Sunday, December 27, 2015

Ballard Played Politics Despite Own Claims

Mayor Greg Ballard and Wife Winnie Ballard
Photo by Sarah Stierch
The puff pieces and retrospectives have begun on Greg Ballard's eight years as Mayor of Indianapolis, and there's not any question about it.  Ballard was a better politician than I gave him credit for when he was elected, but his accomplishments rank far below those of the other UniGov-era Mayors.

The IndyStar reports that, as Ballard leaves office, he enjoys a 65 percent approval rating.  That doesn't surprise me.  If the question was asked in a certain way, I'd say I'd approve of Mayor Ballard.

He has been largely successful in putting his personal story out there as a good-hearted family man who loves his city.  I don't take issue with that description of him.  He is a good man who loves his family dearly.  It's a part of who he is, and I salute him for keeping his family and wife, Winnie, first in a job where they can often fall down the priority list.

I get off the Ballard bus and bandwagon when it comes to talk about his skills as a uniter and the idea that he was somehow not political.  I believe he fell horribly short in this regard.

Often, Ballard would push forth his own agenda with little input or little care for what those on both sides of the aisle in the City-County Council would think.  When Council members would stand up and be counted, he would claim they were being overly political or obstructionist.  Republicans who crossed him would find themselves in political timeout.  Democrats would be lambasted in the press or accosted by the Mayor.

When you stack up Ballard's accomplishments, most remain either controversial or built on the back of the Bart Peterson Administration.  He'll largely be remembered for the selling of public assets such as the city's parking meters and water/sewer utilities and rammed-through deals like Blue Indy and the Freedom Fleet.  His accomplishments include a variety of redevelopment initiatives. Perhaps the biggest is the Cummins Complex on half of the old MSA site.  Ballard also greatly increased the Mayor's power by the silent backing of SEA 621 which took some power from the County Commissioners and the Council and handed it to the Mayor  The Mayor was also successful during the whole RFRA blow up in standing up for what was right.  Indy welcomed all.

I've been told the city's books are about to blow up and may reveal that Ballard's "honestly-balanced" budgets weren't so balanced.  That remains to be seen.

When I look back at eight years ago, I set low expectations for Mayor Greg Ballard.  He managed to exceed those low expectations, for whatever it's worth.

As far as the future, Councillors Zach Adamson and Marilyn Pfisterer posted this picture the other day on social media, and, I think it says a lot.

The picture is of Mayor-Elect Joe Hogsett sitting down with City-County Councillors of both parties for dinner.  These sorts of things just simply did not happen in the Ballard Administration, and it's my hope that they continue.

Ballard, despite his claims of being above politics and just doing the work of Mayor, was as much of a politician as any Mayor could be expected to be.  Some of it he was good at, but he failed in other regards.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Council Raise Good Idea Timed Badly

The City-County Council on Monday voted to raise the pay of the incoming Council from the current $11,400 to $16,400.

Let's be really clear.  This is not the incoming 25 Councillors setting their own pay; this is the outgoing 29. Many will be back after January 1 but not all.

I don't like the timing, and I get that argument.  Had I been on the Council, I don't think I would have voted to pass the proposal because of the timing.  With that said, I have no problem that it did pass, and I think $16,400 is chump change for what is expected out of our Councillors.

A City-County Councillor doing his or her job right puts in countless hours of work in addition to his or her day job or career.  We're not talking about career politicians here.  Many of these folks work other day jobs, own businesses, or have vibrant careers.  A few of them have pensions or are retirees.  With maybe a couple of exceptions, these folks aren't rich.  They are just like you and me.

Candidly, when I decided to run for Council, I never once took into account how much I would make.  I wanted to serve.  I don't know how I would have felt one or two years into the job.  I just get that $11,400 is not really enough for all that's expected.

There's never a good time to vote for a pay raise, and I know that some running against the Councillors that voted for this will use it against them in the future.  I wouldn't.

I get the uproar.  I just think it's a little much when you think about it.  It's $125,000 out of a $1 billion budget.

Ultimately, it's the decision of Greg Ballard now.

Orentlicher Guests on JohnnyStir Show Tonight on; Blogger Hiatus Engaged

The JohnnyStir Show on Indiana Talks is back tonight at 8 p.m. with an all new episode.

Joining me is 8th District Congressional candidate David Orentlicher to talk about his run for Congress.  Also, my good friend Steve Terrell joins me to talk about the craziness that is the 2016 Presidential Election derby.

Also, I'm announcing that the blog is going on my normal holiday hiatus.  This week is going to be busy at the day job, so I'll be suspending my normal daily Monday through Friday routine.  We'll get back to that after we flip the calendar to 2016.  In the meantime, I'll still be chiming in between now and then to promote the radio show and comment on any major news.  I also reserve the right to post something if it strikes my fancy.

Hopefully you'll tune in to the big show tonight at 8 p.m. at and follow me on Twitter for new posts.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Personal Prerogative: Remembering Grandma Easter

My Grandma Easter
Today's post is personal, not political.

The anniversary sneaked up on me again this year, but December 8 has come and gone again and all day I remembered my grandmother, Twila Easter.

I had a unique relationship with my dad’s mother. Grandma Easter helped raise me because she essentially lived with us. She had her own space on the first level of our house in a built-out basement (though you better never called it a basement when she was within earshot), but she was my babysitter, grandmother, and best friend growing up.

Grandma could tell a story like no other. Sometimes she would, let’s say, change some of the details to make them more interesting. For example, she worked at the lunchroom at Haag’s downtown on Illinois and served an ever-growing number of people a day as the years passed. Her last career was as a school cook at Stephen Foster School 67 in IPS. She retired in the early 70’s. 

After my grandfather passed in 1972, Grandma Easter went back to work at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the gift shop part time. She worked there for the next 10 years. I came along in 1975, so I ended up with all the cool racing stuff you can imagine. My bedroom was decked out in Team Penske and A.J. Foyt gear. I loved racing before I ever loved football or basketball or any other sport, and it’s because of my grandmother. She taught me so many other things.

Grandma told stories that had nuggets of gold buried in them. She always seemed to have some point. She was always passionate about education and was adamant that even though she barely had a high school education that knowledge is something that can never be taken away. 

Sure, she’d bribe us all with her divinity fudge or her world-famous “pound-of-bacon” sandwiches, or the best macaroni and cheese you had ever eaten, but we, and I mean the grandkids, all loved Grandma because each of us had a different relationship with her. You could tell her almost anything, and she would dispense honest advice.

One of the most memorable times of my life was the time I spent with Grandma travelling out west to California after I graduated from high school to see my cousin. All of the other grandkids had gotten to travel with her, and it was something she absolutely loved to do. This was my time with her, and we had a blast. She was 83 at the time. I can still remember being on the plane and feeling sorry for the person we were sitting next to as Grandma drilled on with questions about life. Inevitably, Grandma found a way in and made a friend before the plane landed. That was who she was. She never met a stranger or was afraid to talk to anyone.

When she was able, Grandma would spend months at a time travelling to see her sisters in Oregon or Washington or Florida. She visited my cousin in Denmark (where she almost caused an international incident by taking two toy guns through security…they were gifts for my cousin’s host family’s young son). She took a cruise. She went to Europe and Hawaii (or Ha-why-yuh, as she called it). She and my grandfather once hopped a Greyhound and explored the great American West stopping in Yellowstone Park and seeing anything you could imagine seeing.

Grandma was a giving person. She would give you her last penny if you needed it. She never complained. Unfortunately, life caught up with her though she seemed invincible.

An accident scared her from continuing to drive about the time she turned 80, and a fluke accident during cataract surgery caused her to lose most of the sight in one eye at 84. She also developed a serious infection that took its toll. Around Thanksgiving of 1996, she developed pneumonia and went into the hospital. She missed our family Thanksgiving.

In true Twila Easter fashion, she rallied. She was released from the hospital a few days after Thanksgiving and spent the next few days ordering Christmas presents for everyone. Unfortunately, she took another turn for the worse and went back into the hospital. This time she wouldn’t recover.

I received a phone call from my mother saying that my dad, my brother, and his fiancé would be coming down to take me to dinner. I knew Grandma was not well and had been checking on her a lot. I knew what was coming. In the lobby at Read Hall, I got the news that Grandma Easter passed on December 8, 1996 at about 4:30 p.m. She was 86.

A few days later, the family gathered, and we had a celebration of a great life. There was the inevitable crying and sadness, but how could you be too upset for a lady that lived the life my grandmother did. To her, she was always just one of 14 kids from Stringtown on Indy’s Westside. 

In reality, she went all around the world and squeezed all the juice she could out of life.
It was tough after she was gone. I’m not sure my father ever got over losing Grandma Easter. A huge hole remains in my life that has yet to be filled by anyone, and that’s ok. It’s a special place no one could ever fill up, and I’m ok with that.

I know that I’m not alone. We all lose people we love. 

We, however, move on. We get older, and we try to spread the story of a remarkable person that we all loved and will always love so we don’t forget, as if we ever could.

So here’s to my grandmother, Twila Easter--my best friend ever. I miss you.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Trump's Muslim Lockout Proposal Goes Against Basic U.S. Values

Donald Trump
As you know by now, Donald Trump set off a firestorm of criticism with his latest turd nugget of wisdom...I mean proposal to deal with radical terrorism.

It looks funny to even type it, but it's the truth. The Republican frontrunner actually said all Muslims (even Americans living elsewhere) should be banned from entering the United States. 

It’s a move so xenophobic that even crazy members of his own political party and those running for the same office have denounced it. When Ted "Drop a Nuke" Cruz says that you’re crazy, you’re very crazy.

Listen, there are tons of reasons why jihadists target our country, but we cannot keep cow-towing to fear and capitulating to hate with the same response. Trump's policy, as many have pointed out correctly, is exactly what ISIS wants.  They want hate.  They want division.  By forcing us to fundamentally change our lives, those radicalized terrorists win.

The truth is that the United States is and always has been a country for immigrants, and our lives here in our country are enriched by those that are different from us. I love open and honest dialogue about culture and how we might or might not have the same customs as others. It’s part of what makes the rich tapestry of our country great.

Locking people out of the American Dream is no way to get people to aspire to it. Doing it by taking away fundamental Constitutional rights is a bridge way too far. In our quest for safety, we must not override the diversity and richness of our culture based on fear.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Riggs To Be Hogsett's IMPD Chief

IMPD Chief-to-be Troy Riggs
Yesterday, Joe Hogsett reached deep into his bag of tricks and pulled out one few saw coming.

The Mayor-Elect of Indianapolis announced on Tuesday that Troy Riggs, former Public Safety Director under Mayor Greg Ballard, would become the Chief of Police as of January 1. The Indianapolis Star also reports that Hogsett has decided to have Riggs and the Chief of the Indianapolis Fire Department report directly to him. This would seem to eliminate the middle position of Public Safety Director…at least in its current role.

Riggs, a former Police Chief of the Corpus Christi Police Department, will replace Rick Hite.

It’s not uncommon at all to replace the Chief of Police for an incoming administration though Ballard did not replace Michael Spears when he became Mayor. He did, however, beef up the job of Public Safety Director hiring the incredibly controversial Dr. Frank Straub towards the end of his first term who went on to alienate many in the city’s public safety departments. Many say it cost Ballard the “hearts and minds” of the officers working under him.

This new arrangement, however, means that there now appears to be no buffer between Hogsett and public safety. It’s all on him now, sink or swim. Hogsett, a former U.S. Attorney seems to relish the role of crime fighter, and he ran on reducing crime and improving public safety in the city. This is his first move, and it’s a strong one.

Despite Riggs being a Ballard appointee, I think he did an excellent job cleaning up a lot of the mess left behind by Straub. People on both sides of the political aisle speak very highly of Riggs, and I think it’s an excellent choice for IMPD Chief given his depth of experience. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Prominent Democrat Decides to Challenge Bucshon

David Orentlicher
David Orentlicher announced on Monday that he is returning to the political sphere.

The brilliant Orentlicher, an IUPUI professor, doctor, attorney, and past Indiana State Representative, says that he is running for Congress in the 8th District against Dr. Larry Bucshon in 2016.

It's not his first time at the rodeo.  Orentlicher ran for the 7th District Congressional Democratic nomination in a special caucus, but he and five other Democrats were defeated by Andre Carson.  In the May Primary, Orentlicher gave it another run, but he finished third in the Primary that year behind Congressman Carson and former Indiana Health Commissioner Woody Myers.  In 2010, Orentlicher ran for Marion County Prosecutor.  He dropped out and endorsed Terry Curry after a strong run.

Orentlicher is a respected voice on many issues.  Besides his background as both an Ivy League-educated doctor and lawyer, Orentlicher is an authority on the U.S. Constitution having taught Constitutional Law.  He's a prolific author and is a brilliant candidate to take on Bucshon.

To be fair, great candidates have taken on Bucshon before, but he's always been able to fight off the challenges.  Orentlicher may provide his toughest challenger yet.

An official announcement is expected in 2016, according to Orentlicher.

Monday, December 7, 2015

JohnnyStir Show Returns

The JohnnyStir Show returns tonight to

As many of you may know, I had a talk show from February of 2013 through July of 2014 on Indiana Talks, but I let it end because I was running for public office.  I needed to clear my plate of something.  So, I did.  A few weeks ago, I contacted the President of Indiana Talks, Gary Snyder, to see if I could maybe discuss bringing the show back, and he gave me close to my old time slot back.

Today being Pearl Harbor Day, John Cimasko, a board member of Indy Honor Flight, joins me to discuss the organization and what it does for veterans. Also, my good friends Stephen Terrell and Snyder help me finish out the program.

The JohnnyStir Show is back at 8:00 p.m. tonight.  Tune in!

Always Remember Pearl Harbor

Ships on Fire after Pearl Harbor Attack
"December 7, 1941.  A date that will live in infamy."

The words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ring through the annals of time just as they did the day he said them.

On that date, as you well know, the Empire of Japan attacked United States installations at Hawaii's Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base leaving much of the Pacific Fleet in flames, damaged, or at the bottom of the water.  2,500+ died, and another 1,000+ were wounded.  Many perished instantly when a Japanese-dropped bomb destroyed the USS Arizona killing 1,177 sailors.

The United States had been dragged into World War II by the next day.  Before we knew it, we were engaged on the Pacific and the Atlantic Fronts.  The United States was at war.

So many of the men and women of that era are passing before our eyes.  Some 16 million veterans survived World War II.  Some went to Korea just a few years later.  Today, just an estimated 1.7 million survive, and the daily obituaries tell a grim story.

We are losing World War II vets at the rate of 600 per day.  That means that by the end of this week, 3,000 fewer will be here.

Thankfully organizations like Indy Honor Flight are bringing attention to what these vets did for us and are taking them to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials our country was all too late in building for them.  We must do whatever we can to remember Pearl Harbor and what these many veterans did for us on and after that date.

To those that saved the world in World War II, thank you.  Thank you very much.  I appreciate what you did for the free world.  You are the true superheroes.

But, it all began on a beautiful December morning in Hawaii.  This blogger will always remember Pearl Harbor!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Four Words & a Comma Best Way to Guarantee Rights for All Hoosiers

The Indiana General Assembly has big issues to deal with in its upcoming “short” session.

From education to a wide variety of other issues, the Indiana House and Indiana Senate have a full, jam-packed agenda from day one. From infrastructure issues to education, it’s going to be a plate more full than you had at your Thanksgiving dinner.

That’s why you would think it would behoove the General Assembly to clear some off the clutter first. You’d think they would want to minimize the distracting courses on the plate and work with those meat and potato issues. It would behoove them to address the LGBT civil rights question and settle it early before it derails the entire session.

The simplest way to clear this issue from the agenda would be to add four words and a comma to the state’s anti-discrimination law: “gender identity, sexual orientation”.

As it stands now, only LGBT Hoosiers are protected in cities like Indianapolis that have a human rights ordinance. If you live in Indy, you can get married on Saturday and not be firedon Monday. Elsewhere in Indiana, it’s not that simple. 

Instead of the four words and a comma approach, the General Assembly will consider Senate Bill 100. It’s a convoluted mess of a bill that pretty much reaffirms parts of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

Among other things, SB100 would:
  • Continue to allow some businesses to discriminate
  • Propose a fine for those whose claims are deemed “frivolous” of $1,000
  • Override local attempts to prevent discrimination
That’s just the surface. The bill clocks in at over 20 pages.
It’s time to get serious in Indiana about protecting all Hoosiers. I would advise the Republicans to abandon SB 100 and simply add in the four requested words and a comma to the state’s non-discrimination code.  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Walker Announces Resignation

December 15, 2015 will be the last day Marion County Republican Chair Kyle Walker will be on the job.

The GOP chairman of the state’s most-populous county announced his resignation today on Twitter, effective December 15. At that time, there will be a caucus to select his replacement.

Walker was elected Republican Party Chair in December of 2010. After five years on the job, he has little to show for his efforts. Democrats are in control of every major Indianapolis City/County office, the City-County Council, the 7th District Congressional seat, and several key General Assembly seats. 

When Walker came to power, Republicans still held the Mayor’s Office and City-County Council. Those went bye bye in 2011. He struggled to find candidates after that point. It’s been tough going.

I’ve never met Walker, but he’s been an occasional Twitter foe. The Republicans decide to place in the role. Certainly, it won’t be an easy job.  It might be tough to find a chair.    

New Spirit of Bi-Partisanship to Dominate City-County Building Under Hogsett?

Mayor-Elect Joe Hogsett
Four years ago when the Democrats took control of the City-County Council, they sent an olive branch to Mayor Greg Ballard and the Republicans and offered to jointly swear in together as a sign of unity.  That fell through, and the only Republican Councillor to show at the Democratic swearing in ceremony was Councillor Marilyn Pfisterer.

It was the first shot in what has been a big gulf that has sometimes been choppy between the Mayor and the City-County Council.  While a number of big ticket items have gotten done, others have languished because of a lack of communication...mostly from the 25th floor down to, believe it or not, both Council caucuses.

Last week, Mayor-Elect Joe Hogsett, Council President Maggie Lewis, and Council Minority Leader Mike McQuillen announced a joint swearing in ceremony and inauguration to take place on January 1, 2016 at high noon inside Hilbert Circle Theatre on Monument Circle.  According to media reports, it was Mike McQuillen, the Republican Council Minority Leader's idea to hold the ceremony that will be free and open to the public.

While the Hogsett express has gotten pulled into the weeds a bit here by talk of a raise for the Mayor of Indianapolis that he apparently did not ask for, the gesture bears note.  The constant complaint again from Councillors I talked to on both sides of the aisle (yes, I do talk to Republicans and they talk to me) was that Mayor Ballard often had his own agenda.  You were either on board or walking the plank.  

There was even a name for it around the Council chambers. 

"Councillor Timeout" was what one Republican told me it was called.  I think you know the names of the Councillors that have been in there at various times.

Let's hope that this unity is more than symbolic.  Pay raise aside, Hogsett and this Council have a lot to accomplish.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Cut to the Chase, Donald

Donald J. Trump
I feel compelled to explain something to Donald Trump (should he stumble upon my humble blog). So, if I could have your attention, please, Mr. Trump.

I have no clue why anyone with brain matter would support you, but you have apparently bamboozled some of the electorate into thinking you’re a serious candidate for President. For that, I congratulate you. You've managed to convince them that you seriously want to "Make America Great Again" as if it's not great now.  Seems to have been pretty great to you, but I digress.

When it comes to being a Presidential candidate, you really have nothing to offer anyone.  Let's be honest, as Martin O’Malley has pointed out, you are little more than an “immigrant-bashing carnival barker.”

Regarding your latest kerfuffle over the mocking of a reporter with a physical challenge.  Let's be clear.  We all know you did it. We aren’t stupid. We can see what you did. No one owes you an apology for anything, and, for someone so brazen and brash, an apology seems to be the last thing you would demand. You're awfully sensitive these days. That’s not, however, what I wanted to address.

I wanted to address your latest P.T. Barnum scheme (with apologies to Mr. Barnum).  It seems you've proposed a plan to get CNN to pay you $5 million to appear in the next debate. You say you want to give the money to wounded warriors and veterans. That seems noble until you realize that you’re worth billions. You likely have $5 million in your couch cushions. You could easily donate that amount on your own if you wished, but you won’t. 

The bottom line is that this latest bit of silliness is part of the entire shampaign you’re running.  You're not really running for President because you're not serious about running.  You're just a reality TV star that was, as Ann Richards once said, "born on third base and thought he hit a triple."

You're not equipped to be President because that requires you to be least at times -- to allow those out there to criticize when they have no idea what the job entails and to go about the business of the country putting yourself second and this country first.

You see, when you are elected President, you are elected to serve. The 43 other men who have served in the role could tell you that many times being President is not about how you’re treated by a media outlet or how people react to your showmanship. It’s about service. Part of the process requires you to put forth serious ideas into the public square and compare those ideas with others. It requires your plans to be vetted by a media protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

You may not like their questions or that the facts they find don't agree with the ones you make up in your head, but it's actually the way it happens.  Part of this process requires debates so that voters can compare ideas and decide who is best to earn their vote.

So, be honest.  Whether or not to attend this debate has little to do with CNN or how you're treated by the press or helping wounded warriors or veterans. It's not about putting your ideas out there to be vetted in public discussion.  Nope.  Come clean.  It’s about the only person you see in the mirror. It’s about Donald J. Trump, a man who makes even our least humble President look like Pope Francis.

You can start to "Make America Great Again" by abandoning your run for President.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Democrats Very Close to Vanquishing Republicans in Marion County...Maybe for Good

For years, Marion County was a Republican stronghold. It was redder than red, and the Republican Party organization was admired across the United States.

That time has passed, and the transition has come within my political lifetime.

In 1999, Bart Peterson broke through and took the Mayor’s Office. In 2003, Democrats took control of the City-County Council for the first time. In 2004, John Kerry carried Marion County for the Democrats. It was the first time a Democrat running for President had won Marion County in 40 years. 

This decade, the march continued.  Between 2000 and 2006, several county offices changed parties.  In 2010, Terry Curry took the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office from Carl Brizzi by defeating now-Indiana Supreme Court Justice Mark Massa. He was reelected easily in 2014.

In 2011, the Republicans kept the Mayor’s Office, but they lost the City-County Council majority. Before leaving office, that Republican Council Majority got a redistricting plan on the Mayor’s desk that was supposed to be a political time bomb for Democrats in 2015 and lead to a Republican return to Council power. That plan, combined with government structure changes approved by the legislature in 2013, was supposed to keep Republicans at least in charge of the Council. Well, the elections happened, and two longtime Republicans lost their district seats meaning that the Democrats have a one seat majority at 13-12.

In 2014, Republicans placed all their chips on knocking off John Layton with Emmitt Carney only to lose spectacularly.

In 2015, after a reported six no’s from prominent Republicans, unknown Chuck Brewer stepped up to the plate and got less than 40 percent of the vote for Mayor of Indianapolis across Marion County.

There are other indicators beyond demographic shifts to favor Dems.

Republicans tried to pack AndrĂ© Carson’s district with Republicans on the Southside, but electorally, Carson exceeds the reported baseline vote. They can’t touch him electorally.
Democrats have lost big statewide, but that doesn’t include Marion County where two of the 10 Democratic Indiana Senators serve and two more districts are extremely competitive despite every effort to gerrymander them. On the House side, 10 of the 29 Democrats in the House represent Marion County districts.  Dems have a seat on the Perry Township Board, and I even won a precinct in Decatur Township running for City-County Council.  

The blue tide is about to wash away the red.

In short, it’s good to be a Democrat in Marion County. It’s bad to be Kyle Walker, the Marion County Republican Chair, who now presides over an organization that can’t even fill its pollworker slots. It doesn’t even attempt to do so it seems…even in Republican-controlled areas of the county such as the Southside.

As strong as the Dems are here in Marion County, we're weak elsewhere. 

You have to drive miles to find blue or even purple territory. That’s why Marion County and Lake County must lead the way and take back this state in 2016 for the Democrats beginning with John Gregg and the Governor’s mansion.

For Republicans in Marion County, it’s just about game over. It’s hats off to all those Democrats that have worked for years to get to this point.