It would be understandable if Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan went to bed a little down last Monday night. He didn't have the best of days.
First thing Monday morning, an Indianapolis Star headline announced: "Poll: Daniels takes lead from Kernan," which the governor knew would be duplicated on newscasts and in papers across the state that night and next day. And at a fundraiser in Indianapolis Monday evening, a group of protesters confronted the apparent lame duck chanting "No I-69!" and "Say it ain't so, Joe!"
While Kernan solicited campaign cash inside a firefighters' union hall on the upper end of Indy's Mass Ave. arts district, another headline was being made outside: "I-69 route foe plans independent run for governor," the AP wire reported on Tuesday. West Lafayette resident Steve Bonney, whose organic Greene County farm lies a half mile from the proposed I-69 corridor, told the protesters and the assembled media that he was running for governor.
All of that followed a Sunday piece by Star columnist Ruth Holladay: "I-69 stand could cost Kernan votes, opponents hope." In the protest preview, organizer and Green Party activist Jeff Stant declared: "We want people to vote against Joe Kernan." At the rally, he told the crowd: "We have to bring down the incumbent governor."
The Indianapolis Star-WTHR poll, the first since the May Primary, foreshadowed the important role that an I-69 protest vote could have on this year's gubernatorial election. Not only did it find Republican Mitch Daniels leading Kernan 46 to 40 percent among likely voters, with a 4.2 percent margin of error, but 54 percent felt the state is moving in the wrong direction. Only 10 percent said they were undecided.
By the time Joe Kernan went to bed Monday evening, the pre-election sentiments of many that the only way he could win in November would be if he ran against Frank O'Bannon's legacy seemed more fact than speculation. And he understood that I-69 opponents' vows to hold him accountable if he persisted with O'Bannon's new-terrain I-69 was indeed a fact.
That the emerging political movement against I-69 does have the potential to bring down the incumbent governor in a two-percentage point race was evidenced by more than the fact that between 60 and 80 citizens ventured into downtown Indianapolis at 5 p.m. on a weekday to shout at the governor: "This is what democracy looks like!" and "Say it ain't so, Joe!"
Star political reporter Mary Beth Schneider summed up the I-69 threat when she observed that the protesters represented "a broad spectrum of political views." That assessment was reinforced by the litany of speakers who, bullhorn in hand, climbed onto the bed of Bonney's pickup truck to rail against Kernan, new-terrain I-69, and the breakdown in democracy that has enabled both to flourish.
The list included some old familiar faces, like Tom Tokarski from CARR and John Smith from COUNT US! But it also sported some new, youthful ones as well, like Robin Tala, who led a group of performers called the Bloomington Circus Collective to the rally. One Circus performer was interviewed by Jennifer Whitson of the Evansville Courier & Press :
"Kate Mobley, a religious studies college student from Bloomington, said she came to emphasize sustainable development, not highways and international trade. '(I-69) represents so much and it's tearing up lives here in Indiana,' she said."
The speakers' list wasn't dominated by Southwest Indiana voices, nor was it limited to landowners and environmentalists. Southwest-side Indianapolis residents John Braun and Pat Andrews took to the pickup stage, as did Citizens Action Coalition Executive Director Grant Smith and the Rev. Greg Dixon, an Indianapolis activist minister.
In the electoral sphere, Clark Field, the Green Party candidate in the Eighth Congressional District, added his voice to Bonney's in opposition to the new-terrain route, calling it a "quick fix."
The day's mantras -- "Say it ain't so, Joe!" and "This is what democracy looks like!" -- were at one point chanted on cue during a live report on WIBC radio in Indianapolis.
In advance of the event, Stant told the Courier & Press that the protest's purpose was to "tell Joe Kernan that he is going to suffer dearly for his arrogant support of the new terrain I-69!... We are going to hold Joe Kernan accountable because Joe Kernan is in the driver's seat. ...
"We are hoping this is the first of many such protests leading up to election. We intend to birddog (Kernan) as much as possible."
Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative.
Below are the set of talking points prepared for last Monday's protest, published on a flier titled "Say it ain't so, Joe!"
- New Terrain I-69 will take all of INDOT's new road budgets for 14 years or force a 5 cents increase in the state's gasoline tax to pay for it.
- Ninety-four percent of opinions submitted to INDOT (20,467 of 21 ,873) with a route preference supported the Common Sense Route (1-70/ US 41) or opposed New Terrain I-69.
- Lieutenant Governor Kernan's Department of Commerce funneled over $115,000 to pro-new-terrain I-69 lobbying groups.
- The Common Sense Route would cost $1 billion less and be only 12 minutes longer (on a 3 hour trip) than New Terrain I-69.
- The Common Sense Route passes through some of the poorest counties in the state. The New Terrain route will impose further economic hardship on them.
- In the Environmental Impact Statement for I-69, the Common Sense Route performed as well as the New Terrain Route on key economic goals.
- New Terrain I-69 would wipe out 2,800 more acres of farmland, 1,000 more acres of forest, 44 more acres of wetlands and over 3,700 more acres of right of way than the Common Sense Route.
- New Terrain I-69 will cost $2.7 million per year more in maintenance costs than the Common Sense Route.
- Every independent cost-benefit analysis on I-69 since 1990 demonstrates a negative return on investment. The latest study shows a return of only 66 cents for every dollar invested.
- Using INDOT's numbers, the cost-per-job created would be $359,375 for New Terrain I-69.
- New Terrain I-69 would plow under between $100 million and $200 million of Perry Township, Marion County, tax base.