The Personal Side of Politics

My seven year-old daughter recently got excited about the memory of walking in a parade in last year’s campaigns. We were there on a weekend afternoon with a candidate backed by the Indiana Chamber’s non-partisan political action program.

“Daddy, we talked to the governor, the senator and played with their dog …” I remember all the complaining about how her feet hurt and carrying her half the parade route, but I smiled that she remembered a “political” experience warmly.

It’s a darn shame so few in our society ever really get to have a positive and personal relationship with the people who run for office and represent them. It’s hard to hate someone who you’ve looked in the eye, made a personal contact with and shared something with – even just a pleasant greeting.

The airwaves are filled with vitriolic rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and anger on both sides. The incentives in politics are all out of whack, as activists and media are driven to conflict and division. At times it seems the only time politicians are portrayed as personal or human is when they screw up.

I didn’t come from a political family. However, I still remember being not much older than my daughter one fall morning when my congressman knelt down to shake my hand and say a kind word. I respected that man for a decade to follow, even when I worked tirelessly to defeat him later as a young adult in the political business.

It’s a shame more of our children and adults don’t get the chance or care to make a personal connection with political leaders.

The Crazy Things Candidates Say

Over the years, we’ve met, interviewed and evaluated hundreds of candidates for the Indiana Chamber’s non-partisan political action program, Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG). The vast majority are thoughtful people, but sometimes they say the most outrageous things.

  • “My wife is really mad that I’m running. She’s moved out and says she’ll move back when I lose.” Is this campaign a win-win or a lose-lose scenario for you?
  • “No, I’ve never met anyone there or asked for their campaign support.” We knew for a fact he had just left their office an hour before.
  • “There was this thing where I got accused by this teenage girl a couple years ago, but no one will know about it.” OK, I think we’ve heard enough about your campaign.
  • “We need to raise taxes on corporations and ban coal in this state!” Do you know what a chamber of commerce is?
  • <Intense stare>“I have this power. I can look at people and know what they are thinking.” Sorry, I didn’t really mean what I just thought.
  • “A friend of mine has photos of my opponent in bed with a man who isn’t her husband.” That could make for an interesting direct mailing.
  • “I worked for the CIA, but I don’t want to tell anyone.” So did I, but let’s keep it to ourselves.
  • “I love to go to Vegas a couple of times a year, not to gamble but for the girls. You’ll have to come with me sometime.” My wife will want to talk to your wife first.
  • “Yes, I lost the last three campaigns, but you’re not going to hold that against me are you?” No, I’m sure you’ve gotten the losing out of your system.
  • “I heard your interviews are really intense, but you’re not the mean <beep> I thought you were.” I’ll try harder to live up to my reputation.

IBRG: Thoughtful Discourse Unfortunately Taking Backseat to Fury and Fear

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure to attend the Indiana Chamber’s statewide summit on the Indiana Vision 2025 plan. A very diverse group of a couple hundred leaders from business, community, academic and research had a very engaging and cooperative discussion. There was real energy and excitement about coming together to do big things.

This came in stunning contrast for this writer, fresh off another election cycle, a few more bruises, stories, wins and losses. Elections are seldom about big ideas, cooperation or, certainly not, bipartisanship. Election campaigns are about political combat, contrast, division, and lining up in camps. It has always been this way, varying only by tone and degrees.

This all came to mind in reviewing a recent speech by former Senator Richard Lugar at Duke University on partisanship and our political climate. An excerpt:

Perhaps the most potent force driving partisanship is the rise of a massive industry that makes money off of political discord. This industry encompasses cable news networks, talk radio shows, partisan think tanks, direct mail fundraisers, innumerable websites and blogs, social media, and gadfly candidates and commentators. Many of these entities have a deep economic stake in perpetuating political conflict. They are successfully marketing and monetizing partisan outrage. In some cases, these partisan practitioners are true believers whose economic interests coincide with their political views. But in other cases, they are just executing a business model predicated on appealing to the prejudices and fears of their adherents . . . The cumulative result is that extremism has a much greater chance of being rewarded electorally than it did even a decade ago, and good governance has suffered.

As a practitioner in the political industry, I think this is a fair criticism. However, Sen. Lugar’s assertion that “extremism has a much greater chance of being rewarded…” is a particularly important one.

Fury and fear have become the fuel of our political discord. The competition for attention in a rapid-fire, all-encompassing communication world creates a need to be creatively outrageous, loud, brief and divisive to get attention and to motivate people to act.

Policy intricacies, open and deep discussions around finding a broad vision, encouraging cooperation are, well, boring in the new and old media worlds alike. Conflict, name-calling, grenade throwing and “gotcha” politics are more entertaining and, ultimately, entertainment gets attention.

With the lines blurred and almost gone now between election campaigns and the governing/public policy making process – the incentives have escalated the trend to rhetorical excess, criticism and divisiveness in our political discourse. To steal Adam Smith’s imagery, the invisible hand of the political market provides a powerful incentive to breed fear, fury and factions in our system.

Jeff Brantley is the Indiana Chamber's VP of political affairs and leads Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG). Follow him on Twitter at @jbrantleyIBRG.

A Look at the 2012 Election

An election of historic proportions has just taken place in our nation and right here in Indiana. There were some big surprises, big changes, and a lot of "status quo" outcomes.  Read all the results in the Indiana Chamber/IBRG’s 2012 General Elections Report.

The things that didn’t surprise political analysts:

  • Joe Donnelly defeated Richard Mourdock for the U.S. Senate
  • Mike Pence won the Governor’s race
  • Indiana House Republicans won 69 seats, achieving a quorum-proof (or walkout-proof) majority
  • In the Indiana Senate, not a single incumbent of either party was defeated

The things that did surprise political analysts:

  • Mike Pence won the governor’s race by an unexpectedly tight 3.2 percentage points
  • Dr. Tony Bennett was defeated for re-election as Superintendent of Public Instruction
  • 23 freshmen legislators were elected to the House; 42% of the new House roster will include legislators with two or less years of experience in office

The Indiana Chamber’s non-partisan political action program, Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG), had a good election: 61 of 77 IBRG-endorsed candidates facing opponents won their races; 8 of 9 candidates endorsed for the U.S. Congress were victorious.

The Elections Report will be updated as final results and additional analysis are assembled in the hours and days following the election. Check back at www.ibrg.biz or www.indianachamber.com for updates. For more information or questions, please contact Jeff Brantley (jbrantley@indianachamber.com), vice president of political affairs and PAC.

Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG), the non-partisan political action program of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, was heavily involved in support of pro-jobs, pro-prosperity candidates.
 

Chamber Endorses Mary Ann Sullivan for State Senate

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce announced today its endorsement of State Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis) in her general election challenge to incumbent State Sen. Brent Waltz (R-Greenwood) for the Indiana Senate District 36 seat.  The endorsement was made by Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG), the non-partisan political program of the Indiana Chamber.

“It is not an exaggeration to describe Mary Ann Sullivan as one of the hardest-working, open-minded and honorable members of the General Assembly,” said Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. “Sullivan is passionate about public service and public policy work. She has earned significant, bipartisan support among business and community leaders who believe it is time for a change in representation in Senate District 36.”

Sullivan currently serves in the Indiana House of Representatives, District 97 and was first elected in 2008.  She serves on the Commerce, Small Business and Economic Development Committee, Environmental Affairs Committee and Government and Regulatory Reform Committee. She is also a nationally-recognized leader in charter school and education reform efforts.

“I am honored to be endorsed by the Indiana Chamber, the state’s leading organization representing business,” said Sullivan. “I’m excited about Indiana’s future and I’m ready to continue to work hard to find real solutions and get things done. I’m not interested in the politics of division. I’m interested in working together to grow our economy and improve the quality of life for those I hope to represent. The south side deserves to have a true advocate in the Indiana General Assembly.”

Senate District 36 includes portions of Center and Perry townships in Marion County and a portion of northern Johnson County.

The Indiana Chamber has been the state’s leading business organization for 90 years, representing over 800,000 Hoosier workers through nearly 5,000 member companies across Indiana.

Independents Rising

More and more Hoosiers consider themselves true “independents,” casting aside any political identification with either Republicans or Democrats. 

Twenty percent (20%) of Indiana voters today identify themselves as “independent,” even after factoring out those who self-identify as leaning to one party or the other. This is a 150% increase in true independent voters in just the last six years.

Indiana has whip-sawed in recent elections, delivering the state to President Obama in 2008 in the same year it voted by historic margins for Mitch Daniels. Then in 2010, the state led the nation in a surge for the GOP. What will Indiana independents do in 2012?

These are just some of the findings from a recent statewide poll commissioned by the Indiana Chamber’s political action program, Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG).

Real Darn Close (Updated)

A little tidbit for the political scorekeepers. While Indiana House Republicans are celebrating their 11 seat pickup and a new 59-41 majority, they were a few stones throw away from reaching 61 seats. A swing of just 115 votes (three-tenths of one percent of total votes cast) across two adjoining seats in far southwest Indiana would have done it.

Rep. Kreg Battles eeked out a 166 vote win (50.4%-49.6%) over Ken Beckerman (R) in House 64. In the open House 75 seat, Bob Deig (D) stepped past Wendy McNamara (R) by just 30 votes.

UPDATE: McNamara is now ahead of Deig with a strong chance to take the seat. They’re awaiting the results of provisional ballots and then a possible recount, but it is looking like the GOP may end up with a 60-40 majority after all is said and done.

Cleaning Up Indiana Elections

This week’s Indiana Supreme Court ruling upholding the requirement that voters show a picture ID to vote really wasn’t much of a surprise, considering case law.  However, it does represent an important reform to stop years of egregious frauds committed by slimy characters from both parties.

I once followed a suspicious voter between three polling sites where she cast ballots, before I was able to get an official in place to challenge her at a fourth site. At the time, all she had to do was give a name, no ID, and sign in the poll book. The unusual thing was catching someone in the act, not the act itself.

Electronic voting systems have come to most counties and the age-old game of tweaking paper ballots and machines has largely passed into the ashbin of history. However, absentee balloting continues to be a gaping hole in Indiana elections.

A voter casting an “absentee ballot” simply files a basic application indicating they will not be able to physically go to a polling site on Election Day. A ballot is then mailed to their residence to be filled out and returned by mail.

Convenient? Yes. Secure and fraud-free? No. 

Slimy political agents hang around mailboxes to collect applications and ballots they filed for eligible or not eligible (dead, moved, non-citizen, etc.). Absentee ballots are cast from voters at homes that don’t exist. Small rental homes or single apartments can be found from which dozens of absentee votes are cast. The list goes on.

Prosecutions in this state for voter fraud are up, but you’ll find the cases are almost always about absentee ballot abuses.

Free Speech for All

Look at most polls and you’ll see voters are in a surly mood and wanting to boot incumbents out of office. So no one should have been surprised that congressional leadership wants to move fast to pass new restrictions on speech by those who might disagree with them.

It’s called the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections, or “DISCLOSE Act.”  A long and cute title, but the bill is really designed to put duct tape over the mouths of businesses and trade associations. Labor unions and trial lawyers get a pass in the bill, an important preferential treatment with real election impacts.

For-profit corporations doing federal contract business, taking TARP money, or with as little as 20% overseas ownership would be flatly shut-out of making campaign communications. CEOs of any other corporations who tried to speak up would have to go on camera in any advertisement saying they approved the ad and could face criminal complaints. Independent expenditure ads by businesses and associations would be blocked from being on the air from April through November in Indiana.

For decades, federal campaign finance rules and “reform” packages like McCain-Feingold were crafted with some balance for corporations and labor unions. The DISCLOSE Act abandons this important balance and bipartisanship. There was no attempt at a bipartisan approach here, particularly with the current chair of the House Democrat Campaign Committee (Rep. Van Hollen) and immediate past chair of the Senate campaign committee (Sen. Chuck Schumer) actually authoring the bill.

Businesses and trade associations have First Amendment free speech rights, as reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Citizens United ruling last year. That pesky First Amendment getting in the way of politicians again.

You can take action in fighting this legislation via the Indiana Prosperity Project.