The diverse, bipartisan citizens coalition that has forced new-terrain I-69 to the top of the governor's race agenda this year is upping the political ante. Organizers are holding a mass rally at the Statehouse this Friday to tell Indiana that "I-69 is not a done deal," and they've invited all three governor candidates to address the crowd.
A memo sent last Friday to Democrat Joe Kernan, Republican Mitch Daniels, and Libertarian Kenn Gividen told all three that they could be added to the speakers list. "We are inviting all three gubernatorial candidates, as well as elected public officials from both parties, to speak," the memo said. "We ask that you keep your comments brief, and related to the I-69 issue."
Rally organizer Steve Bonney, a West Lafayette resident who owns a Greene County organic farm, summarized the grass roots group's goal for the rally: "The Governor and his INDOT Commissioner have failed to recognize the magnitude of opposition to a new terrain I-69. We are rallying at the Statehouse to demonstrate the strength of our ranks."
The rally begins at 11 a.m. on the east-side steps of the State Capitol in downtown Indianapolis. Organizers hope 500 to 1,000 people attend. Confirmed speakers include City Councilman Andy Ruff, a Bloomington Democrat, and Perry Township Trustee Jack Sandlin, an Indianapolis Republican. An invitation to speak has also been extended to State Senate Finance Chair Lawrence Borst, who has indicated he will at least attend the rally.
Rally organizers have built a broad-based coalition to attack the fiscally, culturally and environmentally destructive underpinnings of new-terrain I-69. The Bloomington Circus Collective will open the rally. Green Party organizer and former Hoosier Environmental Council Executive Director Jeff Stant will introduce speakers representing taxpayers, farmers, business people, students, environmentalists, politicians, landowners, and future generations.
In addition to Ruff and Sandlin, confirmed speakers include:
- Brenda Buster, a businesswoman (and former national dirt track racer) whose Martinsville auto repair shop is threatened by new-terrain I-69;
- Kristen Becher, a Jasper native and activist with the Indiana Forest Alliance;
- Sandra Tokarski, a Monroe County landowner and activist with Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads;
- Kate Mobley, an IU student, Terre Haute native, and activist with the Indiana Public Interest Research Group, and
- Bill Boyd, an Indianapolis resident whose southwest-side home and Greene County farm both lie in new-terrain I-69's path.
"For farmers whose land has been in their family for years, the new terrain I-69 is not just taking our homes, it's taking our lives," Bill's wife Jan Boyd said. "This is affecting our past, our present and our future."
Bill Boyd alluded to the near-comic nature of the new-terrain proposal: "Just because you need to paint the walls, you don't build a new house."
John Smith, a Greene County landowner and activist with CountUs!, demanded that the citizens finally be heard on I-69. "For years we have just wanted a chance to show our governor sections of INDOT's $12 million dollar I-69 study that refute his claims of economic benefit and show this boondoggle to be the total sham that it is," he said. "The time to take our message to the governor's office is way overdue!"
The rally is expected to be the largest I-69 demonstration to date. At least three busloads of participants will be going from Bloomington. Organizers hope plans for a tractor caravan of farmers come to fruition.
The rally culminates a series of citizen actions since last spring aimed at raising I-69 as an issue in the governor's race. Stant and protesters from across Indiana have followed Kernan to fundraisers in Indianapolis (twice), Richmond, Greenfield and French Lick to oppose his support for new-terrain I-69.
Those and other events have attracted media attention across Indiana and have put Kernan on the defensive. He has admitted in the press that he avoided the protesters. And they got the attention of Libertarian Kenn Gividen, who has indicated he will speak at the Friday's rally.
Gividen has made I-69 a centerpiece in his campaign and in the first gubernatorial debate in Franklin. He argued that using the U.S. 41/I-70 route from Evansville to Terre Haute for I-69 would enable the state to also upgrade U.S. 31 from Indianapolis to South Bend, for the same amount of money that new-terrain will cost in and of itself. He calls it a "two-for-one" proposition.
Gividen was initially barred from tonight's debate rematch in New Albany. His exclusion was reversed after Gividen and his campaign, with I-69 opponents at their side, held a news conference in downtown Indianapolis.
Each party subsequently pointed the finger at the other, as demonstrated in the following exchange between Democratic State Party Chair Kip Tew and his Republican counterpart, Jim Kittle. I-69 activist Sam Flenner initiated the discussion with a letter to an Indianapolis TV station.
From: Sam Flenner
Sent: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 11:07 AM
Dear Editor: Joe Kernan and Mitch Daniels have both clearly and precisely demonstrated their opinions of the Democratic process in Indiana by moving to exclude Libertarian Kenn Gividen from the debate in New Albany. Neither deserves our votes. - Sam Flenner
From: Jim Kittle
Sent: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 12:05 PM
Republicans have said from the beginning that Kenn Gividen should be included in the debates.
From: Kip Tew
Sent: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 12:12 PM
Jim, You should check with Mark Lubbers before you make that statement. He was very open about the fact that it was not in your interest to have Gividen in the debates. We insisted that he be in the debate.
Indianapolis educator and rally organizer John Loflin said Kernan's support for I-69 is changing his personal voting history. "I'm a life-long Democrat," he said. "I've voted Democrat since 1964, but not this year, at least not for governor. I do not agree with Kernan's position on I-69. I'm voting for Kenn Gividen, and I encourage all Democats who want to protect our environment to do so."
Bonney said every Hoosier in every community across the state will pay for new-terrain I-69. "Everyone loses if a new terrain I-69 is built," he said. "Higher taxes, environmental destruction, community degradation, loss of farmland and forest, and a reduction in the quality of life will affect each in a different way, but every citizen will be affected."
Mobley mocked claims that new-terrain I-69 will boost the region's economy. "They tell us it will bring economic prosperity to Southwest Indiana," she said. "Yet the facts have proven that it would increase jobs by only 0.02%, at a cost of over $400,000 per job."
Tom Tokarski summed up. "Hopefully, our public servants will get the message and actually serve the interests of the public," he said. "They can save billions in taxes, conserve our environment and protect our communities by putting the brakes on I-69."
Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative and an active participant in the I-69 citizens coalition.