Welcome to Tammany Hall, Indiana

July 26, 2018

“Nearly a third of property taxes now collected by City Hall go into 143 special taxing districts controlled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and aldermen, according to a new report by Cook County Clerk David Orr” — Chicago Tribune, July 24, 2018

by Craig Ladwig

“I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I do the nominating,” said William M. Tweed, “boss” of New York City’s Tammany Hall.

Few in Indiana know what it’s like living under such a political machine. We had better study up. One is coming to town in the form of a regional “development” group or similarly sugar-coated configuration claiming the greater good.

Crony capitalism, the nice way of saying favoritism and graft, is the least of it, although tripling the cost of the typical public-private project. Sooner or later only the machine candidates win office. Next, the local judges transfer allegiance from their constitutional duties to the machine. Finally, we are left with no meaningful democratic representation, no checks or balances, only the hubris of the powerful.

Alarmist? Perhaps, but in Fort Wayne such a group calls the shots with a bipartisan majority of the city council regarding special taxing districts, rebates, etc. It has a $200,000 “public relations” fund should any councilman think about defecting, and it has the support of both Republican candidates in an upcoming mayoral primary.

Its friends, even relatives, are secret partners in million-dollar downtown renovation deals. Councilmen are threatened with opposition in their party primary unless they toe the line. The publisher of the local newspaper phones politicians to personally give them the machine’s marching orders.

None of this “develops” anything sustainable. Rather, it puts a cap on longterm job growth, especially the middle-class kind that comes with innovative, privately owned start-up businesses, those that support rooted families and real careers. For nobody without connections invests their own money in a place run by a bunch of insiders, however altruistically framed their motives.

There was mention of toeing the line. Where exactly is that line?

Kevin Brinegar, president of the state Chamber of Commerce, in this 5th year of a GOP supermajority, is the face of this new political machine. His Indiana Business for Responsive Government committee (IBRG) now conducts in-depth reviews of legislative thinking. This year it is demanding to know how legislators stand on a wider range of issues, only a few of which are directly related to commerce and several of which run counter to the conviction of a typical Indiana constituency.

Many of these issues predictably deal with strengthening the competitive position of corporatism (think shiny buildings with high fences, guard gates and political leverage). Others, though, seem to reflect the personal socio-political opinions of the Brinegar leadership team (think Carmel white-wine dinner party).

A letter from Brinegar earlier this month to legislators explains:

“As you may be aware, legislator voting records and scores — as reported in our annual Legislative Vote Analysis — have been the key data point for our IBRG committee’s evaluation of incumbents for endorsement. Now, your views on important public policy issues will also be factored into the decision-making process.”

And the decision-making process is meant to make government bigger and more intrusive. For example, Brinegar is asking your legislator whether he or she favors:

No legislator dare refuse Brinegar’s plumbing of their philosophical, moral and even religious positions. His annual reports on proper voting and proper thinking will determine who gets funding for the next primary and who does not.

It is as Boss Tweed said it should be.

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review.


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