Jim Shella’s Political Blog


March 27th, 2015 at 5:09 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Robert Vane is the Republican today as the Indiana Week in Review panel tackles these issues:

  • The flap over the religious freedom bill
  • Dan Coats announces retirement plans
  • Eric Holcomb for Senate
  • Baron Hill for Senate (maybe)
  • The Final Four floor arrives

Mike Pence inserts himself in another controversy

March 27th, 2015 at 5:05 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

On the day after Mike Pence signed the religious freedom bill into law the governor is wading into the middle of another controversy.

He is spending campaign funds to push another item on the conservative agenda.

The governor supports elimination of the common wage law that is used to set wage rates on public projects and he appears in new TV ads in support of a repeal.

“Let’s repeal the common construction law,” he says in the ad, “and let’s keep Indiana building.”

The ads are part of a $250,000 campaign to sway members of the state Senate.

“What he’s doing is immoral and I don’t see how the governor can even sleep at night,” said AFL-CIO President Brett Voorheis.

He also called the governor’s actions shameful.

“What he’s been doing to education, what he’s been doing on discrimination,” he said, “now he’s trying to lower workers wages, you know, when’s the bleeding gonna stop?  What is this governor’s priorities?”

The wage bill was not part of the governor’s legislative agenda but when GOP lawmakers passed it through the House he promised to sign it if it gets to his desk.

“Don’t let our legislators create a poorer Indiana,” says a union backed ad that has been on the air for days. “Stop the race to the bottom.  Protect common construction wage.”

Union backed ads have been on the air for days. They portray the wage bill as an attack on workers.

“It’s not an attack on anybody,” said Pence campaign spokesman Robert Vane. “What it is is Governor Pence showing leadership telling taxpayers we know your budgets are tight we owe it to you to give you the most value for your money.”

And it’s the first issue this year that has prompted Pence to spend campaign funds on TV ads.

The bill to repeal the common wage law will be heard in a state Senate Committee on Tuesday.

The governor’s ads, meantime, are scheduled to end on Tuesday.

Mike Pence signs Religious Freedom Restoraton Act

March 26th, 2015 at 3:10 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Mike Pence rejected calls to veto the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and signed it into law Thursday.

He also blamed the media for the way the bill has been portrayed.

Yet the governor signed the bill into law in a private ceremony. The media was not permitted to attend and that has contributed to the controversy created by this bill.

Photos posted on Twitter by people who were invited to the bill signing show a crowded room filled with lawmakers, conservative activists, and religious leaders.

The governor told reporters that attendance was limited for administrative reasons.

“It’s just a scheduling matter,” he said.  “It was pretty crowded.”

Democratic leaders didn’t see it that way.

“The governor had one last chance today to restore sanity, to veto this measure,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, “but instead he chose to go behind closed doors and put his signature on one of the most mean-spirited and controversial pieces of legislation that we’ve seen in recent times.”

It’s a characterization that the governor disagrees with and in a news conference he blamed the media for wrongly portraying bill.

“This legislation restricts government action,” he said. “It doesn’t apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved.”

He said that calling the bill a consolation prize for the people who lost the gay marriage fight is inaccurate but in a photo from the bill signing he posed with the three most vocal opponents of gay marriage, Micah Clark, Eric Miller and Curt Smith.

As for corporate leaders and convention organizers who are rethinking plans to do business in Indiana now, the governor said he is concerned.

“I’ll call ‘em,” he said. “I’ll talk to ‘em.”

Pence points out that 19 other states have a similar religious freedom laws, including Illinois.

The new law takes effect here on July first.

Senate race taking shape

March 25th, 2015 at 4:03 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The contest to replace Dan Coats in the U.S. Senate begins Thursday with the first campaign announcement of the 2016 race.

Eric Holcomb will announce his candidacy during a noon event at the Westin Hotel. It will come exactly 48 hours after the announcement that Dan Coats is retiring.

Holcomb has been an aide to both Dan Coats and Mitch Daniels. He also served as State GOP Chairman and, in that role, sought to expand the Republican tent.

“We want to engage and invest in the communities that maybe we haven’t spent enough time in in the past,” he said at an event in 2013, “and that includes the African American community, the Latino community.”

The Tuesday announcement by Dan Coats to forgo the 2016 race also prompted a quick response by a key Democrat.

Former Congressman and former Senate candidate Baron Hill is seriously considering a run.

“This decision has to be made quickly,” he said, “and the amount of revenue that has to be raised to put on a competitive race needs to start soon.”

Hill sounds like a candidate.

“Tough races are something that are very familiar to me,” he said, “and so I’m up to the task.”

And right wing state Senator Mike Delph is also considering a run. The Republican issued a statement saying that challenges to faith, freedom, and family need to be confronted in this campaign.

At this point both Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Evan Bayh are staying out of the Senate race but there are others still to be heard from in both parties.

It could take months for this race to sort out completely.

Committee vote eliminates new soccer stadium

March 24th, 2015 at 3:23 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

A proposal to build a new downtown stadium for the Indy Eleven has been replaced by a plan to renovate Carroll Stadium at IUPUI.

The action took place in a state Senate committee.

It’s a $20 million answer to the needs of Indy’s professional soccer team compared to the $82 million dollar solution the team was seeking.

It won unanimous approval.

The idea of renovating the stadium where the Indy Eleven played its inaugural season is popular in the state Senate because it has a lower price tag and, “It maintains state ownership of an existing facility,” said committee chairman Brandt Hershman, who developed the plan.

It has the backing of Indiana University and, under the plan, I-U would continue to maintain Carroll Stadium after it’s upgraded.

“The location is very good,” said I.U. Vice President Tom Morrison. “It’s the facility itself that needs some work.”

The only objection at this hearing came from a taxpayer.  Vaughn Moore said, “Every time something like this comes along, that’s more money out of our pockets.”

But Sen. Hershman pointed out that no new taxes will be levied.

The soccer team wants a first class stadium. “This solution will go a long way to resolve that problem,” said team president Peter Wilt.

And while public comments were supportive there are indications that the team would like to revive the plan for a new state-of-the-art facility.

“We would obviously need to continue discussions,” said team owner Ersal Ozdemir, “and see what happens on the Senate floor and go from there.”

The plan calls for taxes generated at the stadium, and at a hotel being developed by Ozdemir, to be captured in order to repay the cost of the renovation.

Senator Hershman estimates that it could be paid off in ten years.

House passes Religious Freedom bill

March 23rd, 2015 at 4:40 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The Indiana House of Representatives voted in favor of a controversial religious freedom bill Monday.

It’s a bill that opponents believe will lead to discrimination, but it’s also a bill that is supported by the governor and one that is now certain to become law.

That didn’t stop opponents from battling to the end.

Freedom Indiana, the organization that led the fight for gay marriage in this state, delivered thousands of letters to the office of House Speaker Brian Bosma in a final protest to the bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“We don’t want this bill,” said Katie Blair of Freedom Indiana. “It’s not necessary. It’s discriminatory and it makes our state look bad.”

And when the bill was called down for debate most of the discussion came from opponents who see it as a consolation prize for conservative organizations who lost the gay marriage fight.

Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie) said she heard from clergymen who are opposed.

“They see it as state sanctioned discrimination,” she said, “particularly against gays and lesbians.”

“This is a made up issue,” said Minority Leader Scott Pelath. “It’s an issue made up for the purpose of being able to go in front of a few Indiana citizens and thump your chests that you stood up for certain social causes.”

Supporters insist that the bill would merely guide judges when the rights of two or more people come into conflict.

“Nobody in this General Assembly is advocating a bill that would allow people to discriminate,” said Majority Leader Jud McMillin. “Everybody wants the opportunity for people to practice the rights that they’re supposed to have in this country.  This bill does that.”

In the end the vote was lopsided 63 in favor and 31 opposed.

The state Senate must still approve a change in the religious freedom bill.

That could happen as soon as tomorrow.

This battle is over.


March 20th, 2015 at 5:42 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Robert Vane is the Republican and Lesley Weidenbener is in for Jon Schwantes this week.  The Indiana Week in Review panel will tackle these subjects:

  • The Religious Freedom Restoration Act
  • The governor’s call for more DCS funding
  • A new soccer stadium plan
  • Justin Moed returns to the Statehouse
  • Statehouse security increased
  • Are the Rolling Stones coming to town?

Senate plan eliminates new soccer stadium

March 20th, 2015 at 5:32 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

There will be no new soccer stadium in downtown Indianapolis under a plan unveiled Friday in the state Senate.

However, there will be a place for the Indy Eleven to play.

A state Senate committee will vote on Tuesday on the plan that calls for a $25 million renovation of Carroll Stadium on the IUPUI campus, where the Indy Eleven currently play their games.

Hopes for a shiny new soccer stadium dimmed Thursday when Senate GOP Leader David Long said he was looking for alternatives.

“Senator Hershman has been assigned the job of working on it,” he said, “and he has some ideas.”

The main idea from Brandt Hershman is to renovate Carroll Stadium, where the Indy Eleven played its first season, to both expand and improve it.

He released an amendment Friday that calls for $20 million in state funding and $5 million in city funding to turn it into an 18,000 seat facility.

“It’s a reduced cost to the taxpayer, reduced risk,” he said. “It increases the flexibility for use of the facility by a variety of entities.”

And it guarantees state ownership, something that will alleviate fears from lawmakers in both parties who had doubts about a new stadium.

“We’re gonna have to look at it sensibly and the taxpayers deserve to know that they’re gonna get a return on their investment,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath. “We may not quite be there yet.”

At a Thursday rally at the Statehouse Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir said he would consider other options.

“We’re open to discussions and alternatives basically that make sense,” he said.

But it now appears that Carrol Stadium may be the only option available.

The bottom line is that Hershman is proposing an 18,000 seat stadium for $25 million compared to the $82 million the Indy Eleven proposed.

It will be sold as a plan that is good for soccer fans and for taxpayers.

A committee vote is expected Tuesday.

Soccer Stadium bill in jeopardy

March 19th, 2015 at 5:40 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The future of a new Indianapolis soccer stadium is in doubt.

Leadership in the state Senate is not sold on the idea.

Senate GOP Leader David Long made it clear Thursday that the soccer stadium is not a priority for him and other Senate leaders.

It’s news that came out on the same day as a Statehouse rally in support of the stadium bill.

It featured the mayor. Greg Ballard doesn’t hedge on his support for a new soccer stadium.

“We’re going to continue to draw that soccer is part of the experience that young families are looking for,” said Ballard, “and to have a professional team and a professional stadium is absolutely critical.”

Indy Eleven team Owner Ersal Ozdemir is seeking state support for the second time after being turned away in 2014.

“Obviously to have the greatest experience to have a great soccer match,” he told the rally, “we’re gonna need a venue that accomodates soccer and provides the fans the experience they need.”

He makes it clear that state support is required.

And that’s where Senate Leader David Long comes in.

“We’ll  have some final thoughts on that very soon,” he said, “as to whether this or some other idea or none at all will be the approach we take on it.”

For the moment Ozdemir just hopes to stay in the game.

“We’re open to discussions and alternatives basically that make sense,” he said. “That (his plan) wasn’t necessarily ‘this has to be the case.’”

Look for Senate leaders to propose ways to improve Carroll Stadium at IUPUI instead of building a new facility.

Committee approves gambling changes

March 18th, 2015 at 5:17 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

A committee in the state Senate gave its approval Wednesday for live dealers at table games at the racinos in Anderson and Shelbyville.

The vote was 10-to-0 for the bill that calls for live dealers at some table games. It would also permit riverboat casinos to move on land.

The live dealers, who would replace video dealers at the 2 racetrack casinos, are the most controversial element in the bill.
Casino owners argue that they don’t qualify as an expansion of gambling, mostly because gambling revenues have fallen in recent years.

The governor says he is opposed to an expansion.

“Offering live table games at our facilities in a limited format,” said Jim Brown of Centaur Gaming, “allows us to offer a more competitive product and attract customers from surrounding states.”

Peter Liguori of the Majestic Star Casino said that tax breaks in the bill are also important.

“The industry is really stressed,” he said “It’s under attack. “It is losing revenue, losing jobs.”

The committee chairman voiced support for all of the elements in the bill but stressed one of them.

“I strictly feel and hope that we will continue somehow, some way to go with the concept of live dealers,” said Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette.)

None of this is a lock, however.

The bill must now be approved by the Appropriations Committee before it can reach the floor of the state Senate.