News and Tribune

May 8, 2013

THEIR OPINION: Recent editorials from Indiana newspapers


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

Rest in piece, Dr. Bowen

Even in our era of divisive politics, Hoosiers found common ground in their respect for former Gov. Otis Bowen, who died Saturday at 95.

We look back with nostalgia at his two terms as governor, 1973-81, not just for what he accomplished, but for how he accomplished it.

His signal achievement as governor was getting property tax relief through the Indiana Legislature. The goal sounded benign, but the deal also required an increase in the sales tax. That proposal passed the Senate by only one vote, but it showed Bowen’s extraordinary ability to persuade and lead.

After his service in Indianapolis, Bowen went to Washington, to serve with distinction as Health and Human Services director under Ronald Reagan. It fell to Bowen and Surgeon General Everett Koop to help Americans understand and respond to a health crisis that had no precedent: the AIDS epidemic.

How did this mild-mannered, northern Indiana family doctor manage such effective state and national leadership? It’s no great mystery. He approached government the same way he approached medicine — as a way to serve and help people. And he stuck with his principles, whether he was delivering babies in Bremen, pleading his case for tax reform in Indianapolis, or crusading for decent health coverage for seniors in Washington.

Perhaps the best description of Bowen’s simple magic comes in his own words, from his 2000 autobiography, “Doc: Memories from a Life in Public Service, by Otis R. Bowen, M.D.”:

“Hindsight tells me that a governor must be a decisive problem-solver, have good character, and be willing to lead politically, governmentally, and symbolically. A public official’s most important traits are honesty and integrity. These are the foundation of credibility, a public leader’s most precious commodity. A governor cannot lead by trying to please everyone, straddling the fence, or trying to come down on both sides of it. He must lead by making decisions based on common sense and tempered by compassion.”

Dr. Bowen’s long life of service has ended, but he leaves a legacy of wisdom.

— South Bend Tribune

General Assembly focused on small issues, delivered small results

One word best describes the Indiana General Assembly’s just concluded 2013 session — small. As in small issues, small ideas, small vision for how to propel our state forward.

A prime example of that unfolded Thursday night in the House chamber, where lawmakers argued, on and on, about legislation that by design will affect only one of 92 counties in the state. That legislation, Senate Bill 621, eliminates the four at-large seats on the Indianapolis City-County Council and shifts power from county elected officials to Indy’s mayor. Although the bill generated passion among political insiders on the local level, it didn’t deserve the prime -time attention it received from the state legislature on the day before adjournment for the year.

The focus on minor matters, while major issues were pushed aside, was a common problem throughout the four-month session. Lawmakers, for example, spent weeks working on legislation that would have made it a criminal act to secretly videotape inhumane treatment of animals on farms or illegal actions at other workplaces. They debated for months whether to allow another expansion of gambling at Indiana casinos. They kept alive endless arguments over new academic standards that Indiana and 45 other states already have adopted.

But what truly significant measure was adopted to improve student achievement in a state that ranks 40th in the nation in the educational attainment of its workforce? What did lawmakers do to dramatically reshape public health in a state with higher-than-average obesity and smoking rates? Which new laws have a strong chance of helping to increase incomes in a state that badly trails most of the nation in per capita income?

Many advocates for early childhood education were optimistic at the start of the session in January that our state would finally move forward on that critical issue. The session ends with Indiana still one of only 11 states that don’t invest any public dollars in preschool. A proposal to take a modest step forward — a pilot program that might serve as a model for an eventual statewide roll out — was blocked.

Proponents of a regional transit system in Central Indiana also were optimistic that a plan finally would advance out of the Statehouse would finally pass legislation to let voters decide transit’s fate. Once again, they were disappointed. Instead, lawmakers took the peculiar step of sending a proposal that has been studied and debated for decades to a summer committee for more study.

In their defense, legislators point to passage of an honestly balanced two-year state budget as evidence that they successfully completed their most important obligation this year. And as far as that goes, they’re right. But passing a balanced budget should be Hoosiers’ minimum expectation of the General Assembly, not cause for accolades.

Who’s at fault for the legislature’s decision to play small ball? Senate President Pro Tempore David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma certainly helped set that tone in their Republican caucuses, both of which enjoy supermajorities in the House and Senate.

New Gov. Mike Pence also was content to settle for a modest legislative agenda. Much of his administration’s energy was poured into the push for a 10 percent reduction in the state’s already low income tax. The governor also sought -- and won — passage of a noteworthy vocational education bill that should help many Indiana students gain important job skills. On his tax cut, he got half of what he wanted with a 5 percent reduction — but at what cost in political capital, and, more important, at what expense to more ambitious goals?

Here’s the thing when state leaders decide to concentrate on smaller matters of government: They’re apt to deliver small results.

That’s precisely what the Indiana General Assembly gave Hoosiers this year.

— The Indianapolis Star