Marion County Green Party Co-coordinator Jeff Stant has been the primary organizer of an I-69 protest at a Joe Kernan fund raiser in Indianapolis on Monday. The protest will be at 5 p.m. at 748 Massachusetts Ave., across from the Local 416 Firefighters Union Hall and Museum, where the fund raiser will be held. Below is a Q&A with Stant regarding the protest, I-69, and the governor.
Alternative: Let's start with some personal information. You've been working more behind the scenes in Indiana since leaving HEC in July 2000, doing things like helping organize the Marion County Green Party, for example. Why are you putting yourself back in the public eye by organizing a protest against I-69 and Joe Kernan's support for and role in it?
Stant: I fervently believe that beating the new terrain I-69 will require us to focus intense political pressure on the key leader(s) that decide the fate of the issue. There is no leader who is a more key decision maker on I-69 than Indiana's Governor.
Right now the prevailing pressure that Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates feel when they deal with I-69 apparently comes from the promoters of the new terrain I-69, who make up a very small minority of very powerful business interests -- cash constituents that control both the Democrat and Republican parties. That is why Joe Kernan and Mitch Daniels are both supporting the new-terrain route.
Facts are important. We need to keep researching the facts and presenting them. But ultimately, neither facts nor public sentiment mattered to Frank O'Bannon or Joe Kernan when it came to deciding which route to choose in the environmental impact statement finished last year.
That is why we must make this a major political issue — because facts like the ones involved here and public sentiment on a project like this have to matter! We're talking about a $1.8 billion highway. Every dime of that is our money, money that won't be spent on projects that are genuinely needed.
We're talking about condemning 400 homes and 225 farms. We're talking about destroying thousands of acres of forests and farms and many thousands more in the future from this highway. The highway's promoters openly express this goal, in a state that is losing open land as fast or faster than any other state in the country -- 100,000 acres a year to development.
There is an alternative route, I-70/US 41, that will not ruin people's lives and avoid these impacts. It will cost half as much. An unprecedented number of comments on an EIS in Indiana was received for this highway's EIS. 20,467 out of 21,873 wanted no new-terrain I-69, 94 percent of the comments.
We do not live in a meaningful democracy if facts like these and sentiments like this don't matter to our governor.
Alternative: What do you hope to accomplish with Monday's protest?
Stant: To clearly establish that I-69 will be a significant issue in Indiana's 2004 Governor's race and hold Joe Kernan accountable for the outrageous, anti-citizen, anti-farmer, anti-homeowner, anti-taxpayer, anti-environment, and anti-public interest position that he is taking as the key decision maker over the fate of this highway.
Alternative: I know you said there may be some religious and taxpayer groups involved tomorrow, which is encouraging. What sort of reaction have you gotten from people as you have organized this event?
Stant: 'Right on, I'll be there.'
Alternative: What do you say to those who argue that Democrats are demonstrably better on social and environmental issues than Republicans and that Joe Kernan and the Ds are, on balance, better for progressive Hoosiers than George's man Mitch and the Rs?
Stant: I think there are examples of Democrats being demonstrably better, in my view, on some social issues than Republicans. But when it comes to the environment, look at the records of our recent governors. The facts speak for themselves.
Since 1988, Indiana's Governor has been a Democrat. When it comes to environmental policies, in most cases -- air pollution, water pollution, energy, transportation and sprawl inducing public infrastructure -- would all provide numerous examples, Democratic Governors Evan Bayh, Frank O'Bannon, and Joe Kernan have not shown demonstrably more pro-environmental leadership than one would expect from a far right, knee-jerk pro-corporate Republican governor.
In fact, their aggressive sponsorship of pork barrel highways like I-69 in important ways has made these Democratic Governors worse for the environment than Republican Governors might likely be. Indiana's last Republican Governor, Bob Orr, wanted I-69 to be a toll road, i.e. to make those who wanted the highway pay for it, something that no one would support. Only when Evan Bayh replaced him and proposed to make all taxpayers pay for I-69 did it start gaining serious momentum.
Indiana's Democrat governors have only superficially supported environmental protection at best. For example, they love to tout the Heritage Trust (a program Evan Bayh launched but Frank O'Bannon and the State Senate Democrats tried to defund) as proof of their pro-environmental record. But in reality, their promotion of sprawl-inducing public infrastructure, such as more highways, sewers and water lines into our rural landscapes are a key reason we're losing so much open land to development.
The state has bought approximately 30,000 acres of land as public park and forest land under the Heritage Trust over the last 10 years. Is our natural heritage better off today in Indiana, if in that same time we've been losing 100,000 acres EVERY YEAR to sprawl that Democrats promote more than Republicans do?
Alternative: What do you see as Joe Kernan's responsibilities for I-69 in 2004 as governor?
Stant: Joe Kernan is the single most important decision-maker on I-69. Joe can stop the new terrain I-69 with one phone call to INDOT. He can instruct INDOT to go back and take an honest look at the facts and public opinion provided in the environmental impact statement and choose the most cost effective, least environmentally damaging and fair route for tax payers and private landowners.
He can let the Federal Highway Administration and Indiana's Congressional Delegation know that this must be done or the state will not seek funding for I-69. To help assure this is done, he can fire Brian Nicol instantly.
If he does not do these things expeditiously, Joe Kernan should be fired in November. All of our efforts should be focused on this objective.
We cannot let fear over what Mitch Daniels might do deter us from this focus. The Democrats have held the governor's office for 16 years. They are responsible for why the outrageous proposed new-terrain I-69 has gained the status it now has, not the Republicans. They must be held accountable.
Worrying about the Republicans is exactly what Joe Kernan's campaign is banking on us doing. To be effective politically at stopping I-69, we must demonstrate that we will bring down an incumbent governor over this issue.
Alternative: Anything else?
Stant: Please come to tomorrow's protest!
Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative.