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Associated Press
Former Senate Majority Leader Howard Bakerdied this week at age 88.

Furthermore …

Minott

No end in sight for FSSA revolving door mess

If the work of any state agency needs steady and independent leadership, it is the massive Family and Social Services Administration. Unfortunately, the agency charged with overseeing services for the state’s most vulnerable residents continues to see rapid turnover at the top and troublesome ties to private contractors.

Secretary Debra Minott, appointed by Gov. Mike Pence when he took office 18 months ago, was showing promise as a skilled and thoughtful leader. But the former general counsel for Fort Wayne’s Essex International reportedly clashed with other administration officials over a roll-out date for Pence’s Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0.

Her resignation is effective July 5.

Minott’s successor, announced Wednesday, is a promising choice. John J. Wernert, a Carmel psychiatrist, will be the first physician to head FSSA. His professional experience would certainly be an asset, but Indianapolis attorney and blogger Gary Welsh suggests the de facto secretary will be former FSSA Secretary Michael Gargano, who is returning as a deputy secretary to oversee agency operations and the HIP 2.0 program.

Gargano’s private-sector employment record would raise red flags anywhere but Indiana, where conflicts of interest seem not to matter. Since he left FSSA, he’s worked for CSpring, an FSSA contractor. The company website details two projects it was hired to do by the agency he once headed. Before he served as secretary, Gargano’s consulting firm, Watertown Group, had a contract with FSSA and ACS, the well-connected tech company that was a partner in the agency’s disastrous welfare privatization effort.

Given the millions of tax dollars at stake, as well as FSSA’s troubled record on the IBM/ACS fiasco, the administration might want to give a little more thought to the revolving door at FSSA.

State settlement on tobacco costly

There’s good news and bad news in a settlement Indiana has reached with the major tobacco companies. The good news is that the state will collect about $217 million over the next two years. The bad news is the amount the state will receive for 2014 is about $33 million less than it should have received under the 1998 master settlement agreement with the major tobacco companies.

A three-judge arbitration panel ruled that in 2003 Indiana and five other states failed to “diligently enforce” provisions of the master settlement involving tobacco companies that were not parties to the original agreement. Payments for subsequent years were in dispute as well – with more losses at stake – but the settlement announced this week covers 2004 to 2014. The attorney general’s office said the agreement was better for the state than a long, complex and time-consuming arbitration with an uncertain outcome.

“Costly” would be another way to describe it. The Indiana Law Blog reported in April that the state had paid former Attorney General Steve Carter nearly $900,000 for work related to the arbitration. His original 2010 contract for $35,000 was renewed or amended nine times.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller offers the best money-saving tip, however:

“While the financial impact of diseases cigarette smoking causes will be with our state for many years to come through costs to the health care system,” he said in a news release, “one thing Hoosiers can do now to reduce the relative importance of this annual tobacco settlement payment to Indiana is to stop purchasing the tobacco companies’ products: Quit smoking or don’t start.”

Integrity trumped politics

Many years after Watergate, Howard Baker, who had been the ranking minority member on the Senate Watergate Committee, summed up what his panel’s ability to deal with the misdeeds of Richard Nixon and his staff really meant to America.

It showed, Baker told interviewer Jim Lehrer, “the system worked.”

Indeed, the Senate’s ability to deal effectively with the infamous 1972 break-in and the related dirty tricks that came to light in 1973 and 1974 was due in part to Baker’s willingness to let the investigation findwhat needed to be found.

Baker, who died this week at 88, was known as The Great Conciliator” for his ability to get members of Congress to work together.

He served 18 years in the Senate, was President Ronald Reagan’s last chief of staff and served as ambassador to Japan under President George W. Bush.

But it was those crucial months as the lead Republican in an investigation of wrongdoing by an American president that earned him a fond place in the memories of those who lived through the scandal.

“What did the president know and when did he know it?” boiled it all down to a concept Americans could understand.

It is interesting that when he posed the question, Baker believed he was defending the president.

But as the facts unfolded and Baker’s question was answered, he and other Republicans began to change their minds about the leader of their party and their nation.

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