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Furthermore …

Gary Varvel l Indianapolis Star

Doe! Gov. Pence handles first PR headache

You know it’s a political problem when the only state official who will comment about a state agency’s filing a relatively minor misdemeanor charge is not the agency but the governor.

Clearly, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources was in a public relations predicament over its prosecution of the Connersville couple whose only “crime” appears to have been rescuing a baby deer and trying to nurse it back to health. Defend the conservation officers who brought the charges and risk angering the public, which has shown heavy support for the sympathetic couple. Defend the couple – and throw under the bus the conservation police, who appear to have followed the law.

With the DNR not talking, Gov. Mike Pence filled the silence with a statement that recognized both sides. “We all admire compassion for an injured animal. Hoosiers cherish our animals, whether they’re our pets, whether they’re our livestock or whether they’re wildlife,” Pence said. “But this is a state of laws. And as governor of the state of Indiana, my focus is going to be to ensure that our laws are fairly and impartially enforced.”

Then – at Pence’s urging – the DNR reviewed the case and asked the prosecutor to drop the charges. Or as state Sen. Brent Steele observed, “This deer thing is gagging at a gnat and swallowing at a camel.”

Still, the case – like many – is probably not quite as clear-cut as it may seem. Yes, the couple had a 17-acre farm, but the pen where they kept the deer was not exactly huge. Nursing the deer back to health is admirable – even if it runs afoul of the letter of the law – but for two years? And it doesn’t help their case that the deer just happened to disappear right after the couple was denied a rescue permit and DNR officers were on their way to euthanize the animal.

With luck, the episode will help educate Hoosiers about the potential drawbacks of going too far to help a wild animal.

Who judges the judges?

Two state senators want the Indiana governor to share some of his power to appoint state Supreme Court justices and appeals court judges with – surprise – the state Senate.

Currently, a commission comprised of attorneys and non-attorneys examines applications and selects three finalists, one of whom the governor appoints to fill a vacancy. Sen. Mike Delph’s proposed constitutional amendment would require Senate approval of the governor’s nominee.

Delph also would require judges and justices facing a yes/no retention vote to receive the support of 67 percent of the voters rather than a simple majority.

A proposal from Sen. Mike Young would also require Senate confirmation of the governor’s nominee and would take retention votes away from voters and give them to the Senate.

Delph’s proposal would increase the influence of partisan politics in more ways, striking down judicial canons designed to diminish blatant partisanship in judicial races.

Both resolutions have been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has not scheduled a hearing on either measure.

Pakistani firm out of favor

Gov. Mike Pence wasted no time in pulling the plug on an economic development deal the previous administration set up with a less-than-appealing partner.

Pence’s office announced Friday that state support for a nitrogenous fertilizer manufacturing plant in Mount Vernon, along the Ohio River, has been suspended. A columnist for the Washington Times reported this week that Fatima Group, a Pakistani corporation that has flouted Pentagon appeals to stop the flow of bomb-making materials, was expanding its operations in the U.S. – in Indiana, with $1.27 billion in tax-exempt bonds approved by the Indiana Finance Authority.

Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December that Fatima was “less than cooperative” in instituting controls on calcium ammonium nitrate, a compound used in most homemade explosives used against U.S. troops.

Midwest Fertilizer Corp., a startup company operated by Fatima Group, said in its bond application that it would create 309 full-time, permanent jobs with an average annual wage of $58,000 by 2015.

Pence’s decision trims the number of overall jobs the Indiana Economic Development Corp. boasted it would create over the next few years, but certainly for good reason.

Standing with law of land

State Senate leader David Long is the target of much criticism in the right-wing blogosphere and social media for having the temerity to block a clearly unconstitutional bill that would only result in needless and costly court battles before the courts strike it down.

The absurd proposal would allow the General Assembly to vote not to follow federal laws it doesn’t like. Specifically, if the General Assembly believes a federal law is inconsistent with states’ constitutional rights, it would be a felony for any state official to follow that federal law. The bill has attracted the backing of tea party senators including Jim Banks and Dennis Kruse and seems targeted toward Obamacare. But it is a clear violation of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which states, in essence, that federal law trumps state law.