An ad hoc group of Indiana citizens took the struggle against the $3 billion I-69 taxpayer fleecing to Gov. Joe Kernan and his supporters this past week at fundraising events in Indianapolis and Richmond. The protesters demanded that Kernan change his position on I-69 and that voters hold him accountable if he doesn't.
The group, which came together in July, is vowing to carry that message everywhere Kernan goes in Indiana this election season. Organizer Jeff Stant, chair of the Marion County Green Party, summed up the mission in a guest column submitted to newspapers around the state:
"For a democracy to survive, the people's views on something of this magnitude must matter. Governors who summarily dismiss the vast majority of public opinion on a project that will consume at least 2.5 billion tax dollars, OUR MONEY, should be held accountable for such arrogance."
Indiana University student and Terre Haute native Kate Mobley explained her stance to Indianapolis Star columnist Ruth Holladay in a story last Monday about the new citizen action. "As someone who has voted Democratic since I turned 18, I feel sad that I do not have a candidate to vote for," Mobley said. "But in this case, the Democratic Party is not standing up for small-business owners and workers."
I-69, she added, is killing her party, the Democratic Party.
The action began Monday at the Club Mecca on Indianapolis west side at a Kernan fundraiser aimed at Democratic youth called "Kickin' it for Kernan." As the governor and the guests arrived, about 20 protesters lined the driveway with signs proclaiming "Stop Kernan lies about I-69" and "Please don't take my home."
The citizens represented a broad cross-section of Hoosier voters — students, farmers, business people, educators, workers, and environmentalists. Their ages ranged in age from college students to retirees.
Mobley said she cannot support Kernan on democratic, economic and environmental grounds. In particular, she worries about the economic impacts I-69 will have on her hometown and other communities along U.S. 41 in Knox, Sullivan, and Vigo counties.
"I am unwilling to give my vote to a candidate who has continually ignored 90 percent of public comments and 140,000 petition signatures protesting I-69," the 22-year-old said in a news release. "Gov. Kernan continues to support this super-highway over the 41-70 option, even though it will mean that restaurants, shops, and businesses in towns like Terre Haute and Vincennes, whose economies are already in trouble, would see an estimated 39 percent drop in travelers through their communities."
Southwest side Indianapolis residents and Greene County farmers Bill & Jan Boyd, whose home and farm both lie in Kernan's I-69 path, said history shows claims that new highways produce jobs for those in their paths are falsehoods.
"With all the interstates we have now, we should have full employment," Bill Boyd said in the release. "The same promise was made when I-65 was built, and where are those jobs? ... The Governor and INDOT need to get out of the 60's and into the 21st century, where a highly educated workforce is needed."
Just before Kernan left Club Mecca, State Democratic Party Chair Kip Tew approached the protesters to "listen" to their concerns. He seemed to know little about I-69, and the only defense he offered on his party head's behalf was that Kernan isn't as bad as Republican Mitch Daniels, a point he reiterated in an e-mail to The Bloomington Alternative on Tuesday.
"I would like to add that I am disappointed, but not surprised, that again you and the others are spending so much time and energy on this with the Governor rather than spending time looking into his opponent, who will be so much less progressive than this Governor if he is elected," he wrote. He doesn't provide his definition of "progressive."
Stant and the protesters responded that Kernan and the state Democratic Party are responsible for I-69 and must be accountable for it. They dismissed Tew's claims that Democrats are better on environmental issues in Indiana, reminding him of former Hoosier Environmental Council air and energy policy director Andy Knott's words in last week's Alternative: "We have our allies on both sides of the aisle, we have our enemies on both sides of the aisle. There isn't really, I don't see a difference. It's nonpartisan issue."
Tew took particular exception to protester claims that Kernan is lying about I-69. As protesters presented him with a litany of I-69 lies, he belittled their significance, comparing lies about a "road" with lies about weapons of mass destruction.
Monday's exercise in direct democracy ended on a contentious note when protesters attempted to slow Kernan's car to ensure he received their message. After initially accelerating aggressively to intimidate the group, led by three women — Mobley, IU law professor Cathy Crosson, and Kristin Becher — Kernan's Indiana State Trooper driver slowed and then accelerated again when in their midst, brushing Crosson as he passed.
Crosson, who stood her ground until the last second, described the incident in a Thursday news release: "As planned, a few of us prepared to stand in front of the governor's car briefly as he departed. The plan was to stop him for a couple of moments and hold our signs in front of him, nothing more. As his car approached, we moved in front of it. After accelerating as he approached us, the driver slowed as if to stop, but when he was about three feet in front of us, he suddenly accelerated again. The vehicle did actually strike me obliquely. I had to swivel off the corner of it to avoid being run down. Had I stumbled or fallen under the car, I would have been run over."
Jan Boyd witnessed the incident and supported Crosson's version of events: "I was surprised that as the governor's car exited it was going too fast for the conditions, and it was not going to stop for the protestors in the drive," she said. "I agree that if the protesters did not get out of the way they would have been hit."
In a Tuesday e-mail response to a Bloomington Alternative Daily report on the incident, Kernan campaign Communications Director Tina Noel denied anything had happened. "I'm not quite sure who your sources are (as there are no sources quoted, or otherwise, in your story), but I can assure you that absolutely did not take place," she wrote. "As usual, the governor respected the protestors' right to demonstrate, no one asked them to cease, and no one tried to 'run them down.' My understanding from those who were actually at the event is that the protestors initially attempted to make it difficult for the governor to depart by placing signs on his car."
When informed that her information was simply wrong, Tew responded on her behalf: "I saw with my own eyes one of the protesters put one of the protest signs on the driver's windshield which obstructed the view of the driver at the time. I have to say I thought that was a foolish thing to do. The only people who are responsible for any potential danger were the folks who got in front of the car as it was trying to leave."
Crosson slapped a sign on Kernan's driver-side window as a reflex to her close encounter with his driver. She is contemplating legal action against him and the governor over the incident.
Three days later, on Thursday, a group of six protesters traveled half way across the state to Richmond to educate citizens there about I-69 during the local Democrats' Jefferson-Jackson Dinner at which Kernan spoke. Their efforts earned them press coverage on Richmond radio, a mention in the local paper, and a story in Kernan's hometown newspaper, the South Bend Tribune, titled "I-69 extension foes protest to Kernan: Opponents follow governor to dinner for Democrats," not to mention increased citizen awareness about I-69.
The governor arrived at the Knights of Columbus hall in the Ohio border town about 40 minutes before his speech, before out-of-town protesters had even arrived to plant dozens of yellow signs in the planter strips along 10th Street. But as he approached the door, Kernan broke from his circle of bodyguards to slap the flesh with three locals, who observed his arrival from across the street. The trio, professors at Earlham College and Indiana University East — Jon and Peggy Branstrator and Alisa Clapp-Itnyre — informed the governor that they were there to protest his support for Interstate 69, not to support his candidacy.
As the estimated 260 people in attendance arrived, protesters like Indianapolis educator John Loflin and the Branstrators positioned themselves outside the hall's entrance and handed them yellow I-69 fact sheets. A handful of the Democrats said no thank you. Most graciously accepted them. One particularly well-dressed couple told the protesters: "We're on your side."
Despite his handlers' attempts at distracting the protesters with a decoy, Kernan exited the building to find himself being videotaped while Bill and Jan Boyd pleaded with him to please change his mind.
"Save our farmland, governor," Bill Boyd shouted as Kernan ducked behind the tinted windows of his sleek, navy blue Crown Victoria.
Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative and is an active member of the I-69 ad hoc group in this story.
- A video of the Richmond protest is accessible ... (Technical note: The video is 26 mbs, so those with dialup connections to the Internet should not attempt to download it.
- The full text of Stant's column appears in this week's Alternative.
- Ruth Holladay's Indianapolis Star column — "Diverse group confronts Gov. Kernan on I-69 extension" — can be read online at: ...
- • Martin DeAgostino's South Bend Tribune article" I-69 extension foes protest to Kernan" can be read online at ...