On the Beat in Bluffton

Monday, March 31, 2014

Democrats unlikely to gain House seats in Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Democrats don’t expect their election prospects to improve soon after Republicans drew election maps that led to the GOP picking up two U.S. congressional seats in 2012.

The 2011 redistricting marked the first time in decades that Republicans controlled the redistricting process, as they dominated the state House and Senate and hold the governorship.  In 1991 and 2001, Democrats held the Indiana House, giving them a say in the Congressional maps.

Nationwide, the Associated Press reports the Democrats might also struggle to gain control of the House:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Even if Democrats recruit great candidates, raise gobs of money and run smart campaigns, they face an uphill fight to retake control of the House in this year’s congressional elections, regardless of the political climate in November.

The reason? Republican strategists spent years developing a plan to take advantage of the 2010 census, first by winning key state legislatures and then redrawing House districts to tilt the playing field in their favor.

In states like Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina, Republicans were able to shape congressional maps to pack as many Democratic voters as possible into the fewest House districts. The process, called gerrymandering, left fertile ground elsewhere in each state to spread Republican voters among more districts, increasing the GOP’s chances of winning more seats.

Geography helped, too, in some states. Democratic voters are more likely to live in densely populated urban areas, making it easier to pack them into fewer districts.

The first payoff came in 2012, when Republicans kept control of the House despite Democratic support that swept President Barack Obama to a second term. The next payoff is likely to come this fall.

Gerrymandering has a long history in the United States, pursued enthusiastically by both Democrats and Republicans. But the GOP’s success at it this decade has been historic: In 2012, Republicans achieved a 33-seat majority in the House, even though GOP candidates as a group got 1.4 million fewer votes than their Democratic opponents.

It was only the second time since World War II that the party receiving the most votes failed to win a majority of House seats, according to statistics compiled by the House Clerk. Democrats gained eight seats but were still a minority.

“The fact that Republicans controlled redistricting (after 2010) meant that they were able to build up a wall, stopping a lot of the tide from running out,” said Justin Levitt, a law professor and redistricting expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “They were able to shore up a lot of the districts that had been won by, in many cases, tea party freshmen or other Republican freshmen.”

The Republicans’ advantage will fade as the decade wears on and the population changes. In the meantime, Democrats control the White House and the Senate, while Republicans control the House, giving the GOP powerful leverage to block Obama’s second-term agenda.

How did Republicans gain their advantage? It all started with the party’s sweeping victories in 2010 and a plan called REDMAP.

The 2010 election was a disaster for Democrats. Republicans picked up 63 seats to win control of the House. They also gained seats in the Senate, though Democrats kept a majority.

Perhaps more important, Republicans won control of state legislatures in crucial states, giving the party the edge that is still paying dividends.

Every 10 years following the national census, states redraw the boundaries of House districts to account for population changes. Some states gain seats and others lose, so the overall total remains 435. In most states, the legislature and the governor draw up the new districts, which is why political parties pay special attention to elections at the start of each decade.

“I think Democrats made a terrible mistake. They did not put nearly enough attention or resources into legislative races at the state level,” said Matt Bennett, a former aide to President Bill Clinton. “A bunch of these legislatures slipped by very narrow margins, and some of them flipped for the first time since Reconstruction in the South.”

For Republicans, it was a combination of luck and planning. The political winds were in their favor, but they also had been plotting for years to take full advantage of redistricting.

REDMAP, which stands for Redistricting Majority Project, called for targeting races in states that were expected to gain or lose congressional seats. GOP strategists reasoned that redistricting could have a greater impact in these states because there would have to be more changes to district boundaries, said Chris Jankowski, former president of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

Republicans spent more than $30 million through REDMAP to help elect legislative majorities in states such as Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Jankowski said.

“We’re not talking about 2-month-long broadcast buys on network TV that never stop, like you see in a U.S. Senate battle,” Jankowski said. “We’re talking about cable, radio, mail, ground game — very basic stuff.”

Before the 2010 election, the GOP had majorities in 36 state legislative bodies. Afterward, the party controlled 56, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In almost half the states, Republicans won control of the entire redistricting process.

To help analyze voting patterns in congressional districts, The Associated Press divided the votes from the 2012 presidential election into all 435 House districts.

Since Obama got the most votes, you might think he won the most congressional districts. But he didn’t.

Nationally, Obama received nearly 5 million more votes than Republican Mitt Romney. But in some states, large numbers of Obama’s votes were packed into heavily Democratic congressional districts. As a result, Romney won in 17 more House districts than Obama.

Independent experts give Democrats little chance to retake the House this year. Even beyond Republicans’ redistricting advantage, the party of the president usually loses seats in Congress during midterm elections.

Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who is in charge of the House Democrats’ campaign operation, rejects arguments that Democrats can’t do it, regardless of the map. Jankowski, on the other hand, expects Republican candidates to continue enjoying the fruits of redistricting.

Still, Jankowski notes that people move and populations change. As the decade wears on, the political benefits will diminish and another redistricting battle will loom.

“It has a shelf life to it and it’s usually not the full 10 years,” Jankowski said. “That’s the reason we have a census every 10 years.”

Friday, March 28, 2014

N-B Links: Peruse upcoming summer Parks programs

More than an estimated 13,380 people participated in nearly 200 Bluffton Parks programs in 2013 – and some of those programs were held multiple times.

Learn more about the department's 2013 annual report by picking up the Friday, March 28, News-Banner.

Click here to visit the department's website to look at 2014 programs, including a downloadable list, and learn how to register for them.

N-B Links: Identity thieves create tax-time traps to obtain personal information

A Wells County resident reported this week that someone tried to fraudulently file tax returns in her name after someone obtained her Social Security number, while a Bluffton man reported that someone posing as the IRS attempted to fraudulently obtain his number.

Learn more about the local incidents in the Friday, March 28, News-Banner, and learn more about tax-related identity theft through the following links:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

N-B Links: Health rankings released, and Wells County is No. 7

Reports released this week say Wells County is seventh among the state’s 92 counties in terms of its health, and ninth in terms of how healthy it could be.

Meanwhile, Indiana is 40th in terms of health and well being out of the 50 states.

To learn more about the results, pick up the Thursday, March 27, News-Banner.

For resources on the Web, click here to learn about the state study and here to learn about the national study.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Freeze-thaw cycle will take toll on water lines

The city closed the 300 block of West Wiley Avenue Tuesday morning to repair a small water line leak, and Doug Huss, the city’s water distribution supervisor, said he expects more work before the weather calms down.

He said breaks usually decrease in frequency in May.

“Of course, with this bad of weather, it may go longer,” Huss said.

The weather doesn't impact only public water lines, though, and if the freeze-thaw cycle impacts your pipes, the American Red Cross offers the following suggestions. 
  • If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Likely places for frozen pipes include against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.
  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you can not thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
  • Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.
Learn more in the Tuesday, March 25, News-Banner.

Friday, March 21, 2014

N-B Flashback: County sending mail-in ballots this Saturday

Wells County residents can register to vote in the upcoming primaries through 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 7, Clerk Yvette Runkle said Thursday.

But if they want to mail their votes in, they need to contact her office before it closes at 4:30 p.m. today.

Runkle said her staff will send mail-based ballots to absentee voters Saturday.
Voters can call 824-6479 or request a ballot for mail at the Clerk’s office, located in Suite 201 in the Courthouse.

Learn more in the Friday, March 21, News-Banner.

The following races will be determined during the primary and general elections:
• County Commissioner District 1 - Incumbent Scott Mossburg is being challenged by Tamara Dunmoyer. 
• County Council District 4 - Incumbent Republican Phil Stoller will face Democrat Chuck King in the November general election.  (Stoller announced after the ballot printing that he will not seek re-election. The Wells County Republican Party will pick someone to run in his place)
Harrison Township - Four candidates, all Republicans, are running for the three spots on the township's advisory board. Jason Baker and Jeff Hewitt, two incumbents, have filed for re-election, and Diane Markley and Mick Jackson are also running for the board. The third incumbent on the board, Democrat Jack Wenger, has not filed for another term. Jefferson Township - Longtime trustee Richard McCoy is being challenged by Barry Gordon in the Republican primary. The three advisory board members - Tim Baker, Roy Meyer, and Dan Rupright, all Republicans - are also seeking re-election and are thus far unopposed. Lancaster Township - A race is set up in the fall: Republican Kenneth Isch against Democrat Jan Moser for the trustee's position. Wanda Lobsiger, the incumbent trustee, has opted not to seek another term. The three incumbent advisory board members - Rick Oatess, Neal Worden, and James Wolf, all Republicans - are also seeking re-election and are thus far unopposed. Liberty Township - Allen Gregg and Trenton Markley will face each other in the Republican primary in an effort to succeed Diane Rockwell as township trustee. Rockwell has opted not to seek re-election. Markley is a current member of the township's advisory board. Incumbent Scott Minniear and newcomer Melba Cole, both Republicans, are the only two candidates to file for the three advisory board slots.
Here are the county and township offices that will see some degree of change on Jan. 1, 2015, even without contested races:
County Council District 2 - Incumbent Karolyna Farling, a Republican, has decided not to seek another term. Steve Huggins, also a Republican, is the only candidate to file to succeed her. Superior Court - Andrew Antrim, a Republican, is the only candidate to file for Superior Court judge. Incumbent Judge Everett Goshorn has decided not to seek re-election. Prosecutor - Andrew Carnall, a Democrat, is the only candidate to file for prosecutor. Incumbent Republican Michael Lautzenheiser Sr. is not running for another term. Chester Township - Current advisory board member Steve Studebaker is running for trustee, and current trustee Gary Story is running for advisory board. Both are Republicans. Incumbent advisory board members Lynn Blevins and Stan Bales are running for re-election; both are Republicans.
Rockcreek Township - Current advisory board member John Legge did not file for re-election. There are now only three candidates running in Rockcreek Township, all incumbents: Trustee Phylian Keefer and board members Lindsay Burnau and Arlene Gordon.
Other information about the arrival of the filing deadline: 
On the federal level, Indiana does not elect a U.S. senator this year, but there are six major-party candidates running for U.S. representative from Indiana's 3rd District. Republican incumbent Marlin Stutzman has two challengers in the GOP primary, Mark William Baringer and James E. Mahoney III. Three Democrats are also running - Justin Kuhnle, Jim Redmond, and Tommy A. Schroeder. The four legislators who represent Wells County in the Indiana Statehouse have no opposition as they seek another term - State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, and State Reps. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City; Dan Leonard, R-Huntington; and Matt Lehman, R-Berne. Several incumbent county office holders appear poised to win another term - Sheriff Monte Fisher, Assessor Rick Smith, Auditor Beth Davis, Clerk Yvette Runkle District 1 County Council member Jim Oswalt, and District 3 County Council Todd Mahnensmith. All are Republicans.

There are some townships where the candidates that meet the filing deadline are all incumbents and all unopposed.
In Jackson Township, Republican Bruce Herr is running for trustee and Republicans Stan Morton and Bruce Leas plus Democrat Bill Banter are running for advisory board. In Nottingham Township, Democrat Mark Shaffer is running for trustee, and Republicans Mike Pursifull, Bob Halderman, and Robin Gentis are running for advisory board. In Union Township, Brian Imel is running for trustee, and John Walmsley, Kedric Bailey, and Robert Caley are running for advisory board; all are Republicans. Two seats on the Ossian Town Council are up for election this year, and incumbents Josh Barkley and Bill Miller, both Republicans, have filed to stay in office. 

Parties have until noon June 30 to slate candidates for the general election in November, filling vacancies that existed in the primary.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Markle sets May Clean-Up, garage sale, Easter Egg Hunt

The Markle Town Council voted on several items Wednesday, including the acceptance of a bid from the Huntington City-Township Public Library board on the future of the Markle library branch and the town hall. Pick up the Thursday, March 20, News-Banner for more information.

The council also voted to approve four leak adjustments:
• Markle United Methodist Church, $598.86 for a frozen water pipe in the utility room of its rental property.
• Judith Mower, in the amount of $119.27 for a leak in her crawl space.
• Cheryl Thomas, in the amount of $200.45 for a broken pipe under her rental property.
• Regina Krach, in the amount of $36.44 due to an accounting error.

Also Wednesday, the council heard of upcoming evnets:

• The town's May Clean-Up dates have been set.
Tuesday, May 20: Metal only
Tuesday, May 27: All other items

Items too large for regular trash collection will be collected on these days, including furniture, carpeting, and appliances.

Items that will not be collected include hazardous material, tires, liquid paints, brush, wire, fence, construction items, or items disposed of in the normal curbside garbage pick-up.

There will be no charge for one cubic yard or less picked up, but there will be a charge of $10 for each additional cubic yard picked up.

The town supervisor will make the estimate, and all fees are to be paid in advance at the Town Clerk's office before the curbside pick up will be made.

Call 758-3193 to be put on the list.

• The townwide garage sales are Saturday, May 17.

• The Town Easter Egg Hunt is slated for 11 a.m. Saturday, April 12, at the Markle Fish & Game Club Park. Children will be divided into different age categories from ages 0-11 years.

The rain date is Saturday, April 19.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

BHMSD board reviews ways to pay for school expansion

During the Monday, March 17, Bluffton-Harrison school board meeting, Jim Elizondo, a financial specialist for schools looking to renovate or build, submitted several possible tax rates and repayment plans to expand the Bluffton-Harrison Elementary School. He said he deliberately estimated high assuming that the school would spend no more than $12 million. 

To read through his proposed payments, click here. See a summary of the document in an earlier blog post from Tuesday, March 18. Learn more in the Tuesday, March 18, News-Banner.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

N-B Numbers: Bluffton-Harrison board moves forward on BHES renovation

Bluffton-Harrison school board members Monday took a first, $12,500 step toward possibly renovating the elementary school.

One member, however, voted against the decision, saying that they should “slow down.”

By a 4-1 vote, members Daryl Elliott, Brent Hiday, Dawn Frauhiger and Jarrod Gerber approved hiring Dan Rawlins of InterDesign to essentially help coordinate the renovation work and review a tentative layout.

Board member Heath Schlagenhauf, however, said the renovation’s plan currently increases taxes by at least 17 percent, according to preliminary and deliberately high estimates shared Monday.

No one can determine the final tax rate, though, until Rawlins and administrators finalize the project.

Until then, though, Jim Elizondo of City Securities Monday presented “worst-case” tax rates needed to expand the school and replace the heating, ventilation and air condition system for no more than the $12 million ceiling Barker recommended.

The rates range in both amount and duration, but as illustrated below, all three payment plans increase the district’s Debt Service property tax rate from almost 55 cents for every $100 in assessed value to between 70 cents and 79 cents through at least 2022.

Learn more in the Tuesday, March 18, News-Banner. Click on the images for a larger resolution.

20-year repayment plan
The dark blue portion of the bars represent current debt. The red portion
represents new debt from the elementary renovations.

15.5-year repayment plan
The dark blue portion of the bars represent current debt. The red portion
represents new debt from the elementary renovations.
14-year repayment plan
The dark blue portion of the bars represent current debt. The red portion
represents new debt from the elementary renovations.

Monday, March 17, 2014

N-B Video: Speaker says younger veterans have a place in the American Legion

After an anniversary party for the Bluffton American Legion Post 111, expected Indiana Department Commander Kenneth Hylton urged younger generations to join the organization. Learn more in the Monday, March 17, News-Banner. See photos of the ceremony at our "On the Beat" blog. For other stories and videos, go to www.news-banner.com. (Video by Dave Schultz)

N-B Photos: Bluffton American Legion Post celebrates 95 years

The members of Bluffton American Legion Post 111 celebrated the post’s 95th anniversary Saturday night with a dinner and program at the post home in downtown Bluffton.

Ken Hylton, who is expected to be the next commander of the American Legion’s Indiana Department, provided the keynote message for the evening, thanking the local post for “its service to veterans, to the community of Bluffton, to the state of Indiana, and these great United States.”

The members of the Grover Sheets Post also handed out several honors:

Legionnaires honored for their years of continuous service were, from left, Wayne Lydy, 70 years; John Braden, 50 years; Lloyd Sills, 60 years; and Richard Edington, 60 years.
Officer William Alter, left, of the Marion Police Department, was among the law enforcement officers honored. Kash Vanover, center, of the Grover Sheets American Legion Post 111 presented Alter with a plaque. At right is Wells County Sheriff Monte Fisher.
Former State Rep. and Army veteran Jeff Espich, right, says a few words after being honored by the Bluffton American Legion post Saturday night. At right is Bob Buehl, who introduced Espich.
Kenneth Hylton, incoming commander for the Indiana Department of the American Legion, was the keynote speaker Saturday night. At right is Craig Mann, commander of Bluffton Post 111.
Detective Lisa Himelick, center, of the Grant County Police Department was among the law enforcement officers honored. Kash Vanover, left, of the Grover Sheets American Legion Post 111 presented Himelick with a plaque. At right is Wells County Sheriff Monte Fisher.
Paper airplanes fly through the family room of the Legion's post home Saturday night. Tom Pett, the adjutant for Post 111, wanted to give a proper "tribute" to Norb Bultemeier of Decatur. Pett asked everyone present to fold their programs into a paper airplane to give Bultemeier a "flyover."
Brenda Sue Wehr, background, president of the auxiliary to Post 111, presented a special honor to Cheryl Mann, foreground.
Women honored for their years of service to the auxiliary to Post 111 were, starting second from left, Magdalene Earhart, Wanda Overholtz, Mildred Huss, and Norma Smith. At left is auxiliary member Cheryl Mann and at right is Brenda Sue Wehr, president of the auxiliary.
Sharing the Legionnaire of the Year honor Saturday night were, from left, Carl Pace, Bob Buehl, and Mark Sprunger.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

N-B Links: Canine Crossroads saves, trains dogs for adoption

A rescue center outside of Liberty Center adopts out about 300 dogs a year. Canine Crossroads started as a childhood dream of Amanda Clark, a Southern Wells graduate. One of the rescue's success stories, Tanya, was saved from a shelter in Kentucky and later adopted by a Huntington couple.

Learn more about Clark, Tanya the pit bull and Canine Crossroads in the Saturday, March 15, News-Banner. Below, Gia the German shepherd, is in training to become a hearing-assistance aid dog. She has three legs. (Photo by Jessica Williams)

Canine Crossroads uses its Facebook page to connect prospective adoptive owners with dogs, as well as reunite lost dogs to their owners. To visit their page, click here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

N-B Flashback: Election board reports that voting centers should be ready next year

Election Board members met Thursday, March 13, to report that they anticipate using voting centers for the 2015 municipal election.

The county first started investigating the centers — a system to designed to provide more flexibility for voters — last year. News-Banner subscribers can learn more about past discussions by logging into our e-edition and downloading the July 27, 2013; June 27, 2013; April 16, 2013 and March 8, 2013, papers.

Learn more about the most recent meeting in the Friday, March 14, News-Banner.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

N-B Links: State adopts new social studies standards

The Indiana State Board of Education — including Uniondale resident Cari Whicker — almost unanimously approved Wednesday social studies standards for Indiana’s public schools.

Board member Andrea Neal, a teacher, alone voted against them, concerned that the revised standards removed examples that help teachers illustrate and students apply the subject’s themes.

Learn more in the Thursday, March 13, News-Banner, but to study the standards, click here, and to read a formal critique of them, click here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Three Norwell students create award-winning video

Three Norwell High School seniors — Kelly McAvoy Alyssa Gill and Ashley Miller — have won $750 and third place in a multistate competition for warning Congress of the country’s “staggering debt ... looming over their heads.”

And C-SPAN, the nationwide network that broadcasts America’s political progress and also organized the contest, selected their video and 12 others from the central portion of the country to broadcast online.

They also received an A minus — and perspective, they said — after finishing the 6:18 video, titled “America’s undefined future,” for their government class.

Watch the video below, and learn more in the Tuesday, March 11, News-Banner.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ossian, Bluffton-Harrison hold ISTEP pep rallies

Ossian Elementary and Bluffton-Harrison Elementary staff wanted to excite their students before the first portion of the annual ISTEP+ test, which starts next week, and both schools gathered students for videos, music and rallies.

Ossian teachers also held a mock game show, and afterward, teachers unleashed their pre-recorded music video — a parody of pop singer Katie Perry’s song “Roar.”

The teachers named their tune “Score.”

See the video below, and learn more in the Saturday, March 8, News-Banner.

(Video courtesy of Ossian Elementary School)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wells County Council approves part-time position addition for probation

The Wells County Council approved the funds for an additional probation officer Tuesday evening, but the amount of people will stay the same.
In the past, two part-time probation officers shared one full-time position. With Tuesday’s vote, one of those officers takes the full-time position while the other stays part-time in the newly created position.

 To read the request, click here.

To learn more, including the cost and how that will be paid, pick up the Wednesday, March 5, News-Banner.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

N-B Feedback: Perking up the parks

Members of the Ossian Park Board were pleasantly surprised at the response to a survey it created last month.

Posted on the town’s website, the survey sought public input regarding what features should be included in the town’s parks. A hard copy of the survey was also available at the Town Hall, but all responses came online, said Town Manager Luann Martin.

The park board sought the input as it starts assembling its next five-year plan. The current plan is about to expire, and the town needs a plan in place to obtain state and federal grants.

Learn more in the Tuesday, March 4, News-Banner, and tell us in the comments section what improvements you would like in your community's parks.

Northern Wells schools to lengthen school days

Like the other county public school districts, Northern Wells is expanding its school day to replace instructional time lost to the snow.

Board members Monday unanimously approved splitting the extra time between the morning and afternoon.

Elementary students will attend for an extra 50 minutes; students in the middle school and high school will stay an extra hour.

Learn more in the Tuesday, March 4, News-Banner, and download a copy of the adjusted 2013-2014 calendar by clicking here.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

N-B Video: City faces thousands of dollars in damage to Rivergreenway

The Bluffton Parks and Recreation Department is facing thousands of dollars in ice/flood damages to its Rivergreenway – and the path may not be accessible until April. Learn more in the Saturday, March 1, News-Banner. (Video by Dave Schultz)