Club for Growth wants Bucshon primaried

Republican U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon could face a primary challenge next year if the Club for Growth gets its way.

The anti-spending group last year helped state Treasurer Richard Mourdock unseat U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar in the Republican primary, and now says it wants Bucshon replaced by a more strident conservative.

The group launched a website called PrimaryMyCongressman.com. It lists Bucshon and eight others who are in seats their party is strongly favored to keep as “RINOs” – short for Republicans in name only.

On the website, Bucshon is blasted for voting to continue ethanol subsidies, to keep the National Labor Relations Board and more. The two-term Indiana congressman’s lifetime rating of 68 percent on the Club for Growth’s scorecard is highlighted.

“Big government liberals inhabit the Democratic Party, but they are far too common within the Republican Party as well,” said Club for Growth president Chris Chocola, a former Indiana congressman who now leads the national group.

“The Republicans helped pass billions of dollars in tax increases and they have repeatedly voted against efforts by fiscal conservatives to limit government. PrimaryMyCongressman.com will serve as a tool to hold opponents of economic freedom and limited government accountable for their actions.”

The Club for Growth’s move comes as hard-line conservative groups battle with organizations such as Karl Rove’s Conservative Victory Project, which are advocating pragmatic approaches in light of several stinging 2012 losses – including Mourdock’s.

The website lists what the Club for Growth considers Bucshon’s bad votes. Among them is his support for a deal to increase the federal debt ceiling. He served on a joint House-Senate conference committee that negotiated a transportation funding deal that the group also criticizes.

Bucshon’s office shrugged off the Club for Growth’s criticism, pointing out that in 2012 he voted with the organization more often than did U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, last year’s Republican vice presidential nominee.

His office also touted an award Thursday from the American Conservative Union. The chairman of that group, Al Cardenas, said Bucshon “shows a consistent commitment to conservative principles.”

“Club for Growth is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that certainly has a right to their opinion,” said Bucshon spokesman Nick McGee.

“Dr. Bucshon has a strong conservative voting record and was successfully reelected by a 10 percent margin in his last election,” he said.

“He has confidence his constituents in Indiana will continue to assess his record of consistently fighting to cut spending, keep taxes low, bring good paying jobs to Hoosiers, and reform healthcare and not rely on a D.C. based organization to assess it for them.”

Although the PrimaryMyCongressman.com website includes a button for viewers to “recommend an opponent,” no one has announced a primary or general election bid against Bucshon.

Still, he’s used to both. Bucshon emerged from a crowded field of contenders to win the GOP nomination, and then survived a one-on-one matchup with that year’s second-place finisher, Owen County activist Kristi Risk, in 2012.

Democrats have targeted the seat, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee including it in the group’s “Red to Blue” program the last two elections. However, neither former state Rep. Trent Van Haaften nor former state Rep. Dave Crooks ultimately came close to defeating Bucshon.

Indiana Democratic Party chairman Dan Parker quickly sought to use the Club for Growth’s move as a fundraising tool, blasting an email out Wednesday to the party’s supporters that highlighted PrimaryMyCongressman.com.

“This is exactly what Republicans did to Richard Lugar last year. You’d think they’d have learned their lesson,” Parker wrote. “We keep hearing Republicans are on a mission to unite their party and attract new voters, but it looks to us like they’re still in self-destruct mode.”

Some Indiana Republicans, meanwhile, rushed to Bucshon’s defense.

“Bucshon is a bright pragmatist who has made a quick name for himself in Congress, particularly in his role as a leader on matters pertaining to finding solutions to improve our nation’s transportation and infrastructure system,” Mike O’Brien, the Hendricks County GOP chairman and former Gov. Mitch Daniels aide, wrote in a blog post.

“The formula used by the Club is particularly rigid and ignores the unique political realities of Indiana’s long-embattled 8th District.”

Gregg sends letter to newspaper editors

John Gregg, the 2012 Democratic candidate for Indiana governor who is said to be seriously considering another run in 2016, sent a letter to newspaper editors Monday morning.

Here’s what he wrote:

Dear Editor,

There are times in life in which we all feel we just can’t catch a break.  The cards are stacked against us. We can’t beat the system. We can’t fight city hall.  We feel powerless in the face of unfairness and injustice.

We want to give up.

And then something reminds us that we are blessed to live in the greatest country the world has ever known, where anything is still possible.

For me, that reminder came last week by way of a friend – and I wanted to share it with you.  On Tuesday, after years of court battles, Vernon ‘Hughie’ Bowman, a small farmer from my hometown of Sandborn, took his fight against one of the nation’s largest corporations to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And while we won’t know the outcome of the case for some time, Hughie Bowman is a great example of what is possible if you keep trying. Here’s a small farmer from a small town in rural Indiana who stuck to his principles and refused to back down.

Hughie’s fight is not only a great civics lesson that proves America can still work for the little guy, it’s an inspiration for all those that stand up to seemingly insurmountable odds. He’s the living embodiment of the old saying “It’s not the size of the man in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the man.”

I share this story because I know that in the coming years Hoosiers will continue to face struggles and frustrations as some misguided politicians in the Indiana Statehouse place greater emphasis on singling us out rather than bringing us together. There will be times when we want to throw in the towel or put our time, treasure and talent to other worthy causes. However, like Hughie, we can’t give up – no matter the odds. There is too much at stake.

So as the now second most famous person from Sandborn, Indiana I ask my fellow Hoosiers to stay in this fight, no matter what the odds, and protect our shared values and principles for this and the next generation of Hoosiers.  If Hughie can do it, so can we.

Sincerely,

John Gregg
2012 Democratic Nominee for Governor
Sandborn, Indiana

Merritt calls off Rockport hearing

The future of the Rockport coal-to-gas plant grew murkier Thursday as the chairman of a key state Senate panel called off the hearing he’d scheduled to debate Indiana’s role in financing the nearly $3 billion project.

The decision comes after hours spent Wednesday trying to craft an amendment to the bill that was to be the subject of the hearing, Senate Utility Committee Chairman Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, told the Courier & Press.

His party’s leaders want the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to give another review to the state’s 30-year contract to buy the plant’s product at a fixed rate and then resell it on the open market. But the contract currently tied up in court battles, complicating the process. Merritt decided he needed more time to work on the amendment.

“I want this to be professional. I want this to be correct,” he said. “This is so complicated that I want to do it right, and that’s why I’m delaying it.”

Had the hearing taken place, it would have been a tussle between New York-based Leucadia National Corp., which is financing the plant, and a group of environmental groups and utility companies led by Vectren Corp.

The developers say the plant – and the prices tied to it, which would average $6.60 per unit and make up 17 percent of all Hoosier ratepayers’ gas bills – would boost the Indiana coal industry and also guard against instability in the natural gas market.

Opponents, though, say a nationwide shale gas boom has sent gas prices tumbling to about $3 per unit, where they’ve hovered in recent months. They say the deal could lock in higher prices for ratepayers with no protections until the contract’s end three decades from now.

The developers’ contract with the Indiana Finance Authority was already locked into place, but a tweak ordered by an Indiana appellate court and made in December has opened the door for Vectren to sue, demanding that utility regulators re-approve the deal.

Opponents have also seized on that opening by lobbying Indiana lawmakers to take a more comprehensive look this year at a deal they approved on a piecemeal basis – especially now that former Gov. Mitch Daniels, the project’s top advocate, has left office.

Merritt said he needs to learn more from both sides before deciding how lawmakers ought to go forward. He said he wants to make sure he understands the outcomes that would result from a host of options that lawmakers are considering.

“I want to talk to a lot more people before we do this, and I have not spoken to the Leucadia people ever. As chairman, I think it’s my prerogative to learn as much as possible from all different parties before we go any further,” Merritt said. “I want to compile the facts and make a good decision.”

Senate Bill 510, which is being carried by Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, and was to be the subject of Thursday’s hearing, would force the ratepayer protection mechanisms in the contract to be overhauled.

Right now, Leucadia must set aside $150 million to reimburse ratepayers if they’ve paid higher prices than market rates. But Vectren estimates that’s only enough to last a few years.

Eckerty’s bill would require a “true-up” – essentially a check to see how the Rockport plant’s rates compare to open-market prices – every three years, with those reimbursements being made every time.

Leucadia’s top Indiana official, former Daniels aide Mark Lubbers, called that a naked attempt to kill the entire project.

“Anything that changes the contract kills the plant. Period. No one should be under any illusion; this is the intent,” Lubbers said.

Lubbers said natural gas prices were around $3 or $4 per unit in 2009 when lawmakers first approved the Rockport project and also when state utility regulators gave it the green light.

“I know of no reason for the issue to go back to the IURC,” he said. “The idea that low prices caused by shale gas is somehow a new issue is simply false. It was discussed constantly during contract negotiation and it was the subject of hundreds of pages of testimony at the IURC.”

Opponents, meanwhile, are launching new lobbying efforts to block the plant, even as Vectren pursues a lawsuit likely to end up in the Indiana Supreme Court.

A group that includes the Indiana Farm Bureau as well as 10 Indiana utilities is pushing for new ways to reimburse ratepayers if the plant’s prices are higher than open-market natural gas rates.

“Customers should not be forced to subsidize this plant through what will essentially be a tax on their monthly gas bills,” said John Browner, the president of Sycamore Gas Company.

Meanwhile, a group of advocacy organizations that includes several environmental groups, senior citizens’ lobbyists and local tax-watchers, are rallying their members to urge lawmakers to block the deal.

“Many older Hoosiers are already under enormous financial stress. They spend a disproportionate share of their income on health care and utility costs,” said June Lyle, state director for AARP. “They should not be further burdened by a deal that will require them to pay above-market rates for natural gas.”

Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, is carrying a bill identical to Eckerty’s in the House. Some changes to the proposed measures, though, are all but guaranteed, key lawmakers said.

“The bill will not be in the same shape as it is now,” Merritt said. “We’re all concerned about this public policy, and we believe the legislature needs to understand exactly where we are in the industry now and how times have changed with the industry.”

Donnelly wants Zody as new state Democratic chair

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly is urging Indiana Democrats to choose John Zody, an experienced Capitol Hill hand who worked on President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, as their next state chairman.

Donnelly wants the former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Baron Hill and leader of Obama’s 2012 campaign in eight Midwestern states to take the helm after Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker’s eight-year tenure ends in six weeks.

The 18-member state Democratic central committee – two from each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts – will vote at their March 16 meeting on a new chairman. Members said Donnelly was calling them Wednesday to say Zody is his preference.

“Certainly the recommendation of our United States senator carries great weight,” said Anthony Long, the Eight District Democratic chairman.

Long said he thinks highly of Zody and – since he’s not aware of other candidates for the job – sees no reason he wouldn’t support him. “I’ve known him for years. He’s an outstanding young man. He’s had a lot of experience – a lot of work in the party before,” Long said.

Other members of the central committee said they’ll also give Donnelly’s recommendation strong consideration – but that it’s not a done deal.

“I put a lot of stock in Joe Donnelly’s advice,” said Jeff Fites, the Fourth District chairman.

However, he said, many members will wait to learn the plans of Vi Simpson, the 2012 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor who gave up her state Senate seat to run for the office, and who he said is interested in the state chair job.

Fites said he got four unsolicited phone calls from county chairmen in his district asking him to keep an open mind if Simpson seeks the job.

“She does have a lot of support out there,” he said. “A lot of people knew her before and have great respect for her abilities and what she’s done for the party. As she traveled around the state, the rank and file got to know her and they liked her, too.”

Wayne Vance, the Ninth District Democratic chairman, said he knows Donnelly is pushing Zody and said Simpson had told him she’s interested in the job.

But, he said, it’s tough to predict what will happen because the party will elect its county chairs on March 2 and its district chairs on March 9 – and only the week after that will the state central committee vote.

“Probably a lot of water will pass under the bridge before that happens,” Vance said.

The end of Parker’s tenure has long been expected. He announced he was stepping down in 2011, but rescinded his resignation after Democrats couldn’t agree on his replacement.

Zody is “supremely qualified” for the job, a Democratic source familiar with Zody’s thinking said Wednesday.

“He’s played at every level, from field organizing to being the political director of eight states in a presidential campaign,” the source said.

“And no matter what you think of Barack Obama, he ran one of the toughest, smartest, most data-driven campaigns in history, and Zody was a big part of that.”

DCS reform bill clears House committee

An Indiana House committee unanimously approved a measure Wednesday that would have the troubled Department of Child Services hire at least an additional 156 staffers.

The measure emerged from a summer study committee’s hearings. Lawmakers ultimately decided to recommend new caseworkers and a move to decentralize the state’s hotline, putting more power in the hands of local offices and law enforcement officials. It carries a price tag of $8.9 million per year.

House Bill 1142 is being carried by Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, who chaired the study committee, and his co-authors are study committee members Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville, and Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis.

Gov. Mike Pence has recommended another $35 million for DCS in his two-year, $29 billion budget. The House measure now must win the Ways and Means Committee’s approval before heading to the full chamber, but it appears to have momentum.

The Northwest Indiana Times’ Dan Carden has a story on today’s vote.

Daniels, Skillman send final public schedules

Outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels and Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman’s press secretaries just sent out their final public schedules.

For Daniels, it lists one event: Gov.-elect Mike Pence’s inauguration ceremony at 11 a.m. Monday. Skillman’s has two. She’ll attend the inauguration, and also the inaugural ball on Saturday evening.

Staffers are wheeling out a lot of boxes on the second floor today.

Three more Republicans publicly oppose marriage amendment

Two Republican state lawmakers — Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany and Sen. Luke Kenley of Noblesville — were already on the record opposing Indiana’s effort to amend a ban of same-sex marriage, civil unions and any other legal recognition of gay couples’ rights into the state constitution.

CNHI’s Maureen Hayden has a story naming more Republican lawmakers who oppose the marriage amendment.

Rep. Ron Bacon, R-Chandler, says preventing civil unions is “a step too far.”

Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, said that “I just think it would be irresponsible for us to be putting something in the public hands when we know the Supreme Court may come down and rule on something that may alter our ability to do that.”

Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, was the most direct. “If we’re trying to attract the best and brightest people to work in Indiana, this doesn’t help,” Miller told Hayden. “It’s not just putting out a sign to gays and lesbians saying, ‘You’re not welcome.’ It sends a signal to a lot of talented young people that we’re not a welcoming place.”

That’s five Republicans, and it’s worth noting that they’re not alone. Expect to see more names join them in the coming weeks.

Whitcomb bust to be unveiled Sunday

A bust of former Gov. Ed Whitcomb — the man who recently sold his Southern Indiana slice of “heaven” to the state on the cheap – will be unveiled at 5 p.m. Sunday, during Mike Pence’s weekend of inaugural events, according to state Rep. Tom Saunders, R-Lewisville.

I caught up with the 95-year-old Whitcomb at his home in Rome, Ind. last fall. The guy’s life story is fascinating. He was a train-hopping punk who became a World War II hero and then a politician. He got bored during his retirement, and so he decided to sail around the world. Saunders is one of a number of Whitcomb’s friends and admirers who have been working to honor his legacy.

Saturday Statehouse roundup

In case you missed these stories:

- Incoming Gov. Mike Pence is keeping the state’s gaming and ethics chiefs, among others. Here’s the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette’s Niki Kelly (@nkellyatJG) report.

- Freshman state Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis, has a set of bills that aim to keep people’s cars and their catalytic converters, and also their HVAC units, safe from theft. TheStatehouseFile.com has a story.

- Julia Carson and James Sidney Hinton are being honored with busts at the Statehouse, and sculptor John Hair has been commissioned to create them, per TheStatehouseFile.com.

- The IEDC reports that Indiana experienced record job growth in 2012.