MARLIN WHO?

Our Third District Representative is pretty much a non-starter when it comes to helping our district and its residents.  Since he took office in 2010, Stutzman has spent a great deal of time raising money to ensure his hold on a lengthy political career as a Washington insider – one of those hated creatures of the night hanging out in the halls of Congress.  Mere weeks after his election, he brought a corporate lobbyist on as his Chief of Staff.

And, in no area are his lackluster efforts more apparent than in the area of helping our veteran population.  First, a little history.  In 2004, then Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi, announced that the inpatient beds at the local VA hospital would be closed.  That one announcement triggered a firestorm of opposition and a struggle lasting for years to rally support to save the inpatient beds.  Our small group, Veterans for Better Health Care, participated in dozens of parades, wrote letters to the editor, handed out thousands of flyers, attended town hall meetings, and argued our case to anyone who would listen every chance we got.

I was fortunate enough to be further included in two studies done by Booz Allen Hamilton, a Washington-based research company, addressing the future of the VA hospital, both as to outpatient care and inpatient care.  The final recommendations included a spacious new 220,000 square-foot Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC).  The inpatient issue was still somewhat up in the air, but at least we had been told our new CBOC would add a much-needed component to the care our veterans deserved.

Then, abruptly, in April 2011 we were told we had understood “incorrectly” and that, instead of a 220,000 square-foot, we would now get a 27,000 square-foot mental health and addictions clinic.  When pushed on the issue, Representative Stutzman simply rolled over, put on a happy face, and called the decision a great advancement for the care of veterans in our area.  While I agree we need a mental health and addictions facility for our veterans, Stutzman made no effort to find out what happened to the original plans.

He simply accepted the new decision and twisted the situation to match his inability to make a difference.  At the Republican Lincoln Day dinner in April 2011, Stutzman said “he was pushing for a new, 27,000 square foot expansion for a mental health annex.”  Pushing?  Pushing for something that we had already been told would be shoved down our throats?  He should have been outraged that the fight that had gone on for years had been totally disregarded sending us back to square one and that the promised 220,000 square-foot clinic had been sliced by almost 90%.

But, Stutzman has taken the path of least resistance not only as to veterans’ issues but also in other issues affecting our Third District.  With this approach, he is establishing his “modus operandi” of hovering under the radar, poking his head though when absolutely necessary – leading to the question of  “Marlin Who?”

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ROMNEY TAKES THE BRUNT OF THE “BLUNT” BIRTH CONTROL BLUNDER

A couple of days ago, the Senate narrowly defeated the Blunt amendment, which would have repealed President Obama’s controversial requirement that insurance companies provide birth control coverage for women employees.   By a vote of 51-48, the almost all-male Senate decided maybe, just maybe, women should be able to have control over their reproductive decisions and that the medication should be paid for by insurance companies regardless of where the female employees work.

When asked his opinion about the Blunt amendment, Romney wiffled and waffled and stated that he did not support the amendment.  Apparently his “team” did a double-take and told him “no, Mitt, you didn’t really mean what you said about not supporting the amendment.”  They lovingly corrected his misunderstanding of the reporter’s question, and quickly attempted to snuff out the uproar over his inability to field a simple question.

Romney’s team opined that the way in which the reporter asked the question was confusing.  And, this is a man who has amassed a fortune of a quarter of a billion dollars?  And he doesn’t understand a simple question?  Let me be “blunt.”  If Romney can’t understand a fairly simple question about providing birth control coverage, how does he expect to understand our complicated economic, social, and financial issues?

COUNTY COUNCIL – COUNTY COMMISSIONERS – WADING THROUGH THE DIFFERNCES!

Year after year voters go to the polls and often fail to understand their own local government, so I decided to write a little on it and continue to learn for my own benefit.  Last year city offices were filled, and, this year, it is the county’s turn.  The county has two basic bodies, and each is obligated to look after the affairs of the county, which often includes issues impacting Fort Wayne residents as well as county residents.

COUNTY COUNCIL

The Allen County Council is composed of seven members – currently all Republican.  Four members are elected from specific districts and three are elected “at-large” to serve the entire county.  The county council has a number of duties; however, all are tied to fiscal issues – none is tied to social wedge issues.

County Council is responsible for establishing an annual budget for county government and is also responsible for appropriating funds for the operation of county government.  The following is a list of actual duties:

  • Exclusive power to fix the tax rate for county purposes and for all other purposes where the rate not fixed by law is required to be uniform, and impose the tax levy.
  • Exclusive power of making appropriations to be paid out of the county treasury.
  • Adoption of the annual budget after receiving estimates submitted by the various county agencies through the county auditor, subject to the modification by the State Board of Tax Commissioners.
  • Incurring county indebtedness within the constitutional limitations.
  • Appropriation of additional funds arising after the budget is adopted.
  • Re-appropriation of surplus funds which might be surrendered by one department of county government.
  • Fixing of salaries of officers, deputies, assistants and employees whose salaries are payable from any county fund, with certain exceptions as provided by the statutes granting this authority.
  • Levying taxes to provide funds for erecting new jails and repairing, remodeling, and enlarging of old jails.

COUNTY COMMISSIONERS

The body of county commissioners exercises both executive and legislative powers: a powerful combination that leaves little check and balance on their decisions (and one that was feared by our Founders, yet here it is tucked away under the guise of the County Commissioners’ office).  The group is much smaller than the county council and sports only three commissioners as compared to the seven members on county council.  Again, all Commissioners are Republican. Anyone sensing a trend here?  All ten county officials are Republican as well as the occupants of the other county offices of Treasurer, Auditor, Clerk, and Assessor.

The following is a run-down on the duties of the commissioners as found on the Allen County government website.

As the executive branch, the Board of Commissioners may approve policies that affect nearly 1,350 full-time county employees and another 400 part-time employees.

As the legislative branch, the Commissioners pass ordinances that primarily affect unincorporated (not within a city or town) areas of the county.

It is the only body in all of county government that can receive bids for projects and services and sign contracts.

  • Receive bids for projects and services and sign contracts.
  • Authorize all claims on county budgets.
  • Decision-making authority over planning and zoning in the county.
  • Supervise construction and maintenance of over 1,400 miles of county roads and 1,300 bridge structures.
  • Issue bonds or approve lease-purchase agreements to borrow money for the county.
  • Serve as the Drainage Board, which oversees the legal drainage system in the county.
  • Operates and maintains all County facilities, including the historic Allen County Courthouse.

The commissioners include Nelson Peters, Linda Bloom, and Therese Brown.  If the names sound eerily familiar, they should.  All three have run time after time for various offices, playing musical chairs – with their commissioners’ seats simply being the latest in a long string of government work.

Here are the commissioners and their links.

Linda Bloom: http://www.allencounty.us/linda-k-bloom

Nelson Peters: http://www.allencounty.us/nelson-peters

Therese Brown: http://www.allencounty.us/therese-brown

All three commissioners have literally played “musical offices” for years.  When an office is term limited, the soon-to-be ousted official simply gets in line for another office, gets elected, and then runs out the terms on that office.  Then on to another lucrative office and possibly two more terms of uninterrupted official bliss attendant with all those nice goodies that go along with the offices.

Which brings me to the issue that sort of started this journey to shine some light on the county offices – a survey floating around that is based on “wedge” issues: issues that cannot be governed by the local county offices.  The county council must worry about a county budget, and, while the county commissioners have a more diverse variety of chores, they also do not deal with wedge issues for the most part.

Yet, the anti-choicers have popped out of the woodwork again to demand that their “litmus” test of social conservatism on gay marriage, abortion, and any other item deemed morally threatening to society be opposed by any candidate who runs for office.  The fact that the office holders cannot impact many of the wedge issues weighing so heavily on the anti-choicers’ minds fades into the background haze as they shake their clenched fists and gear up to make sure that those ten little Indians continue to fall in line.

THE ABSOLUTE UNABSOLUTENESS OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Republicans have, once again, framed an issue to suit their own misguided – and downright false – interpretation of our Constitution.  The original body of our U.S. Constitution contains scant mention of religion.  One prohibition is the requirement of a “religious Oath” for the purposes of holding office at the federal level – keep in mind the Constitution was a guideline for the relationship between federal authority and state authority.

The new nation had to wait until 1791 to enjoy the efforts of the first Congress in attaching a Bill of Rights to the three-year-old Constitution.  The Bill of Rights added ten amendments that dealt primarily with “rights” that the Founders felt essential to the survival of a free nation.  The First Amendment addressed the issue of religion in two different and juxtaposed areas: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

In just one short sentence, the Founders created the potential for some of this country’s biggest social and legal battles.  Yet, the first amendment references the prohibition against establishing a religion first – before providing the free exercise of religion.  The fact that both of these appear before any other right – including freedom of speech and the right to bear arms – demonstrates the paramount importance that the Founders placed on the role of religion – or lack thereof – in the new Nation.

Republicans would have everyone believe – incorrectly – that religious freedom is absolute and that government cannot interfere with what they might consider a realm of religious freedom.  But the reality is that, while beliefs are inviolate, when  religion turns those beliefs into actions, those actions can be regulated by law.

States consistently make laws that interfere with the “free exercise of religion.”  Members of certain denominations cannot handle poisonous snakes even though it is seen as a display of faith and trust in God.  Native Americans are not free to use peyote in their ceremonies without consequences.

Parents whose child dies due to withholding life-saving medication based on a belief that prayer will heal may be held criminally responsible for that child’s death. Thus, to say that religious freedom trumps is false – no right in the Bill of Rights is absolute.  Laws exist on many levels that govern religious freedom, yet Republicans would have the public shudder in fear that our “collective” religious freedom is on the verge of collapse because those who work for religious institutions must provide birth control.

If anything is absolute at all, it is the unabsoluteness of freedom of religion, regardless of the gnashing of Republican teeth and the desire to substitute a Bayer Aspirin for that little round packet of protection.

REPUBLICANS DEAL ANOTHER BLOW TO PUBLIC SCHOOLS

The Indiana Republicans just can’t get enough of trouncing on our public school system and the parents who stand by it.  Once again, just to reinforce their love of anything non-public, Republicans gussied up the now-legal package of enticements to draw students away from Indiana’s public schools.

A beneficial tax deduction – one not available on an equal basis to the parents of public school students – was included in last year’s legislation.  Come April 17th, parents of home-schooled students and private school students will be the beneficiaries of a tax deduction of $1,000.  But, if your children attend our public schools, don’t look under the Christmas tree – or for a tax-line deduction – for an extra gift to help with all the hundreds of dollars in expenses attendant to public school enrollment.

The presents are all going to the private schools and the charter schools while throwing in a bone to home-schoolers.  The Republican war on our public school system is inexcusable, and, make no mistake, it is a war.  Daniels and Bennett have made no bones – or apologies for that matter – about their desire to weaken our public schools.  While they continue to pooh-pooh that assertion, folks, actions speak louder than words.

CHARLIE WHITE GIVEN OPPORTUNITY TO SPEND QUALITY HOME TIME

Dismissing the argument that Charlie White should be allowed to slither out from under his felony convictions, a Hamilton County judge ordered White to serve one year on home detention providing White with an excellent opportunity to re-assess how he so bungled his voter registration that he now finds himself in this position.  The judge also sentenced White to perform 30 hours of community service work and assessed a $1,000 fine.

White’s defense to his fraudulent voter registration was that his personal life was too “complicated” at the time of his registration.  Imagine if we allowed voters to base incorrect voter registration on a complicated personal life.  Talk about opening wide the flood gates!  Of course, perhaps Daniels and his Republican cronies will put forth a change in the law that reads something like this:

“It is a defense to an incorrect voter registration address that a potential voter was experiencing such personal complications in his or her life that a correct address could not be determined for the purposes of voter registration.”

After all, Daniels and the Republican-controlled General Assembly, soon after the beginning of  White’s troubles, attempted to retroactively modify the manner in which a vacated office was to be filled in order to avoid losing hold on the office of Secretary of State.  That failed amid the outcry of pure political motivation by the Republicans.

So now, White has ample time to re-learn Voter Registration 101 – that is if he is allowed to vote again.

DANIELS RACE TO DESTROY COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

Mitch Daniels comes from the corporate world which feeds on privatization and decreasing workers’ rights.  Just hours after Mitch Daniels took over as governor of Indiana in 2005, he rescinded the rights of highway police, hospital attendants, mechanics, and other state workers to collectively bargain for wage and hour increases, working conditions, and other benefits.

Under the theory that he needed to restructure the government and could not run the government efficiently with collective bargaining agreements in place – poor man – Daniels began his vendetta against state workers who were covered by collective bargaining agreement. However, in 2006, Daniels was forced to take a brief hiatus from his daunting task of destroying collective bargaining when Hoosiers turned the Indiana House over to Democratic control.

Daniels became a “missing in action” governor with the disappearance of his rubber-stamp general assembly.  But, last November, with the shift back to a completely Republican-controlled General Assembly, Daniels got back on his steed of destruction and once again began his ride to stamp out collective bargaining – this time turning his efforts toward the collective bargaining rights of teachers’ unions.

To accomplish his goal, Daniels’ first move was to rid himself of Dr. Sue Ellen Reed, an experienced educator who was elected and who served four terms, two of those under Democratic governors.  Reed’s bipartisanship when it came to Hoosier children just didn’t sit well with Daniels, who needed a superintendent of education who would kowtow to Daniels’ plans to rid the state of collective bargaining in public education.

Daniels found his ally and soul mate in Tony Bennett, who had less than a year’s experience as a superintendent.  Daniels backed Bennett in the 2008 campaign, effectively forcing Dr. Reed out of the race.  Bennett was elected in 2008, and, with his new soul mate in tow, Daniels again turned his gaze toward the teachers’ unions and their collective bargaining rights, but, alas, he could not yet make his move since the Democrats maintained their Indiana House majority in the 2008 elections.   Without a majority in the House as well as the Senate, Daniels and Bennett couldn’t get their horsey out of the gate.

The 2010 elections gave Daniels and Bennett their dream come true – the Indiana General Assembly flipped – and heavily – to the Republicans.  Now, Daniels had everything he needed to get rid of the collective bargaining in the public educational system.  He had successfully forced out a bipartisan superintendent of education and replaced her with a clone of himself, and the Indiana General Assembly was now full of senators and representatives licking their lips and champing at the bit at the prospect of smacking down the teachers’ union through whatever means necessary.

While Daniels and Bennett have been on a crusade to convince the public, in general, and teachers, in particular, that the changes to be made really are to help the suffering public education system,  a more than cursory glance reveals how the proposals actually undermine collective bargaining.

The real focus of Daniels and Bennett, though, is the push to establish new charter schools, which will have a major role in diminishing the role of collective bargaining.  Charter schools can be created in one of two ways:  either by converting an existing public school which has been forced to be abandoned by financial pressures, or by creating a new school.

A charter converted from an existing school (requires approval of 60% of teachers and 51% of parents to convert) must recognize existing collective bargaining agreements.  However, new charter schools do not have to recognize any collective bargaining agreements.  Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see which one will take priority.  And, with the push to force existing public school corporations to “sell” an unused building for $1.00, creating a new charter school has a leg up on the a converted school.  Talk about favoritism.

Legislation now winding its way through the General Assembly – aside from creating a charter school board controlled by the state, with members appointed by the governor and state superintendent – provides for the following:

  1. allows newly established charter schools to use under-utilized buildings in school corporations at the school corporations’ expense;
  2. requires charter school credits to be accepted at other public or private schools;
  3. allows up to 50 percent of teachers to be unlicensed; and,
  4. allows the charter to go into debt without having to pay it back themselves, forcing their debt to be paid by the common school fund.

Daniels has slashed the educational budget of the public schools forcing them to close schools, lay off teachers, cut services, and outsource service contracts.  But his draconian budget cuts just weren’t enough.  With the aid of the rubber-stamping General Assembly, Daniels and his yes-man par excellence, Bennett, have created additional avenues to completely weaken the public education sector and push toward the destruction of collective bargaining rights.

Mitch Daniels

DANIELS DUDS OUT AT CPAC

Mitch Daniels has kept everyone in suspense about his potential presidential run – well those who care anyways.  He has followed the old adage I remember from high school, “she ran so fast he caught her.”  Daniels has played games like a coy teenager in his run up to whatever decision it is he will make.

Daniels cleverly hesitates when asked about his plans, and he always ensures that his answer includes a conditional phrase or two.  His appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was an opportunity for Daniels to show his stuff and to test the percentage waters.

With his speech late in the evening, he certainly did not engender the enthusiasm that earlier participants received.  He gave a solid, no-nonsense speech, and, as I watched a video, I couldn’t help but think that he just doesn’t instill excitement with his demeanor or his voice projection.  A run for the presidency requires not only competency but also enthusiasm and excitement.   While he has generated support from a group of Yalies, these youngsters won’t get him elected.

Daniels just doesn’t have the necessary ingredients to win the nomination.   His poor showing in the straw poll – 4% – also indicates that many are just not ready to get behind him.  However, it should be noted that Ron Paul has won the poll before and has gone nowhere.  His 2008 run ended in March of that year, well before the actual nominating process ended.

The straw poll really is not an indicator, but it does show that those who voted are looking for name recognition and strict adherence to conservative principles – something that Daniels muffed when he suggested that the conservative social agenda take a back seat to the economic issues.

Prediction?  No run for Daniels.  And, if he does, he will not be in for long.

 

COATS WHINES ABOUT LAME-DUCK CONGRESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Dan Coats is a whiner.  We pay our elected officials to complete a job which includes up to the day they leave office.  But that seems to be too much for Coats to bear, and, instead, he would rather have seen our “lame-duck” officials sit back, take it easy, leave any number of important issues undecided, and head for the hills come January.

Of course, Coats would rather have had he and his new Republican cronies take control of all those issues to decide in favor of their wealthy contributors.   After all, the wealthiest of the wealthy could have counted on Coats and his buddies to extend the tax cuts permanently, ensuring continued gracious support from them come election time.

And, Coats assured those departing no-goods who actually got a job done that “we will be watching you”  Here is his statement:

“Congress should have voted against raising taxes and against new spending, and then packed up for home to enjoy the holidays with family and friends.”

He accused Democratic leaders of threatening members with an extended session to win votes on “unpopular” bills.   Two-thirds of the public vigorously opposed extending the tax cuts to the top earners over $250,000.  Was that the unpopular bill of which he spoke?

Although disagreement cropped up within the Democratic party over the tax cut bill, the Democrats got some good bills passed.  Just what did Coats decide he didn’t want done?  Did he want the tax cuts to expire so that the issue could become a given with the wealthy winning tax cuts into eternity?  And the rest of the taxpayers seeing an increase in their already dwindling take-home income?

Did he want the thousands and thousands whose unemployment benefits were to expire to face weeks with the Republicans dithering over whether the benefits should continue or not?

Did he want the START treaty languishing in the Senate so that the Hawks could spew fear to the public to try to convince their constituents as well as each other that the  “Reds are coming, the Reds are coming?”

Coats carpetbagged his way into another senate term, and he is now acting like a spoiled child who didn’t get the toys he wanted for Christmas.  He says he is part of a group that is being “sent to Washington to do things differently.”  Well, nothing is stopping him from doing things differently when his term starts.

But, for now, our congressional members earned their pay right up to the end of their terms.  Nothing wrong with that.  We paid them to do so, and they did.  Coats isn’t a senator yet, but, heaven help us when he is, once again, in that position.

Photo credit - CBS News

 

 

STUTZMAN STICKING IT TO UNEMPLOYED IN THIRD DISTRICT

It didn’t take the Third District’s newly-minted congressional representative long to vote against the interests of the unemployed in the district he represents.  The House vote on an extension of unemployment insurance for three months was put to a vote yesterday.  It was Stutzman’s first vote, and he chose to vote against the extension.

A two-thirds vote was required to pass the extension, and the Third District’s Republican representative lined up with his Hoosier Republican buddies and voted “nay”  despite the fact that there are thousands of unemployed workers in the Third District, and many of them need the extension to survive.  And, despite the fact that he has only been in the House for two whole days.   Perhaps his mind was already made up as to how he would vote before he ever stepped foot in the Capitol Building.