Editorial Roundup: Indiana

KPC News. Sept. 19, 2021.

Editorial: Keep school boards non-partisan

Among elected officials, most will tell you that serving on the school board is probably the most thankless elected office a person can hold.

An idea coming from a northeast Indiana state rep would likely make running for school board even less desirable.

State Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, recently noted he’s mulling the idea of filing a bill that would make school board races partisan.

Let’s get ahead of it — that’s a terrible idea.

Currently, school board races are the only local government office that is non-partisan, meaning candidates don’t declare and don’t run under a Republican, Democrat or other party label.

Morris, who represents District 84 covering north and northeast portions of Fort Wayne, would change that.

“I’ve had a number of constituents call me and express concerns with the way their school boards are functioning and currently operating,” Morris said. “I’ve been elected for 11 years and it seems all too frequent that people call me with (concerns about) their kids’ school districts.

“I think it’s all too fair to ensure that the constituents and the people of Indiana know which party these school board members affiliate themselves with,” he said.

We suspect that Morris has been hearing from some disgruntled constituents who are either mad about the practical issue of masks at school and/or the illusory issue of critical race theory.

Morris, one of the state’s most right-leaning reps, obviously smells an opportunity to try to hurl Democrats or moderately left-leaning independents off of school boards.

He, of course, ignores all the likely negative impacts of making school board races partisan. So we’ll run them down:

First, it’s hard enough to find candidates for school board as it is, without adding another layer that would likely discourage some from running.

In 2018, for example, of 16 school board races in Noble and LaGrange counties, there was just one (1) contest and two races where zero (0) candidates filed for the seat.

In 2020, the sheet was improved, but still only five of 11 races had contests.

Partisan races at the county, city and town level are even worse and are rarely contested come November.

Second, partisan races will further discourage people from actually learning anything about the candidates in the race.

Most residents couldn’t tell you how many people serve on their local school board much less name any of them. When Election Day comes around, voters often pick randomly or skip the school board races entirely.

In 2020, 42% of voters in the four-county area voted a straight-party ticket, which automatically selects all candidates of one party. Voters don’t even have to read the names, they just make a blanket selection of every R, D or L on the ballot. That option doesn’t work, however, for non-partisan school board races, forcing voters to actually look at and deliberately pick candidates.

With partisan races and the prevalence of voters auto-filling their ballot, there would be even less incentive for voters to seek out what a candidate actually thinks and believes in ahead of Election Day in favor of some generic party affiliation.

Third, as every voter in northeast Indiana knows, pretty much the only way to win an elected office in this region is to run as a Republican.

We already know of at least a handful of local officials who appear on ballots as Republicans but are likely anything but.

Beyond that, though, partisan politics usually plays little to no role in local government. At the county, town and school level, the difference between left-leaning and right-leaning officials is often little to none.

Unlike national politics, local officials are more interested in doing what’s best for their community than trying to score cheap political wins and make theatrical shows of their party loyalty.

So what’s to really be gained by putting a party letter next to a candidate’s name except for trying to make school boards as single-party as the rest of Indiana government?

Nothing.

If people are displeased with their current representation, there’s already a remedy for that — filing and running for office.

Instead of lazily picking candidates based on R or D or L or I, voters can take time to actually learn something about the people running for office through pre-election coverage in local media, local debates or town hall discussions.

That will lead to a more informed constituency, stronger democracy and better school boards.

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Columbus Republic. Sept. 18, 2021.

Editorial: Hate crime statistics are cause for concern

Hate crimes are on the rise in Columbus and surrounding communities, reflecting a painful national trend.

As the Republic reported Sunday, the FBI said 10 hate crime incidents were reported in Columbus in the past three years — four against Black victims, three against members of the LGBTQ+ community, two targeting Hispanics and one described as “anti-other race/ethnicity/ancestry.”

The increase in these cases, largely instances of assault, intimidation, property damage and vandalism, is disturbing for a community growing ever more diverse.

But the FBI’s numbers don’t tell the whole story.

Fact is, there almost certainly were more than 10 hate crimes or bias incidents in Columbus during the past three years. Law enforcement and human rights officials agree these cases are under-reported. Victims may be too fearful to come forward, and the FBI relies on law enforcement to voluntarily furnish data on hate crimes.

As Columbus Human Rights Director Aida Ramirez said, it’s worrying that unreported instances of bias could escalate to the point someone is hurt. “My concern is that bias incidents turn into bias crimes,” she said.

Columbus Police Department spokesman Matt Harris told the Republic that the CPD takes hate crimes seriously, and while the number annually is low, even one such case is more than the department wants to see.

That’s reassuring, and getting the number of reported hate crimes to zero is a worthy goal, but is it possible? Getting there would require not just a community effort, but also a commitment from every person in the community.

Choose not to hate.

It sounds simple because it is.

None of us has a choice regarding the color of our skin, the place of our birth or the genetic makeup we inherited. We play the hand we’re dealt. What we do have the power to shape, each of us individually, is the content of our character. We can recognize we all have biases. We can take the bold and self-actualizing step of examining our own. We can recognize learned behaviors and attitudes over which we have control.

Our common humanity binds us far more than individual differences can divide us. Realizing this truth while celebrating our diversity builds a strong, vibrant, prosperous community.

The FBI’s hate crime statistics are useful in several significant ways. They shine light on crimes that target vulnerable populations. They allow communities to measure the scope of harmful, shameful offenses and whether the response is adequate. The information also demonstrates how much work lies ahead to protect people from becoming victims simply because of who they are.

Further, the reports give us, individually and collectively, the opportunity to forcefully call out those who seek to exploit individual differences for their own cynical, destructive ends. Sadly, that’s a position we may have to take more and more in the coming years if the rise in hate crimes persists.

But the reports also leave us with an inescapable realization: It doesn’t have to be this way. Eliminating hate crimes is a choice. That choice is up to every one of us.

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Terre Haute Tribune-Star. Sept. 17, 2021.

Editorial: Homelessness persists, and will surely get worse

Three-hundred and 67 people living in Vigo County this summer had no home.

That is the equivalent of every resident in the town of Riley, plus another 100 people. When those numbers conjure images of familiar faces and names, the alarming nature of the situation feels more real.

Homelessness is indeed a real problem in the community, and it is likely to worsen this fall and winter. That was the conclusion of the Homeless Council of the Wabash Valley volunteers following their third annual survey. The organization conducts the survey to assess the number of homeless people living in Vigo County. They carried it out on July 28 and released the findings this month.

The council’s count of the homeless differs from a separate federal survey. That Point In Time count (or PIT) is done each January to help determine federal funding for assistance programs. The locally based homeless count is considered by the council to be a truer picture of reality than the federal count, which happens in winter when the homeless are likely to be sheltered and easier to locate. The PIT counted 218 homeless persons, but was also likely skewed lower because normal outreach efforts, like meal giveaways, were not possible because of COVID-19 precautions.

The Homeless Council of the Wabash Valley’s count involved volunteers visiting or phoning known locations of homeless people. They found 318 people staying in hotels, shelters, recovery houses and transitional housing programs. The counters located 49 more people living in tents, abandoned houses and buildings, cars, or on the streets.

Brendan Kearns, a co-chairman of the council and a county commissioner, believes there were more than 367 homeless people. The count volunteers ran out of time after talking with so many of the people, trying to get them connected to services. Also, folks living in cars tend to move from street to street, night after night, and are harder to find in such a count.

Stereotypes do not fit the majority of the homeless. Most are simply “down on their luck,” as Kearns put it.

“We found in previous counts that people run out of money toward the end of the month,” Kearns explained. “So, we may find more people displaced because they can’t pay for housing.”

Some then try to find the next best option, like camping in a park. Others end up in such situations after losing their normal income, leaving them unable to afford mental health medicines. The COVID-19 pandemic, as it resurges and extends into a second winter, is expanding the mental health crisis and incidences of depression.

Perhaps the harshest news is that the number of homeless may soon grow even more. Moratoriums on housing evictions — put in place during the peak of the pandemic — have expired. Vigo Countians can expect to see more people living out of their cars, Kearns said.

There are ways to help. The efforts of nonprofit agencies such as Reach Services and Mental Health America of West Central Indiana helped place homeless people in housing, along with COVID relief and other programs. Anyone willing to donate or volunteer with Reach Services can go online to reachservices.care/get-involved. Donors to Mental Health America of West Central Indiana can go to mhawci.org. Also, the Homeless Council of the Wabash Valley has a Facebook page at facebook.com/HCWVR7, welcomes volunteers from Vermillion, Parke, Putnam, Clay, Vigo, Sullivan counties, and meets on the third Tuesday of every month.

It is a sobering thought that more people will be living in tents, cars or shelters this winter, adding to the heartaches surrounding the pandemic. For those able to assist, the need is present.

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