for most of the campaign against John Gregg, but – though I am no Nate Silver – I predict that within the next 60 days, you will see this side of him emerge with a vengeance as the General Assembly — now even redder with some legislators of an almost Dominionist bent — will regard themselves as unleashed.

I don’t think David Long or even, particularly, Brian Bosma have real fire in their bellies for religiously motivated legislation. But, the Democrats lack any real power for them to use in maintaining discipline in their caucuses. So, they’ll have to let such things go and likely embrace a lot of the nonsense. Certainly the Constitutional marriage inequality amendment will come through and go to the ballot. (Unfortunately for my gay friends, I think this means it will show up in 2014 which isn’t as electorally advantageous to them as would be having the question on the ballot in a Presidential election year.)

The spots of blue would appear to be a cautionary tale against going off the rails to the right. Richard Mourdock, about whom I’ve been no fan because of his Chrysler antics, lost in no small part because of his rape and abortion comments. Joe Donnelly would have stood no chance had the more centrist Sen. Lugar remained in the race. Consequently, the Democrats retained control of the U.S. Senate. The other spot of blue was something I didn’t see coming at all until maybe the final week or so. Glenda Ritz beat Tony Bennett for the race to be Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Bennett has been aggressive in his efforts to restructure Indiana’s school system in a way that I believe allows more profit opportunities for some private entities. Certainly a lot of out of state money flowed into Bennett’s campaign war chest – which leads you to believe they were looking for a return on their investment. However, Bennett had gone too far. He outraged teachers in a way that made them talk convincingly to those around them. I know a number of reliably, usually unwavering, Republican votes that were cast against Bennett because teachers they knew convinced them that Bennett was bad for schools. If Bennett had not overreached, he too likely would have been safely re-elected. The Republicans haven’t lost a statewide executive branch office since the mid 90s when <strike>Hogsett</strike> <b><a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Modisett#State_Attorney.27s_offices”>Modisett</a></b> became Attorney General.

But, these cautionary tales will not be heeded. (Notwithstanding the Journal & Courier’s wistful, almost cute, hope of Gov. Pence avoiding social legislation in its endorsement.) So, for the next several years, I predict the State should increase its budget line item for paying ACLU-Indiana’s court mandated attorney fees. And, as this blog enters its 9th year in a couple of days, I expect I will once again have plenty to write about.

Report of the Interim Study Committee on Specialty Plates

To protect Hoosiers against the peril of gay license plates, the General Assembly took decisive action. It created a study committee. The Interim Study Committee on Special Group Recognition License Plates. The committee was charged (pdf) with studying “policies and procedures concerning the issuance of special group recognition license plates.”

Answering the bell in this, our time of need, the committee issued a report. (pdf) (Technically, it could be a draft, I guess. It’s dated November 1, 2012, so I don’t exactly know what’s going on.) The committee’s recommendation?

The Committee made no findings of fact or recommendations.

But, on the upside, various non-profits testified that it was o.k. for the State to use license plates to raise money for non-profits. Nice work everyone.

(And, yes, I spent way too much time sourcing this post.)

Bangert on ISTA’s Endorsement of Rep. Truitt

Dave Bangert, writing for the Lafayette Journal & Courier has a good column on the Indiana State Teachers Association endorsement of Republican state representative Randy Truitt over former ISTA employee and current Democratic challenger Rick Cornstuble.

On paper, Bangert is correct, it looks like a no-brainer that ISTA would endorse Cornstuble; particularly given that Rep. Truitt has cast some votes in favor of some legislation that I expect made ISTA very unhappy. But, as Bangert also points out, given the dynamics involved, it makes a certain amount of sense.

I try to stay out of local politics on this blog, so I won’t get too deep into the weeds here, but being somewhat familiar with the local territory, I’m not shocked by the endorsement. First of all, Rep. Truitt is probably going to win. And I don’t think ISTA’s support would change the outcome one way or another. Second, he’s not an ideologue. Within certain broad parameters, Rep. Truitt is someone you can work with. He’s not likely to buck the party on big issues and, and I’m sure he has philosophical preferences he won’t lightly abandon. But, beyond that, I’ve had the opportunity to work with him on non-government issues, in those areas, he struck me as pragmatic and as having his hometown’s best interests at heart (even if I don’t personally think the recently passed education reform legislation did West Lafayette any favors.)

With all those factors in play, ISTA’s support makes sense. When they come knocking, he’ll at least listen and, he might be able to lend a hand when their interests are not opposed.

If it looked like control of the House hung in the balance, I expect ISTA would have backed Cornstuble. But I don’t see Rep. Bosma giving up the gavel regardless of what happens in the Truitt/Cornstuble race.

Scott Schneider: Thick as a Brick or Deliberately Obtuse?

Jim Shella has an exchange in a state Senate race between incumbent Senator Scott Schneider and challenger, Tim DeLaney. DeLaney has criticized Schneider for his support of legislation that would have allowed Indiana schools to teach creationism as science. (See here for a previous post on SB 89-2012 for which Schneider was a co-author.)

DeLaney criticizes Schneider: “Instead of talking about jobs and the economy and education, he spent time laboring to get creationism taught in schools as science.” (emphasis added)

Schneider’s response doesn’t meet the thrust of the criticism. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with allowing students a full agenda of all different ideas of origins of life,” he says, “and yet we find the sort of anti-religious folks getting into a fervor about that.”

The legislation was entirely unnecessary to permit schools to mention creationism as one of the multitudes of religious origin stories humans have posited over the millenia. They are and have been free to do that. What they can’t do is teach creationism as science. Because it’s not. Objections to teaching creationism as science include:

#It’s not falsifiable; no testable bounds can be imposed on the creator.

#It does not comport with Occam’s Razor which disfavors positing a more complicated explanation where one with fewer assumptions will explain the observed phenomenon.

#Because it posits supernatural forces, it cannot be empirically or experimentally tested.

#It is not open to change in order to explain new evidence. Relying as it does on the Word of God as absolute truth, evidence that runs contrary must be disregarded. “In science, all claims are tentative, they are forever open to challenge, and must be discarded or adjusted when the weight of evidence demands it.”

Either Schneider doesn’t understand the basics of the scientific method (in which case he ought not be authoring legislation on the subject) or he is deliberately ignoring the point in order to advance his political and/or religious goals.

The Indiana Dept. of Education Gets Letters

There is an interesting discussion brewing between State Rep. Randy Truitt and the Indiana Dept. of Education, reported upon by Mikel Livingston. Based on concerns expressed to him by educators in Warren and Tippecanoe County, Rep. Truitt has questions about whether the Indiana Dept. of Education’s implementation of education legislation actually reflects the language and intent of that legislation. The Indiana Dept. of Education is working on a formal response, but its response to the newspaper was that (and I paraphrase) those silly teachers are telling tall tales.

Rep. Truitt’s letter is here (pdf). By way of disclosure, I know Randy, I like him, and through working with him a bit, I’ve grown to respect him a lot. I think if he ran the state based on his own preferences, I’m not sure I’d find a lot to disagree with him about. My primary quarrel with him is that he’s one member in a large body, and it’s politically necessary for him to go along with initiatives of his colleagues that I don’t care for. By contrast, I don’t know Tony Bennett, head of the Department of Education; and I do know that I’ve disagreed fairly sharply with some of his policy initiatives — intentional or not, I feel like his initiatives undermine local control and seek to undermine the public school model in favor of a private one. (And, for that matter, I’ve not had warm feelings about Truitt’s challenger, Rick Cornstuble, who has mixed feelings about Truitt’s efforts in this matter.)

Rep. Truitt’s concerns include reports that, rather than retaining local control, teachers would be evaluated from Indianapolis without the evaluator even necessarily observing the teacher directly; that it would be possible for the Indiana Dept. of Education to override local evaluations of a teacher’s performance. He is concerned that the State Department of Education does not recognize itself as being subordinate to the General Assembly; that it’s a tool to implement the will of the General Assembly, not the other way around.

Another concern is that the for the IREAD-3 test, schools are evaluated on which students happen to be in their school at the moment of the test, with no consideration as to how much or little that school had to do with that particular student’s education. If the kid moved from a bad school yesterday but fails the test in your school, that’s on your school.

Here is a passage I liked:

If our educators are required to be evaluated by data and are required to be given a school grade, quite possibly our IDOE leaders should be equally accountable for the state data. They should be graded on the number of turnaround schools they have. This would be a motivator to encourage IDOE to work to prevent these rather than give the perception that educators currently have, which is the IDOE wants to take over more schools faster. One great idea is to give our local schools (our community) the flexibility to improve instead of waiting to some arbitrary length of time and then give that same flexibility to an outside source with no community “skin” in the game.

The entire letter is worth a read — particularly by those who are more knowledgeable about Indiana’s education system than I am. I can get the sense of the concerns, but I’m not in a position to evaluate the details.

SB 246 – Lab Technician Testimony in Criminal Cases

SB 246 sets up procedures for allowing Prosecutors to introduce lab evidence and for Defendants to confront and cross examine lab technicians.

It requires the Prosecutor to provide notice of intent to use a lab report, defined as “a written report or affidavit relating to the results of a scientific test that is prepared for use at trial or to assist in a law enforcement investigation.” The notice has to be provided at least 20 days prior to trial. Then the burden shifts to the defendant to file a demand for cross examination within the next 10 days. If the Prosecutor doesn’t file the notice, the State can’t use the lab report. If the Defendant doesn’t file the demand to cross examine, then defendant waives the right to confront and cross-examine the person who prepared the laboratory report.

The main dynamic that jumped out at me as potentially going wrong was a Prosecutor filing the notice 6 months before trial; before the Defendant’s attorney had his act together with respect to the case and having the 10 days blow by without the Defendant getting the demand on file. But, the statute gives the court authority to alter those deadlines, so I don’t suppose that’s too big of a concern.

The License Plate of the Moral Sinner

I was picking up a growler of beer at People’s Brewing Company a couple of weeks ago when I was delighted to stumble across a couple of buddies of mine; actually one long time friend and his colleague with whom I’ve become acquainted and come to like quite a bit. They invited me to sit down for a beer and cheerfully suggested they had been talking politics and it was starting to stray into religion. Count me in!

The long time friend I have pegged as a moderate Republican who would’ve probably been happier under the Eisenhower brand than otherwise. Come to find out the other guy has politics that are probably more informed by his deeply held religious beliefs. The conversation turned to gay rights. He said, “well, the Bible says that’s a sin.” The conversation kind of ran aground there. I made a quip about the Bible also saying that eating shell-fish was a sin.

But, at that point, there really wasn’t any discussion to be had. If behavior is sinful, not because it’s inherently immoral, but because a book whose dictates you will not question tells you so, there isn’t a lot more you can talk about. I’m not going to get anywhere talking about the merits of the written down version of the oral traditions of bronze age shepherds or, for the New Testament, selected books of second hand accounts of a Roman-Era Jewish preacher.

It does bother me that gays, individuals who are every bit as human as anyone else, and who are by most accounts born into their sexual orientation, should have their lives – the one and only life any of us gets – diminished because of unflinching devotion to those tales; because of the refusal of many individuals to exercise their own, independent judgment about whether the relationships that have been declared sinful are, in fact, immoral or detrimental to society such that government should be in the business of discriminating against gay couples or offering preferences to heterosexual couples.

If a person has abdicated their own independent judgment, there really isn’t a basis for conversation. It’s like talking to a low level functionary at a call center who has only the authority to say “no.” There is no point to talking to that person; you have to go up the management chain until you’re talking to someone who at least has the authority to say “yes.” Even if that doesn’t end up being the person’s decision, the conversation is still worthwhile at that point.

Chris Sikich had an article on the Indiana Youth Group that made me think of that brewery encounter. Unlike the “Choose Life” and “In God We Trust” license plates, conservative religious types are concerned about a Indiana Youth Group license plate because, according to them, the license plate constitutes a state endorsement. The State is apparently on solid ground endorsing religious belief and a pro-life message but when it comes to a support group for gay teens, that’s beyond the pale. Apparently in the course of providing support, the group provides information about sex that’s not for procreation and not within the confines of marriage.

Homosexuality and premarital sex are sinful. The Bible says so. Because they are sinful, regardless of whether they are immoral, the State can’t endorse a group that provides information about either, let alone both. End of discussion.

Warrant Servers to Wear Uniforms After SB1

In the wake of the SB 1 “right to resist”; the Marion County Sheriff’s Office is, per WRTV6, ordering its warrant servers back into uniform. Apparently civil and criminal process servers had been serving summonses and the like in plain clothes. I’m speculating, but one benefit of having plain clothes process servers is that it cuts down on the embarrassment factor of having a Sheriff’s Deputy stop by your house to serve you papers for something relatively minor like getting sued for non-payment of a debt.
But, like approaching a fearful, skittish animal, I suppose police these days are well-advised to announce their presence well in advance.

Rep. Morris continues to attack the Girl Scouts

Rep. Bob Morris is a glutton for punishment it appears. Not being content to simply not vote for an innocuous resolution congratulating the Girl Scouts on its centennial, Morris wrote a letter to his colleagues to inform them about his “web-based research.” He took a public beating.

Well, apparently Rep. Morris isn’t here for the hunting. He has written a column for the Washington Times entitled Shut up and sign. If your culture war makes you the enemy of the Girl Scouts, perhaps you should re-think your strategy and take a moment to figure out what the hell you’re so mad about. Quoth the Morris:

Nothing short of the destruction of our faith and values would satisfy progressives. We have been left with no choice but to refuse to cede even one more inch of ground in this bloody culture war. The time for resolve is now.

Paranoid much?

Things change and the past was never as good as you remember it. But, no matter how tingly it makes you, that doesn’t mean you’re a brave warrior in some kind of existential struggle. You’re a small cog in a vast, ever-changing universe. Hubris, arrogance, and wishing it were otherwise doesn’t change that. Show some adaptability and some humility and realize you have fellow travelers with concerns and lives every bit as valid as your own. And for goodness sake, quit picking on the Girl Scouts.

SB 370 – Funeral Director “Courtesy Cards”

I note SB 370 concerning funeral director courtesy cards, mainly because the terminology seemed peculiar to me. Basically it requires the board of funeral and cemetery service to implement reciprocity provisions for funeral directors in neighboring states, allowing them to provide certain funeral services in Indiana; primarily transporting bodies, completing death certificates, and supervising funeral service as long as an Indiana funeral director is assisting. The permits issued by the board to these out of state funeral directors are termed “courtesy cards.” Maybe it’s just me, but in this context, the name has that polite, yet creepy vibe I associate with funerals.