by Steven Higgs
The I-69 political noose cinched ever so much tighter around the necks of Joe Kernan Democrats in the past week. Highway opponents who can't stomach the notion of voting for Mitch Daniels learned that they have an alternative on the ballot, a candidate who may well champion the truth about I-69 in this fall's gubernatorial debates. And contrary to the I-69 Party's political interests, the truth about the $3.2 billion taxpayer fleecing is leaking out to the public through the media in all corners of the state.
In the meantime, the I-69 protests that have followed Kernan throughout the fall show no signs of retreat. Just as they have pursued him to Indianapolis (twice), Richmond, and French Lick in recent weeks, protesters will follow the gov to another fundraiser this week in Greenfield to let his backers know that I-69 is killing the Democratic Party. All of this follows a second day of I-69 protest in French Lick last Saturday, where busloads of the Democrats' most-valued constituency — labor unions — were educated about the NAFTA Highway and the impacts it will have on jobs across Indiana.
Kenn Gividen, the Libertarian candidate for governor, used the Labor Day weekend to kick off his fall campaign by making I-69 a centerpiece of his quest. He embarked on a three-city road tour on Saturday, emphasizing the highway at campaign stops in three hotbeds of I-69 resistance: Indianapolis, Bloomington, and Terre Haute.
During an interview at the MCL Cafeteria Saturday morning in Bloomington, Gividen emphasized that both Kernan and Republican Mitch Daniels have misled the public about I-69 funding and that every community in Indiana will pay dearly for it.
"What Daniels and Kernan are telling people is that it's federally funded, 80 percent of it, making it sound like it's free money," he said. "What they're not telling anyone is it's not new money, that it's money that has already been designated for the state. So they're taking away that money from other projects around the state."
The Libertarian condemned the plan to spend $1 billion more to build new-terrain than it would cost to upgrade 41-70 for a 12-minute travel time savings between Evansville and Indianapolis. "For a billion dollars, it's not worth it," he said.
Indeed, Gividen said he's already told voters in Kernan's hometown of South Bend that the money planned for new-terrain I-69 is enough to upgrade both 41-70 and U.S. 31 from South Bend to Indianapolis to Interstate standards.
"Let's take that billion dollars, let's spend it on U.S. 31 from Indianapolis to South Bend and turn that into a freeway," he said. "What we're saying is, for the price of one, we get two. We'll have interstate from South Bend all the way down to Evansville. "
He dismissed out of hand Daniels' proposal to build new-terrain I-69 and turn U.S. 31 into a toll road. "A toll road is double taxation is what it is," he said. "We've got the money designated. Turn it into a toll road, we're paying twice."
Gividen said he simply doesn't understand why Kernan is flouting widespread opposition from within his own party in Bloomington and Terre Haute on I-69.
"I have no idea what's going through his mind," he said. "I actually went to Terre Haute and talked to the mayor there, spent about an hour with him, and he's frustrated to tears. He's a Democrat. ... They're frustrated, in Terre Haute and in Bloomington."
Thus far, Gividen said, Kernan and Daniels have only one debate scheduled, through public broadcasting in Indianapolis, which insists that he be included.
"I think the folks in Indiana deserve more than one debate," he said. "And the I-69 issue will be brought up every time because it's one of those issues where they just don't care. A billion dollars of our money being wasted, they don't care. We need to be in the debates so we can say, 'Hey look, these guys are going to throw away a billion dollars of your money.'"
As for Bedford State Senator and Republican lieutenant governor candidate Becky Skillman's comments last week that I-69 is a done deal, Gividen scoffed.
"There's another lie," he said. "They want you to believe it's new federal tax money, but it's not. They want you to believe it's a done deal, but it's not. They're simply not telling the truth. I think it may be a little bold, maybe out of line, to say the Republicans are lying, but they are. Deceiving may be a better term."
Meanwhile, voters in Northwest Indiana learned that I-69 will negatively impact road projects in that desperately congested part of the state through a story titled "Money pothole threatens state road projects," written by The Times of Northwest Indiana's Statehouse Bureau Chief Brendan O'Shaughnessy. The piece read, in part:
"Dan Gardner, interim executive director of the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission, said he's concerned about how state finances will affect a number of priorities in the region."
"Gardner said he is keeping his eye on large new projects like I-69 and U.S. 31. 'As those projects deplete the state's ability to do other projects, it certainly does concern us,' he said. 'The Borman is already torn up, so anything that stretches that out is going to be critical. These things have a snowballing effect.' "
And while the Evansville Courier & Press reported in an editorial titled "I-69 and the election" that Daniels called I-69 "the highest infrastructure priority for the state," his campaign manager sent a different message to Northwest Indiana voters in O'Shaughnessy's article.
"Bill Oesterle, Daniels' campaign manager, said Kernan is promising new projects with no way of funding them. He said building I-69 and upgrading U.S. 31 would mean an end to all other construction projects."
While I-69 protesters were planning another demonstration at a Kernan fundraiser in Greenfield on Tuesday, others shared stories about protests last Saturday in French Lick, where an estimated 40-50 protesters had picketed Kernan and I-69 outside a dinner at the Legion Hall the night before.
A group that included Indianapolis resident Bill Boyd stayed over on Saturday to take the message to Democrats during their annual party at the French Lick. Hotel officials denied them permission to pass out literature on hotel grounds and said they had to stay on the public sidewalk where, it just so happened, several busloads of union workers arrived and walked right past them.
"Our luck came when approx 30 buses of UAW workers arrived," Boyd said. "All the buses had to drive past us, thanks to our location provided by the Resort. There were about 12 of the buses that could get onto French Lick Spring property. The other buses had to park across the street to let the people off.
John Smith is correct, the UAW workers only had to see our signs of "Stop I-69 NAFTA highway," or be told we were there to stop the I-69 NAFTA highway, and their hands went out to take materials from us."
Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative.