For all practical purposes, Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan has maintained a public distance from the I-69 issue. But there is no doubt where the Democratic Party's presumptive candidate for governor in 2004 stands.
New-terrain highway opponents say they found him to be openly hostile on the one occasion he found time to meet with them. And Bernardin Lochmueller is replenishing his political war chest at a $10,000-a-year clip.
The Environmental Law & Policy Center campaign contributions analysis shows that Bernardin Lochmueller officials contributed $30,200 to the Kernan for Indiana campaign committee between 1999 and 2002.
Since 1992, the O'Bannon-Kernan administration has rewarded the company with at least $12 million in state contracts on I-69 and probably millions more. (The Bloomington Alternative has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for INDOT records regarding Bernardin Lochmueller and asked the governor's office to help expedite the request.)
Kernan is also vulnerable on the issue of farmland preservation. As lieutenant governor, he chaired the Hoosier Farmland Preservation Task Force and submitted a Jan. 1, 1999, report under his signature to O'Bannon.
The report begins: "The Hoosier Farmland Preservation Task Force recognizes that farmland is one of our state's most important resources" and goes on to say that Indiana "has lost six million acres, or 28 percent, of its farmland between 1900 and 1992 to other uses." That's an average 65,000 acres of prime farmland lost each year.
The rate of loss accelerated to almost 89,000 acres per year between 1978 and 1992, the equivalent to losing all of the prime farmland in Blackford County each year. It's not hard to calculate what will happen to the rest of our state's farmland and farm-related jobs over the next century if this trend continues unabated.
"The long-term implications of the loss of farmland are troubling with regards to land use and population trends," the Kernan report says. "In 50 years, the population in the United States is expected to increase by 50 percent to more than 390 million people, with farmers and ranchers having to produce food and fiber with 13 percent fewer acres of high quality farmland."
The report sums up Indiana's prime farmland challenge in a single sentence. "To be successful, the efforts must preserve prime farmland and direct industrial, residential and commercial growth to areas less suitable for farming."
Yet, Kernan and state Democrats favor a new-terrain I-69 route that would pave over thousands of acres of some of the state's most productive farmland in Southwest Indiana and would displace thousands more with gas stations, fast-food joints, and polluting industries of god-only-knows what size, shape and form.
The "Hoosier Farmland Preservation Task Force Final Report" can be read at: http://www.in.gov/oca/ilrc/reports/press.html