I Was Just Wondering …

  • Why does the U.S. Senate routinely have meetings scheduled at 2 p.m. to discuss what is commonly termed "morning business?"
  • Speaking of the Senate, will it actually add strong nuclear energy language to the climate legislation that is almost assuredly becoming a 2010 topic?
  • Outside of Washington, does an Alabama state senator really expect to generate support for an amendment to abolish gambling in the state? Although we’re talking charity bingo and betting at dog tracks, an apt phrase might be that "the horse is out of the barn" on that one
  • On the topic of gaming, what will be the fate of several of Indiana’s establishments? The Hoosier state is no doubt "all in" and individual riverboats, racinos and the like are faced with the continued slow economy, company bankruptcies and further competition on the way from Ohio (and maybe others)
  • Where will ethics reform go in the state General Assembly? Legislative leaders are talking about it and the state’s leading newspapers are advocating for it. My unofficial take: set the rules and we’ll play by them, just as we do now
  • No question to close; just a compliment. In the state’s largest newspaper, congrats to Matt Tully for his continuing series of columns exploring the challenges at Indianapolis Manual High School. You can agree or disagree with his opinions and insights, but the work put into the project and the writing is exemplary

Business Owner and World War II Vet Collects Diploma, Ovation

Great article today from Mike Bennett of the Richmond Palladium-Item (and picked up by the Indianapolis Star) that features the story of an Indiana business owner who’s getting his due:

FOUNTAIN CITY, Ind. — Bonnie Roark joined the Army as the youngest soldier in his company during World War II.

He fought for two months in the 710th Tank Battalion in the bloodiest island battle in the Pacific Theater.

The 84-year-old started Alpha Water Conditioning in 1968 without having a nickel in the bank and built it into 150 dealerships in 38 states.

His hard work and can-do spirit are well known in Fountain City, where recently he and fellow Lions Club members helped build a housing project for senior citizens.

But until Saturday night, he had never walked in another graduate’s shoes.

"I just expected to go up and pick up my diploma and walk out," Roark said Monday.

But the principal and welcoming seniors of Randolph Southern had something else in mind after they received theirs. The lights were turned down and candles were lit. The choir sang.

Principal Mike Manning told the audience about Roark’s service record, which includes two Bronze Stars, and invited him forward.

With tears in his eyes, Roark picked up the parchment he should have received from the Class of 1944 at Spartanburg High School. The crowd erupted in a standing ovation.

"I’ve never had one of those before," Roark said. "That was probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Even all the kids came around and shook my hand."

Hat tip to Chamber staffer Tim Brewer.

Indy Columnist Analyzes National Mitch-Mania

The Indianapolis Star’s Matthew Tully offers analysis on just why it is national talking heads have become so enamored with Indiana’s governor. This comes on the heels of National Review — a magazine popular in some GOP circles — making Mitch its cover story this week. Tully surmises:

Question: Why does the national media suddenly have a crush on Daniels?

Answer: Two reasons: First, he’s blunt and always has something interesting to say. That got him in trouble in Indiana a few years back but plays well on the national stage. Second, unlike many other Republicans, he won last year. It makes sense that political watchers would turn to someone who, as the National Review wrote, "has been able to achieve success in the face of prevailing political and economic headwinds." (It should be noted that Daniels overcame relatively light headwinds by running against Jill Long Thompson, one of the weakest candidates Indiana had seen in decades.)

Q: Does any of this suggest the governor is running for president?

A: Daniels has insisted he will not be a candidate for president in 2012, and most Indiana political insiders believe him. That is likely to keep his profile lower than that of others who are dreaming about the White House. But Daniels’ noncandidacy adds heft to his advice for the national Republican Party. After all, if he’s not angling for a bigger job, everything he says can be taken as an honest appraisal of the party or policy issues — and not a calculated move intended to build support among GOP primary voters.

Q: So what’s his angle?

A: Well, I’d never presume to know what’s going on inside Daniels’ head. But it’s hard to deny he is a man of big ideas, and a guy who enjoys offering those ideas publicly so that others can debate them. He is clearly disappointed with the state of the Republican Party. It makes sense that he would try to draw attention to some of his ideas for the GOP — such as the very sensible idea of actually having ideas.

The Great Teacher Conundrum

The Los Angeles Times recently reported on the troubling difficulty of firing tenured teachers, even when it would seem warranted. For instance, they cite a teacher who allegedly told a student who had attempted suicide that he needed to "carve deeper next time" and "Look, you can’t even kill yourself."

The Los Angeles school board, citing (the teacher) Polanco’s poor judgment, voted to fire him.

But Polanco, who contended that he had been misunderstood, kept his job. A little-known review commission overruled the board, saying that although the teacher had made the statements, he had meant no harm.

It’s remarkably difficult to fire a tenured public school teacher in California, a Times investigation has found. The path can be laborious and labyrinthine, in some cases involving years of investigation, union grievances, administrative appeals, court challenges and re-hearings.

Not only is the process arduous, but some districts are particularly unsuccessful in navigating its complexities. The Los Angeles Unified School District sees the majority of its appealed dismissals overturned, and its administrators are far less likely even to try firing a tenured teacher than those in other districts.

Obviously, it’s a complicated issue — and I’m the last guy to blast public school teachers on the whole (not only because I had several great ones, but also because my father and step-mother have made careers out of public teaching — and doing it well). But it’s unnerving that, according to an Indianapolis Star story, Indianapolis finds itself disposing of teachers who have actually excelled simply because they haven’t been there long enough.

The district’s youngest and most enthusiastic teachers are on the chopping block, including nine of the 32 recently announced as nominees for IPS teacher of the year. Two of the laid-off teachers were among 10 finalists for the districtwide honor

"IPS claims it wants to become a world-class school system," Rick Henss, a father of two boys attending Sidener Academy, wrote in an e-mail to School Board members. "Nothing makes that claim ring more hollow than watching world-class teachers emptying their desks."

Henss criticized the district’s planned layoff of fifth-grade teacher Lori Feliciano, a finalist for teacher of the year.

"She has made for my son what school was intended to be: a place of higher learning, where learning for the sake of learning is encouraged and enjoyed," Henss said. "There could be no greater travesty or injustice than for a highly qualified, proven, driven, vibrant and talented teacher like Ms. Feliciano to lose her job to satisfy the ridiculous and ineffective practice of seniority."

Make of these situations what you will, but the findings are not encouraging.

Hat tips to Chamber staffer Jonathan Wales and Reason Magazine’s blog.

UPDATE: Mike O’Brien also has a post on this matter over at the WRTV6 Capitol Watchblog. He makes a terrific point:

Imagine a company that makes a decision to cutback by firing their top salesman because he’s been there for five years instead of the company’s worst employee who has been there for thirty years.  That’s education in Indiana.  It’s the biggest business in Indiana and it’s run on a patronage system.

Indiana Government Lagging in Digital Transparency

A recent Indianapolis Star article takes Indiana government to task for not providing online access to important public information. The story is based on a survey by journalism organizations that shows Indiana near the bottom of all 50 states when it comes to providing this information in digital form:

The days when tracking down pertinent public information required sifting through volumes of paper records have long passed. Or at least they should have here and elsewhere based on the technology now available.

We’re unaware of the state’s plans to increase information, but realize it will likely take years before state government provides the access businesses need. After all, we have had the same system of township government since the mid-1800s.

The Chamber’s own government information portal, IndianaNet, was not around during the Gettysburg Address, but has been supplying comprehensive online access to government information for many years.

IndianaNet provides regulatory information, agency information, meeting schedules and follows state legislative activity in real time. In addition to being a one-stop shop for complete government information, IndianaNet provides unique reporting capabilities and other powerful tools to ensure businesses are never blindsided by any state government or legislative action.

Click on the link to learn more about IndianaNet .

Indianapolis Star Editor on Target in Township Column

Are you tired of the Chamber and our allies campaigning for local government reform? Sorry, but not too much. If there’s an idea worth working for — and this one is very high on that list — we’re not going to give up. I’d bet that one day, when we’re realizing the efficiencies that will come when townships are gone and counties are reorganized in a common sense manner, you’ll even say thanks — or at least think it.

On the township front, Indianapolis Star editor Dennis Ryerson joins the chorus. He opens his Sunday column with two questions: Who is your township trustee? What does that trustee do? Excellent questions and good points to follow.

Less Time in School? You Have to be Kidding

The article we’re going to link to at the end of this post is from the Des Moines Register, generally regarded as a strong newspaper. The author, Staci Hupp, is a former education reporter for the Indianapolis Star who did an admirable job covering education issues while here in Indiana. (Both are Gannett publications, but we’ll save the fate of newspapers for another day.)

Staci writes a thorough story explaining why an Iowa school district wants a waiver to go to a four-day school week. Money is driving the move, with past questionable budgets and a bookkeeping error putting the district in financial trouble.

While saving money is good, this isn’t the proper route. The absolute most important two sentences of this story are the last two (at least in the online version; we’re sure the research box was a more prominent sidebar in print). They read: 

"Students in Asia and Europe typically attend school an average of 220 days a year. The U.S. average is 180 days, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures."

We can’t afford less classroom time. We’re already falling behind the rest of the world in educational achievement, particularly in the math and science areas.

Iowa, and Indiana, are at that 180-day figure. There are several bills in the Indiana General Assembly that, while not taking the four-day-a-week approach, would also dilute the education effort. The focus should be on more dollars to the classroom, expanding school choice and more. Instead, we’re fighting back gimmicks that would serve no useful purpose and, in fact, prove detrimental to our competitiveness and our young people’s futures.

Here’s the Iowa story. Read to the end as it also references a previous IU study that disputes the potential savings.

Indy Star Blasts Washington Township Board

We brought you this gem last week. Now, the Indy Star is weighing in with some strong words against the Washington Township board that voted to give itself a 60% pay increase. The Star rightfully also points out that this is just a microcosm of the entire township government problem:

Over protests from residents and with little discussion, the Washington Township Board last week handed itself a 60 percent pay raise, effectively reversing a pay cut the board accepted last year after the township fire department was merged with the city’s.

… Eliminating township government altogether is a prominent recommendation of the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform, whose report last year has been driving high-level discussions about municipal efficiency. One major result already is the folding of township assessors into one countywide office. A new state law accomplished that for smaller counties; and Marion County, for one, approved a referendum this month abolishing the job of township assessor.

Can township government itself, and township boards, be next? Gov. Mitch Daniels, among others, hopes so, arguing convincingly that multiple redundant layers of local government waste money and impede service. As property assessing joins police and fire protection among countywide functions, the dispensability of outmoded township governance will become more obvious.

Defenders of that 19th-century vestige maintain that it keeps public servants closer to the public. Whether that’s worth higher cost and lower efficiency is debatable in any case. In the case of the Washington Township Board, close turns out to be more like in-your-face.

Again, if the board wanted to make a case about job duties changing and whatnot as justification for a raise, I’m sure most of us would be willing to listen. Probably still wouldn’t support it, but we’d listen. Yet the unwillingness to even listen to public input or discuss the matter with the media, as displayed by reporter Norman Cox’s original blog (linked in our first post), is the most alarming aspect of this. The government is not God; it should work for us.

Vote, Indiana!

If you’re heading out to vote today, take a book, or perhaps some repressed childhood memory you’d like to finally confront — because you’ll likely have some time on your hands.

And don’t forget to visit www.indianachamber.com tonight to watch the local election returns roll in, complete with analysis.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote regarding our civic American duty:

"Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost." – John Quincy Adams 

Remembering Sen. Riegsecker

State Senator Marvin Riegsecker passed away today after a long battle with cancer at the age of 71. An Indiana Senator since 1988, Riegsecker represented District 12, covering a large portion of Elkhart County.

He will be missed greatly by his friends and colleagues. His leadership on business issues and government reform will also be missed by the Indiana Chamber. His friend and Chamber VP of environmental and energy affairs, Vince Griffin, remembers:

A few years ago, on his 65th birthday, Senator Riegsecker came to me and shared that it had been a lifelong dream of his to bicycle from his Goshen home to the State House in Indianapolis. He asked me to lay out a route and ride with him. We rode the 160-some miles over two days. Neither he nor his bike were well-prepared for the ride, but he did it and that is a testimony to Marv’s dogged determination. He exhibited that strong-willed nature in his 20 years in the Senate as he tackled issues related to the environment and health — and he was one of the champions of Daylight Savings Time. Marv was a good friend to many and will be missed by all.