- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Herald-Times, Bloomington. May 4, 2014.

Clear the obstacles at primaries, and the voters will come

It’s time for the state of Indiana to consider changing the way it allows Hoosiers to select candidates for general elections.

While we understand the allure of allowing voters to go to polling places to support candidates in a primary, the process in this state inhibits participation by forcing individuals to publicly pick a party for which to cast a ballot. And not any party, only Republican or Democrat.

Further, the law states if you pick a party’s ballot, you must intend to vote for a majority of the candidates from that party in the general election.

That’s ludicrous and unenforceable, but still, it could lead to irritating challenges by overzealous party members who want to block someone from voting. The issue was raised in the 2011 city primary in Bloomington when the hot race was on the Democrat ballot. So much for a private ballot in which voters can simply vote for people, not parties.

Most people simply stay away. Over the past 10 years, Monroe County primaries have attracted only about one of 10 registered voters. So the primaries become contests for the most faithful party regulars, often those on the wings of the parties. And the county taxpayers must foot the bill. …

Indiana’s isn’t the least open, in that voters don’t have to register with one party or another before Election Day. They only have to declare their intention at the polling place. Things could be worse.

But we have to wonder whether political caucuses or conventions, funded by the parties instead of taxpayers, might be a better way to choose who’s going to run in general elections.

With turnout so low and public service needs far outstripping available public funds, let’s cut the spending on primaries - except in presidential years. Parties besides the Republicans and Democrats have to go this route anyway. Why not level the playing field for all, then let the races play out in the general election?

Since no such system is in place, though, we would encourage registered voters who don’t want to declare a party to hold their collective nose and go to the polls Tuesday anyway. In Monroe County, each party has some races worth your time, such as the sheriff’s race and clerk’s race on the Democrat ballot and races for county council nominations on the Republican ballot.

Both ballots have races for a grassroots level of government, township trustees and advisory boards. While a broader discussion about the system should occur, exercise your right to participate in the process we have now and vote.

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Journal & Courier, Lafayette. May 3, 2014.

Ethical lapse at Statehouse

State Rep. Eric Turner put the House ethics committee in a no-win situation when he was called out over questions about how he lobbied against a bill that would have put a hold on construction of nursing homes in the state.

The Cicero Republican didn’t intend to vote on the bill, given that his son was involved in a company that built nursing homes. But according to some of his colleagues, Turner pressed House Republicans during closed-door caucus meetings to reject the moratorium. And according to newspaper investigations, Turner - and not just his son - had money riding on deals that would have gone under if they bill passed.

Turner’s defense, leaning comfortably on the no-tell society of the caucus, is that he was offering his expertise on a bill from his life as a nursing home developer - just as an attorney in our citizen legislature might offer a critical eye on a sentencing bill or a doctor might give an examining room perspective on a health care matter.

With millions of his own dollars riding on defeating the nursing home moratorium, Turner’s ethical expertise behind closed Indiana House doors amounted to this: Don’t screw up my investments.

So here’s the ethics committee’s verdict: Turner, the second ranking Republican in the House, didn’t break any technical rules. Though, his backroom push didn’t meet “the highest spirit of transparency.” The House committee seemed to lament that rules weren’t in place to cover what happened. But no penalty was meted out.

So here’s the scorecard: Legislators are free to manipulate the system for their own gain as long as they don’t break technical rules.

One step toward fixing that would be to bring those discussions out into the open instead of mapping out voting in closed-door sessions. Another would be to call for stricter rules about self-profiting while lobbying - uh, we mean, offering expertise - out of the public eye.

How this played out, including the inherent weakness of the General Assembly to keep self-serving members in check, is a Statehouse embarrassment.

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Tribune-Star, Terre Haute. May 3, 2014.

Out of the shadows

Like the image of a rapist lying in wait amid the bushes on a moonless night, the issue of rape itself has for too long been kept in the shadows. It’s something we don’t like to talk about in polite company, something far too many men minimize, something the least intelligent among us even see as deserved.

But, now, the issue has made huge and welcome headlines, nationally and locally, in recent days - perhaps more than ever before in our nation’s history. President Obama, to his great credit, has summoned the power of the federal government to spotlight a violent offense that has not been stopped, even though, by our words, we all say it is wrong, very wrong.

In late January, Obama targeted for federal attention a part of our society in which rapes - and related sexual offenses - are rampant: our college campuses. The combination of heavy drinking, date-rape drugs, close contact, inappropriate role playing and even what a United Nations study has called “sexual entitlement” has produced a pandemic of rape on campus.

A factor in this, New Republic magazine wrote in January, is that victims find that “schools’ internal judicial proceedings can be confusing and off-putting for victims, who find themselves appealing to administrators with little understanding of the issue.”

In other words, at too many colleges, not all offenses that would cause an arrest out in the community are dealt with criminally on campus. That can include sex crimes. Instead, internal discipline, too often cloaked in secrecy as part of the student’s so-called academic record, is meted out - sometimes even in cases of he-said, she-said (or, increasingly, he-said, he-said) sexual offenses, that, alas, cannot be proved.

We make no such allegations about our local colleges. In fact, we were pleased to see a rape victim advocate and the police chief at Indiana State University speak in our newspaper last week so affirmatively about the efforts on that campus to educate would-be rapists and to help victims avoid attacks - and to report them if they occur.

But on campuses where the allegation fits, the situation must be immediately acknowledged and almost as immediately remedied.

Sex cases poorly handled on campuses - cases perhaps even hidden by some to protect the school’s recruiting efforts and donor solicitations - can cause victims to feel abandoned and to make them not want to report sexual attacks. Indeed, underreporting of rapes is an inestimable problem. But one also can empathize with the rape victim who concludes that reporting the crime will expose her or him to university, police and judicial scrutiny - and perhaps end with the perpetrator being acquitted, free to mock the victim’s vulnerability.

The latest national development came last week when the administration, first, issued task force recommendations to the nation’s campuses on the matter of sexual assaults, and, second, listed 55 colleges with open “sexual violence investigations.” Among those 55 were two from Indiana (IU-Bloomington and Vincennes University) and two from Illinois (Knox College and the University of Chicago).

That unprecedented listing of schools under investigation - including academic powerhouses such as Harvard, Princeton, Southern California, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State - speaks to the new seriousness that is being brought to bear on the issue of rape and its related crimes. But just as being on that list is not welcome (even as Education Secretary Arne Duncan says it carries “absolutely zero presumption” of guilt), not being on that list is no assurance that all is well.

All is not well. Much is very bad in a situation in which one in five women and one in 71 men has been a sexual assault victim. Much is very bad when a Harvard study finds that men who rape in college are likely to become serial rapists. Much is very bad, in that women between 16 and 24 are four times more likely to be raped than women overall, according to the Center for Public Integrity. And it is shameful that it has taken our society this long in its human evolution of right and wrong to get this far.

But at least these recent developments - both the words and the government actions - are a new beginning against rape. We cannot undo the harm done to victims of the past, but we do have the power as a people to alter the future for our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, friends and strangers. We can eliminate rape in their lifetimes.

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The Indianapolis Star. May 2, 2014.

Eric Turner shows what’s wrong with Indiana General Assembly

Conflicts of interest are so common, and so accepted, in the Indiana General Assembly that the most surprising thing about Rep. Eric Turner’s recent brush with questions of impropriety was that a House ethics committee actually was charged with investigating the case.

Of course, the ethics panel took all of two minutes, in a public hearing this past week, to discuss and then exonerate Turner of wrongdoing in his behind-the-scenes efforts to kill legislation that would have hurt his family’s business interests.

Case closed. Back to business as usual?

Let’s hope not.

Even the ethics committee, made up of fellow lawmakers, chided Turner in its report on the investigation for not achieving “the highest spirit of transparency” when he pushed in a closed-door meeting for other members of the House Republican caucus to kill a proposed moratorium on nursing home construction in Indiana. Turner and his family own companies that invest in and build nursing homes. The longtime Republican lawmaker from Cicero also did not reveal on his annual financial disclosure form all of his connections with companies associated with the nursing home industry.

In fairness to Turner, it must be hard for lawmakers to know where to draw the line, given everything else that is accepted.

For example, Rep. Matt Lehman is chairman of the House Insurance Committee. He is a partner in an insurance company in Allen County. Other members of his committee also work in the insurance industry, which means they routinely review and vote on bills that could affect their livelihood.

In the Senate, Travis Holdman leads the Committee on Financial Institutions, which regulates banks. Holdman owns a consulting firm that works in the banking industry, and, as The Star’s Matthew Tully documented last year, the senator also represents a financial services company as its national sales executive. As the committee chairman, Holdman has the power to decide which bills, including those that affect his clients’ interests, get a hearing and which are killed without committee review.

In a case similar to Turner‘s, state Rep. Bob Morris showed up last year at a House Public Health Committee hearing to testify against a bill opposed by many owners of health food stores. Morris owns a chain of such stores.

Lawmakers defend these conflicts of interest and others as inevitable in a citizen legislature. But far too often industry insiders sit in key decision-making positions in the General Assembly while consumers’ best interests are pushed aside.

As the ethics committee in the Turner case noted, stricter rules on disclosing financial conflicts are needed. The loophole that enables lawmakers to work as consultants without revealing their clients’ industry connections also should be eliminated. And there’s a great need for better transparency in the reporting of gifts and campaign donations from lobbyists and other special interests.

Eric Turner’s actions apparently fell within the current boundaries of ethical behavior in the General Assembly. But those boundaries need to be greatly tightened before the next legislative session.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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