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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

Associated Press Updated: August 5, 2014 at 2:01 pm

The Journal Gazette. Aug. 3, 2014.

State slinks further into ethics morass

How low will the bar have to slip before Indiana lawmakers finally demand tougher ethics laws?

Troy Woodruff and Inspector General David Thomas have lowered it another notch. Woodruff, the former chief of staff for the Indiana Department of Transportation, won't face criminal or civil charges related to state land deals benefiting his own family members, thanks to a ruling from Thomas.

The inspector general simply concluded Woodruff's conduct "gives rise to the appearance of impropriety" and "diminishes public trust."

And how.

An Indianapolis Star investigation in early 2013 found that Woodruff and his family members were among the property owners whose land was bought by INDOT for the Interstate 69 project in southwest Indiana. The state paid $7 million for 32 parcels of property appraised at less than half that amount.

Woodruff, along with his father and brother, sold a three-acre field to the state and the rest of the land to an uncle and cousins. The deals gave the family an 83 percent return on investment, according to the Star.

Indiana's conflict-of-interest law states that a public servant can be charged with a felony if he or she "knowingly or intentionally has a pecuniary interest in or derives a profit from a contract or purchase connected with an action by the governmental entity served by the public servant."

State law doesn't forbid public servants to have such a conflict, only to disclose in writing any dealing with their agency totaling more than $250 and to seek clearance from the state. Thomas ruled the law didn't apply to Woodruff because his land deal involved a possible eminent domain case and, as such, was not a typical contract.

The inspector general investigated the land purchase in 2010, clearing the former GOP lawmaker of wrongdoing, although other legal observers argued his conclusion was flat-out wrong.

The inspector general also dismissed claims involving Woodruff in 2005. Woodruff was elected to the General Assembly in 2004, promising his southwestern Indiana constituents that he would not support daylight-saving time.

Five months after he was elected, the former congressional aide cast the deciding vote for a daylight-saving time bill. His support for one of Gov. Mitch Daniels' chief legislative priorities did not go unrewarded.

At a Woodruff re-election event in 2006, supporters paid $25 to pose for pictures with the governor and to tour RV1, the $175,000 vehicle on loan to the state.

The Indiana Democratic Party issued an ethics complaint, and a deputy inspector general initially found use of the RV for a campaign fundraiser was prohibited. Thomas later reversed the ruling.

After Woodruff's legislative defeat, he and his wife both were awarded state jobs. His mother also was hired by INDOT. His wife remains a highway department employee; Troy Woodruff left last week to go into business for himself - taking with him with years of taxpayer-supported job-training and invaluable state connections.

Lawmakers ignore the repeated absolution of ethical lapses at their own risk. Voters can't continue to overlook conflicts allowing lawmakers' friends and allies to grow richer even as their own communities suffer from dwindling state support. They eventually will cry foul over the Statehouse's low ethical threshold.

___

Tribune-Star, Terre Haute. Aug. 3, 2014.

Shining light on human rights, then and now

Since 1984, Eva Kor and her CANDLES group have been shining a bright light on the unspeakable inhumanity that occurred at Auschwitz and other death camps in the days of World War II when the Nazis tried to eliminate the Jewish culture, create a master race and dominate the planet through its abject evil.

Kor, a survivor of Josef Mengele's diabolical experiments on young twins, went on to found the CANDLES Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute in 1995 — with considerable help from her husband, Mickey, also a survivor; her staff; her board of directors; and other supporters.

In 2003, a firebomber, who was never apprehended. set fire to the museum building and destroyed irreplaceable photos, documents and exhibits that together told the story of Hitler's reign of demented terror.

But before the final embers of that arson had burned out, Kor and her supporters had already rekindled the resolve to rebuild the museum from the ashes, grander than the original. A new museum opened in 2005, itself a statement against the violence that claimed the original building.

Now that museum, and the educational efforts that emanate from it, set Terre Haute apart from its sister cities throughout the country, even the world. It draws groups of schoolchildren on day trips from across the region, students who will forever remember that it was in Terre Haute that they learned about the Holocaust, hate, hunger, famine, poverty, violence and greed.

Always, those students are mesmerized, wide-eyed, both by what they see and by Kor's lessons of knowledge over ignorance, forgiveness over vengeance, healing over retribution, light over darkness.

Kor also takes her message on the road, speaking to college audiences — such as 500 at Louisiana State University in March of this year — and overwhelming that age group with horror stories that are real beyond any they have heard. She also, of course, offers hope that good can, and eventually does, conquer evil.

CANDLES also has gained international renown for conducting frequent trips to Auschwitz for those who want to see and feel the sites — and remaining sights — of concentration camps. (If you have that interest, a special trip is being planned for next January, a time that will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz — which Kor and her late twin sister, Miriam, experienced firsthand.)

Coincidence or planned, July 24 saw the happy confluence of yet another anti-hate speaker at CANDLES, Rainer Hoess, with an announcement that CANDLES and Indiana State University have formed a three-year educational partnership.

Through the agreement, ISU students will be made to confront the history of the Holocaust and the real-time crises that threaten people around the world and around the corner. This will become an important part of ISU students' worldview, social consciousness and respect for human rights.

Kor and ISU deserve great compliments for forging this relationship. ISU's size and resources will add support to CANDLES' efforts. Kor's insights, drive and sheer power of unrelenting personality will greatly broaden and enrich learning.

It may be pre-ordained that this merged effort between CANDLES and ISU will work famously because both are in the light-shining business.

That is obvious in the 11 candle-shaped panes of glass that beckon from the CANDLES museum's north side and in the words of its mission statement that vow "to create an empowered community of critical thinkers who will illuminate the world with hope, healing, respect and responsibility."

And ISU? Since its founding in 1865, two images have graced its seal: a torch shedding light and an open book of knowledge.

That knowledge at ISU can increasingly become — for its students, faculty and staff — a scholarly avenue to study a tragic era in world history. It can also underscore the reassurance that even from despicable acts there can arise renewable hope.

___

Journal & Courier, Lafayette. Aug. 1, 2014.

Pence and Indiana's immigrant kids

Gov. Mike Pence didn't mince words last week in a letter to President Barack Obama about his "profound concern about the federal government's mishandling" of the rising number of unaccompanied Central American children crossing the U.S. border.

In particular, Pence was steamed that more than 200 of those children have found their way to the homes of sponsors in Indiana — a fact that wasn't relayed to the Statehouse by anything more than media reports.

Pence's proposed solution: "Those who have crossed our border illegally should be treated humanely and with decency and respect, but they should be returned expeditiously to their home countries to be reunited with their families rather than being dispersed around the United States in sponsored placement or long-term detention facilities."

How much of Pence's frustration is driven by executive duty in Indiana versus driven by desire for a potential presidential bid isn't immediately clear. His critics latched on to the back half of that equation. But his letter was a decent example of the divide on the question about the country's borders, in general, and about the kids showing up, in particular.

Fundamental differences are basic enough — just how easy should it be to enter this country, and should some form of amnesty for those undocumented residents be part of the deal at this point? Add to it the polarizing views of a president's executive powers, and there might never be a resolution. At least not in a Congress made up the way it is.

The U.S. House spent the end of the week, in a pre-recess scramble, working on some sort of immigration legislation. Doomed in the Senate and facing a sure presidential veto, versions of the bills discussed became little more than symbolic statements — whether truly against the president's border ideas or simply sops for constituents back home.

Short of substantial legislation, this country should act as if the kids arriving at the border are more than just pawns. There must be a realization that just sending them back is easier said than done. Send them back where and to whom?

The transparency Pence demanded from the federal government is a legitimate demand. But Congress and the White House can't miss the violent terms that sent those kids this way — and the promise, legitimate or otherwise, that provided the need to make a dangerous trip.

___

Evansville Courier & Press. Aug. 1, 2014.

Indiana education continues to suffer the pains of fighting

Indiana education's hierarchy continues to wade through the muck.

A Marion County judge on Tuesday ruled that a lawsuit against members of the State Board of Education alleging public access violations can proceed.

The issue is whether state school board members broke Indiana open meetings laws by circulating a letter seeking changes in who can figure the state A-F school grades.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, no friend of the state board that she chairs, filed a similar suit last year against the board, but it was dismissed on the grounds she could not sue without the agreement of the Indiana Attorney General. However, Democratic lawyer Bill Groth filed the suit on behalf of four residents, and so it goes.

The suit is based on what seems to be a legitimate concern. In fact, the state's public access counselor said that while board members may not have technically violated the letter of the law, it may have violated the spirit of the law.

And so, we expect, the arguing will go on, in court and out. As Indiana should be getting its educational standing in order, and hopefully, once again, acquire its No Child Left Behind waiver, it looks as if the arguing will take us right up to the 2016 election, to the harm of Indiana education.

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