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The $30,000 Bad Idea

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

A proposal is being introduced at Monday night’s City-County Council meeting that would raise Mayor-elect Joe Hogsett’s expected salary from $95,000 to $125,000 annually when he takes office in January.

In the world of bad ideas, politically speaking, this ranks up there with inviting Jared Fogel over to babysit.

As I wrote over at Indy Politics, Proposal 413 would increase Hogsett’s incoming salary by $30,000.  The proposal also raises the Council’s pay. Since the Council’s pay is one-twelfth of the Mayor’s salary,  members would go from just over $12,000 annually to $16,000, in addition to already being paid for each meeting they attend and if they hold a leadership position.

When originally asked about this last week, Hogsett said he wasn’t familiar with the details and said he would defer to current leadership.  Council President Maggie Lewis said the raises were needed to attract “the best and brightest” to city government.

Where do I start?

First, I agree in principle that we should pay elected officials a lot more than what we do.  I think if you’re running a billion dollar operation, you should be paid more than $95,000.  Also, I fully understand the Mayor of Indianapolis’ salary has not been increased since 2002, and when adjusted for inflation, the $125,000 is not an insane figure.  Also, the Mayor of Indy should make at least as much than the Mayors of Carmel, South Bend, Ft. Wayne and Evansville.   The same goes for the City-County Council.  I think these guys do a lot of work and should be paid more.

Now with that said, this is the wrong way to do it.

It would have been one thing to have done this a year ago, when no one was sure who the new Mayor would be and what the new Council would look like.  Doing it in December, at the end of the year just looks really, really bad. And it would have been a much easier argument to make about attracting the “best and brightest” if we hadn’t already had an election.  Or at the least the proposal could have called for the salary increases to be phased in over a four-year window.  Anything but the way it’s being offered right now would preferable.

Also, Hogsett ran on a campaign of being frugal; remember the car with no power windows, the old, smelly sneakers and cutting his office’s budget every year when he was U.S. Attorney? And who can forget when he said he’d go after the “downtown insiders who steal the taxpayer’s dollars”?  How does getting a $30,000 salary bump help that image.  If anything it makes it worse, by reinforcing the worst stereotypes of the typical politician.  Plus, as the city looks for ways to add more police, anti-crime programs and cover basic services, giving elected officials raises should be the last thing that should be on anyone’s agenda.

And if that wasn’t enough, here’s another reason why this is a bad idea.  On the original proposal, Republican Councilor Jeff Miller is listed as a co-sponsor.  I spoke with Miller this weekend and he said he never consented to having his name on the proposal and has instructed the clerk to take his name off the list.  So that raises another red flag.

Like I said, I do believe local officials should be paid more overall, but this is the wrong way to do it.  It would have been one thing had this been done back in January, if the salary increases were phased in over time or made effective in 2020.  But do it this at the last hour, in the last month of the current Council is wrong on so many levels.

Hogestt should tell his fellow Democrats to pull the measure and if they don’t ask incumbent Mayor Greg Ballard to veto it.  Nothing good will come of this and it will set the incoming Hogsett administration off on the wrong foot and down the wrong path.

The Irony of the Economy

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

How ironic is this?  Apparently the economy is improving so much in Indiana that the Department of Workforce Development is laying off 60 employees whose job it is to help people find jobs.

That’s right.  I found about this late last week.

DWD is letting 60 people go in its Work One centers across the state because it is losing the federal funding that pays for those positions.  The way the system works is that the more people out of work, the more federal aid states receive to help them find a job.   Well since Indiana’s unemployment rate has been falling, the state has been getting less assistance.  This year it’s been to the tune of about $3 million.

Now while no one wants to see anyone lose a job, the good news for these employees is that the state is helping them find work in other areas either inside or outside of state government.  And should the unemployment rate tick back up, those folks who are laid off are first in line to get their jobs back.

Now is the economy perfect?  Of course not.  But when people at the unemployment office find themselves out of work, it means that a lot more people are finding a job.

I take that as good news; ironic, but still good.

Been “Butt Hurt” Lately?

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

It used to be that if you found something “offensive” you either complained to the appropriate individuals or kept it to yourself.   Now, with the internet and social media, we’re all butt hurt over every possible slight.

Whether it’s the color of a cup of coffee at Starbucks or heaven forbid, someone may actually have a different opinion about a political issue, for someone reason the Internet has become filled with keyboard commandos who feel a need to express their outrage over the latest incident that doesn’t mean a thing in grand scheme of things.

And I don’t know about you, I’ve had just about enough of these people.

I am all for a healthy debate of the issues of the day, hell, that’s how I make a living.  But what I’ve seen lately has turned into adult temper tantrums about some alleged injustice, reported by some psuedo news service that leaves out important information, like the facts of what exactly happened with the “injustice”.

So how do we resolve this?  Well, I’ve come up with the following.  The next time you see someone on social media express angst over some alleged offense, I recommend typing the following.

“If you’re getting this worked up over something you have no control over and can do nothing about, how about you get off the computer, walk outside, and go direct that energy towards something you can actually do something about, like improving the quality of life in your community?”

And here’s one for Twitter.

“Now that you’re upset, how about you direct that energy toward something you can actually make a difference?”

And if that doesn’t work, you can always de-friend or unfollow them.   It may not stop the whining and gnashing of teeth, but at least you won’t have to put up with it.


House Democrat Road Plan Full of Political Potholes

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

This may sound odd, but I was actually excited to see my House Democratic friends Monday  when they unveiled their plan to fix Indiana’s roads.

The last few plans they put out didn’t really impress all that much.  Their last one was to create a $250 million road fund that locals could borrow from at $5 million at a time.  So I was eager to see what they were going to do.

And then I saw it.  And then I asked myself “seriously?!”

Their plan was to take all the money collected by the sales tax on gasoline and special fuels and put that toward road maintenance.  It would generate about $525 million for roads and infrastructure with 53 percent going to the state and 47 percent going to the locals.  Sounds good right?  Wrong.

The problem is this plan has as many holes in it as the roads my Democratic friends complain about.

First of all the revenue collected from the sales tax on gasoline goes to the general fund which pays for a lot more than roads.  It also helps pay for schools, public safety, the BMV, teacher pensions, a lot of things.  If you take that out, you have to replace it.  Democrats says they would use the dollars in the state surplus to replace that revenue.  Well that only gets you about four years, at best seeing how the surplus is $2 billion and Democrats want to spend about $525 million annually.

Secondly, local governments have about $500 million in annual road needs.  The Democrat plan only covers about $235 million of that so there is still a $265 million shortfall and the surplus is gone.

Third, and most important, this does nothing to address Indiana’s long-term road funding problem.  Much like the rest of the country, revenue from gas taxes is dropping, mostly because of fuel-efficient vehicles so we will have to rethink how we pay for roads (pardon the pun) down the road.

Like I said, I really was hoping for something new and bold Monday from my Democratic friends on road funding.  Unfortunately, all I got was a plan that really fell short of expectations.   And it’s a road that we have all been down before.


My Afternoons with Amos

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

The last thing I was expecting to hear Saturday afternoon when I picked up the phone was that my fellow Indy radio talk show host Amos Brown had died.

Amos died of a  heart attack while visiting his family in Chicago.  Much of the Indianapolis community has offered its words of condolences and perspective on Amos;  Republican Governor Mike Pence, Democrat Congressman Andre Carson, Mayor Greg Ballard and Mayor-Elect Joe Hogsett.   Now it’s time to add to the chorus, but in a different way.

The first time Amos and I met was at the Indy Chamber Hob Nob in 2004.  I had only been on the radio at WXNT a week or so he had been listening to get a feel for the new kid on the block and I was listening to him to get a feel for the local issues. And to be honest, neither of us were big fans of each other.  We were polite and cordial when we met but you can tell there was tension. And that tension only grew over time and it spilled onto the airwaves and into print.   It was not an uncommon occurrence for one of us to hear something the other said and then call them out about it the next day on the radio.

Yes, I know the only way for this to happen was to actively follow the other person, ironic isn’t it.

This went on for quite a while and was getting pretty intense, until the first thaw following the 2007 Mayor’s race.  The day after Ballard pulled an upset victory over Bart Peterson, Amos sent me a text message inviting me to lunch before I left to go become the new Mayor’s Communications guy.  I had thought about putting my name in for the job, but I figured Ballard would need a voice on the airwaves to act as a counterbalance to what I knew Amos and the Democrats were going to throw at him, so I decided to stay where I was.  I know, another ironic moment, it was Amos of all people who kept me on the air.

And for the next few years we would act as a counterbalance to each other.   We were not enemies, but more like each other’s foil.  Just to get you caught up on your literature, a foil is a character who contrasts with another character in order to highlight particular qualities of the other character.  And that is what we were.   Whether it was debating city or state politics, the Affordable Care Act or whatever the issue was we brought both sides to the table.

We even did a television program together (it only lasted a few episodes, but it was fun to do) and we did a radio program together on WTLC-AM  for year on Friday afternoons back in 2013.  And each program he came prepared to do battle. Amos had a statistical background and institutional memory so I knew when we sat down for the “Friday afternoon fights” I had to have my facts together.

And our rivalry wasn’t just good for ratings and getting an audience worked up, it also helped us do some good for charity.  Together we raised a few thousand dollars for charity for an organization that helps ex-offenders.  I’ll never forget him jokingly telling me to get my “rich Republican friends on the phone and make donations” and I jokingly told him “they’ll be happy to so they can show how individuals can do better than the government in getting things done.”

But that was our relationship, it was a rivalry that I like to think was rooted in respect.  And I think at the end of the day we actually liked each other as much as we couldn’t stand each other.  And I don’t think anyone would have wanted it any differently.

Godspeed, Mr. Brown.


With All the Power…

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

omes all the responsibility.

Pardon my play on words from Peter Parker, but that is my sentiment now that Democrats have seized complete control of Indianapolis government for the first time nearly eight years.

With Joe Hogsett as Mayor and the Democrats controlling the Council 13-12, they now have the opportunity to put their vision into play and they also get the responsibility if things go south.

They get to be responsible for crime.

They get to be responsible for the budget.

They get to be responsible for the economic development.

They get to be responsible for potholes.

Unlike President Barack Obama who can point a finger at Republicans and label them as obstructionists for blocking his agenda, Democrats do not get that luxury.  They can only point the fingers at themselves.

However, as easy as it would be to start the early criticism, Democrats should be given an opportunity to prove they can govern.  Numerous times Council Democrats have said they can’t work with Mayor Greg Ballard.  Now the voters have given them Hogsett.   So now there’s no excuse.

They control both branches of government, so let’s see what they can do.

It’s all theirs.  Or if I may quote one of my other favorite films, “son, you’re on your own.”


Expect No Suprises on Election Day

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

If you’re expecting any surprises in Tuesday’s elections here in Indianapolis, forget about it.  No matter what happens, it will all make absolute perfect sense.

Whether Joe Hogsett or Chuck Brewer becomes Mayor or whether Democrats or Republicans take control of the City-County Council, there is a perfect explanation for all of them.

Allow me to break it down…

Mayor Joe Hogsett

  • Very easy explanation.  Marion County leans Democratic and Joe has had a 4-to-1 advantage over Chuck in fundraising.  And although Hogsett got negative press at the end, you could argue it came too late to make a difference.  Throw in an 11-thousand straight-ticket vote advantage (provided they show up) and Hogsett gets sworn in on January 1.

Mayor Chuck Brewer

  • Low turnout will be Chuck’s best friend.  Already, voter turnout is a third lower than what it was in 2011.  And if those trends continue on election day, we’re looking at a turnout of 20 percent.  Also throw in the fact, that Hogsett has never really energized the black community so they may not come out they way they have in the past.  And Hogsett’s non-committal answer Friday during a debate on whether he would keep the city’s Black Police Chief didn’t help.  And then add in the curse of everyone thinking your election is a fait accompli, some folks may not bother showing up, but the other guy’s people do.

Who Gets the Council?

The current Council make up is 15-14, Democrat.  Eliminate the four at-larges and Republicans have a 14-11 majority.  However, District 1 is held by Jose Evans who flipped from D to R a couple years ago and he is not running for re-election.  So in reality, that number is more 13-12, Republican.  So with that backdrop, here’s how we figure out who’s in control.

A Democratic-Controlled Council

  • Once again, it all comes to turnout.  Since Democrats start out with 12 seats on the Council, they only need a net pickup of one.  Which means they need to gain a seat that they don’t have.  Their likely  targets are Christine Scales (District 3) and up until last week Jeff Miller (District 16) I will explain later.  They may also target Janice McHenry (District 6), Ben Hunter (District 19)  and Bob Lutz (District 22).  All three are in Districts that lean slightly Democratic, however all three are pretty good in the constituent service department.     Any gain of one of these seats, and provided they don’t lose any (see District 2 race below), and Democrats get control.

A Republican-Controlled Council

  • In a weird way, the GOP may actually have a clearer path to taking back the Council than the Democrats.   Remember, they already hold 13 seats so if they can hold their ground, they can keep the Council.  And once again, a low voter turnout may actually help them.  I think the GOP has a very good shot at winning District 2 (Kip Tew vs. Colleen Fanning), the District leans R (54-46) and Fanning is a hard worker and is on television.    The GOP also has a good shot at keeping District 3 (Christine Scales) and District 16 (Jeff Miller).   Both Scales and Miller have independent streaks and their constituents love them.  Particularly Miller, as illustrated when Democrats in his District came to his defense when the Marion County Democratic Party put out an attack mailer and got called on the carpet by my colleague Matt Tully.    The Rs also have to hold on to McHenry, Hunter and Lutz’s seats as I have outlined above.

Like I said, any of these scenarios is likely.  And while I think the political odds favor Hogsett for Mayor and the Republicans for Council, nothing will surprise me.  Well, one thing might, write-in candidate Sam Carson becoming Mayor and the Libertarians get the tie-breaking vote on the Council.

Hey, anything is possible, so don’t be shocked when it happens.


Take Our Political Poll

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

We’re doing an online poll over at our sister blog Indy Politics regarding Indy’s upcoming Mayoral and City-Council races.  If you have a second, feel free to fill it out.  With the low voter turnout we’ve been seeing, it will be interesting to see what the results are.  They will be posted on Monday.

Click Here to Take the Survey.



Maybe the Mayor’s Race Will Be Interesting After All

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Let’s face it, up until now the race for Mayor of Indianapolis has been pretty boring.  Up until now.

You see, I was watching the October 16th debate on WISH-TV between Democrat Joe Hogsett and Republican Chuck Brewer.  It was pretty standard stuff and the two candidates actually seemed to agree more than they disagreed.

And then there was the question about Covanta(14 minutes into the debate)

Covanta was the recycling company that entered into an agreement to address the city’s waste issue.  The Mayor’s office says it will promote recycling, opponents have said it was bad for the city and would not encourage recycling.

So what does this have to do with the Mayor’s race?

Well, when the question came up during the debate, Hogsett said he couldn’t speak to it because of a conflict of interest.  Under the Rules of Professional Conduct (See Rule 7.1), Indiana attorneys cannot do anything that would adversely affect a client.   There’s a conflict because Convanta was represented by Bose Public Affairs, which is owned in part by Bose McKinney Evans where Hogsett works and lawyers from his firm worked on the deal.

Now here’s where it gets interesting, in an April 8 column in the Indianapolis Star, Hogsett called the justice center plan “troubling” and said city leaders should “slow down”.  Well guess what, the firm lobbying on behalf of the city for the Justice Center was  also Bose Public Affairs, which Bose McKinney Evans,  where Hogsett works, is part owner.  And since the Justice Center deal didn’t go through, an argument could be made that Hogsett’s statement had an adverse impact on a client which his firm had a contractual, legal relationship.

Now later in the debate Hogsett said he would work to carry on the work that Mayor Ballard had done, so that might have mitigated some of the damage.  We’ll see.

Maybe this Mayor’s race just got more interesting.

By the way, I did ask Hogsett about the Justice Center and whether that presented an ethical challenge back in May.  You can hear his response here (it’s at 9:00).



Opportunity vs. Inequality

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Watching Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is a lot of like watching comedian Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm.  There’s lots of yelling, ranting and screaming, except David knows you’re not supposed to take him seriously.  It would be nice if Sanders knew that too.

He has been preaching his message of “economic fairness” and “income inequality” to some pretty big crowds.  It’s a popular message, but so is heroin these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

Two cornerstones of Sanders’ platform are raising the minimum wage and raising taxes on the “wealthy”.  In what universe are these good ideas?

Political columnist (and my hero) George Will spelled it out perfectly in his latest column why Sanders doesn’t get it.

  1. Entitlements take money from the working and producing class and gives it to those who don’t work.
  2. Big regulatory government favors those with the smarts and the wealth to make rules favorable to them.
  3. Near zero-interest rates have only enriched the top 10 percent of wage earners who want to invest in high-yield equities.
  4. Family breakdowns mean more children will be raised in poverty.

However, despite those four main points, the biggest cause of “income inequality” Will points out is freedom.  We have the freedom to choose our careers and our paths and those decisions usually result in our station in life and market forces will play a big role in determining how much we make.   This is the guy who manages the cloud server will likely make more the guy who is a server.

This is also part of the reason why I enjoy teaching.  I want students to have the skill set that it takes to not only survive in today’s competitive world, but also thrive.  You don’t get there with more government and more taxes, but with more opportunity to create wealth and be the master or your own destiny.

Yes, life will throw us a curve ball on occasion, but even then challenges can be turned into opportunities.  But then again, sometimes it’s easier to complain about how “unfair” life is as opposed to taking more control of your own.