Chesterton Tribune

Tribune tells state and county election endorsements

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Tuesday’s General Election is noteworthy for the resurgence of political parties at the state level and their decline at the local level.

Governor Mitch Daniels has injected an unhealthy dose of Hoosier partisanship into the body politic that overwhelms the personal stands and background of individual candidates. Republicans and Democrats running for the state legislature have been forced into the straight jacket of party discipline. More than at any time in the past 20 years voters must look beyond the individual to the party in casting votes for state office. We may not like it, but there it is.

At the county level the reality is quite the opposite. Personalities and factions are dominant with many long-time party activists — especially Republicans — crossing over to support candidates of the other party. Bi-partisan backbiting and factionalism are nothing new. What makes this year different is the degree to which this is being done in public. At the county level voters should forget party label and vote for competence and position on the issues.

The Daniels Effect

The 600-pound gorilla in all the state legislative races is the Mitch Daniels administration which has shown a remarkable ability to invent new ways to anger voters and hurt the state and Northwest Indiana in particular.

A vote for the Daniels administration is a vote against the steel industry, against the environment, against improved government service. A vote for the Daniels administration is a vote for privatization, the outsourcing of Indiana jobs, a private hotel in the Dunes State Park, the closure of the Chesterton BMV license branch and, worst of all, the betrayal of generations yet unborn by the selling of the Indiana Toll Road.

Toll Road

Candidates supportive of the 75-year lease/sale of the Indiana Toll Road have shown arrogance, suggesting that the lease is a great deal for Indiana even if the public is too dumb to understand why. There have been plenty of twisted comments about what the lease did and did not do. Here is what the $3.8 billion deal did not do:

—The lease was not needed to stabilize the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. The RDA already had $100 million committed to it by the state, regardless of the Toll Road lease. When Daniels announced last year that the tolls would be hiked, he outlined where that increased revenue would go. His plan at the time included $10 million a year for the next 10 years for the RDA.

—The lease was not needed to fund the majority of Major Moves, the governor’s 10-year transportation plan. Of the $10.6 billion plan, toll hikes and projected Indiana Department of Transportation budgets were identified as the funding source for about 74 percent of all the projects.

If the Toll Road lease bill failed, and the state found no other way to make up for this shortfall, then the governor would have had several other options including cutting spending or prioritizing by need.

Here’s what the lease did do:

—It covered the $2.8 billion shortfall in the Major Moves plan, giving the governor money for all his projects and political photo ops— including the new I-69 highway from Evansville to Indianapolis.

—By mixing Toll Road funds into the statewide pot it took money from northern Indiana economies and moved it to central and southern Indiana pork projects.

—It handcuffed generations of future lawmakers and governors, who must now depend on the courts to force the Toll Road lease owners to operate the road in a safe manner for the public good.

The debate over the Toll Road lease should have been an involved one with abundant public input. The debate should have focused on whether the benefits of a one-time, get-rich-quick deal for the state outweighed the negatives of having the travelling public paying tolls to a private company through 2081, when the governor, lawmakers and nearly everyone reading this will be long dead. Instead, the plan was rushed through with no meaningful dialogue with the public.

Endorsements — State Offices

For State Senate, District 4: Democrat Karen Tallian. She showed leadership on the Toll Road issue, and she brings a needed enthusiasm to the Statehouse fighting for workers, civil rights and consumer protection. She is also about the only candidate who has made the environment one of her top priorities.

For State House, District 10: Democrat Duane Cheney. His positions and experience in public education are a plus. His view on the role of government as opposed to the private sector is right on target.

For State House, District 4: Democrat Sylvia Graham. She is a fighter who has entered the race with gusto. She was one of the first candidates to oppose, along with the rest of Daniels’ privatization schemes, the private hotel in the Indiana Dunes State Park. Her opponent Ed Soliday is a man of intelligence and qualifications. If the legislature had any prospects of making room for those qualifications he would be a good choice, but his support for the Indiana Toll Road lease puts him in lockstep with the Daniels clique. His argument for opposing the closure of the Chesterton license branch— that the closure was premature because the BMV’s computerization was not yet successfully in place — is doubletalk. Plain and simple, the BMV closure was wrong because it cut essential government services to the public.

Endorsements — County Offices

For Porter County Center District Commissioner: Democrat Robert Harper. Harper has done much good as a County Commissioner including his push for a curbside recycling ordinance in the unincorporated areas, new stormwater rules and an erosion control ordinance. He has also emerged as a leader in buying land for future county park needs. Probably his worst act was appointing an un-elected political crony to the board that oversees the South Shore commuter service. His push for better controls on growth and proper planning are much needed.

For Porter County Council, 1st district: Democrat Robert Poparad. Poparad’s politically convenient pledge of “no new taxes” four years ago has now come back to haunt him. After opposing income taxes that would provide money for services to county residents he voted for the income tax to fund the Regional Development Authority. His Republican opponent Shane Stillman is right to point out Poparad’s record, but what really matters is that Stillman and Poparad agree on the RDA. Good or bad, it is a non-issue in this race.

Poparad clearly has emerged as a leader on the county council, demonstrating a thorough knowledge of the complicated tax structure and county budgets. He pushed for a county-funded homestead credit as a condition for his pro-RDA vote. That credit resulted in the equivalent of a 5.6 percent tax cut on homeowners’ tax bills this year.

This year, the council’s four district seats are on the ballot. The Duneland community only votes for the 1st District seat. In addition to Poparad and Stillman, the race includes Libertarian candidate John Schick.

County Auditor: Republican James Murphy. His past experience in this critically important county office gives him the edge over James Kopp.

County Clerk: Democrat Pamela Fish. She has demonstrated a thorough understanding of what the clerk’s office does and appears competent, level-headed and positive.

County Assessor: Republican William Sexton. Of the two candidates, he is the one more apt to bring new ideas and a fresh approach to county government, especially at a time when the role of assessors might change dramatically due to changes in the property tax structure.

However, the mudslinging in this race has reached new lows and reflects poorly on both camps. Sexton, in particular, should have denounced the calls by his supporters for the forced ouster of opponent John Scott as Portage Township Assessor. The concerns raised — that Scott hasn’t achieved certification in his 16 years as township assessor — have little to do with his candidacy for county assessor. Neither Sexton nor Scott are certified assessors, but both are free to run for the county post and obtain certification after their election.


Posted 11/3/2006