Jim Shella’s Political Blog

Search for birth father fails

July 7th, 2015 at 10:35 am by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Nick Barbknecht is still searching for his birth father.

We told you last week how the 24-year-old Indianapolis man is on a 30-day cross country trip to all 48 states.

As part of the trip he spent time in southern California tracking leads from a private investigator. They led him to his birth father’s landlord.

“Apparently he travels frequently for photography work to other countries and hadn’t been there in a little while,” Barbknecht wrote on his website.

He also said he called his cell phone and left a voicemail.

Crash highlights crop duster safety

July 6th, 2015 at 5:03 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

We are just entering the period in the growing season when crop dusters do their work in Indiana.

July and August are the months when you are most likely to see the people who engage in aerial agriculture and their mission is oftern misunderstood.

They are not acrobatic pilots and they aren’t daredevils. What they do is big business and it can be risky.

It’s harder to find a crop duster in Indiana than in other Midwestern states. That makes it more likely that the people who see them flying low over farm fields have questions.

Jeff Elsner has been flying a crop duster out of Freeman Field in Seymour for 10 years. He’s become used to unusual encounters.

“We get complaints all the time thinking we’re dive bombing them or chasing them,” he said, “and what we’re doing is putting on a product for the farmer.”

Most often that product is fungicide that goes on corn. With the wet weather we’ve had this summer there should be a big call for crop spraying.

And so the news that a pilot was injured in Montgomery County after hitting power lines will lead other pilots to focus on safety.

There is a youtube video that shows how a pilot navigates power lines, going under them at one end of the field and over them at the other.

When asked if he has a dangerous job Elsner said, “It can be. It’s a calibrated risk.”

He has logged 7,000 hours in a crop duster with just one close call.

“The airplane just quit flying. Couldn’t figure out what it was,” he said. “We saved it before it hit the ground. Come to find out it was a natural gas leak on a big underground line and I went through the plume.”

He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It did nothing to curb his enthusiasm.

“I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s fun. It’s fun,” he said. “But after a 16 hour day doing it, it’s not so much fun.”

There is a state Agricultural Aviation Association and a national association.

They both hold safety meetings on a regular basis and Elsner says he spends much of the off season making sure that his crop duster is fully maintained.


July 3rd, 2015 at 3:15 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

John Zody is the Democrat this week.

The Indiana Week in Review panel will tackle these issues:

  • The First Church of Cannabis and RFRA-related events
  • Tax Amnesty
  • Non-partisan redistricting
  • The race for mayor of Indianapolis
  • The mayor of Jeffersonville fights off thieves at this home

48 states in 30 days with 1 serious goal

July 3rd, 2015 at 2:57 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Nick Barbknecht of Indianapolis is on a cross country trip with a goal of visiting all of the lower 48 states in 30 days.

But there’s also a serious purpose behind the adventure that began six days ago.

“I am in Kalispell, Montana, just south of Glacier National Park,” said Barbknecht via Skype from his car Friday morning.

He started the day with hopes to finish in Oregon, driving cross country following a route developed by a Michigan State researcher, the most efficient way to visit 48 states.

“The fort I went to in North Dakota I will never go back to,”  he said, “but I’m positive I will go back to Glacier National Park.

He’s seeing the sights with stops so far in Des Moines and Minneapolis, he really enjoyed the Badlands of South Dakota.

But what he really hopes is to find is his birth father.

“I’ve got a bunch of details about him,” said Barbknecht. “I know who he is, born in Southern California, so I’m going to see if I can find him there from a couple of addresses a private investigator put together for me.”

In the process, the onetime foster child hopes to raise money for an orphanage in Zimbabwe.

He has a gofundme page (http://www.GoFundMe.com/usaroadtrip) where he’s requesting donations to help pay for the trip. Leftovers go to the orphanage.

He doesn’t know what the odds of success are in fundraising or finding his father.

“Not certain I’ll find him,” he said. “I’m not certain the addresses are current enough. If I don’t, this will be the best trip I’ve ever had. If I do, it’ll be an even better trip.”

In the meantime, he sharing his experience on social media and on his website (www.parksrecreation.in/) when he can find wi-fi.

“I’ve gotten the bulk of the bad driving behind me already,” he said, “and then the eastern states will be shorter bursts, but 8 hours a day on average isn’t that bad.”

And there will be no driving on the day set aside to find out where he came from.

Hogsett agrees to debate

July 2nd, 2015 at 2:41 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The candidates for mayor of Indianapolis will debate multiple times between now and Election day.

Democrat Joe Hogsett responded to a debate challenge from Republican Chuck Brewer on Thursday and said he will debate, and he will debate more than once.

But there is no indication that he will agree to the 9 debates requested by Chuch Brewer.

So far, Brewer has focused on education issues.

“I’ve zeroed in on six things that I believe we can do to improve education in Indianapolis,” he said at a recent news conference.

Joe Hogsett has focused on crime.

“We need more police officers to combat Indianapolis’s crime epidemic,” he said in a recent speech.

But most voters are hearing only the Hogsett half of the debate at this point because his third TV ad just hit the air.

And that’s why Brewer wants 9 debates, an unusually high number.

Four years ago the candidates for mayor met in just two televised debates, including one at WISH-TV.

They took part in two or three that didn’t appear on television.

In a letter sent today Hogsett called for talks to begin immediately.

He said, “We will provide the people… debates, candidate forums, neighborhood association meetings and other joint appearances.”

It’s good news to the Brewer campaign.

“We will not be on television anytime soon,” said campaign manager Jennifer Hallowell, “and, you know I mean, Joe Hogsett has millions of dollars.”

That means Hogsett also has the upper hand in debate in debate negotiations.

The Hogsett campaign declined comment beyond the letter.

Chuck Brewer was out of town and unavailable for an interview.

Negotiations will begin in a week or so.

RFRA takes effect, sparks protest rally

July 1st, 2015 at 4:06 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was called a license to discriminate.

That led to a new law that gives legal protections to gays and lesbians in cities where a human rights ordinance is in place.

But while the controversy has died down, it is not going away.

The giant rallies that we saw in March and April are gone. Barely two dozen people showed up at the Statehouse Wednesday but they sent a very simple message: this is not going away.

Angie Alexander helped organize the rally. She says a manager at her job discriminated against her when talking with new employees.

“She would let them know, hey, we do have a gay black preacher up there,” she said.

She told the rally that she lost the job.

“So I will say Indiana in fact does have cases of discrimination,” Alexander said, “and I am one.”

It’s why RFRA will still be the motivation for pursuit of a statewide human rights amendment.

“At no time, ever, was my faith or anyone else’s faith threatened at all,” said civil rights activist Rick Sutton. “It’s a paper tiger who was put in front of the people and the Indiana legislature believed it.”

It’s a sentiment also directed at the governor who was focusing on jobs Wednesday.

Mike Pence wanted to talk about how the RFRA controversy has been overcome.

“You see the growth in the Indiana economy in April and May is a testament to the resilience of Hoosiers,” he said, “the resilience of Indiana businesses and the strength of our economy, and as we go forward ensuring that we are a state that respects the dignity and worth of every individual.”

But Angie Alexander wants that written into state law.

“I’m still dealing with discrimination,” she said, “but I can’t come to Indiana as an aid because there’s no protected class there.”

It was a smaller, quieter rally with a message that hasn’t changed.

Indiana will conduct tax amnesty in the fall

June 30th, 2015 at 4:19 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

If you have an unpaid tax bill from the state of Indiana, Mike Pence wants to make a deal with you.

The governor will conduct a tax amnesty program this fall and more than a quarter of a million Hoosiers are eligible to take part.

They owe $500 million in back taxes.

Yet this is the second tax amnesty conducted by the state of Indiana and that’s a source of some controversy.

First, the details: if you owe state government back taxes for years prior to 2013 you can pay up this fall without consequence. From mid-September to mid-November there will be no questions asked at the Department of Revenue.

“No penalty, no interest is a really good deal,” said Bob Dittmer, Revenue Department spokesman, “but it’s a one-time good deal.”

10 years ago former governor Mitch Daniels raised $244 million with a tax amnesty that produced long lines in the state government center.

“They gave me a chance to get caught up and I was more than happy to do it,” said one taxpayer at the time.

“And I’m taking advantage of it and think it’s a real good program,” said another.

Then, Democrats called the plan a “cheater’s bill of rights.”

Now, Democrats are no happier with the plan created by GOP super majorities in the General Assembly.

“10 years ago it was one time,” said Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis.) “Here we are back again, trying to do it again.”

“How many amnesties are we going to continue to give people?” he asked.

Yet if you took advantage of amnesty in 2005 you are not eligible this time and those who are can expect a letter from the state sometime soon.

“We know pretty much everyone who is eligible,” said Dittmer, “because we know who has outstanding liabilities during that period so we’re going to do a lot of direct outreach to those folks.”

The Department of Revenue hopes to raise $90 million this time around.

That money would go to fund the governor’s Regional Cities Initiative, a new economic development fund.

The idea of a second tax amnesty came up after lawmakers cut the Regional Cities plan out of the state budget and spent the money on education instead.

Supreme Court ruling could lead to closer elections in Indiana

June 29th, 2015 at 4:37 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a non-partisan redistricting commission in Arizona has the authority to draw the lines for Congressional districts in that state.

It gives hope to people who are trying to eliminate gerrymandering in Indiana.

“Today the Supreme Court caught up with America,” said Tom Sugar. “America thinks elections are rigged.”

Sugar is an advocate for taking the politics out of redistricting. He started a nonprofit called Lead or Leave to show how it can be done here.

The problem he hopes to address is voter apathy. It grows, he believes, from a lack of competitive races.

“Currently there really aren’t any Congressional districts that are competitive that are in play every two years,” said Julia Vaughn of Common Cause.

Republicans in the General Assembly drew those districts in 2011 and they did it in a way that amounts to gerrymandering, or at least that’s what Sugar believes.

7 of the 9 seats are held by Republicans.

“Do you think that voters oughta choose their representatives,” asked Sugar, “or do you think that politicians should choose their voters?”

And so Sugar has drawn his own maps, maps that still give Republicans an advantage but also create 4 competitive districts.

Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) is a member of a study committee in the General Assembly that will consider redistricting reform and the elimination of safe seats both in Congress and the General Assembly.

“My seat is one of those,” he said. “I represent 76 percent of Democrats. There’s a lot of things that would have to happen before I would not be elected.”

Sugar says it’s good for democracy.

“We’ll have a legislature that looks and sounds a lot more like us.”

Sugar also wants voters to understand that redistricting affects everything.

He says it may have been possible to avoid the RFRA controversy if GOP lawmakers in safe seats were worried about doing the right thing instead of being worried about a primary challenge.

Gay marriage ruling prompts Statehouse celebration

June 26th, 2015 at 2:49 pm by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Gay marriage has been legal in Indiana for just over a year but, until now, there was the threat that a Supreme Court ruling could change that.

And that’s why there was a celebration in Indiana today.

Several dozen people gathered within earshot of the governor’s office in the Statehouse rotunda less than two hours after the ruling came down.

“Governor Pence, guess who gets to get married,” organizer Karen Celestino Horseman told the crowd.

It was an emotional rally.

“I can’t say it’s unbelievable because we knew we would get here eventually,” said Satuel Cole. “We just didn’t know when.”

Some of them, including Pam Lee, sued for for right to get married in Indiana.

“This ruling speaks to equality,” Lee told the crowd, “it speaks to fairness, it speaks to freedom and, again, it speaks to love.”

Others just wanted to celebrate.

“It means everything,” said Dana Black. “It means my wife and I, who are contributors in an economic way to our society, now have the ability to be respected in all 50 states.”

“Now Hoosiers know that they can remain married,” said Katie Blair, “without the threat of it being taken away. It’s ours.”

And just in case there were doubts, Celestino Horseman, a lawyer, read from the Supreme Court ruling.

“No union is more profound than marriage,” she read, “for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family.”

The law of the land just shifted.

Governor Mike Pence is on the other side of this argument and he was slow to react.
He issued a statement four hours after the ruling came out expressing disappointment but, he said, his administration will respect the law.

Coming soon: Todd Young for Senate

June 24th, 2015 at 11:41 am by under Jim Shella's Political Blog

Congressman Todd Young (R-9th District) recently hired Cam Savage as a general campaign consultant.  Savage is a Hoosier with extensive experience working on Indiana campaigns, including the Mike Sodrel campaigns against Baron Hil.

He also recently worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and that tells me something, especially since Hill is the leading Democrat in the ’16 U.S. Senate race.

Look for Rep. Young to announce a bid to become Sen. Young early in July. His June fundraising numbers should also be interesting.