Jim Shella’s Political Blog

Pence power grab aimed at Glenda Ritz

December 4th, 2014 at 11:32 am by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Governor Mike Pence announced plans Thursday to change the way the Chairman of the State Board of Education is chosen.

It’s a move aimed at taking power away from Democratic state School Superintendent Glenda Ritz.

The Republican governor announced his proposal at a legislative conference in the convention center. Pence said he would issue an executive order to dissolve the Center for Education and Career Innovation, an agency that was viewed as a shadow for the Department of Education.

Then, he will seek legislation that would allow the Board of Education to elect its chairman. Currently that post automatically goes to the state Superintendent.

“It’s time to take politics out of education in Indiana,” said Pence, “or at least out of the state board of Education.”

“I just thought it was important that someone take the first step to restore trust, to restore harmony at the highest levels of education in Indiana,” he went on to say. “We’ve simply got to get the state board of Education working.”

With Republicans super majorities in the General Assembly the governor should have little difficulty winning approval for his idea.

Statehouse holiday decorations get an upgrade

November 26th, 2014 at 4:43 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Some of the holiday decorations are already in place inside the Indiana Statehouse. They are decorations that will look a lot different this year than in years past. First Lady Karen Pence is driving the change.

Mrs. Pence wanted holiday decorations with a more professional look. Many of the of the decorations in the past were created by school children. This year trained decorators will do the job.

A 12-foot wreath already hangs inside the Statehouse Rotunda. It was paid for with private donations and will be reused next year. It’s a key component to the new look sought by Karen Pence.

“It was great last year but I really feel like there was a lot we could do differently,” she said, “and we started a year ago and we took lots of ideas.”

The problem is that, in past years, a 30-foot tree was only partially decorated. School children who did the job using decorations they made couldn’t reach branches on the upper half of the tree.

Plus, 30-foot trees are now in short supply.

And so when state Senator Richard Young wrote the First Lady last year suggesting an upgrade, she paid attention. He sent along a link to this slide show of decorations at other state capitols around the country.

“Indiana’s was not quite up to par with most of the other states,” said state Archivist Jim Corridan, “because the tree didn’t look quite as professional as the other states.”

And so now 7 smaller trees will be added to compliment the wreath. They arrive next week. The biggest will be 12 feet tall..

“We just thought it’d be fun to have kind of a little vignette of trees this year,” said Mrs. Pence.

“The wreath is in colored lights,” said Corridan.  “That’s because Governor Pence likes colored lights and all of the trees will be in white lights because Mrs. Pence likes white lights and so this is the compromise we came up with.”

The lights on the wreath also reflect the colors that appear in the stained glass above the rotunda.

School children will still take part in the lighting ceremony next Friday. They will also make their own ornaments but this time the ornaments will go home with them.

State lawmaker calls for BMV audit

November 25th, 2014 at 4:31 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

State Representative Dan Forestal believes problems in the BMV may go deeper than what we already know. He wants an independent audit.

However, there is already an audit underway.

The ongoing problems in the BMV are leading to new scrutiny of that agency. But while there is confusion in the BMV, there is also confusion among those who oversee it.

Representative Dan Forestal issued a news release Tuesday calling for an independent audit of the BMV. The audit, he said, would be to determine the depth of their failure to competently handle our tax dollars.

Forestal is referencing the overpayment of refunds to correct an earlier mistake in the calculation of auto excise taxes. $60,000 was overpaid to motorists who have been asked to send it back.

But governor Mike Pence ordered an outside audit of the BMV in October and Forestal was unaware.

A spokesman for Forestal said that’s ok. “And if it addresses the problems that have been showing over the past few days,” said John Schorg, “then that would be wonderful.  If it doesn’t, then we need to continue to be vigilant in what goes on.”

And when we reached Forestal by phone (he’s on vacation in Mexico) he didn’t back down, though he made it clear there is no need for a second audit.

“There is a need for one very good, thorough, in-depth and open and transparent audit,” he said.

Attorney Irwin Levin, who has sued the BMV, believes other steps are required. “They need to get competent people,” he said. “People who have experience in administration. And we just need to be responsible to the citizens of Indiana.”

Meantime, a spokesman for the BMV argues that more than 99 percent of refunds were handled properly.

That spokesman, Josh Gillespie, says the overpayments are the result of a human error. It was caught and corrected even though the audit is still underway.

He said he still can’t say when that audit will be completed.

President’s order could affect up to 75,000 in Indiana

November 24th, 2014 at 5:52 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The President’s new immigration policy is stirring action and controversy here in Indianapolis. Developments include a planned protest directed at the Indianapolis Star.

But first, the action. According to officials at the Mexican Consulate in Indianapolis there are as many as 75,000 immigrants in Indiana who could be protected from deportation by the order the President issued last week.

Mexican Consul Jorge Sanchez held a news conference to get the word out that that there will be financial support and legal advice available to help anyone who is hoping to avoid deportation under the President’s order.

“It constitutes a historical achievement,” said Sanchez through an interpreter, “for the migrant community, civil society, and will protect a great number of Mexican families.”

It comes as the Indianapolis Star posted an editorial cartoon criticizing the President’s immigration policy. It shows an immigrant family showing up for Thanksgiving dinner.

Online comments called it racist and the Star changed it to remove a mustache from one of the immigrants. The newspaper later deleted it from its website after it drew national notice.

That’s not enough for local businesswoman Veronica Guerrero. “I’m really upset,” she said, “and the Latino community is very upset, too.”

The executive editor of the Star posted an apology. “We erred in publishing it, said Jeff Taylor. “The depictions in this case were inappropriate.”

That’s not enough for Guerrero,either. “And we are planning to boycott Indystar,” she said.  We’re working on it… a group of Latino organizations.”

It dampens the celebration over the President’s order but not by much.

“Get the documents ready,” said Sanchez through the interpreter. “Don’t pay anything.  Don’t give in to frauds or anyone that’s trying to scam people and if you have questions come to the counsulate and if we can’t answer it we can get you directly to the people that can.”

The Mexican Consul has already increased staff to handle the demand. It is planning a website and brochures as well as workshops to keep immigrants informed about the steps they need to take to avoid deportation.


November 21st, 2014 at 2:24 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

State politics is the focus on Indiana Week in Review today as all of the regulars take part.  The topics are:

  • Organization Day in the General Assembly
  • Brian Bosma’s renewed call for ethics reform
  • David Long’s take on a possible shift to the right in the state Senate
  • Kelly Mitchell takes office early as State Treasurer
  • Indiana Chamber calls for an appointed state school superintendent
  • Straight No Chaser puts out a new holiday song

Pence considers a challenge to Obama immigration plan

November 21st, 2014 at 2:10 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The President’s plan to protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation has come under fire on Capitol Hill and in the Indiana Statehouse.

The governor may file a lawsuit to stop it.

Mike Pence has been a vocal opponent of the President’s plan over the last three days and he’s already spoken to Attorney General Greg Zoeller about drafting a lawsuit. It would challenge whether the President’s executive order is constitutional.

Immigrants gathered at a local church last night to hear the President’s prime time address.
The plan to protect the parents of U.S. citizens as well as immmigrants who were smuggled here as children won approval there…

“It’s exciting,” said Cynthia Torres.

Barack Obama said he is acting because Congress has failed to do so. “I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law,” he said, “but until that happens there are actions that I have the legally authority to take as President.”

Greg Zoeller is one of 36 Attorneys General who signed a letter last year calling for Congressional action.

“Everything he said was absolutely on point,” said Zoeller, “in terms of the dire need to change our immigration laws.”

But Zoeller’s agreement stops there and so does the governor’s.

Mike Pence issued a statement saying, in part, “The President’s unilateral action is an unacceptable end run around the democratic process and must be reversed.”

He went on to say that “The State of Indiana will… take any available action necessary to restore the rule of law and proper balance to our costitutional system of government.”

The problem is in the President’s call to prosecute some immigrants but not others.

“Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids,” said the President. “We’ll prioritize just like law enforcement does every day.”

“There’s some huge constitutional questions,” said Zoeller, “about whether the President has wildly overstepped his authority.”

The President, said Zoeller, cannot ignore laws that are on the books.

If a lawsuit is filed Zoeller points out that his office has already battled the Obama administration on two lawsuits tied to a 2011 Indiana immigration law.

The state won one case and lost the other.

President’s plan leads immigrants to rejoice, Republicans to object

November 20th, 2014 at 4:08 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

President Obama will deliver a prime time address Thursday to announce a plan to protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. Immigrants are rejoicing and Republicans are protesting.

85 percent of the congregation at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church on the east side is Hispanic. Immigration issues are commonplace there and that’s why Father Chris Wadelton is applauding the President.

“It will have an immediate effect on a number of our families,” he said, “and give them a sense of relief.”

It affects people like Juan Perez, a contractor from Mexico who has been here since 1988. He has 3 children who are U.S. citizens.
He says they worry that he could be taken away from them at any time.

When asked if he’s afraid he might be deported, he says, “Yeah, really. Yeah.”

But for Senator Dan Coats the only issue here is his belief that the President is acting beyond his authority.

“It’s very discouraging right off the bat here to have the President take this stand,” said Sen. Coats, “granting amnesty to millions of people when the law strictly prohibits it.”

Governor Mike Pence is speaking out, too.

“Signing an executive order, giving a speech, barnstorming around the country defending that executive order,” he said, “is not leadership.”

But Ivy Tech student Brenda Martinez who came here from Mexico when she was 6 years old wants change and doesn’t care how it’s accomplished.

“I’ve been living here all my life,” she said, “and I consider this my home.”

Yet even Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly is objecting to the President’s approach. In a statement from Washington Senator Donnelly said the President shouldn’t make such significant policy changes on his own.

Federal judge throws out slating statute

November 19th, 2014 at 4:53 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

On primary Election day in 2012 a Democratic candidate for the General Assembly was threatened with arrest and his campaign materials were confiscated.  It led to a two year legal battle.

That candidate is Zach Mulholland, a local attorney who found out that when you get involved in politics, it bears no resemblence to what you learned in school.

A campaign flyer became the source of his problems. Mullholland, his family, and supporters were handing it out at polling places on primary Election day in 2012..

“And so it just said ‘Vote Democrat,’ he said, “and then it listed candidates that were going to be on the Democratic ballot.”

Trouble is Dan Forestal, the eventual winner of the race, was the slated candidate and the Election Board found that the flyer violated the slating statute.

When the flyers were taken from Mulholland he decided to sue.

“It’s about the idea that you can communicate to voters,” he said, “that you can exercise the fundamental right to engage in the political process.”

Now Federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker has ordered the case against Mulholland be dropped and, she ordered, the statute should never be enforced again.

Ken Falk is Mulholland’s attorney. “The statute as written is so broad,” said Falk, “that it criminallizes me writing you a letter saying vote for these two people.”

Zach Mulholland spent $326 on the flyers and will now be reimbursed. His attorney fees, about $80,000, will also be paid.

“I don’t know what the final tally is,” said Mulholland, “but I’m gonna guess it’s over a half a million dollars that has been spent defending a law that a first year law student could tell you is unenforceable.”

“(The statute) appeared to be there solely to protect the ability of the Parties,” said Falk, “to stifle people engaging in what the Supreme Court has said was the most important speech of all which is political speech.”

By the way, Mulholland believes he would have lost the 2012 race even if the flyers were all distributed.

Cody Kendall is the new chairman of the Marion County Election Board. He says he inherited this case and decided to “pull the plug” when a federal judge labeled the treatment of Mulholland “borderline harassment.”

He confirms, however, that Marion County spent somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000 to defend against the Mulholland lawsuit.

Long distance swearing in makes Organization Day unique

November 18th, 2014 at 4:46 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

State lawmakers returned to the Capitol Tuesday and they brought some political drama along with them. It was an Organization Day in the General Assembly unlike any other starting with the first long distance oath taking.

State Senator Jim Banks is half a world away but he was still sworn into office via Skype.

Banks, a Republican from Columbia City, is an officer in the Naval Reserve currently serving with an Army unit in Afghanistan. He is taking a leave of absence from the state Senate but needed to be sworn in first.

It was the same oath that was given first to the 100 members of the Indiana House and then to re-elected House Speaker Brian Bosma.
On hand was Representative Eric Turner (R-Cicero) who has promised to resign in the wake of an ethics scandal and ethics was a major theme in remarks made by the Speaker.

“We’re already consulting national ethics experts,” said Speaker Bosma, “trying to find a state of the art for part-time legislatures around the country and we’re gonna make it happen.”

Elsewhere in the Statehouse newly elected Republican Kelly Mitchell was sworn in early as State Treasurer. “I am so excited to get to work,” she said.

Mitchell will complete the term vacated by Richard Mourdock in September.

And back in the state Senate there was also a vacancy at the desk of Mike Delph, the Carmel Republican who just survived a tough re-election bid.

He is on vacation.

When he comes back Delph will join a GOP super majority that grew on Election day but Senate Leader David Long says a swing to the right is unlikely.

“We’re a pretty conservative body already.  I don’t think so.,” said Sen. Long. “I think we’ll continue to have a strong conservative voice here.”

For the record, Representative Turner had to be sworn in before he could resign. Sen. Delph had approval from Senate leadership to go on vacation.

And GOP Party leaders will choose a temporary replacement for Banks in coming days.

NFL should do more to reduce domestic violence according to the Hoosier Survey

November 17th, 2014 at 4:28 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Former NFL running back Ray Rice is seeking re-instatement after being suspended for an act of domestic violence. Meantime,  the WISH-TV/Ball State Hoosier Survey uncovered a feeling that the NFL isn’t doing enough to reduce domestic violence.

The numbers may have significance because Twitter is buzzing with speculation that Ray Rice could be picked up by the Colts because of an injury to running back Ahmad Bradshaw. The Hoosier Survey indicates that it would not be a popular move.

Rice could learn this week if he can return to the NFL. His two game suspension turned into a indefinite ban in September when a video surfaced of Rice punching his then fiancé, now wife, in an Atlantic City elevator.

It is the most high profile of several domestic violence cases involving NFL players that have recently come to light.

“It’s starting to rub people the wrong way,” said Ball State professor Ray Scheele, “in terms of what the players are doing.”

The Hoosier Survey found that a majority of people in Indiana believe the NFL could do more to reduce domestic violence.
55 percent said the league isn’t doing enough. Just 36 percent said it is.

“We strongly, strongly condemn and will punish behavior that is totally unacceptable,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell while defending what the league has done, but 47 percent of those questioned in the Hoosier Survey want to see the NFL impose permanent bans on players convicted of domestic violence.

43 percent would accept less severe punishment.

“Ah, but 51 percent of women say they should be permanently banned,” said Ball State professor Joe Losco, “so we do see a gender gap there.”

The NFL’s credibility could be on the line.

“Trust in institutiions, generally, in America has gone way down,” said Losco, “and I think that translates now into the private sector like the NFL as well.”

And that could be a consideration for any team that wants to hire Ray Rice, if he is reinstated. The owner of the Baltimore Ravens has already said that Rice will never play for that team again.

As for the speculation that Rice could play for the Colts, it’s just that. No one in the Colts organization has indicated that it’s a possibility.