Cook: Governors’ Races Unique, More Difficult to Handicap than Federal Races

Cook_CharlieCharlie Cook is editor and publisher of the Cook Political Report and a political analyst for National Journal magazine. Cook is considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on American politics, and The New York Times has called him “one of the best political handicappers in the nation.”

Cook will be the keynote speaker at the Indiana Chamber’s 2016 Legislative Dinner on February 9. (Get your tickets now!) I recently spoke with Cook for an evaluation of this very turbulent time in American politics.

Below is my final question (see his other responses about political surprises, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, and America’s infatuation with presidential politics) :

Indiana is already gearing up for the 2016 gubernatorial race – a rematch from 2012. Gov. Pence has been under heat on some social issues, and lately for the state’s stance on accepting refugees. John Gregg’s supporters have seen these as benefits to their chances. What do you expect in this race, and do you think Pence could be vulnerable?

Cook: I tend to delegate governors’ races to our senior editor Jennifer Duffy, so I’m not doing deep dives into these races. But I’ll say that Indiana went through a period where Democrats were very competitive and did well – like Evan Bayh, and Obama carried it in 2008.

But in 2012, Indiana wasn’t even in the top 10 to 12 competitive races presidentially. While governors’ races tend to be more independent of national politics and less straight party than Senate and House races, I think Indiana has reverted more to type and back into the pretty Republican column. It doesn’t mean a Republican governor is unbeatable and a race can get relatively close, but for a Democrat to get over the finish line, that’s awfully hard in Indiana.

It’s one thing to cover Senate and House races from Washington, but governors’ races have their own unique sets of issues and rhythms, so it’s hard for anyone from out of state to understand it.

Work Share Gets Dog and Pony Show, but No Vote

statehouse-picThe 2016 legislative session marked the first time in the last several years that the work share policy made it to the hearing stage, despite having strong bipartisan support. Still, the Chamber knew in advance of the hearing that Rep. Doug Gutwein (R-Francesville), chair of the committee, was probably not going to take a vote on the bill. Our plan was to give it our best shot and hope that the chairman would change his mind.

The bill’s author, Rep. Ober, testified that work share is a win-win for employers and employees, and he laid the groundwork for why the bill is important for both. Employers in an economic downturn retain skilled workers who receive partial unemployment compensation instead of being laid off. That means employers then do not have to rehire employees (and retrain) when the economy picks back up. Employees also retain their jobs and their employer sponsored benefits while drawing a prorated unemployment compensation benefit. Additionally, Rep. Karlee Macer (D-Indianapolis), a co-author on the bill, testified of her long-time support for the issue.

The Chamber presented study findings, released just this month; the research was conducted as a joint request by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the Indiana Chamber. Noted economist Michael Hicks from Ball State University, the author of the study, was unable to be present for the hearing. The most important point made by the study was the impact on the economy. During the peak of national unemployment in 2010, Indiana having a work share program would have translated into $500,000 less in month to month income volatility and approximately 10,500 employees would have kept their jobs.

The Chamber would like to thank members Tom Easterday of Subaru Indiana Automotive and Mark Gramelspacher of Evergreen Global Advisors for taking the time out of their busy schedules to come testify before the committee in favor of work share. Their points to the committee were right on the mark. Easterday noted that Indiana is the most manufacturing intensive state in the U.S. Additionally, he talked about the state’s shortage of skilled workers and why retaining skilled workers during an economic downturn is so vital to manufacturing in Indiana – and a work share program can help accomplish that.

Gramelspacher testified, “There is a better way to run the unemployment program and that is work share. It creates a win-win from a lose-lose. This is a rare opportunity for the legislative body. Work share allows employers to maintain the employment relationship with known individuals and people that employers have already recruited, interviewed, tested, trained and invested in.”

The Indiana Institute for Working Families and AFL-CIO testified in favor of the bill as well.

The Indiana Manufacturers Association (IMA) testified that previously it was not supportive of work share, but because of the Chamber’s recent study it recognized the benefits and now supported the concept. However, the IMA then proceeded to express various concerns for implementing the actual program.

Prior to the hearing, the DWD representative acquiesced that the Chamber had been able to remove most of the agency’s arguments in opposition to the bill. In testimony, however, DWD opposed even moving the bill out of committee for further debate. That was a curious strategy, given the discussion before the hearing and the fact that the agency partnered with the Chamber on the study.

The Indiana Chamber brought forth two viable options to pay for the minimal cost to set up a state work share program and maintain it annually.

Nonetheless, the committee chairman followed DWD’s lead and announced at the close of the hearing that no vote was being taken then or essentially anytime this session.

Once again, here is why work share would be extremely beneficial for the state:

Cook: Politics Full of Surprises, but Obama Win Remains Most Shocking

Cook_CharlieCharlie Cook is editor and publisher of the Cook Political Report and a political analyst for National Journal magazine. Cook is considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on American politics, and The New York Times has called him “one of the best political handicappers in the nation.”

Cook will be the keynote speaker at the Indiana Chamber’s 2016 Legislative Dinner on February 9. (Get your tickets now!) I recently spoke with Cook for an evaluation of this very turbulent time in American politics. Here is an excerpt from the conversation.

In 2014, the GOP had a major shake-up when Eric Cantor, a member of leadership, was unseated in the primary. In Indiana, we had a similar shock in 2012 when Richard Lugar was ousted. What are some ongoing lessons for long-standing legislators to take from that? Is that mostly a GOP predicament due to its Tea Party elements, or are do you see any Democrats potentially dealing with primary turbulence in the near future?

Cook: Washington and Congress have never been beloved, and alienation is increasing. But it shows you have to be back in your state and your district, and really keep a tight feel on the pulse back home because it can get out from under you. Cantor was a bright, effective member, but he went on the national stage and became a major force in the national Republican Party. But to do that meant not going home and keeping fences mended as well as he should have.

Sen. Lugar had become this enormously respected figure in terms of international politics and the world scene, and a real statesman. But that came at a cost. And not having a home back in the state became symbolic of something.

So yes, there’s a “Tea Party versus The Establishment” dynamic in the Republican Party, but there’s an older dynamic of “going national” and maybe not tending to things back home quite as attentively as you have to in an era when people are so suspicious of politicians. But there’s certainly more volatility and anger within the GOP right now than there is in the Democratic Party. Although Sanders and the Occupy Wall Street movement shows it does exist in the Democratic Party, it’s more profound in the GOP. We’re not seeing Democratic incumbents knocked off in the primaries at the regularity we see in the GOP.

What shocked you as far as the most surprising election result you’ve seen in the past 20 years?

Cook: I think Obama beating Clinton. There were signs early on that he had a unique appeal with younger voters … but to have someone who had just barely been a member Congress upset one of the biggest names in the Democratic Party, it was one of the biggest shocks I’d ever seen.

In some ways, freshman senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – although philosophically they’re very different from where Obama was – (remind me of that) but the idea of a first-term senator doing that well was unprecedented. It showed you that a lot of the old rules may not be applying.

Cook: America’s Political Infatuation Better than Indifference

Cook_CharlieCharlie Cook is editor and publisher of the Cook Political Report and a political analyst for National Journal magazine. Cook is considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on American politics, and The New York Times has called him “one of the best political handicappers in the nation.”

Cook will be the keynote speaker at the Indiana Chamber’s 2016 Legislative Dinner on February 9. (Get your tickets now!) I recently spoke with him for an evaluation of this very turbulent time in American politics.

Below is one of the questions (and stay tuned for more soon):

Perhaps I’m asking the wrong person, but do you think people pay too much attention to politics (compared to policy or other global affairs)? It seems like the presidential primary and election is such a long process in the U.S. – especially compared to Canada – and is always highly covered. Are we at risk of political fatigue in some way?

Cook: This is such an unusual election. Our campaigns are always long, and they’re getting longer. But that’s the nature of our elections. It’s not like a parliamentary system where the prime minister calls an election and five or six weeks later there is an election.

But it’s a combination of two things: 1. It is important who’s President of the United States. Whoever it is, whether we like them or not, we have to live with them for four to eight years; 2. It’s almost like a sporting event with people handicapping it the way they’d talk about a Colts game. I think it’s perfectly healthy. I’d rather people have a curiosity about it for a long time than they think it doesn’t matter. In that sense, some of the fascination with Donald Trump is healthy in that it’s channeling anger and alienation into the process, rather than people just throwing up their hands and giving up.

Now, I don’t think Trump will be the Republican nominee, and if I’m right, the question is: What will happen to those Trump voters who are alienated and angry? In the absence of Trump, will they withdraw from the process? That’s an important question.

Report: Work Share Program Would Have Positive Impact on Indiana

CYNJvbRUoAA_kOmA new report released today by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce encourages the state to implement a voluntary work share program, labeling it “a clear stabilizer during a business cycle.” Work share would enable employees to stay on their job at reduced hours during tough economic times and collect partial unemployment compensation.

The policy – currently in place in more than half the states – has enjoyed support on both sides of the aisle the last few years, but has yet to make much progress in the state Legislature. The Indiana Chamber hopes this research, led by Michael Hicks of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, will help get the ball rolling to pass work share legislation. The research was conducted at the request of the Indiana Chamber Foundation and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

The overriding conclusion reached by Hicks is that a “work share program would reduce business costs for participating firms by reducing search and hiring costs, and would stabilize families and communities.”

He continues, “We anticipate that unemployment and earnings will suffer less volatility associated with an economic downturn. This may have longer term impacts by reducing long-term unemployment and increasing consumer spending and growth in sales tax revenues over the short run.”

The report notes that the manufacturing sector, particularly the medium-sized manufacturing firms, would be the ones using the program the most. Indiana remains the most manufacturing intensive state in the country.

These findings confirm what advocates have been saying for several years, remarks Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

“The benefits are real and significant. Work share allows employers to maintain a skilled, trained and stable workforce, while at the same time, employees keep their jobs and benefits instead of facing unemployment and further financial uncertainty.

“There is no negative impact on the state’s unemployment insurance fund,” he offers. “Instead of paying full benefits to a smaller group of recipients, a larger group of employees will receive reduced benefits.”

Here’s an example of how a work share program unfolds. Instead of laying off 10 workers due to decreased demand, a company could keep the full workforce in place but reduce the hours of 40 workers by 25%. The impacted employees would receive three-quarters of their normal salary, as well as be eligible for partial unemployment insurance benefits to supplement their reduced paycheck and keep full benefits.

Brinegar explains that “work share is generally a temporary solution used by employers for no more than six months during an economic slowdown.”

Tom Easterday, executive vice president for Subaru of Indiana Automotive in Lafayette, believes now – while the state’s economic picture is still bright – is the perfect time to enact a work share program.

“If we wait until there’s another economic downturn to take action, then it will be too late. Businesses across Indiana may already be impacted and jobs will be in jeopardy. Now is the time to prepare by implementing an efficient and effective workshare program, so it’s in place when needed.”

In the report, Hicks replays the unfortunate domino effect that took place in Kokomo in 2009 when two large automakers (GM and Fiat-Chrysler) suspended manufacturing for two months. While they could afford to continue employment due to their cash reserves, their large supply chain of smaller companies could not and were forced to lay off employees.

“Work share would have likely enabled some of these operations to continue at a slower pace. … The commercial benefits would have accrued primarily to these smaller manufacturing firms and would likely have stabilized the Kokomo economy significantly during this time.”

Brinegar reveals that early estimates place the annual costs to establish and operate a work share program in Indiana to be between $1 million and $1.5 million. He believes a nominal yearly surcharge of $10-$15 for those Hoosier businesses currently paying into the unemployment insurance fund would reach that amount and make the most sense.

“The amount is so small, especially for the possible benefits to an employer down the road,” he begins. “This group also received a per employee break recently when the state executed the early payoff of the federal unemployment insurance loan. This saved each business more than $126 per employee.”

Establishing a work share program in the state is one of the Indiana Chamber’s 2016 top legislative priorities.

The work share research document is available at www.indianachamber.com/labor.

Indiana Chamber Outlines Priorities for School Testing Reform

19173605In testimony this week, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce began outlining its priorities for school testing reform. Caryl Auslander, the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of education and workforce development policy, expands on some of her remarks:

Pause school accountability for one year only:

“The Indiana Chamber fully supports a one-year pause in school accountability due to the many missteps in the latest ISTEP testing cycle. Teachers should still be subject to the important classroom and other evaluations that take place, but not have test scores used for that purpose for this one year.

“With a new test administrator in place going forward, our hope is that the Indiana Department of Education (DOE) will work very closely with them to ensure that the test is administered accurately and that scores are finalized and reported in an appropriate timeframe (i.e., by the end of August). Many of the ISTEP issues can be traced to past vendor-DOE relations; those need to improve and DOE needs to take a more aggressive role in ensuring deadlines and expectations are met.

“We urge legislators to resist any efforts to lessen our overall accountability process. Accountability measures for schools, teachers and students are critical. They allow us to accurately predict student progress, rate teacher effectiveness and compare and contrast school performance relative to state and national peers. We have to be able to grade ourselves.”

Rescore of current data necessary:

“If we are pausing accountability for the schools, it is important to keep the unadjusted scores/data as a baseline for growth measurement next year. That means it’s essential for the scores to be correct and trusted. And the only way that can be accomplished is through a rescore of the exams by an independent third party.”

Rebrand test; no need to start process over:

“We have new, more rigorous academic standards and the new assessment exam to go along with them. There is no need to spend more of the state’s money to change the assessment. The length of this test or any test is something DOE can and should address with the new test vendor.

“The new test was labeled ISTEP out of a sense of continuity. Let’s rebrand the test to reflect that it is indeed new and simply work to ensure future tests are executed properly and timely. That’s all that needs to happen.”

Spectrum Technology: Maximizing Its Chamber Investment

Penno_ThomasCall it a stroke of luck.

When Tom Penno, chief operating officer at Spectrum Technology, attended the Chamber’s Annual Human Resources Conference & Expo for the first time, he happened to sit next to Indiana Chamber director of human resources Michelle Kavanaugh.

“We don’t have a full-time HR person, so you get into some areas that you think, ‘I’m not sure how I should proceed with this,’ ” Penno reflects. “I got to talking with her and have touched base several times over the past six to eight months (via the Chamber’s free, confidential HR helpline) regarding how to proceed in delicate situations and for clarification on various issues.

“She’s clear and very good at coaching. She’s assisted us in helping employees through difficult situations.”

Indianapolis-based Spectrum provides IT-managed services. Clients represent industries ranging from manufacturing, law and accounting to marketing, public relations and architecture.

“We focus on companies from 20 people up to several hundred,” Penno explains. “We help them with strategic planning around their infrastructure to keep their core business up and running.”

He emphasizes that the HR Helpline “saves me time because she’s (Kavanaugh) incredibly responsive, and it saves me money because I’m not calling an attorney. It’s wonderful.

“I would say that without question, I don’t bat an eye now when I think of the annual Chamber membership dues. I do find myself wondering, ‘What else am I not tapping into?’”

Elements Financial: Maximizing Its Chamber Investment Through Wellness

Shickel_ToddWhen people want to be healthy, they usually consider a balanced diet and regular exercise. Too often, though, they do not think of how their personal finances are part of their health.

Todd Shickel, assistant vice president of business development at Elements Financial (a Chamber member since 1999 with 150 employees), believes companies should take a more holistic approach to wellness. Elements Financial’s partnership with the Wellness Council of Indiana (WCI) has allowed it to reach a new audience as an expert in the field of financial wellness.

“We found that sometimes employers have been hesitant in supporting their employees’ financial wellness,” Shickel explains. “We have been able to demonstrate to them the effect it has on their (employees’) performance at work. The stressors connected to that can impact physical health, which affects productivity and performance.”

Elements Financial is a credit union which works with businesses to help employees plan and manage their personal finances. The company is a premiere sponsor of the WCI and Shickel is a member of its board of advisors.

Shickel worked with Chuck Gillespie, executive director of the WCI, to learn about the five components of well-being: physical, financial, community, social and personal wellness. These components guided a company wellness program at Elements Financial that has improved the workplace. Elements Financial has been named as one of Indiana’s Best Places to Work for six years running.

“If you look at the five components of well-being, our company definitely has something in place for each of those and we can talk to other employers about it,” Shickel says. “We are practicing what we preach, and it gives us credibility.”

Shickel’s workplace also incentivizes wellness for its employees by giving “wellness points” that may add up to a gift or a reimbursement to employees’ health savings accounts. He says employees have really incorporated wellness into the office culture.

“Wellness doesn’t have to be this huge mountain that is impossible to climb,” Shickel assures. “If you reach out to the Wellness Council, you are going to find there are a lot of resources out there and ways to keep the costs down.”