News and Tribune

August 15, 2013

THEIR VIEW: Opinions from other newspapers for Aug. 15

Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers. Distributed by The Associated Press

Lugar fitting recipient of Medal of Freedom

The selection of Richard Lugar to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom arrives at a telling moment.

Lugar joins 15 other Americans chosen by President Obama for the nation’s highest civilian honor given annually to exceptional citizens. This year’s list includes Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks, late Hawaii senator and World War II Medal of Honor recipient Daniel Inouye, former President Bill Clinton, country music great Loretta Lynn, late astronaut Sally Ride, former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, and television host Oprah Winfrey, among others. “This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world,” the president said.

Lugar has done just that, most notably during his 36 years in the U.S. Senate representing Hoosiers. His contributions exceed that timespan, as well. Before entering Congress, he served on the Indianapolis Public Schools board and as the Indy mayor. Since leaving the Senate in January, he’s established The Lugar Center, a nonprofit facility aimed at finding solutions to issues championed by the senator. Those topics include reducing the nuclear weapons threat, worldwide hunger, energy independence, and “enhancing bipartisan governance.”

Lugar deserves a medal for the latter goal alone.

The 113th Congress is on course to become the least productive in history. Its term began Jan. 3, just as Lugar finished cleaning out his Senate desk. He was asked to leave, by a faction of Indiana voters, losing the 2012 Republican primary to tea party challenger Richard Mourdock, who then lost to Joe Donnelly, a centrist Democrat, in the general election last November. In reality, Lugar would not fit well in the 113th Congress. A longtime conservative, Lugar was ousted by the extreme right of his party for not clinging to a rigid ideology. He voted thoughtfully.

A significant slice of Congress members find bipartisanship repugnant.

Not coincidentally, a significant slice of Americans find the current Congress repugnant. A mere 15 percent of Americans have approved of Congress’ performance this year, tying the all-time low set in 2012, according to Gallup ratings. The prime reasons cited for the public’s dissatisfaction are partisan gridlock and a failure to get things done. Its inability, so far, to find a fair consensus on immigration reform — widely supported by Americans — stands as a glaring example.

Lugar speaks with wisdom and clarity, but isn’t known for uttering charismatic quotations. Still, as Lugar prepares to accept the Medal of Freedom at a ceremony later this year, his former colleagues in Congress and that governing body’s newcomers should consider an otherwise nondescript comment he made while reflecting on his days as an Indiana school board member.

“That first responsibility as a school board member — meals for latch-key children — was absolutely critical in my understanding of the extraordinary problems of poverty,” Lugar said.

He allowed his mind to be opened and then reshaped by an experience. He was enlightened. Too many members of Congress listen only to themselves and their ideological supporters, and vote to satisfy only those voices.

It is appropriate the honor Lugar will receive is called the Medal of Freedom. He served his state and country with a free mind.

— Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

Bennett’s downfall is no reason to scrap reforms

Before school reform champion Tony Bennett fell from grace for his alleged manipulation of school accountability scores in Indiana, he was well on his way to establishing himself as an outspoken leader in modernizing academic programs in elementary and secondary schools.

As the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction 2009-2012, and with the support of then- Gov. Mitch Daniels, the state board of education and a Republican legislative majority, Bennett pushed through a lineup of school reform initiatives. His programs weren’t popular with teachers unions or some Democrats, but they did challenge the old ways of doing things in what were considered mediocre Indiana schools.

But he blew it big time in an attempt to change scoring on the state A-F grading system for ranking state schools, seeming to helping out some charter schools.

Even though Bennett lost the 2012 election to a Democratic Indiana educator, Glenda Ritz, he was hired next as Florida’s school chief, there to institute some of the reforms he brought to Indiana. But he lost that position as well, resigning just days ago.

The Associated Press broke the story, publishing emails from when he was still Indiana superintendent, showing an effort by him and Indiana staff members to rewrite the state’s school grading formula after the Christel House Academy in Indianapolis, a charter school founded by influential GOP contributor Christel DeHaan, scored only a C grade. The score was eventually changed to an A, but Bennett maintained he did not give special treatment to Christel House. Emails obtained by the AP showed that Bennett ordered his staff to find a way to get an A for Christel House. It didn’t help that Christel DeHaan had contributed $130,000 to Bennett’s losing re-election campaign.

No doubt Democrats, some Republicans and union teachers who opposed school accountability and other reforms will see this as an opportunity to take advantage of the scandal and throw out some reform. The accounting grading system has been under review, and could see some changes. Ritz said there would be a final report on Sept. 2. That review is completely justified, but in our opinion, it is important that the state tread lightly in looking at other reforms adopted during Bennett’s terms in office.

We must separate our views of his behavior on this one issue from his ideas for modernizing schools. Among the programs championed by Bennett as Indiana school chief were a third-grade reading test meant to end social promotions, the A-F accountability program, ending half-day class days, vouchers, charter schools, state takeovers of failing schools and teacher training.

Indiana would be foolish now to scrap those programs in favor of a return to the old days of mediocre academics in many of Indiana’ schools.

— Evansville Courier & Press

Keep Indiana’s auto industry in overdrive

The news that Indiana is now second in the nation in terms of automotive gross domestic product is reason to cheer.

Automakers have made impressive investments in Indiana. Honda Civic hybrids once made in Japan are now produced in Greensburg, and all Toyota Highlanders are now made in Princeton.

Chrysler and General Motors are making major investments into plants in Kokomo and Fort Wayne, respectively, to improve vehicles’ fuel efficiency.

The list goes on and on.

Automotive News estimates 1 in 10 new cars on the road today are made in Indiana. Cars have become the state’s top export by value, according to the Indiana Business Research Center.

We recognize the auto industry is cyclical, but this news about the industry’s surge in Indiana is worth celebrating.

It is also cause for remembering state Treasurer Richard Mourdock’s ill-advised attempt to fight the Chrysler bankruptcy that was part of the auto industry bailout.

Early in the Great Recession, when the auto industry was on the rocks, General Motors and Chrysler were being pushed through prepackaged bankruptcy cases to shed legacy costs and become more nimble companies.

Mourdock, on behalf of the state’s pension funds, fought the Chrysler bankruptcy. He lost the battle, although he claims moral victory.

Had he succeeded, though, Chrysler likely would have been shut down and its assets sold. Instead, the company emerged from bankruptcy and is spending $1.6 billion at its Kokomo factories so they will make more fuel-efficient transmissions.

We’re glad to see Indiana, an early automotive pioneer, become an even bigger player in the auto industry. It’s important to remember how that almost didn’t come to pass, though, so Indiana is seen as friendly to the auto industry and not hostile.

— The Times, Munster