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.