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The Trouble with Trump

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

While I have never been a Donald Trump supporter, I do not want him to fail as President.

If he failed, the country failed, and that’s not good for anyone. With that said, Donald Trump’s biggest enemy is not the media, the Democrats or the D.C. Swamp, aka, the Establishment; it’s Donald Trump.

I base this conclusion on the last 25 years of my life as a reporter, spokesman for an elected official, attorney, and political commentator.

First, there are the “anonymous sources” the President and his supporters rail against frequently. It’s been my experience that politicians usually only complain about anonymous sources when they don’t reiterate the narrative they’re trying to push. I write a publication called The Cheat Sheet. It’s political newsletter that’s filled with “gossip, rumor and blatant innuendo” based on anonymous sources. The only time an elected official ever complains about what’s in it is when they don’t look good. When they look smart or like the front runner in a political contest, they or their staff, push it out to their friends. And by the way, 99% of the leaks either come from the administration or people close to them.

Secondly, as a spokesperson, it’s understood that you are promoting a position your boss supports and advocates. It doesn’t help when the boss comes out and contradicts everything you’ve been trying to sell to the media to get positive coverage. At best it makes you look like you at lying or are incompetent. At worst, no one trusts what you have to say, and it undermines the credibility and relationships you have worked hard to build.

Third, and most importantly, Trump is undermining the agenda his administration is trying to push. I think the President is on the right track by trying to streamline the federal regulatory scheme, give more choice to parents with their children’s education, give states more control when it comes to health care and simplify the tax code. But all that gets lost when your boss is on Twitter talking crazy. You are caught in the unenviable position of having to defend what he or she said instead of pushing policy positions that you think are good for the public.

Now is the impeachment talk premature, I would say yes. But is the groundwork being laid for a constitutional crisis? Yes. And if things go south, the person who is ultimately responsible is Donald Trump himself. It’s not the media. It’s not the staff. It’s not the Swamp. It’s Trump. He, of all people, should know this. And the fact that he is either unwilling or unable to figure this out says quite a bit. And while it’s not too late to turn the ship of state around, I recommend the folks who hang out at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue do an intervention real soon or start turning in their letters of resignation. They owe it to themselves and more importantly, to the rest of us.

To the Class of 2017

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

It’s that time of year.  The time of year I dispense my advice to this year’s graduating class.   Feel free to add your own advice to the list.

  1. Everything happens for a reason, sometimes we just can’t figure it out right away, but eventually, you do.  And you will be amazed at how the tragedy was necessary for you to triumph later.
  2. Fear is okay, being afraid is not.  A good healthy dose of fear helps keep the stupid stuff that can ruin your future down to a bare minimum.  Being afraid means you are less likely to take risks and explore new opportunities that can open lots of doors down the road.
  3. The habits you developed here will either help or hinder you in the next phase of your life, so if you have problems with punctuality, finishing tasks on time and working well with others, I suggest you fix them, ASAP.
  4. The only thing you are owed is to be treated with dignity and respect.  And that is all you owe anybody else.
  5. We will all make mistakes along the way, it’s called experience.  The trick is to learn from them so you don’t repeat them. Repeating mistakes and expecting a different outcome is called insanity.
  6. Remember, learning is a lifelong process.  Never stop trying to improve yourself.  That will come in handy in 2050 when the androids show up to do your job.  And this will be more important in 2060 when they begin their takeover of the world.
  7. When getting your information from social media, remember, if you have to click more than three times to get to the ACTUAL story, what you’re reading is probably wrong.
  8. Find a job that makes you happy. You will live to whatever income you make so it will never be enough, but if you love what you do for a living it is then that the paycheck is worth it. And remember to save a little for a rainy day and feel free to splurge on occasion.
  9. Before you dismiss the advice of older people, remember, they didn’t get to be old by being stupid.  There are a lot of young people lying in the ground right now who thought they knew everything.
  10. Have a sense of humor.  Be able to laugh, with others and at yourself.  Life’s too short to be  “mad as hell” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It’s not good for your health and it makes you age quicker.

Now go out and do well and do good.

Voting Early Doesn’t Equal Voting Often

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

The discussion is heating up once again in Marion County over the issue of satellite voting.   Common Cause and the Indianapolis Chapter of the NAACP have filed a lawsuit against the State of Indiana and Marion County over early voting, or the lack thereof.

They say because other counties have multiple early voting opportunities and Marion County doesn’t, that Marion County voters are being disenfranchised because they have to come down to the City-County building and some have to take off work to vote.   While at the news conference this past week I had to laugh and chuckle at the taking off work part because one of the plaintiff’s who spoke at the news conference had to take off work to tell everyone he was filing a lawsuit because he had to take off work to early vote.

But I digress.

Despite the best wishes of satellite voting proponents, the evidence doesn’t prove that it increases voter turnout.  If anything, I argue you just rearrange the deck chairs and individuals who would have voted anyway just do it earlier.   Here’s a synopsis of the voter turnout taken from the Marion County Clerk’s website.

  • 2016 General – 53% turnout, 18.5% absentee.
  • 2014 General – 25% turnout, 9% absentee.
  • 2012 General; – 56% turnout, 16% absentee.
  • 2010 General – 36.6 % turnout, 10.2% absentee.
  • 2008 General – 54.7 % turnout, 24% absentee.
  • 2006 General – 33.19 %, turnout, 6% absentee.
  • 2004 General – 53.6 %, turnout  8.4 % absentee.

As you can see voter turnout tends to be pretty consistent, regardless of whether there is satellite voting.  

Let’s do a comparison of the 2016 and 2008 general elections.  I picked those two because Marion County had early, satellite voting in 2008, but not in 2016.   First of all, in 2008, more than 380,000 people showed up to vote, about 93,000 voted early or absentee, regardless the overall turnout was nearly 55 percent.   Fast forward eight years later, the number of people who showed up to vote actually decreased to slightly more than 370,000 and just under 69,000 voted early and the turnout wasn’t really all that different about 53 percent.  And while there has been a decrease in absentee/early voting percentages, the total voter turnout has been pretty consistent.  Actually according to the data, while there was no early/satellite voting in 2012, more people showed up to vote than in the year there was early voting.

Satellite voting may make it easier for people to vote, but there’s no evidence that it increases participation.  If you want to increase voter participation, get better candidates on the ballot.  It shouldn’t shock anyone that the Presidential election year with the lowest percentage of turnout was the year there were two candidates at the top of the ticket that no one, absent hardcore partisans, could stand.  

Candidates and issues drive turnout, not early voting.   What good does it do a voter to have more places to vote if they don’t like anyone on the ballot or there are no issues to get them worked up?  They may as well mail it in and go about their business.    The one benefit to early/satellite voting is if you don’t like either candidate, as was apparently in the last election, you can just cast your vote for the lesser of two evils and then go back to living in the real word and never worry these clowns until Inauguration Day.

Hmmm, maybe that just might be the best reason for more early voting opportunities after all.

 

Winners, Losers & TBA

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Now that we’ve had a little more than a week to digest what Indiana lawmakers did and did not do, it’s time for my list of winners and losers.  As I wrote in my most recent Indy Star column, nothing can ever really be considered a total win or complete loss because of the compromises necessary to make the legislative process work. However, some things are pretty obvious, and some things are worth keeping an eye on for later.  So with that said, here’s our list…

Winners…

Governor Eric Holcomb

  • For a guy who just a little more than a year was running third in the GOP race for the U.S. Senate, later got out to be Mike Pence’s running mate and then got in the race for Governor with 100 days to go, he did not do too badly. He got roads, early childhood education, workforce development, money for economic development, amongst other things.   If there was a “stumble” it was his answer to the “Rickers question” when he told us media folks he believed Rickers and the ATC followed the law?  That reply apparently threw a lot of people, including his staff, into a bit of a whirlwind, to put it mildly, and some lawmakers were so mad there was talk of derailing some of his agenda because of his response.  Apparently, that didn’t happen.

House Speaker Brian Bosma & Senate President Pro Tempore  David Long

  • Except for a few other lawmakers, these two won big this session. Not only because Bosma and Long got road funding and early childhood education through which were both included some ideologically divisive issues for Republicans (tax increases and the role of government and pre-K), but they managed to keep the crazy social issue stuff down to a bare minimum.

The Road Warriors

  • If there were a “heavy lifting” award for the 2017 session, the winners would be Senators Luke Kenley, Mike Crider and State Representatives Dr. Tim Brown and Ed Soliday. Not everyone can put together a 20-year road funding plan. Luckily they’re not everybody.

Indiana’s Mayors

  • Say hello to the new power force at the Statehouse. Indiana’s Mayors not only got more money for road funding and were instrumental in the final bill that passed, but they also worked together to put a halt to the bill that would prohibit them from regulating AirBnB rentals in their communities.  In the past, these guys would have been playing more defense than offense, but this year was a lot different.

Losers…

The “Anti-Tax/No Idea” Crowd

  • It’s one thing to say you oppose raising taxes to pay for roads, but the anti-tax folks never came up with a viable alternative. At best they would question the studies that showed Indiana’s road funding needs were between $900 million to $1.4 billion.  But they never had an alternative.  It’s one thing to say “no, ” but you better bring some ideas to the table.

Social Activist Monica Boyer

  • You might not have been paying attention to Warsaw social activist Monica Boyer, but we were. She had been throwing her weight around to pass a bill that would outlaw all abortions in Indiana as well as she threatened to find a primary challenger against anyone who voted for a tax increase to pay for roads.  You can see how well that worked.

The “Redistricters.”

  • The folks who wanted to redraw Indiana’s maps are going to have a to wait another day. Efforts to do that hit a brick wall in the House, and even if they had got a bill out of the House, it would have had a date with another brick wall in the Senate.

Indy Soccer Advocates

  • Up until the last day of session, it looked there might be a funding mechanism for a new soccer stadium that would not have cost the state a dime, but things fell apart at the last minute, and now it looks like Indy’s professional soccer team might be playing its final season.

To Be Continued…

Rickers

  • I purposely did not put the “Rickers” controversy in the win or loss column because I think this has yet to play out. Both sides of this debate can claim a partial victory and loss.  Rickers still gets to sell cold beer for carryout at its locations in Sheridan and Columbus until its permit expires and the liquor store lobby can take credit for putting a wall up around Rickers so no one else can duplicate what they did.   I don’t think a winner or loser can be declared until we see what a rewrite of Indiana’s alcohol laws looks like starting next session.

Indy Mayor Joe Hogsett

  • Yes, the Mayor did have a legislative agenda. Unlike his predecessors, there was no single, bold initiative that drew a lot of attention (i.e. Indy Works or the infamous SB 621). The Mayor’s priorities were more money for pre-K, education, and roads as well as more resources for public safety and more regional cooperation.  Since lawmakers came up with a long-term road funding plan and more money for pre-K those were solid victories.  There were more dollars advocated for the regional cities initiative, but it’s unclear how that will impact Indianapolis, and I’m researching what was done in the criminal justice category apart from appointing Marion County Judges instead of electing them.   Please note, while the city scored a major victory, like other municipalities, in getting more road funding, the 25th floor did not get more budget flexibility to take money from last year’s road funding grant and use it to plug the rest of the city’s structural deficit.

 

Indiana Barrister Publisher Wins Journalism Award

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

The Indiana Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has recognized Indiana Barrister publisher Abdul-Hakim Shabazz for best column writing.

Shabazz received the award at an event Friday night honoring Indiana journalism.

He won 1st place for his column, “Turning Snowflakes Into Something Stronger,” a piece about the growing trends regarding safe spaces and speech regulation on college campuses.

You can read it here.

This is the second year in a row Shabazz won 1st place for outstanding column writing.  His column “RFRA and Reefer,” regarding the creation of the First Church of Cannabis, won last year.

In addition to Indiana Barrister, Shabazz also publishes Indy Politics, a daily political blog.  He also contributes to several media outlets throughout the state.

 

Hogsett Offers More Hope (And More Questions)

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

As I sat down and watched Indianapolis Mayor Joe’s Hogsett’s second State of the City speech, two thoughts came to mind.   The mayor is a great at two things, giving an impassioned speech that reaches the heart of the listener and leaving me with more questions when he’s done.

In his first state of the city address, the mayor talked about public safety, poverty and getting the city’s finances in order.  He spoke about a new approach to fighting crime, addressing the mental health component of jail overcrowding, addressing poverty and improving the overall quality of life in the city. In his second speech, the Mayor stressed similar themes. He talked community policing, summer jobs for teens, increasing educational opportunities,  more street lights and tackling the problem of homelessness.  

I give the Mayor kudos for spelling out his vision, but he still gives me pause on some issues that are still left over from his first speech.

Take the proposed Criminal Justice Center for example.   The current cost of the project is $575 million, that’s  $167 million more than under the previous administration.   And while a big part of the overall plan is to treat mental health, no one knows for sure what the Trump administration and Congress will do with mental health funding.  Also, a big part of the “cost savings” was supposed to come from bail reform ordered by the Indiana Supreme Court.   The last I saw that program was still in limbo.   So how will the Mayor tackle this going forward?  Not mention under his first year Indy had its worst homicide record in history and we’re hovering near 40 to date, putting us on track for 135 by the end of the year, provided the bad guys have poor aim in the summer months.

Another question I have is when it comes to the issue of poverty.  If you’ve seen the stats, it’s not pretty.  Last year the Indy Star reported a 41 percent increase in poverty from 2005 to 2013.  I believe the Mayor wants to break the cycle just like the rest of us, but is he willing to have the discussion that a lot of people will find unpleasant?  It’s no big secret, if you break down the data, according to National Center for Children in Poverty 68 percent of kids in poverty live in a single-parent household.  Eighty-eight percent of kids in poverty have a parent with no post-secondary education, and  76 percent of kids in poverty have a parent who either only works part-time or has no job. IIs the Mayor ready to have the “tough talk” about lifestyle choices that contribute to a life of poverty? I hope so.

And when it comes to city finances, they get credit for cutting the structural deficit in half, but there’s an asterisk mark.  As I pointed out several months ago,  part of that hole is plugged, in part, with $13 million in state funds as part of a one-time distribution of local option income taxes.   And the city reduced its contribution to its rainy day fund by about $17 million which one could also argue helped close some of that shortfall.  Can the city do that again in next budget?   We’ll see.

As I have written before, I want the Mayor to do well.  Because when he does well, the city does well.  I like his ideas about making sure kids have jobs and know about their opportunities to get a good post-secondary education.  I also want safe streets and the true homeless (not panhandlers running a scam) to get the help they need.  I’d like to see some answers to my questions, because, at the end of the day, they will make Indy a better place to live.

 

Working Instead of Whining

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I love it when people tell me that “there are no jobs out there”.  And even though I point to Indiana’s 4.1 percent unemployment rate and 64.4 percent worker participation rate, they still tell me that they can’t find a job because they’re black, have a criminal record or are an older person.  The excuses run like water.

And while I could cite more facts and data about wages and how in most cases education attainment is directly related to income achievement, instead I decided to use a few real-life examples to make my point.

You see this past week I emceed the Indiana Department of Workforce Development’s Work One awards.  It’s an event where they recognize employers and employees who’ve stepped things up when it comes to employment.

For example, I met Randy from LaPorte.   It took him more than six months to find a job.   He attended workshops, networked and met with DWD his career advisor three to four times a week. He also went on numerous job interviews. Guess what?  His hard work and perseverance paid off because he was hired as the General Manager at CHEP Pallecon Solutions North America, a leading container pooler in South Bend.

And then there was Scott, a veteran from Marion who served in the Navy for five years.  .He lost his job in October 2015 because of a legal issue surrounding his problem with addiction.   He went to DWD for job assistance and guess what?  He got it.  He took required assessments, enrolled into WIOA services, improved his résumé and worked on his confidence in interviewing. He remained diligent about finding a new job and working on his sobriety.  And it ended up with Scott found work in March of 2016 as a maintenance worker.

And Randy and Scott are not alone.  I could tell you about Raymond from Indianapolis and Doniell from Montpelier.  Both were ex-offenders, and both went to get help in finding a job to start a new life.  Both got help going back to school to get certified for new careers.  Raymond is getting his HVAC certification at Ivy Tech.  Doniell is working as a freight handler and within one year on the job got a promotion.

But what about the single mom?  I’m glad you asked.  Let me tell you about Priscilla,  a 23-year-old single mother of two boys.  She worked with a case manager set up a six-week work experience with a local daycare provider. After completing the program, Priscilla was hired on full-time and is currently employed there. She is now in the process of buying a house and wants to open her in-home daycare someday.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Robert or Lauren.  Robert was a homeless veteran, Lauren was out of work and living on public assistance.  Both got help with Work One.  Robert got help getting his commercial truck driver’s license while Lauren, who had a criminal background, got help with resume writing and job interviewing.  Robert is now a truck driver.  Lauren not only landed a job but did so well got a raise after 90 days.

Each one of these individuals that I mentioned is an example of what happens when a person is faced with challenges and decides to tackle them head on instead of sitting around and whining about their lot in life.   They took the initiative, got help and all are now in much better place in life.

Isn’t it amazing how that happens?

When Governments Get Left Behind

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

If there is one thing I’m learning coming out of this session at the Indiana Statehouse, is despite making a lot of progress on the fiscal and economic fronts, state government still has a long way to go to catch with the 21st century when it comes to understanding technology and consumers.

What exactly do I mean?

Think about how consumer purchasing habits have changed over the past 20-30 years. If you had to go to the airport and you couldn’t get a lift from a friend or family member, you picked up your landline phone and called a taxi. If you wanted to buy a car, you probably grabbed a copy of the newspaper, looked at the ads and then got that process started. If you were out of town on vacation, you probably stayed at a hotel.

Nowadays, if you want to go from point A to point B, you can use your smartphone app and call an Uber or Lyft. If you want to buy a car, say a Tesla, you can do it all online. And thanks to AirBnB, when I go on vacation I don’t have to get a hotel room, I can stay at someone’s home. And all of this can be done online.

And while we all see these changes as sort of matter of fact, governments seem to be slow to response. In fact, a lot of times government is the problem, not only stifling creativity and innovation but at times it appears that the powers that be are more interested in protecting the powers that exist.

I point to the debates in the Legislature this session over Tesla and AirBnB. Here are two companies that personify change and innovation and instead of being embraced, it’s almost as if someone was trying to put them out of business. Lawmakers wanted to craft a rule that you couldn’t sell a car in Indiana unless there were a middleman, i.e. a dealer. And the rules that were going to be put on AirBnB were so restrictive; you might as well not have bothered.

Now I am not saying that there should not be any rules for companies like Uber and AirBnB. There is something to be said about making sure that someone who is using their personal vehicle for commercial endeavors is properly insured, especially when they’re transporting someone else. And I am sure if you wanted to live next to a hotel, you wouldn’t have bought the house at the end of the cul de sac.

I think there is a happy medium where technology and innovation can properly co-exist with reasonable consumer protections. And as Indiana lawmakers go forward, I hope they always keep that in mind. Because at times, it did appear like lawmakers were more interested in protecting the status quo as opposed to figuring out how to modify the regulatory scheme in such a way that protects consumers and encourages innovation.

Next time we’ll talk about Sunday sales, cold beer, and Indiana’s alcohol laws.

 

The Road to Compromise

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

There are now two distinct plans circulating through the Statehouse with regards to road funding.  Both House and Senate Republicans have put forth proposals on how to pay for Indiana’s infrastructure, long-term.

The House plan includes a 10-cent increase in the gas tax, shifting the entire sales tax on gasoline to road funding, and increasing the cigarette tax by 60 cents to help indirectly fill the budget gap created by the sales tax shift.  

The Senate plan also raises the gas tax by a dime but does it over a two-year period.  There is no change in the sales tax on roads, and a cigarette tax is left out.   It also includes a $5 new tire fee, an additional $15 vehicle registration fee and $150 fee for electrical vehicles and $75 for hybrids.

Both plans also encourage the exploration of tolling.

While there seems to be agreement on the gas tax and fees, lawmakers are split on using the sales tax on gasoline for roads and the inclusion of a cigarette tax to help indirectly close a budget hole. The Senate isn’t crazy about the sales tax shift and wants to save the cigarette tax discussion for another day.   Governor Eric Holcomb seems to agree with the Senate.  However, it takes all three parties to get something done.

So if I may be so bold, allow me to offer a compromise for my friends at the Legislature.

While I fundamentally agree with the Senate that the sales tax on gasoline should stay as is there is the public perception that the sales tax on gasoline should go for roads.  So might I suggest shifting the all sales tax on gasoline to road funding, but over a 7-10 year period?  The logic being by doing that not only does this give revenue to work with, but you don’t blow a giant hole in your budget right away, and lawmakers can gradually adjust the state’s finances.  

You won’t need to play with the cigarette tax, and you can dip somewhat into your reserves, but still maintain the strong balances needed to keep Indiana’s AAA credit rating.  Also, everyone is well aware that the sales tax on gas drops off down the road as new fuel efficient standards kick in, so at least this way the bulk of that revenue can help shore up the infrastructure before it begins to decline.

And here’s the good news, by the end of the 10-year period we will have known what any federal infrastructure program looked like.  Also If there will be any tolling, it will take about that long gets all the proper groundwork laid.    And speaking of Toll Road, the state can create a formal toll road authority to oversee new tolling.  

I would also suggest Indiana lawmakers create an additional reserve fund for roads so that the state can have resources to dip into as gas prices and revenue collections fluctuate.

So there you have it guys and gals.  I have given you a path to reach a compromise on road funding, feel free to take that idea drive off into the sunset.

 

Let’s Level the Liquor Playing Field

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Indiana’s alcohol laws will drive you to drink.

We all know how ridiculous it is that you can’t buy alcohol on Sunday or cold beer at a grocery store or gas station (make that most gas stations).  But did you know in a liquor store you can’t sell cold soda or bottled still water, but you can get by carbonated water in a bottle, it’s called a commodity restriction which limits what can and can’t be sold in a liquor store?  And no one under 21 is allowed in a liquor store, even if you’re accompanied by a parent, because exposing kids to liquor in a store is bad, even though when they go with their parents to the grocery store, it’s right there. Exactly.  All this is the result of competing business interests, and it is time to level the playing field once and for all.

Indiana lawmakers this week are planning a crackdown on Rickers, by “clarifying” the law so that Rickers can no longer sell cold beer at its gas stations in Columbus and Sheridan, even though it figured out a perfectly legal way to do it and did it all above board.  Instead of punishing Rickers, lawmakers should finally start to have the discussion about bringing this state’s alcohol laws into the 21st Century.  

The criticism has always been that liquor stores are under more restrictions than other places and allowing grocery and big box stores to sell cold beer or on Sundays would be unfair.  I agree, to a point, so let’s level the playing field.  There are quite a few things lawmakers can do to introduce sobriety to the state’s alcohol scheme.

Lawmakers can repeal the liquor store commodity restriction and let them sell whatever they want, just like the grocery and big box stores.  They can let minors enter a liquor store as long as they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.    Also, require anyone working in grocery or big box store who handles liquor to be trained and licensed to ring up alcohol.  Allow all retailers to sell cold beer.   And get rid of the prohibition on Sunday sales.

These are a quick handful of things lawmakers can do to bring some common sense to Indiana’s alcohol laws.  There are also needs to be a restructuring of the permit and distribution system, but that’s another blog post for another time.

But if the Speaker and Senate President ProTempore want to clarify the state’s alcohol laws, they could start with my suggestions.   Now if you don’t mind, I have to go online and book my next trip to Denver.  After writing about Indiana’s alcohol laws, I’m going to need a lot more than my usual scotch, gin, vodka and rum.