Call it another illustration of Indiana Democrats' moral bankruptcy on the issue of I-69. Call it yet another instance of their shameless hypocrisy. Call it the O'Bannon-Simpson political death wish. Whatever the descriptor, "it" has been on full public display these past few weeks in the state's capital city.
At last Wednesday's meeting of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Development Commission (MDC), Democrats showed that they have become so smarmy on the subject of I-69 that they won't even take public responsibility for their positions. The commission voted 6-3, in secret, to approve running I-69 through the city's Southwest side. Only one Democrat voted against the plan.
Also on display throughout the MDC process these past few weeks was growing evidence that Hoosier Republicans - some big-named ones at that - are joining the tens of thousands of Southwest Indiana citizens opposed to O'Bannon-Simpson Democrats squandering $810 million of taxpayer dollars on a highway route that the public, clearly and unequivocally, opposes.
Foremost among the voices questioning the economics of I-69 at the MDC meetings were State Sen. Larry Borst, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, and his son, Indianapolis City-Council President Dr. Phil Borst. Sources attending the meeting report that Borst questioned whether the state could afford I-69.
At last a politician speaks the unvarnished truth about I-69! Hoosier taxpayers cannot afford it. To argue otherwise, as Frank O'Bannon did in last week's Bloomington Alternative, is morally bankrupt and shamefully hypocritical.
After the MDC vote, in perhaps its strongest verbiage to date, the Indianapolis Star editorial board reiterated its opposition to new-terrain I-69: "The state continues to pave over public opinion and the facts in its drive to build an overpriced, excessively disruptive extension of I-69 between Indianapolis and Evansville. Now city officials, who could have slowed down the bulldozer, have waved it on."
Let's be clear: the "state" in this case are Democrats like Frank O'Bannon and Vi Simpson who support this billion-dollar giveaway to politically powerful, moneyed interests in Evansville and Bloomington; the "city officials" are Democrats like Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, who this month abdicated his responsibility to his city and his constituents on I-69.
The MDC is a nine-member board appointed by Mayor Peterson, the Marion County Commissioners, and the Indianapolis City-County Council. While there was some disagreement over what it might mean in the big picture, the council has been considering a resolution to include new-terrain I-69's path through the county in its long-term transportation plan.
Before the resolution reached the full MDC, it had to pass the organization's Policy Committee. That's where Democrats, led by Peterson, first thumbed their noses at fiscal responsibility and personal integrity in the public process.
The committee is composed mostly of elected officials like Peterson and a handful of political flacks like Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner J. Brian Nicol. Until that meeting, Peterson had maintained a public stance of neutrality on I-69, even though few doubted that he quietly supported his lame-duck governor.
Just before the committee voted, Peterson announced that he was "deferring" to the O'Bannon administration on the subject and would vote for the resolution. The only negative vote was cast by Nannette Tungent, the Republican Mayor of Southport.
Then, at an Aug. 6 meeting of the MDC, a half dozen or so elected Republican officials testified against the resolution, including Tungent; State Rep. Dave Frizzell; City Councilor Bob Cockrum, and various other local officials. Cockrum also submitted a letter of opposition from Council President Phil Borst. The only speakers in favor were representatives from INDOT and highway lobbyist Jim Newland.
The resolution failed the initial voice vote, after which Peterson appointee and Marion County Democratic Party Chair Ed Treacy called for a roll call vote. That forced commission members to vote on the record, two Democrats changed their votes, and the resolution failed to pass on a 4-4 vote. One commission member was absent.
At Wednesday's meeting, MDC members were subjected to the usual lies and half-truths that J. Brian Nicol has become infamous for, as well as this non sequitor from Vectren Vice President Gregg McManus:
"A lot of the time they often talk about I-69 as a favor to Evansville, but most of the benefits will accrue to Indianapolis."
Huh? Such a statement makes one wonder if Mr. McManus understands that every route for I-69 ever proposed, including 41-70, ends in Indianapolis.
Aside from a representative from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, not a single Indianapolis citizen spoke for the resolution. Roughly a dozen citizen opponents, all but one Indianapolis neighborhood volunteers and activists, divided their 30 minutes to speak to the commission.
When it came time to vote this time, Democrats wouldn't even show their hands. They voted by secret ballot.
Morally bankrupt. Shamefully hypocritical.
The Hoosier Environmental Council's Andy Knott summed up this last month's spectacle in Indianapolis as follows:
"For the highway boosters, this was a pyrrhic victory - a victory that comes at an excessive cost to the victor. Whenever democracy is trampled, citizens rise up, become even more outraged, and take action. Apparently the O'Bannon Democrats don't consider their constituency to include the average taxpayer, environmentalists, or farmers. Who exactly do they represent?"
Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative