Tea partiers and blue dogs, birthers and deathers: Two years ago, would any of these terms have meant anything to the average voter?
Yet, for better or worse (probably for the worse), this strange, toxic universe is exactly where we find ourselves heading into November of 2010. Just two years after Barack Obama, America's first African-American president, was borne into the White House atop an historic tide of civic enthusiasm, youthful engagement and good will, we find ourselves more divided than at any time in recent memory.
It's been an ugly couple of years.
Democrats are disappointed: Guantanamo still isn't closed. Gay soldiers still aren't telling their brothers and sisters in arms, who, in turn, aren't asking. Troops have mostly drawn-down in Iraq, but Afghanistan looks as intractable as ever. Health care reform was passed, but the public option was left out, and the discourse that surrounded it was so poisonous, it's made what should have been the Democrats' piece de resistance smell more like a piece of something else.
Meanwhile, Republicans are motivated. Around half of them believe or aren't sure Obama wasn't born in the United States. Tea Party leaders like Indiana's own U.S. Congressman Mike Pence have gained national prominence by openly espousing ideas about Social Security and Medicare that just a few years ago would have spelled political oblivion. Fringe right-wingers like Sharron Angle, in Nevada, and Christine O'Donnell, in Delaware, have ousted mainstream Republicans in their state primaries by pushing extreme ideas about arming against the government and repealing the Fourteenth Amendment.
Here at home, fundamentalist Christian groups like Eric Miller's Advance America have seized the zeitgeist – exploiting the frustration gap among angry white voters who cling to an idea about "the way things used to be" – to push their homophobic agenda.
One can hardly be blamed for feeling disgusted – for wanting to sit this one out.
Nothing could be worse for the future of our country, our state and our city. If you still need them, here are few, more localized reasons why (For NUVO's sometimes unbiased guide to this year's major races, click here.).
Indiana and the referendum
Unequivocally, the property tax cap referendum is the most important vote Hoosiers cast on Nov. 2. A simple "yes" vote will make property tax caps a permanent part of the Indiana State Constitution. A "no" vote shoots it down.
Who wants to pay higher taxes? Total gimme, right?
Politically, perhaps. It's tough to find any Indiana politician who will openly criticize the tax caps. Statewide, it is without question the political third rail of the season – perhaps more so than supporting "Obamacare" or the federal stimulus package. Recent polls have shown that a solid majority of Hoosiers support the tax cap.
The reality isn't so simple. Though the caps would be a statewide measure, it's local municipal, county and township governments that depend upon property taxes for revenue. Those same small governments are the ones who run our police departments, our fire departments, our libraries and our buses, to name a few.
City services have suffered in the last few years because of property tax caps and a dismal real estate market – one that, despite the "end of the recession," shows no signs of quick recovery. That one-two punch has eviscerated local government revenues.
Over the summer, for example, Indianapolis Marion County Public Libraries faced the very real threat of having to permanently close six branches around town to meet millions of dollars in budget shortfalls. The branches were rescued from the chopping block only after drastic cuts were made to services and working hours.
Everyone needs to save money right now. And Indiana's property tax assessment system has been broken for a long time. But critics have rightly argued making the caps permanent will tie the hands of governments from making tough decisions when the economy goes south.
Think city services are bad now? They could get a lot worse.
Marion County chooses a new prosecutor
In the election preview that follows, you'll see some unbiased and, admittedly, not-so-unbiased information about the candidates in next month's election. But there's only one race for which we felt it incumbent to publish Q&As for both candidates.
That's because, on a local level, undoubtedly the most important horse race in the coming weeks is for Marion County Prosecutor. As cliché as it is to say so, in this case, the rhetoric holds true: the stakes couldn't be higher.
The prosecutor's office has been tainted over the last year or so by the shady dealings of Carl Brizzi, whose dearth of courtroom experience and thirst for backroom political spoils seems to have known no bounds.
To his credit, fellow Republican Mark Massa, an eminently qualified candidate with some 13 years of prosecutorial experience, was among the first and only to openly call for Brizzi's resignation.
Some critics, however, including Massa's opponent, Democrat Terry Curry, have wondered if another Republican insider like Massa (who currently serves as chief counsel for Gov. Mitch Daniels) is really the right man to clean up the office.
Regardless, the position is of paramount importance because, in terms of jurisdiction, it is the only independent office positioned to prosecute white-collar and corruption crimes – not just in Indianapolis, but at the Statehouse. It's all about geography and jurisdiction, and the Indiana statehouse sits right downtown.
Read on. Choose wisely. But please, just choose.
For NUVO's sometimes unbiased guide to this year's major races, click here.
Read NUVO's interviews with the candidates for Marion County Prosecutor:
Make your voice heard (...and raise hell if anyone gets in your way)!
– Info box by Catherine Green