- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Indianapolis Star. Mar. 2, 2016

Tully: Young, conservative and fearful of Donald Trump.

State Rep. David Ober is a conservative, fiscally and socially. At 28, he’s the youngest member of the Indiana General Assembly, and he talks thoughtfully about issues such as taxes, the role of government, and the future of Indiana and his Republican Party.

And, so, Ober has been speaking out about the damage being done by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. On social media and elsewhere, he is urging his fellow Republicans to reach out in the style of an intervention to those who support the former reality TV star’s campaign. In an interview with me on Monday, Ober said Republicans must think about what Trump’s nomination would mean for everything from international diplomacy to the GOP’s future.

“Every two years you hear people say that this election is going to be the most important in our lifetime,” said Ober, who represents a largely rural district in northeast Indiana. “But I really do feel like this one is the most important election of my lifetime, and it’s important that we don’t let someone like Donald Trump run away with it.”

Ober’s frustration with the presidential campaign began months ago, long before Trump’s mind-boggling stumble this weekend when asked whether he wanted to disavow support he has received from white supremacist groups. Ober said that controversy was simply the latest in a long line of hurtful episodes in a campaign that has featured hateful comments about Hispanics, women, people with disabilities and others.

“I just don’t understand what people see when they look at Donald Trump and when they listen to him, and how they think that is a temperament we want to see in a president,” Ober said. “I am outspoken because I think we are making a huge mistake as a party if we nominate this guy.”

Ober is in his second term in the Indiana House. He first ran for the Statehouse in 2012 out of concern that nobody in power was focused intently enough on the issues facing twentysomething Hoosiers. He has built a solid conservative voting record but rather than focusing on ideological issues he prefers to spend his time on legislation addressing the unique economic and health challenges in his district. Ask him for a political role model and he’ll talk about “pragmatic conservatives like Calvin Coolidge.”

These days, though, he’s talking a lot about Donald Trump. “How much time do you have?” he said when I asked him why. “There are so many reasons.”

There’s the silliness of Trump’s suggestion that he is a conservative, Ober said, given his past stances on issues such as abortion and taxes. There’s the scary thought of Trump’s bluster representing America on the diplomatic stage. For a policy wonk like Ober, there’s the lack of policy proposals with any depth.

Then there is that deep concern that Trump and his anger-based campaign will damage the Republican Party, costing it not only a general election but also a generation of potential voters. This isn’t simply about politics, Ober insisted, but rather about the need for a strong Republican Party that can expand and win the “war of ideas.”

Ober mentioned his party’s brief period of soul-searching after the 2012 presidential election. Many party leaders encouraged steps aimed at appealing to a changing and more diverse America, arguing that without the support of more Hispanic and black voters the party was doomed to repeat that year’s election time and again.

More than three years later, Ober said, the party is even worse off. And if Trump is nominated the damage may be irreparable, at least for many years. The opportunity to grow party support among millennials may be lost. The challenge of keeping those Republican voters who have long been uncomfortable with the party’s direction would grow even more daunting.

“We talk about being a big tent party but we don’t act like it,” Ober said. “We are forcing moderates out of one end of the tent and barring new voters from coming into the other end. … I look at Donald Trump and listen to him speak, and I think that he is the antitheses to what we said in 2012 about we needed to do to win another national election.”

Ober is supporting Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign for president and remains optimistic that the GOP will not nominate Trump. That doesn’t mean he isn’t worried - not with polls in Tuesday’s primary states showing the New York businessman with strong support. The reality of those polls led the Indiana lawmaker to Twitter last week, where he urged fellow Republicans to reach out to any Trump supporter they know in order to “shame them” into rethinking their vote.

“The man is a joke,” he wrote bluntly to Trump backers, “and you’re the punchline.”

I asked Ober what would he do on Election Day if Trump were indeed nominated. It would be a tough day as a Republican, he said, because he certainly couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. In the end, he said he would hope for a third-party candidate who is a strict constitutionalist and true conservative, and who was not running a divisive campaign rooted in anger.

“If I voted for Donald Trump, it would get real hard to look in the mirror and say I was trying to make this country a better place,” Ober said. “I feel very strongly that he has not and will not earn my vote. We are not just on different pages, we’re reading from completely different books.”

Trump’s book has sold well by exploiting and deepening the tale of a bitterly divided America. Let’s hope more Republicans will start listening to conservative voices such as Ober’s and put Trump’s book where it belongs: In the garbage.

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Evansville Courier and Press. Mar. 2, 2016

Administration, council need to stop excuses, fix city’s finances.

Evansville officials were quick to defend the city’s finances after the release last Friday of the State Board of Accounts’ report on the reconciliation of accounts in 2014.

As reported by staff writer John Martin, the audit expressed concern for the city’s cash flow and concluded that city and utility funds “were not properly reconciled to bank balances” for the entire year.

Further, SBOA investigators said that errors and discrepancies in 2014 resulted in a “difference between the records and bank balances of $659,165” - though the investigators did not find the problem “material” and no foul play is suspected.

The findings weren’t especially groundbreaking. Past members of the Evansville City Council, led by John Friend and Conor O’Daniel, insisted through the last budget process that the city’s financial problems were bigger than the administration was admitting.

Sensing that danger, the council nevertheless approved pay raises for most city employees and made no appreciable dent in the proposed budget. Likewise, given the chance to reduce the Homestead Tax Exemption to result in more money for city services, the council instead took steps to ensure a full 8 percent refund to property owners.

Mayor Lloyd Winnecke and his staff have continued to point to the transition in accounting software in 2011 as the genesis of the problems, as well as property tax caps approved by voters statewide in the 2010 general election.

They also point out that the city gets the bulk of its income twice a year, when property taxes come due, creating some short-term problems. But we’ve had five years or more to address those challenges.

The city also has defended moving funds from one account to another as the equivalent of anyone moving money from savings to checking to cover occasional shortfalls. But if your funds at home are constantly in need of replenishing, you quickly will come to the conclusion - or your bank will let you know - that you either need to spend less or make more.

That’s where Evansville finds itself now.

The solution, as we suggested during the budget process a year ago, is simple: Communicate early and often, and be willing to make hard decisions.

As controller and former mayor Russ Lloyd suggested in Evansville’s response to the audit, the administration should take a long look at all expenditures, and consider holding off filling open positions as a means of coming in at or under budget.

Rather than wait until summer, and then possibly run out of time during the budgeting process, as happened in 2015, council members should request monthly public updates from the mayor’s office and keep an equally close eye on expenditures.

Come time to finalize the budget, the council, if needed, should draw a hard line when it comes to pay raises and, yes, even tax breaks.

Evansville has more momentum now than it has had since a phenomenal period of growth in the 1950s. We’re dedicating resources, through Tax Increment Financing plans, to improvements throughout the city, notably Downtown with the hotel project and medical school and along North Main with the recently approved streetscape project. We also face rapidly rising utility bills, including the $729 million Renew Evansville agreement that will address the decades-old problems with combined-sewer overflow into the Ohio River, Bee Slough and Pigeon Creek.

Evansville officials, representing all residents, simply can’t afford to overspend or underdeliver at this juncture of our city’s history.

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The South Bend Tribune. Mar. 4, 2016

A proactive response to public health.

Last year, in the midst of a public health crisis in southeastern Indiana, a legislator’s comment cut to the chase.

Lawmakers were working to come up with legislation regarding needle exchange programs, as an HIV epidemic linked to intravenous drug users sharing needles raged in Scott County. Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, noted “We’re trying to contain something that is already out of control. We ought to be enacting policies that help keep things from getting out of control in the first place.”

Clere was right then and now about the need to be proactive about a problem that public health officials across the state have warned could spread to other areas. Unfortunately, the law that legalized needle exchanges in Indiana is more reactive in nature. It requires that a county prove it’s in the middle of an epidemic in order to receive approval for an exchange.

Count us among those questioning whether waiting for an HIV outbreak to happen, and then responding to it, is the best approach to take.

The problem is illustrated by the situation here in St. Joseph County, where heroin and related painkillers have killed dozens of people within the last year. In a recent Tribune report, county health officer Luis Galup expressed concern about the worsening intravenous drug problem - and the need to “do at least something to reduce the consequences.” Despite his belief that the county’s increasing heroin problem puts it at risk for an outbreak of diseases connected to injection drug use, Galup doesn’t yet have the statistics to prove it. He points out that the county is not far behind the larger populated Allen County - which declared an epidemic - in some categories related to hepatitis and HIV.

The program director with AIDS Ministries/AIDS Assist of Northern Indiana reports a rise in hepatitis C cases, most related to needle sharing. But in her opinion, the increase isn’t enough to win state approval of a needle exchange program.

That Indiana allows needle exchanges at all is a victory of sorts, given the longstanding opposition to such programs by Gov. Mike Pence. In the past, the governor has said “I don’t believe effective anti-drug policy involves handing out drug paraphernalia.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for its part, endorses needle exchange programs as an effective way to halt the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. And a study by the World Health Organization reported that the programs “substantially and cost effectively reduce the spread of HIV among people who inject drugs and do so without evidence of exacerbating injecting drug use at either the individual or societal level.”

St. Joseph County police Assistant Chief Bill Thompson said police would work with health officials if the need for such a program became clear.

We don’t know if St. Joseph County has reached that point, but we do know that the best time to implement a needle exchange program is before, not after, a public health crisis has erupted.

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The Bloomington Herald-Times. Mar. 3, 2016

IU basketball having double the fun, success.

First of all, congratulations to Teri Moren, coach of the Indiana University women’s basketball team. She was named Big Ten Coach of the Year this week, an honor richly deserved after leading the Hoosiers to a 20-victory season, a 12-6 record in the Big Ten and a No. 4 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

Moren isn’t the kind of person who likes to take credit for things. Rather, she works hard, expects her players to work hard and has molded her women into a successful team.

She came to the IU program in 2014 under difficult circumstances, replacing Curt Miller who left under a mysterious cloud at a most inopportune time - in the middle of the summer. Moren started her job just before classes were to resume at IU, and inherited a team not of her own making and some players who didn’t always read from the same page as their new coach. Four players left after a disappointing season, and the Hoosiers in Moren’s second year have embraced their coach’s philosophy, style and drive. They can build on their regular season success in the Big Ten tournament and in post-season play that’s sure to follow.

Second, congratulations to coach Tom Crean and the IU men’s basketball team. The Hoosiers picked themselves up after three early season defeats, weathered some key injuries, and Tuesday night claimed the Big Ten regular season basketball championship with a victory at Iowa.

Crean deserves to be the Big Ten Coach of the Year. He quickly pulled together a team that kept moving forward and getting better while displaying a next-man-up attitude. Neither the players nor the coaches took their eyes off the goal of improvement, which got them to a Big Ten championship few expected.

Next up is the final regular season game in Assembly Hall on Sunday. A victory over Maryland and the Hoosiers will finish the year undefeated on their home court, as did the women’s team.

That would be quite a double in a year that’s been satisfying so far.

Good luck the rest of the way to both teams.

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