Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hoosier Lottery Promotes Financial Literacy, I Spit Out My Coffee

The Hoosier Lottery announced today that they're kicking off a partnership with Ivy Tech Community College with a free online financial literacy course. In a media availability event that happened exclusively in my head, Hoosier Lottery Executive Director Sarah Taylor actually passed out the press release touting this partnership. That probably explains why nearly every single article looks nearly identical despite each one being authored by the individual media outlet or a specific reporter.

In an exclusive sit down interview that never actually happened, I asked Taylor to explain how this partnership with Ivy Tech came about and why financial literacy was chosen. After she droned on for several minutes, I asked her if this was her idea of a joke. "Actually, I prefer the knock knock jokes" Taylor said. When asked what part of the financial literacy course covers how to responsibly gamble the meager Social Security check Grandma lives off of away at a local gas station, Taylor reminded me that there's a 1-800 number on every Hoosier Lottery ticket for people who have an addiction to gaming. "Gambling only takes place on riverboat casinos", Taylor said, correcting me.

I also couldn't let this chance pass without asking why the Hoosier Lottery has targeted an aggressive expansion of Lottery retailers and self-serve kiosks almost exclusively in poor and minority communities. And why the media campaign behind the Hoosier Lottery is almost always in the parts of town that could use a lift up. I asked her why the State Fairgrounds electronic billboard screams Lottery promotion day in and day out near a part of town where many African Americans live and what passes for a grocery store around there are usually pimping Hoosier Lottery tickets day in and day out, while the few retail outlets in Hamilton County that sell the Lottery have a lot less flare beside it.

At that time, I was kindly escorted out of the completely made up media availability event.

The Onion might as well just pack on up and move to Indianapolis. Half of our actual news events look like an Onion article already.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Louisville and Indianapolis: Closer Than We Think

I recently went to Louisville to see Ben Folds perform with their symphonic orchestra. Folds has twice paid a similar visit to Indiana, once to play with Fort Wayne's philharmonic and another to Indianapolis to perform with our own symphony.

While there, I only drove by car to grab breakfast on Sunday morning and that's only because I was leaving the hotel. While my view of Louisville was limited, I felt that I found a lot of similarities to my home city of Indianapolis. In some ways they were good, and others not so much.

Similar to Indianapolis, Louisville has a consolidated city-county government that took place in 2003, with the Sheriff and Clerk still retaining their separate roles due to the Kentucky state constitution. Louisville is also the only first class city in the state of Kentucky, allowing the state legislature to craft specific legislation that will only impact Louisville. While our Indianapolis-Marion County Council has 29 (soon to be 25), they have 26 councilors as well as a Mayor. Unlike our system, their council is election so that half of the members are up for election every two years.

Politically, Kentucky has a viable Democratic party at the state level even though the state hasn't gone "blue" for a Presidential election since Bill Clinton in 1996. It has a Democratic Governor who won election in 2011 with 55% of the vote while the last two US Senate elections have been won by Republicans with 55% and 58% of the vote. In Louisville, a Republican hasn't been elected Mayor since the 1960s and Republicans only hold nine seats on the council.

While walking around the city, I noticed several parking meters were bagged under the authority of the "Parking Authority of River City". The authority is a board appointed by the Mayor that oversees the parking regulation division of the city government. The board manages the meters, municipal garages, and neighborhood parking permit programs, among other things. Talking to some of the locals, most of them couldn't tell me when electric meters (which also still take coins, from what I could tell) were installed, but had been there for several years. One resident did note some areas are still using the old coin only meters.

While Indianapolis privatized the entire arm of parking services and management, the city of Louisville owns the meters and other assets but contracts out the day-to-day operations to a private company.

There's a story from the Courier Journal about how Saturday parking meter fees have been allowed for a long time, but only local police could write tickets on Saturday rather than Parking Authority workers. That has recently changed. However, the meters all read 7am-6pm Monday through Saturday. It does not seem like any section of the city gets special meter times, like some of the cultural districts do in Indianapolis.

I also found it interesting how similar their "NuLu" district is with our Fountain Square or Mass Ave district. NuLu is just outside of the heart of downtown Louisville and the area is dotted with areas to grab a meal, a drink, candy, and other kinds of retail, as well as residential and lodging. A street corner that previously housed a maintenance shop is now what appears to be a very hip, very cool looking bar. Many of the buildings seem to have remodeled interiors while trying to preserve the exteriors.

I also came across what appeared to be an abandoned building. Instead of leaving it to rot in the middle of their downtown, they gutted the interior and turned it into what appears to be a playground or gathering place. It wasn't open to the public at the time, but that seems to be a great idea.

They also have a recently remodeled convention center. I didn't go inside, but they did appear to have a cafe that serves beer, pastries, and coffee that seemed to be generally open to the public. But unfortunately, if it was open on Sundays, it wasn't at the time I drove by.

One thing I didn't notice a lot of is green space. Downtown Indianapolis is very fortunate to have several blocks of green space between Central Library and the federal court house between Meridian and Pennsylvania.

I don't want to seem like I'm trying to make a sell on Louisville, because I'm not. There were two things that I felt were negatives for the city.

One was the lack of affordable restaurants outside of business hours. It seems that many of the decently priced restaurants, where you can grab some soup, a sandwich, or your basic fare without ordering a several course meal, closed up shop on Friday at 5 when the workers left for the weekend. Even among the fine dining I saw, many of them didn't open until 4-6 in the evening. The district surrounding the sports stadium had several bars and restaurants open until the wee hours of the morning, but that was about it.

The other thing I noticed is a lot of "For Sale" or "Leasing opportunities available" in commercial buildings. Even in a very commercial corridor with several hotels, a sports stadium, and a Performing Arts Center (along with other landmarks I surely missed or overlooked), there sure seemed to be a lot of empty and underutilized office space. I don't know if that is part of a building boom whose bubble popped, or if Louisville is still struggling with the lagging economy. But it wasn't a very encouraging sign. Surely if a very well-off part of Louisville had signs of hardship, I can only imagine that areas that aren't as tourist and business friendly might be hit even harder.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Consolidated Primary? I'll See Your Consolidated and Raise a "No"

My friend Abdul Hakim-Shabazz has recently written about having a "consolidated" primary for Indiana's municipal elections. What he's really proposing is doing what many other states do and take the labels away from municipal politics. I really don't love this idea because partisans and party workers honestly and truly believe there is a difference in how the political parties view their role as election officials and how government works. I also don't like the idea of someone claiming a "non-partisan" mantel even though we all know what jersey they are wearing.

But I think there is some tinkering that can be done with municipal city and town elections that are held in Indiana. Some of it is proposed in the Indiana General Assembly.

House Bill 1038 would move many of the municipal elections held in off, odd numbered years to even numbered years. It appears that they aren't all moving to the same year. Some offices would be moving to the Presidential year and others would be moving to the non-presidential year.

Personally, I'd like to see Mayor in one election cycle and have the municipal legislative body in the next cycle. That way one can serve as a referendum on the other.

But one bill I don't see being proposed in the general assembly, or elsewhere, is the elimination of publicly funded primaries.

I think many people mistake primaries as some sort of election where one candidate goes up against another (or ore) candidate of the same party, they duke it out, and whoever gets the nomination goes on to face the other nominated candidates in November.

What primaries actually are a system designed for the benefit of a political party, which is supposed to be a private organization with its own rules and regulating laws. Political organizations should have full and complete control over who they nominate. I believe these organizations can efficiently nominate candidates in a low cost way without the public having to dig out the massive amount of resources to pull off a public election in which not one public official is actually elected.

Some people may scoff at this idea but it is the exact same system that is often used to fill political vacancies. It is also by the major parties of Indiana to nominate candidates for all of their state-wide office candidates besides Governor. The minor parties that are recognized in Indiana also decide their candidates by a political convention.

And a number of states do this as well when nominating for President. They are called the "caucus" states. Yes, the Democratic and Republican parties of Iowa actually pay for their caucus.

So can we have that discussion, Indiana?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Downtown Business Owner Joins Indy Mayoral Race

Word has leaked on Monday that the Marion County GOP is set to announce local businessman Chuck Brewer as their surprise candidate for Indianapolis Mayor. Brewer originally announced a City-County Council candidacy in the south side in District 23. He will be participating in the Marion County GOP slating convention, set for January 31st. As with all things political, I will be out of town that day.

Brewer, who owns Potbelly and Soupremacy in downtown Indianapolis, will be facing competition in the Indianapolis Mayoral race from several fellow Republicans.

Deputy Mayor Olgen Williams has announced his candidacy as a Republican. Williams has been a Deputy Mayor through the entire length of the Greg Ballard administration, but has not publicly been at the front of pushing the administration's policies. Williams has been non-committal about participating in slating.

Reverend Charles Harrison of the Ten Point Coalition filed for an exploratory committee but has hesitated on if he'd be running under a party banner or as an independent. Recent reports say Harrison will not run if Williams is nominated. There are increasing rumors that he'll be nominated as the Libertarian candidate for Mayor. 

Terry Michael, who formerly held office in Hamilton County, has also filed as a Republican candidate for Mayor. Michael has also been non-committal on slating.

The question facing any of these Republicans is can they build a base in the 9 months and change left before the November election to make a serious election bid against presumed Democratic nominee Joe Hogsett?

Welcome to the race, everyone. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sunday Sales: Why Not?

Once again, the start of the Indiana General Assembly has led to some buzz about Indiana further tinkering with the odd set of alcohol regulations the state has shackled itself with for a long time. Visitors and newcomers alike often wander why all the liquor store parking lots are empty on Sundays, and why the alcohol section at Kroger is blocked off by a chips display?

It is because the state of Indiana does not allow alcohol sales on Sundays at the retail level. Over the last several years, our lawmakers realized that prohibiting alcohol sales for one day a week could be bad for business. They've made exemptions for bars and restaurants, for breweries, wineries, and distilleries. You can get your drink on at the Sunday Colts game or any sporting event that has an alcohol license. But the ban on retail purchases still remains.

A bill has been introduced in the Indiana General Assembly, but it is by the same representative who has sponsored it before. This NPR Article from two years ago highlights the main arguments pretty well from two of the leading lobbyists, one from the convenience and grocery stores and another from the package liquor stores.

You're familiar with the argument by now. That allowing the retail sale of alcohol on Sundays could be devastating to the package liquor store industry, that it could be a job killer, that up to 25% of them could end up closing and that this is a mega corporate takeover trying to push down the little guy.

Welcome to the big boy world, package.

Can I call you package?

Listen, I'm sympathetic to the argument. I am no fan of corporations trying to beat down independent, locally owned competition. I personally have gone out of my way to support mom and pop shops, even if it costs me a few extra bucks. I think consumers will pay a premium for premium service. I think a package liquor store, being smaller, will be able to more quickly respond to consumer demand than a gas station chain or a grocery chain. The guy who does the ordering for the chains might not even live in the same city as the store, or even the state!

But if you provide a quality service, people will come. They'll come and they'll spend their money.

Look at the cultural district of Broad Ripple within Indianapolis. There is a Starbucks right in the heart of it. But there's at least three independently owned coffee shops within blocks of it, two of which have been open for business for several years.

Look at music stores like Luna Music and Indy CD and Vinyl in Indianapolis, Landlocked Music in Bloomington, and Von's Records in West Lafayette. Music sales, including digital, are plummeting. Megastores that used to be major shopping attractions in some of the biggest cities in the country are closed. Music and entertainment chains like Sam Goody or FYE are either shut down or closing shops across the country. Even the music selection at chain stores like Best Buy and Wal-Mart now takes up a much smaller space than what it used to be.

But these music stores are thriving because they are adopting to consumer demand. Admittedly, it is a niche market concentrated on vinyl records, used music, and in-store performances by local, regional, and national acts. But these stores stand strong despite stiff competition.

So if you are a package liquor store and you become like, THE one stop shop to get HOOSIER craft beer or some other niche, and you have a knowledgeable and friendly staff, I think you'll do fine. Mr. Livengood (can I call you John?), I won't even charge you or your association for that advice.

If all you do is charge $1-3 for a pack of Coors than what the grocery store is selling it for, then good luck with that.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Castleton Square Mall Unrest Leaves More Questions Than Answers

If you live in the range of the Indianapolis/central Indiana news agencies, you've probably heard about the unrest that occurred Saturday night at Castleton Square Mall. An hour before the mall closed for the night, fights broke out among youth who were in the food court area. It spilled into one of the parking lots. Media reports vary among how large the fight was or how many were involved.

This video from WTHR, while nothing of the actual fight, shows the crowd control that happened afterwards and shows some skirmishes happening among the crowd while police were present.

It is important to note that this occurred during the end of the Christmas Break in the academic calendar.

I think there are several important questions that need to be answered from all parties. That includes, but is not limited to:

  • Simon Malls, which owns and operates Castleton Square Mall
  • The powers-that-be in Indianapolis-Marion County politics
  • The Indianapolis community at large
  • The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department
  • The Indianapolis Media

Simon Malls has repeatedly refused to enforce any type of curfew policy in their Indianapolis area malls and properties, including Castleton Square Mall and Circle Centre Mall in downtown Indy. When Simon Malls used to run Mall of America, they instituted a curfew policy which allows those 15 and under to be escorted by an adult of 21 years of age or older during the weekend evenings. This policy still stands today.

Our elected officials, and those that give them money and essentially run this city, should really be taking a hard look at Simon Property Group. They are a major beneficiary of all sorts of tax incentives from the city and the state. Maybe some of those incentives should come with strings attached.

Also, where is the social media presence from Simon? Where is any type of media presence? The few media types that were able to reach someone at Simon were met with "no comment." Their Twitter accounts for the individual mall and the Simon Malls are empty. This does not look good, and with no comment or guidance from Simon, the narrative is being set by the media. And it ain't pretty.

Both the powers-that-be in Indianapolis-Marion County politics and our community as a whole have collectively failed to provide an environment where people between the ages of 14 and 20 can go and find something to do in a safe, drug free environment that doesn't break the bank. In his Indianapolis Recorder column from two years ago, Amos Brown writes that "every mayor since Steve Goldsmith has worked to stamp out activities that would appeal to today's teens". As someone who was a teenager not that long ago, that was my experience. I'm certain the same is still true today.

I'm not a cop, but I know a few. When I ran for council in 2011, I was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 86. So I'd like to think I have a good understanding of what law enforcement in Marion County is up against. I'd like to think I can empathize with them even if I don't agree with what they did or how they handled something. But I am completely confused as to how a brawl can break out, that requires police to be called, and not a single arrest is made.

This just to me. I'm sure there is a logical explanation. But to me, just hearing that, it seems off.

IMPD also needs to work on being more certain before putting out statements. Several times IMPD said they had some advance knowledge of something being planned for the Castleton Mall area, with Fox 59 WXIN calling it "social media intelligence". IMPD later said they had no advance knowledge of it. Which makes me wonder what is their "social media intelligence" division like, and if their was any evidence to suggest that this unrest at the mall was partially planned, why wasn't it discovered in advance?

Finally, to my friends in the media. A couple of area news agencies published headlines saying "shots fired" (you can make out the original headline in the URL rather than what the headline text was later edited to). That turned out not to be true, and other news agencies covered their asses by saying "Reportedly" or "witnesses". It is sometimes hard to be a good judge of character when covering a chaotic crowd. But sometimes, it pays to be a bit more patient rather than to have egg on your face.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Look Back: Marion County 2010 Election Analysis

With the 2014 "midterm" election just a few days away, I wanted to dive back and look at what happened four years ago in 2010. While I'm only looking over what happened in Marion County, Indiana and limiting myself to only the races all Marion County voters could vote in, I'm also taking into consideration events happening throughout the state and nation that could influence the outcome. In addition to looking at a candidate's vote total and vote percentage, I'll also be looking at the vote total for each office on the ballot. I'll also look into why candidate's of the same party may receive different vote totals or percentages of the vote. Finally, if there is no Libertarian candidate on the ballot, where do those Libertarian voters go?

At the top of the ballot was a United States Senate race, followed by three state-wide elections for Secretary of State, Auditor of State, and Treasurer of State. Following any state legislative races, the county wide offices were listed in the order of Prosecutor, Clerk, Auditor, Recorder, Sheriff, and Assessor. I initially planned on analyzing each race, but the US Senate and the state-wide races actually provide perfect examples of how votes shift based on circumstances of a race, availability of a specific political party's candidate to vote for, the "protest vote", and how people change their votes even when a candidate from a specific political party isn't available.

My source for these statistics are from the Marion County Clerk's certified election results.

Nationally, Democrats had victories across the nation in 2006 and 2008. With the national Tea Party movement arguably at the peak of its power, Republicans swept elections across the United States, gaining a majority in the United States House of Representatives and strengthening their minority within the United States Senate. Within the states, 29 Governorships ended up in the hands of Republicans and a majority of the state legislatures had GOP majorities as well, including our state of Indiana. It was a good year for Republicans. And even though Marion County is a Democratic county, the votes still reflect a strong Republican year even though no Republican won a majority in any contest that all Marion County voters could participate in.

The top of the ballot was a United States Senate race that was won by a former GOP US Senator, Dan Coats. Even though the total number of votes for the race was 214,077, neither Coats nor his Democratic challenger, then-US Rep Brad Ellsworth, received the most votes among their party's candidates eligible for a county wide vote. Coats finished last among all Republican candidates in Marion County, while Ellsworth trailed Democratic candidates in the much lower profile races of County Sheriff, Clerk, and Recorder. Ellsworth's campaign had a late start when US Senator Evan Bayh opted not to run for re-election, announcing the decision only days before the filing deadline to run in the Democratic primary closed. With no candidate on the primary ballot, the state Democratic Party had to vote and the Indiana Stonewall Democrats abstained from voting. He also skipped out on Indy Pride that year, though staffers were present. Looking back, it would be hard for any Democrat to win a US Senate Race in Indiana in 2010.

Coats ran honestly a boring race in the general, but his campaign wasn't a perfect campaign either. He won a GOP primary only because the Tea Party vote was split between four candidates and only rented a home and gathered enough signatures just before the deadline to be in the primary. Throughout the campaign, he was surrounded on questions of where he lived and why he didn't run for re-election back in 1998.

For disgruntled Republicans, Democrats, and actual Libertarians, the Libertarian candidate Rebecca-Sink Burris benefited receiving 11,879 votes, the most votes any LP candidate received that qualified for a county wide vote.

The Secretary of State race is special because a party that wins at least 2% of the vote in this contest gains automatic ballot access for the next four years. The Libertarian Party makes a special effort in this race so as to maintain automatic ballot access. On a county-by-county basis, the party that wins the SOS race also gets placed first on the ballot, so even if a party knows it is going to win or lose the race state wide, they'll still put in an effort in their strongholds to get the best ballot placement in general elections.

Two outside factors played an important part in this race. Democratic candidate Vop Osili is an Indianapolis native and campaigned heavily within Marion County. GOP candidate Charlie White, who won, was eventually forced out of office due to a series of felony convictions, including voter fraud. While the criminal charges and eventual conviction didn't occur until after he took office, the blogosphere started to pick up on the story as the election played out. At the time, sources told me that the White campaign effectively stopped campaigning in the final days of the campaign. Generally, the state-wide non-gubernatorial races are fairly low profile and people vote for the party they feel most aligned with, and White underperformed compared to the GOP candidates for Auditor of State and Treasurer of State.

Mike Wherry, the LP candidate for Secretary of State, seemed to gather some protest votes for Republicans who couldn't vote for White. Independents seemed also to break for Osili, perhaps due to the campaigning he did or having the home court advantage. He very well may have gotten some disgruntled Republican votes as well.

The difference in vote totals between Secretary of State and Auditor of State, 1780, can mostly be attributed to the drop off in the Libertarian candidate no longer being used as a protest vote. The Libertarian candidate only had 1510 less votes in the Auditor's race but the Republican candidate, incumbent Tim Berry, performed very well in the race getting nearly 47% of the vote while the Democrat didn't even crack 50% in Marion County. In these lower profile races, with no extenuating circumstances, people tend to go with their party identity and vote that candidate since they aren't familiar with the issues surrounding the race or the candidates. The Democratic candidate for Auditor of State also gets the honor of the lowest vote total for any Democrat running in 2010 that all Marion County voters were able to vote for.

Treasurer of State only had 603 less votes than Auditor but no Libertarian candidate. The vast majority of voters who chose Libertarian candidates elsewhere on the ballot simply chose one of the two major party candidates, Democrat Pete Buttigieg or Republican incumbent Richard Mourdock. Mourdock received 5754 more votes than the GOP candidate for Auditor did, while Buttigieg received  2195 more votes than the Democratic candidate for Auditor. If we had those two vote differences together and add the 603 less votes cast in this race, we get 8552, which is the same number of votes the Libertarian candidate received in the Auditor race. Mourdock had already been making the rounds at Tea Party meetings, so it is likely that self-identified Libertarians were already familiar with him and that's why they broke for him in such strong numbers.

Races for Treasurer and Auditor are important because, to the average voter, they have no idea who these people even are, and might not even know what the office of Auditor or Treasurer even does. In that case, voters are more likely to default to their standard political affiliation. Even more important in Indiana politics is that for a Democrat to win a state-wide seat, they really need to drive up the margins within Marion County and Lake County and not do horrible elsewhere. So if a Democrat candidate is only going to win Marion County by a slim margin, such as in the Treasurer of State's race, things don't bode well for Democrats.

And a brief note on the county races: Discounting the Prosecutor's race, which received the bulk of campaign money and media attention, they all heavily re-enforce that Marion County is a Democratic county. There are some interesting disparity in the numbers each Democrat candidate received, but that likely has to do with who really worked with grassroots party activist and who just decided to coast on the Democratic baseline. Also of note that even though the state-wide races had a decent showing for their GOP candidates within Marion County, that didn't translate into votes for Republicans lower on the ballot.

What does this have to do with the 2014 race tomorrow? Probably nothing. But it is interesting to see how voters We'll of course have fun analyzing the 2014 results later this week.