Post-election Cooperation? We Can Hope, Can’t We?

With all the negativity — political ads, public confidence in lawmakers, add your own thought here — in the air, how about some positive comments. The remarks are amazingly similar, especially coming from two people on directly opposite sides of the political aisle.

The parties are President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Below is what they had to say in separate interviews this week. Were they simply touting what they thought the public wanted to hear (who knows) or can we at least take away a little hope that there is a realization that business as usual in Washington won’t cut it?

Decide for yourself:

  • When the president was asked how he would respond if Congress extended the Bush tax cuts — something the president opposes for higher-income earners — he offered a broader answer.

"I think it’s premature to talk about vetoes because maybe I’m a congenital optimist, but I feel as if, post-election, regardless of how it plays out, the most important message that will be sent by the American people is, we want people in Washington to act like grown-ups, cooperate, and start trying to solve problems instead of scoring political points," Obama said.

"And it is going to be important for Democrats to have a proper and appropriate sense of humility about what we can accomplish in the absence of Republican cooperation. I think it’s going to be important for Republicans to recognize that the American people aren’t simply looking for them to stand on the sidelines, they’re going to have to roll up their sleeves and get to work."

  • Anticipating a gain of Republican seats in the Senate, McConnell said: "One of the things we will have to remind newcomers and those who have supported them is that even though we will have a larger Republican Conference, we do not control the government and cannot control the government when the president holds the veto pen." He went on to say: "We need to have a humble, grateful response about this election." He even added: "Incidentally, there is no polling data that suggests [the voters] love us."

Fun with Campaign Commercials (Straight from the Caldron)

It’s campaign season. That means we’ll all be blessed with myriad political ads until early November. Some positive, most negative — and some Halloween-themed. "Saturday Night Live" had some fun with Delaware Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell’s latest spot:

Election Preview

Jeff Brantley, VP of political affairs for the Indiana Chamber, offers his thoughts on the upcoming statewide election. Brantley believes Hoosiers’ concerns for their families’ financial well-being could create turmoil for legislators this election cycle.

For a more detailed look at the current political climate in Indiana, see Tom Schuman’s article, "State of the Statehouse," in the current edition of BizVoice.

Parties Badger Each Other in Wisconsin Over High Speed Rail

Discussion about the possibilities of high-speed rail has been plentiful over the years. The federal government is putting dollars behind the talk, with Wisconsin the big winner in a network that could extend throughout the Midwest. But there is controversy in the Badger State.

A brick-and-glass state office building on the banks of Lake Monona, just a few blocks from the Wisconsin Capitol and the rest of downtown Madison, shows no outward sign that it has become the focal point of one of the most heated — and unexpected — debates to divide this state’s Democrats and Republicans in a crucial election year.

The controversy is over what the building could become: one of the first new station stops on a high-speed rail network paid for primarily with federal dollars. Wisconsin won big in a national competition to get the high-speed rail stimulus money, and the issue historically has attracted bipartisan support here. Proponents say the new rail service will spur development and link Midwestern cities more tightly together.

But many Wisconsin Republicans this year are denouncing the new trains, using the project as a symbol to show how Democratic leaders in both state and federal government are spending money that neither can afford. “More than anything,” says Scott Walker, the Milwaukee County executive and Republican candidate for governor, “it symbolizes what people think of here when they think of runaway government spending.”

Both Walker and Mark Neumann, a former congressman who faces Walker in Tuesday’s (Sept. 14) Republican primary, want the state to stop work on the project. Walker launched his own website called, calling for using the money to fill other transportation needs. Neumann doesn’t want it used for transportation at all; he wants the money for tax breaks, although it’s not clear how viable either option is.

Rail proponents are not backing down. President Obama visited Milwaukee to preview his plans to improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure, specifically mentioning high-speed rail. His transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, said in a recent visit that “nobody can stop this train.” And Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who is running to keep the governor’s mansion in Democratic hands, is firmly behind extending high-speed rail to Madison.

Early Poll Numbers Bode Well for GOP

Early poll numbers indicate GOP candidates could be in strong positions come November. Some are attributing this to the Obama administration’s low approval ratings (just 46% give him positive marks in a Post-ABC poll). It is early, however, as much could happen between now and the 2010 election. The Washington Post reports:

For the first time in more than four years, Republicans run about evenly with Democrats on the basic question of which party they trust to handle the nation’s biggest problems. Among registered voters, 40 percent say they have more confidence in Democrats and 38 percent say they have more trust in Republicans. Three months ago, Democrats had a 12-point advantage.

On the economy, 43 percent of voters side with Republicans when it comes to dealing with financial problems, while 39 percent favor Democrats. (Fifteen percent say they trust neither party more.) Although not a significant lead for Republicans, this marks the first time they have had any numerical edge on the economy dating to 2002. In recent years, Democrats have typically held double-digit advantages on the issue.

The principal obstacles to GOP electoral hopes continue to be doubts that Republicans have a clear plan for the country should they win control of the House or Senate in November. But overall, the poll shows that the party has made big gains in the public’s estimation since earlier this year.

Among all voters, 47 percent say they would back the Republican in their congressional district if the election were held now, while 45 percent would vote for the Democrat. Any GOP advantage on this question has been rare in past years – and among those most likely to vote this fall, the Republican advantage swells to 53 percent to the Democrats’ 40 percent.

What do you think? Will the GOP enjoy a massive seat grab this year, or will anti-Obama sentiment taper off in a few months? Or, do you think most elections will become about the candidates and not the status of their parties? (Novel concept, I know.)

Indiana Senate Race Getting National Attention

Shailagh Murray of The Washington Post has an interesting article today about the Coats/Ellsworth Senate battle for Evan Bayh’s vacant seat. The piece focuses on Ellsworth, and raises some real questions regarding whether or not he can overcome Coats’ early lead in the polls, or gain some much-needed name recognition by November.

Ellsworth, 51, has taken few legislative risks during his two House terms, sticking mainly to local interests. He ensured Indiana hardwoods were included as eligible materials for green building incentives in the stimulus bill. He helped to remove federal barriers that restricted the yields of Indiana tomato growers. He secured funding to improve the lock system on the Ohio River.

At the state fair, Ellsworth met local pork industry officials over a lunch of "garbage burgers," pork patties topped with pulled pork barbecue, and got an earful about a stalled trade agreement with South Korea that is worth about $10 per hog for Hoosier farmers. The officials didn’t understand why the Obama administration couldn’t get the deal done.

"I hear you," the congressman reassured Michael Platt, executive director of Indiana Pork. "But you’re seeing more and more Democrats open to trade agreements, provided they’re fair to American workers."

Ellsworth supported three pillars of the Democratic agenda – health care, the stimulus and the financial regulatory overhaul – but voted against the climate-change bill that passed the House last summer. He opposes abortion and federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. He won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association over Coats, who supported several gun-control measures during his tenure in Congress.

He favors extending the full menu of 2001 tax cuts that are scheduled to expire at the end of the year, including preserving lower rates for the top income brackets – a position that could put him at odds with Democratic leaders and the White House.

"In this fragile economy, although they did add to the national debt, now is not the time," Ellsworth said of the taxes in an interview last week between campaign events.

Yet he does not shy from his party affiliation. "We Democrats have nothing to be ashamed of," Ellsworth told 35 Democratic activists who assembled in Indianapolis on a hot weekday afternoon in August for campaign training. The dingy room was cluttered with binders, water bottles and telephone lines, the signs of a busy election office. Canvassing guidelines taped to the wall instructed volunteers to "knock and take a step back" and "bring dog treats."

So what do you think? Will party trending hurt Ellsworth in November? Does he have a shot to win?

Tax Issues Taxing Voters Across the Country

Statewide ballot measures are much more common outside Indiana than on Hoosier ballots. More than 140 such initiatives are being left to voters this fall, with significant fiscal consequences for many. The efforts include both tax increases and cutbacks:

Washington State is one of nine states without a state income tax. Bill Gates Sr., the father of the Microsoft founder, wants to change that. Gates is lending his high-profile name and influence to a ballot measure that would tax the income of individuals who earn more than $200,000 and couples who earn more than $400,000. His son — the world’s second-richest person — definitely falls into that category.

The elder Gates, who also co-chairs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, says Initiative 1098 would generate $1 billion a year in new revenue dedicated to education and health care. He also says it would put an end to Washington being “the most regressively taxed state in the country.” If approved, the measure would gin up an extra $11 billion over five years by taxing 38,400 high-wage earners in Washington, while lowering certain business and occupation taxes and cutting property taxes by 20 percent. “The very future of Washington hangs in the balance,” Gates says.

Opponents of Initiative1098 contend the measure would open the door to taxing not just the rich, but residents who earn all levels of income. They also say the measure, if it passes, would eliminate a key advantage the state has to lure businesses. “Don’t Calitaxicate Washington,” they plead.

Washington is one of several states where voters this fall will weigh in on ballot measures that, if passed, would have enormous fiscal consequences. Voters in California, Colorado and Massachusetts will take up tax questions that could expand or shrink the foundations on which future budgets are built. Drama awaits on the spending side of budgets, too. In Arizona, voters could blow a $450 million hole in the state’s current budget if they reject two key measures this fall. And in Florida, voters will decide whether to save billions of dollars by relaxing limits on class sizes at schools.

In total, more than 140 statewide measures have qualified for the November ballot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Stateline has compiled a guide to the most crucial ones to watch here.

Tully: Trying to “Primary” Lugar Would be Ill-Advised

Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully penned a column today contending that if a faction of the GOP was to push for a primary ousting of Sen. Richard Lugar in 2012, it would be an ill-fated and ill-advised decision. He writes:

However unrealistic it seems, it would be foolish to assume any long-term incumbent is untouchable, given the mood of the voting public of late. And most Republican insiders I’ve talked to expect Lugar to indeed face a challenge from a faction of the GOP that thinks he’s been in D.C. too long and worked with Democrats too often.

Still, there are reasons to believe Lugar will not suffer the same fate that has ended the political careers of some of his Senate colleagues. Here are five:

  1. Some social conservatives complain about Lugar, but he remains popular in the eyes of mainstream conservatives. Some ideologues portray Lugar as a liberal, a ridiculous suggestion for a guy who, according to The Washington Post, has voted with his party 84 percent of the time this year. That’s one percentage point less than the Senate GOP average. "There may be disagreements on certain policies," said Luke Messer, a former executive director of the Indiana Republican Party. "But he is deeply respected by Republicans.

  2. If Lugar does face a tough battle from the far right, many Democrats and independents likely would cross over to vote in the GOP primary in order to back him. "People on our side respect Dick Lugar," said former state Democratic Chairman Robin Winston.

  3. Gov. Mitch Daniels, who worked for Lugar for years, remains extremely popular. His support would help the senator. Additionally, the well-run political organizations of the two men have worked closely together and likely would continue to do so.

  4. Unlike some of his colleagues on the front end of the anti-incumbent wave, Lugar won’t be caught off guard. He has already made clear he is running again, a shrewd move that should keep any top-tier Republicans from entertaining the idea of a run.

  5. And here’s the final reason Lugar won’t lose in 2012: Hoosiers are smarter than that.

I’d like to "go rogue" here and offer my personal thoughts as a voter (which do not necessarily reflect the position of the Indiana Chamber): As someone who falls in the political center (a.k.a. abyss) of this conservative/liberal paradigm that’s been shoveled out in modern American politics, I find folks like Sen. Lugar to be rather refreshing in their willingness to think, compromise and generally try to make government actually work.

While it can be fun to draw ideological lines in the sand, get sanctimonious about protecting your team and toss around catchy barbs like "RINO," it’s far more productive to discuss ideas, consider the other side’s point of view and actually try to enact helpful legislation when the time warrants it. Personally, I’d argue Sen. Lugar has done that honorably for years.

Congress Gives States More Money; Indiana’s Share Estimated at $434 Million

Just before heading home for its August recess, the U.S. Senate passed a $26 billion mini-stimulus that it struggled with for months. And House leadership decided to call its members back from recess to act on the legislation, which has two main components: (1) $16.1 billion to extend increased Medicaid funding for states (what is referred to as FMAP or Federal Medical Assistance Percentages); and (2) another $10 billion said to be needed to prevent teacher layoffs.

The debate involved both fiscal prudence and the perceived benefit of these state subsidies, as well as the specifics of how to pay for them. Proponents say $9 billion is to be generated from a "provision that closes corporate tax breaks on income earned overseas." Proponents think this ends an incentive to "export jobs overseas." A different – and more accurate – description would be that this is nothing more than a tax increase for businesses that happen to employ workers both in the U.S. and overseas.

The debate took its own politically charged form in Indiana this week, as efforts were made to characterize Gov. Daniels as inconsistent on the FMAP funding issue. He and 42 other governors sought the funding in a joint letter from the National Governors Association, with some qualifying statements, back in February, but Gov. Daniels has consistently pointed out the detrimental effects of the federal government continuing to spend money it doesn’t have while putting this particular legislation in that category.

The federal package would provide an estimated total of $434 million to Indiana: $227 million for six months of additional FMAP funding (an extension of provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus bill) and another $207 million under the teacher funding element. A $227 million subsidy to our state finances would be helpful as the General Assembly prepares for what all agree will be a brutal budget session in 2011. And school districts no doubt would welcome the money as they grapple with their budgets. But, the situation seems to pit practicality against principle. Regardless of your philosophy or political affiliation, the question remains: Why shouldn’t Indiana citizens and businesses who pay federal taxes receive the benefit of money that the federal government insists on distributing?

Off Target? In the World of Politics, Be Careful Who You Back

Earlier this year, when the U.S. Supreme Court eased the rules on corporate giving to political campaigns, it was deemed a victory for the business community. However, Target recently discovered that this can be quite polarizing. When the company donated to a group supporting a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate for his approach toward economic growth and job creation, it soon received a backlash from employees for his views on social issues. Minnesota Public Radio reports:

The CEO of Minneapolis based Target Corporation is apologizing for a donation the company made to a political group supporting Republican Tom Emmer’s bid for governor.

The contribution to MN Forward prompted a backlash from Democrats and gay rights groups who called for boycotts of the company’s stores. At least one gay rights organization is praising the apology but is waiting to see whether it follows up with its renewed emphasis on supporting gay rights causes.

In a letter to Target employees, CEO Gregg Steinhafel wrote that the purpose of the $150,000 donation to MN Forward was to support economic growth and job creation, but he wrote that the contribution affected many employees in ways he did not anticipate and quote "for that I am deeply sorry."

Target spokeswoman Lena Michaud said the company will also do a strategic review of political donations and plans to lead a discussion on improving gay rights in the workplace.

"Our commitment right now is in letting people know that we’ve heard their feedback and we’re really sorry that we’ve let them down," Michaud said. "We want to continue doing the many things that Target has done as a company to foster our inclusive corporate culture and then look at ways of doing things better in the future."

The company’s tone has changed dramatically since it became public in July that the company contributed to MN Forward. At the time of the donation, Target officials said the company gave to both Democrats and Republicans and the contribution was aimed at fostering a better business climate in Minnesota. But the donation to Minnesota Forward and the group’s subsequent TV ad in support of Tom Emmer ignited a backlash that spread nationwide.

Michaud wouldn’t say if the boycott affected the company’s sales and also wouldn’t say whether Target would stop making political donations to MN Forward or other groups.

That’s what Monica Meyer, executive director of the gay rights group OutFront Minnesota, said she’ll be watching for. Meyer said she’s pleased Target apologized for the contribution, but she wants to make sure the company follows up on its promise to be committed to gay rights.