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.
More than three-dozen protesters encountered more than a lame-duck governor and a political party in decline when they took to the streets of French Lick Friday evening to tell Indiana Democrats that I-69 is killing their party. They found themselves face to face with Voices for I-69, a corporate funded front group for the economic development lobby.
Surrounded by sign-waving protesters chanting "No I-69" and "You can't eat concrete," a handful of I-69 supporters stood behind a "Voices for I-69" banner and proclaimed that the NAFTA highway means jobs for Joe and Josie Sixpack. "We want jobs!" they shouted throughout the hour-long rhetorical showdown. But it turned out that some of these spokesmen and women for the blue collar had vested interests in the highway. "We build 'em," one Voice proclaimed.
An ad hoc group of Indiana citizens took the struggle against the $3 billion I-69 taxpayer fleecing to Gov. Joe Kernan and his supporters this past week at fundraising events in Indianapolis and Richmond. The protesters demanded that Kernan change his position on I-69 and that voters hold him accountable if he doesn't.
The group, which came together in July, is vowing to carry that message everywhere Kernan goes in Indiana this election season. Organizer Jeff Stant, chair of the Marion County Green Party, summed up the mission in a guest column submitted to newspapers around the state:
"For a democracy to survive, the people's views on something of this magnitude must matter. Governors who summarily dismiss the vast majority of public opinion on a project that will consume at least 2.5 billion tax dollars, OUR MONEY, should be held accountable for such arrogance."
The lives of thousands of Hoosiers, survival of hundreds of farms and small businesses, and the future quality of life for all of us hang in the balance in the election of the next Governor of Indiana.
Governor Kernan and his challenger from the Republican Party, Mitch Daniels, are pushing for an interstate that will tear through the farms, homes, forests, and wetlands of Southwest Indiana. The prosperity of healthy rural, small town communities and natural tranquility that abounds there will be destroyed. We strongly believe this superhighway will hurt all of Indiana by absorbing transportation funds that are much more needed to build and maintain roads, bridges, rails and inner city transit systems throughout the state and will needlessly destroy a dwindling natural heritage that all Hoosiers need.
With all the media attention focused on I-69, few people know that INDOT is quietly planning another NAFTA highway through rural southern Indiana, just a few miles to the east of the proposed new terrain I-69 route. No doubt a major reason for the silence is that INDOT is doing it in segments.
A stretch of US 231 between the new Natcher Bridge near Rockport and I-64 in Dale is under construction now. The DEIS for the Dubois County segment of US 231 was released in March. This section of four-lane highway would bypass both Jasper and Huntingburg either to the east or to the west to end at Haysville, a small town of about 500 people.
Bloomington City Councilman Andy Ruff sent the following letter on July 12 to INDOT consultant Wendy Vachet, project manager for I-69 in Bloomington. Ruff sent the letter on City Council letterhead.
Thank you for spending a few minutes on the phone with me the other day discussing the role of your firm, Michael Baker, Jr., Inc., in tier 2 study work for section 5 of the proposed I-69 extension. I look forward to visiting your office sometime soon and meeting you in person.
I regret that I was unable to attend the briefing for elected officials that was held at your local office on June 29. I was out of the state at that time and otherwise would certainly have been there. Thank you for the invitation.
I-69 Truth Squad Alert
True: "When (population change) is taken into account, we find that the real disposable income per capita for the build alternatives does not differ significantly from the 2025 forecast for the no build alternative." INDOT Draft EIS for I-69, technical report 5.3.2, page 37.
It would be understandable if Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan went to bed a little down last Monday night. He didn't have the best of days.
First thing Monday morning, an Indianapolis Star headline announced: "Poll: Daniels takes lead from Kernan," which the governor knew would be duplicated on newscasts and in papers across the state that night and next day. And at a fundraiser in Indianapolis Monday evening, a group of protesters confronted the apparent lame duck chanting "No I-69!" and "Say it ain't so, Joe!"
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?
Association of Monroe County Taxpayers
Hoosier Environmental Council
Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads
The Association of Monroe County Taxpayers today joined with other members of the I-69 Truth Squad to release a new fact sheet on the I-69 debate. Today's alert tags INDOT for perpetuating the fallacy that the federal government's 80% cost-share for the highway is "free money."
The alert points out that Hoosiers pay a federal tax on every gallon of gas, and the U.S. government simply returns most of that money to Indiana each year. But Indiana receives the same amount of money regardless of the number of projects on INDOT's wish list. That means that every dollar spent on I-69 means one less dollar for other deserving projects around the state.