Jim Shella’s Political Blog

New law eliminates “R” word from Indiana code

July 24th, 2015 at 2:36 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The governor conducted a ceremonial bill signing Friday for a law that makes the Indiana code more politically correct.

This is all about the “R” word.

It’s a term that was once considered appropriate, but is no longer.


“No one wants to be called retarded,” said Melody Cooper of Self Advocates of Indiana. “Nobody.”

Cooper says it happened to her in high school and earlier this year she testified in favor of the new law.

As a result she got to introduce Mike Pence at the bill signing.

“I wanna be able to celebrate with all of you,” said the governor, “that your voices have been heard.”

The new law means that retardation will be replaced in the Indiana code by two words, intellectual disabilities.

And the bill signing is the end of a process that included unanimous support in the General Assembly.

“Because people with disabilities,” said Kim Dodson of the Arc of Indiana, “really want the respect that every citizen in the state of Indiana has.”

“And they wanted to change it to something that made them feel more positive about their disabilities,” said Betty Williams of Self Advocates, “and made them feel more like they had capabilities.”

That is, something that isn’t considered an insult.

Advocates say that the state of Indiana has been good about passing bills to protect the rights of the intellectually disabled and to give them educational and economic opportunities.

State law now reflects that progressive approach.

Secretary MacDonald’s Indy visit is meant to improve the VA’s image

July 23rd, 2015 at 5:03 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs paid a visit to the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis Thursday.

It’s all about changing the VA’s image.

A year ago the Roudebush Medical Center was one of a handful around the country that was being investigated for lengthy wait times. Now VA Secretary Bob MacDonald says it’s an example that other VA hospitals should follow.

VA medical treatment is getting better according Dr. Taiwo Ngwa. “I love taking care of the veteran population,” he said.

And that’s the same message coming from VA Secretary Bob MacDonald.

“We’re trying to create a culture which is open and transparent,”  he said.

MacDonald is a former top executive at Proctor and Gamble who, among other things, is trying to convince Congress to give him a bigger budget.

He knows that requires results.

“Trust has been compromised in the VA last year,” he said, “and we’re working hard to earn it back one veteran at a time.”

The veterans we were permitted to talk with like what they see.

“I appreciate what they do for me,” said Alfred Black.

“I’ve always been satisfied with the service I’ve been getting here,” said Herb Gilmore.

But MacDonald also knows that there is still damage control to be done.

He showed up at the Indianapolis media availability prepared to talk about offensive emails, including one showing an elf committing suicide.

They were sent last year by a clinic manager who was fired a few months ago.

“From that episode,” said MacDonald, “7 individuals have been disciplined, all different kinds of discipline depending on their involvement, but we simply don’t tolerate that.”

The message is that things are getting better.

But veteran Vernon Thompson spelled out the bottom line.

“There is always need for improvement,” he said. “You can never be a hundred percent.”

The VA is now working with Starbucks, Disney, and Ritz Carlton on ways to improve customer service.

And while he was in town Secretary MacDonald met with leaders at the National Headquarters of the American Legion. He says he’s the first VA Secretary to do that.

Pence says growing economy shows RFRA fix worked

July 22nd, 2015 at 3:41 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Governor Mike Pence suggested Wednesday that the RFRA crisis is over.

He made the case by pointing to recent good news about the Indiana economy.

Pence is still trying to make a political recovery from the crisis that dropped his approval rating by about 20 points. To do so he wants the public to believe that his leadership is responsible for an economic recovery.

That’s why he kicked off a ceremonial bill signing by holding up a newspaper headline about the state’s unemployment rate.

It’s below 5 percent for the first time since 2008 despite threats from around the country to take business out of Indiana during Religious Freedom controversy in March and April.

The governor believes the RFRA fix which created limited equal rights protections is a reason for the improvement.

He was asked if there is still a need to do more in terms of protections statewide for gays and lesbians and answered by saying, “I think our economy speaks for itself. Our economy is strong and growing stronger.”

He later said, “We’ll leave debates about the future for the future.”

He was then asked if RFRA is just an economic issue. “I really do believe that we found a way through that difficult period last Spring to calm the waters,” he said. “And the facts speak for themselves.”

A spokeswoman for the governor followed up later saying that the governor is studying the issue of equal rights.

She said, “He is listening to Hoosiers and has an open mind.”

Meantime, a spokeswoman for Freedom Indiana said that economic improvements are important but making sure that Indiana is open to everyone is critical.

What’s behind Zoeller for Congress?

July 20th, 2015 at 5:19 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is running for Congress.

It’s an unusual move that has insiders suggesting that Zoeller is distancing himself from GOP Governor Mike Pence.

Zoeller is a Republican who is unwilling to criticize Pence publicly. But he will tell you that there was no reason to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, at least not yet.

And he just made a move that means he won’t be on the statewide ticket with Pence in 2016.

Zoeller made the announcement Monday in Jeffersonville that he is running for Congress in the 9th District.

He wants to go to Washington. “I will be a tireless advocate,” he said, “for law enforcement, our criminal justice system, homeland security, and national defense.”

Yet Zoeller was bashing Washington on Election night 2012. “We’re not going to wait for Washington,” he said in his victory speech.

If you’re wondering what has changed between then and now, the RFRA controversy stands out.

RFRA opponent and political strategist Bill Oesterle says Zoeller is a smart guy.

“He understands where the party is on a statewide basis right now,” said Oesterle, “and he’s trying to plot a course inside of that.”

He went on to say, “He’s a very good politician, very capable guy. He pays attention to events.”

Leaving a ticket that will likely be led by Mike Pence is still eye-catching.

“I’d say it’s very unusual for a statewide elected official to leave what seems to be a pretty safe re-election,” said GOP strategist Jennifer Hallowell, “to get into a contested, highly competitive Congressional race.”

Zoeller is the third Republican in the 9th District race so far.

He said he’s not running away from a job but admitted that advisers are worried that Pence may lose.

He was in one meeting where an unnamed adviser warned him against “being the baby that gets thrown out with the bath water.”

Pence reports on big budget surplus

July 16th, 2015 at 3:29 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Indiana has the second largest budget surplus in state history.

It’s a source of pride for the governor but Democrats say he’s putting ideology ahead of Hoosier families and they are anticipated themes for the 2016 Election.

Mike Pence is running for re-election on a platform that centers on jobs, the economy, and a stable state budget picture.

When it comes to the budget Democrats hope to turn his strength into a weakness.

Mike Pence doesn’t hide who he is saying “I’m a conservative,” when asked to explain his approach to the budge.

It’s why he believes the state should hold on to a budget surplus that was $2.14 billion at the end of the fiscal year on June 30th.

Democrats say he’s hoarding money.

“And all they do is fixate on $2 billion,” said House Democratic spokesman John Schorg. “It is their mantra. It is everything they care about and everything else seems to be secondary.”

The governor, meantime, deflects charges that the Department of Child Services is underfunded.

“We don’t play politics with our kids in Indiana,” he said.

And he will still ask most state agencies to return 3 percent of their budgets.

“We believe our agencies are funded at appropriate levels,” he said.

And while the RFRA controversy has hurt his image the governor wants you to believe that it didn’t hurt the Indiana economy.

“I believe that this near historic budget surplus,” he said, “is also a reflection of the fact that the last three months of fiscal ’15 represented, ah, robust revenues to the state of Indiana giving evidence of the strength of Indiana’s economy.”

In the governor’s world a big surplus is also a place to store political capital.

For example, the governor says he may pay off a $250 million debt to the federal unemployment insurance trust come November.

That would reduce the taxes currently paid by Indiana employers.

Todd Young to enter Senate race next week

July 10th, 2015 at 5:38 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The 2016 race for U.S. Senate will get more crowded next week as Congressman Todd Young is set to enter the race.

Young (R-9th District) reported earlier this week that he raised a million dollars in the 2nd quarter of 2015.

It’s an eye catching total and now he’s putting together campaign events for next week.

Young will give up his seat in Congress to seek the GOP Senate nomination next May but he will immediately become the best financed candidate on the Republican side.

“If he’s raised a million in a quarter and he’s not an announced candidate,” said Republican Mike McDaniel on Indiana Week in Review, “then you gotta believe he can do better than that once he’s an announced candidate.”

Former state GOP Chairman Eric Holcomb raised just $200,000 but may become Young’s toughest competitor.

“What you’ve got here is you’ve got somebody who’s shown real capability to raise money and is favorite of the monied interests,” said political analyst John Ketzenberger, “and then you’ve got Eric Holcomb who’s got contacts all over the state.”

Congressman Marlin Stutzman is also in the GOP race and he raised $600,000 in the 2nd quarter.

Retiring Senator Dan Coats worries about the competition he created.

“I don’t want to be in a situation where we end up like we were in an earlier race here which divided our party,” he said in reference to the 2012 race won by Democrat Joe Donnelly.

If Young wins the GOP nomination he will likely face Democrat Baron Hill and that would be a rematch of the 2010 race for Congress in the 9th district won by Young.

Democrats don’t fear Young, however.

“He’s had a pretty undistinguished career so far in Congress,” said Democrat Ann DeLaney, “so it’s only fitting he would try to follow in the footsteps of Dan Coats who has a pretty undistinguished career as a U.S. Senator.”

Young has already announced plans for what he calls a “special campaign event” in Sellersburg on July 18th.

Look for a less formal campaign kickoff early in the week.

Coats criticizes Trump

July 10th, 2015 at 1:42 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Dan Coats believes that Donald Trump is hurting the Republican brand.

You can count the Indiana Senator among those in the GOP who worry that Trump’s remarks about immigration will drive Hispanic voters to the Democratic Party.

Trump has called Mexican immigrants “criminals” and “rapists” and has refused to apologize for what he said.

His tone has not changed even though the GOP National Chairman asked him to “tone it down.”

House Speaker John Boehner has also objected and now Senator Coats is speaking up.

“I think the Donald usually is thinking about the Donald,” he said. “I don’t think the country wants someone with his bombast to be making decisions late in the night about the future of the country.”

He went on to say that voters, “want a real conversation, not a politically correct conversation, but they want a conversation not a bombast, and Donald always seems to take it one step too far.”

Sen. Coats is in support of measures to secure the Mexican border but he is also the son of an immigrant.

He acknowledges that a lot of people agree with Trump, but clearly does not think he is fit to be President.

Greg Zoeller leading national fight to regulate e-cigarettes

July 9th, 2015 at 5:32 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

E-cigarettes are part of a new and growing industry that, right now, faces little regulation.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is trying to change that.

Zoeller believes that e-cigarettes are dangerous and he wants Congress to regulate them in the same fashion as tobacco products.

That puts him at odds with most of the people who make, sell, and use e-cigarettes.

At a shop called Vapor Trail in Carmel you must prove that you are 18 to buy e-cigarettes and related products. Many of those who do are former smokers.

“I feel better vaping rather than smoking cigarettes,” said Sam Nielson. “You know, a month ago when I was smoking cigarettes, I feel, like, healthier.”

Whether that’s true or not, the health of the vapor industry is improving rapidly with few restrictions.

“It has the potential to outgrow cigarettes,” said e-cigarette distributor Shadi Khoury,”to outgrow the traditional tobacco industry in the next 10 years.”

But Attorney General Zoeller thinks e-cigarettes should be treated the same as tobacco products with limits on advertising as well as flavors that appeal to children. He wants Congress to act.

“We know the dangers of nicotine,” said Zoeller. “We don’t know any value to these products, and why the FDA has failed to regulate to date is unknown.”

I asked Sutton,  a spokesman for Altria, the company formerly known as Philip Morris, if the company’s products are dangerous. “Well, that’s for the FDA to decide,” he said.

Sutton says, however, that e-cigarettes should be treated differently than tobacco products and Congress should stay out of it.

“The one product emits second hand smoke because it’s burning,” he said. “The other product does not because nothing is being combusted so they’re very, very different.”

To Zoeller, a vapor cloud looks a lot like a smoke screen.

“They fooled us once,” he said. “Shame on them, but if they let this go on again, shame on us.”

Zoeller is a co-chair of the tobacco committee for the National Association of Attorneys General.

He points out that the Major Tobacco Settlement was the result of lawsuits brought by the states. He believes that the potential regulation of e-cigarettes may require the same approach.

Governor explains decision to drop PR contract with Porter Novelli

July 8th, 2015 at 5:21 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Governor Mike Pence answered questions for the first time Wednesday regarding the cancellation of a $750,000 public relations contract.

The contract was made to counter the RFRA reaction that saw states and companies ban travel to Indiana, along with threats to cancel conventions here.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation executed it.

“I think that the IEDC made the right decision to discontinue the contract,” said Pence. When asked if it was his decision Pence said, “I supported the decision very strongly.”

Democrats want to know if the cancellation was made because Porter Novelli recommended that the governor push for a Human Rights Amendment.

“That topic was never raised in any meeting that I was involved in with that firm,” said Pence.

He went on to say, “We did not retain them for the purpose of making policy or legislative recommendations.”

The governor says Indiana is headed toward record employment and that eliminates the need for the contract.

“What we’re doing today to market the Hoosier state is working,” he said.

Critic still want to know what Porter Novelli did for the $365,000 it will still receive.

“Our attorneys are looking through it,” said Pence, “and I’m very confident they’ll be releasing information that will better inform the public about the wisdom of this decision.”

The state has so far denied public records requests regarding the work of Porter Novelli.

The governor indicated that most of that work will still remain confidential.

Child advocate calls for stiffer penalties for child porn

July 7th, 2015 at 5:05 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The investigations of Jared Fogle and a former employee are raising awareness of child pornography.

And it could lead to stiffer penalties for those who make, sell, or trade it.

Some of those victims show up at Susie’s Place in Avon. That’s where child advocates work with police and welfare workers to get small children to explain what happened to them.

At Susie’s place you can find rainbows, Teddy bears, and crayons but it is not a fun place to be.

Director Emily Perry explains that in one room investigators often watch by video as a child advocate interviews a sexual abuse victim in another room.

“Child pornography is extremely prevalent,” she said, and most people don’t realize how big the problem is.

“The trading, the downloading, the uploading of images that reveal the genitalia of children is something that nobody’s comfortable talking about and that’s a problem,” said Perry. “People need to raise awareness about this subject matter and there’s needs to be stiffer penalties for people that are creating those images, trading those images.”

The Indiana Criminal Code was updated last year and it dropped the penalty for child pornography from 3 to 21/2 years.

State Senator Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) plans to file a bill calling for a 5 year sentence.

“We need to redouble our efforts,” he said, “and there’s no reason in the world why someone should have child pornography on their computer or in their home.”

And at Susie’s Place you find that catching them if very difficult especially if a small child has already described an assault.

“And then to also disclose that maybe they’ve had images taken of them or videos taken of them,” said Perry, “that’s a real block and a barrier for kids and so many of them keep that a secret for weeks, months, years.”

Susie’s Place serves 27 Indiana counties. It handled 927 cases last year.

88 percent of them were sexual abuse cases and only seven of those crimes were committed by a stranger.