Thursday, March 30, 2006


Blogs are traditionally derivative. That is, historically Web logs have been created by motivated amateurs who share the great sites they've come across during the course of a day. The political blogs common to this area tend to do more "original programming," but they still rely on primary news sources as a factual reference point (at least the reliable ones do).

During VH's existence, we've tended to shy away from linking to news stories and "cool" sites, but sometimes another Web site says more with a simple interface than all the commentary in the world.

May I recommend that you consult this brilliant piece of work by Tim at Be warned, it is a sobering encounter.

Step Up

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as smart. -- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in The Sirens of Titan

A survey of the political landscape little more than one month before the national/state/county/township primary elections yields a startling conclusion about New Albany's 2007 city elections: Mayor James E. Garner is in position to secure re-election, becoming the first mayor in decades to do so in this city.

The possibility of a serious intra-party challenge grows increasingly remote. The usual suspects are tarnished, to put it lightly, and Garner seems all but assured of renomination. Were the mayor a mere seat-warmer, that wouldn't be. But that is not the case. Garner has earned respect across the state as a quick study and has strong support among Indiana party leaders.

The GOP will, of course, field an opponent, but the blood-feud bitterness expected to flow from that party's primary will reveal a series of flawed candidates drafted only for appearances sake. Some have speculated that Garner would stand an even chance of winning not only the Democratic Party primary, but of making a race of it among Republicans.

How did Garner reach this position? How did the mayor deflect the initial criticisms of this blogger (and for that matter, that other blogger, The New Albanian)? How did Garner outmaneuver the Gang of Four on the City Council so intent on kneecapping this administration, and by extension, this city?

First-Instinct Honesty

For his political advisors, Garner's lack of calculation can be a headache. His Honor invariably answers any question without guile, simply stating the facts as they are, and not as he would wish them to be. There is no trimming, no spin, no manipulation of language to make himself and his administration look better. He responds with the easiest answer - the truth.

That's not to say Garner isn't careful. At council meetings, he is the answer man, even when faced with an ambush scenario as has become increasingly common recently. The members of the council do so little preparation, so little homework in advance of their twice-monthly meetings that Garner, or his staff, must provide them with mini-tutorials on almost every issue facing the body.

Comprehensive Knowledge

When in that role, the mayor is exceedingly careful to give the facts as he knows them. That often results in the mayor losing eye contact with his audience (the council), lowering his chin and rolling his eyes upward to consult some virtual spreadsheet or memorandum to retrieve an answer. He'll do that even in other public forums, and it is a classic mistake for a politician to lose eye contact with his listeners.

Fortunately, once the fact-retrieval process is completed, Garner comes back to full engagement with the questioner and the audience. Compared to his obstructionist opponents, the mayor comes across as a literal fountain of knowledge.

The X-Factor

But what is the third element in Garner's political strength? That would have to be his effectiveness in pushing through his vision for the city.

Facing almost intractable problems, particularly with the city's 2005 finances, unfunded mandates, and deteriorating infrastructure, the mayor has managed to win passage of every single initiative he has put forward, including the Scribner Place redevelopment project and the reorganization of the city's sanitation operations.

Granted, these victories have often come by 5-4 votes, with four faux-Democrats voting reactively against any mayoral initiative, but victories they are, nonetheless, for Garner and for the city.

The Weakness

Communication continues to be the mayor's biggest weakness. Perhaps to keep from ruffling too many feathers among those whose perceive New Albany to be a sleepy little town (it never was, as Bluegill so ably points out), the mayor has failed to forcefully articulate his vision for the future.

The Garner program dribbles out piecemeal. It may be well defined in his own mind. It may be well known among his closest advisors. But there is no declaration, no white paper, no communications campaign to lay out that vision.

Only by laying out that vision in a series of position statements can the mayor cause the citizenry to coalesce around that vision. There's no upside in keeping it in your head, Mr. Mayor. And there's no advantage in trying to accommodate your enemies. For whatever reason, they are and will continue to oppose you.

But the survey shows that while there's no groundswell of "love" out there, there is a broad segment of the city, across party lines, that sees in this mayor the glimmer of hope for a resurgent New Albany.

Act now, Mr. Garner. It is not too early to campaign for your issues. By articulating your vision now, you can secure that re-election next year. As it stands today, the election is yours to claim. Don't let it slip away by being timid about telling us what you want for this city. Step Up and claim your prize.


Volunteer Hoosier will soon cease to be a regularly updated Web log. We are being acquired by a burgeoning, branded online operation. This blog will, however, remain as an archive of our previous postings and the comments thereon.

As we wind down this current incarnation, we invite you to share with us your favorite Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. quotes.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

One Foot in the Past

I'll take no credit for today's posting, except perhaps for being able to listen and discern, but the last 24 hours have generated much reflection on the state of public affairs in our domain.

I was privileged to spend some time in the company of a public official yesterday, and we were able to exchange a few impressions. It drove home for me the degree to which personal loyalty drives the politics of this city and county, but it likewise opened my eyes to a few truths.

One must give respect to the politicians in this town for being realists. Despite disagreements among and between various officeholders, the incumbents recognize that even their misguided colleagues share the same legitimacy - they each were elected. An officeholder may believe wholeheartedly that voters were wrong in electing someone, but they do not question the legitimacy of that election.

Further, officeholders recognize that, at least for a time (and that time can be long, indeed), they must work with their colleagues in order to accomplish anything. That does not mean that disagreements will not arise. They do, and often. But during a term, the playing field is what it is, and the effective public official will try to find accommodation with those who oppose them.

Likewise, the cleverest among them will quickly discard party loyalty and reach across the aisle in order to gain an advantage to further their own agenda, whether that be to progress the public weal, or to hold it back.

Traditionally, each officeholder builds a base constituency and then relies on the fact that few members of the public will take the time to get to know them, their policies, and their actions. With a sufficiently influential cadre of supporters willing to endorse them on the basis of personal loyalty, an officeholder can be essentially immune from true public scrutiny. The dynamics of party add to this tendency toward unaccountability, as the imprimature of "D" or "R" carries its own weight.

I pride myself on being inquisitive and universal in my approach to understanding politics and politicians. Simply because politician "A," whom I admire, has a conflict with politician "B," does not mean that I cannot also admire, or work with both.

But one of the weakness of the polity here is that no evaluation of a politician or a political actor, or even an involved citizen, is ever divorced from factionalism. Let me choose an innocuous example to illustrate.

I count among my friends several leading Democrats (I have fewer Republican acquaintances, but then the bulk of my time is spent at my store, and so I have had fewer occasions to meet them). Former county party chairman Warren Nash has never been anything but helpful to me in helping me to understand local politics. His successor, Randy Stumler, has been an inspiration to me. Some have tried to portray that succession as a coup, an overthrow of the regime, which is true only in its end result. Yes, the Stumler era is and will continue to be of a different nature than the time when Nash was at the party helm. If that portrayal had become fixed, would Nash loyalists have become Stumler opponents?

Sadly, in my judgment, that would be true more often than not. Fortunately, no such rift exists. But it is a weakness that so many people make their evaluations based on such trivial matters as whether their "favorite" has been opposed (on an issue, or in an election) by another.

It is the duty of the citizen to measure candidates in their entirety. Is it evident that a candidate is prepared and knowledgeable? Does the candidate advocate in the public interest or for narrow, parochial interests? Has a candidate made a positive contribution to debate, policy, or administration?

Only by such analysis can a voter be said to be truly informed. As primary election day approaches on May 2, I urge readers to set aside preconceived notions of factionalism and educate themselves as to the stands and records of each candidate for public office. Don't vote based on religious affiliation, family connection, or any other irrational basis. Don't give your vote away cheaply.


I spent some time recently with a wise person who cleared a few things up for me and stimulated a few thoughts about allegiance to the past in the face of the challenges of the future. These discussions yielded a prescription for good public service.

This person diagnosed a weakness in the Democratic Party that ought to be addressed. Like any illness, it must either be treated or it will become a part of daily existence.

Like any parties made up of human beings, both major parties suffer their share of fools and embarrassments. For the Democrats, the continuing presence of the "Gang of Four" is an embarrassment. For the most part, this group no longer (if it ever did) adheres to any of the core beliefs of the Democratic Party. They are an infection on the body of the party and this cannot go untreated any longer without corrupting the entire body. Like a suppurating sore, it has become prominently visible and eminently embarrassing.

The initial round of treatment should consist of aggressive action to alter their behavior. Party elders must take up this challenge. But if that proves ineffective, surgery to excise this debilitating boil on the public face of the party is the next step. The party must declare that the behavior of the Gang will not be tolerated, and that such officeholders are unwelcome to serve under the Democratic banner.

Corruption can no longer be winked at. Let the corrupt find themselves another platform from which to launch their attacks on the public good.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Nobody's Said it Better

While it can't be called trivial, it's hardly earthshaking that Develop New Albany and the Garner administration have put into place some very attractive banners delineating the core of the downtown shopping district. According to the Courier-Journal, one side says "Downtown" and the other says "New Albany" on these maroon-and-cream vertical banners.

Pearl and Market streets are the direct beneficiaries, but the whole county will benefit from a renewed downtown.

Having seen it all firsthand all his life, downtown pillar Bob Caesar keeps his enthusiasm in check more than some other boosters, but in describing the emerging energy downtown, he puts it this way:

"We haven't thrown a 90-yard touchdown pass," Caesar said of the banner effort, likening it to steady success rather than a sudden breakthrough. "But we're making first downs all the time."

Nobody could say it better.

Read the coverage here.

Monday, March 27, 2006

But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.
-----James Madison

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Attention Must Be Paid

Tribune and News publisher John Tucker takes pen in hand once again this Sunday, after a one-week hiatus, to discuss the state of electoral play and the role of our local newspapers in the mix.

As a former print journalist, I continue to immerse myself in the intricate state of journalism in the 21st Century. Had I never entered the field, I still think I would be fascinated by newspapers and how each chooses to serve its readership.

I married a journalist and I've fathered a journalist. Their accomplishments far outshadow mine, although I have wound up spending more years behind a newsroom keyboard than both of them combined. I take pride in having a part in making our daily news Web site the "best" in the state of Florida, against some of the most well-resourced newspaper giants in the world. Garnering that award made it possible for me to declare "game over" and begin this new journey north of the Mason-Dixon line.

The nugget of wisdom I take from Mr. Tucker's Sunday gem is this: Attention must be paid. I wholeheartedly agree, and so state, ad infinitum. With elections pending, Tucker promises to make it impossible for voters to ignore the issues and candidates. Well, better late than never, I say. Tucker says "We believe this is what a community paper can do better than any other form of media - make a positive impact on their community by informing and promoting about local topis of interest and importance."

John, I agree. You can do it better. And we're all heartened to see your pledge to do so. I continue to maintain that the more who pay attention - and the sooner and more often - the sooner we can rid this city of the impediments to progress.


Local columnist Linden Dodd makes some strong points in the lead opinion piece, "Be careful what you wish for."

The key pull-quote? "You cannot ever convince a stupid person they are wrong."


It has been six months since publisher Tucker pledged improvements to The Tribune, which (now it can be revealed) he gauged to be the newspaper he had encountered that was most in need of resuscitation. In this soon-to-be-absorbed blogger's opinion, the Sunday edition has now become that "indispensable" organ we have long yearned for. If you fail to (at least) start reading the Sunday editions, you have only yourself to blame. The editors and reporters have done their job, at least on Sundays. Now, if you value a local press, you'll come back to The Tribune.