Column: Pleasantly surprised

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In the May primary, three Democrats competed to determine who would run against Republican U.S. Congresswoman Susan Brooks this fall.  Not personally knowing anything about any of the candidates, I voted for a high school social studies teacher named Shawn Denney.  I liked the responses he gave when the media asked each candidate which issues he considered important.  Shawn mentioned reducing the income gap, strengthening labor unions, and investing in higher education.  Given the insanely-gerrymandered district in which I live (Have you looked at a map of Indiana’s congressional districts lately?), I assumed Denney would finish a distant third, given the fact that the other two candidates’ responses could have been written by the GOP.

But I was wrong!  And very pleasantly surprised!  It appears Democratic voters here in Indiana’s 5th District are hankering for a “real Democrat” to represent us in Washington.  And while Susan Brooks is certainly not the perennial embarrassment her predecessor Dan Burton was, Indiana voters are simply tired of business as usual in Washington – and I use the word “business” very loosely here.

While I think all of us (or at least all Democrats) can agree that the ever-widening wage gap between the wealthiest 2% of Americans and the other 98% of us is the single greatest issue facing our economy, Shawn Denney was (and still is) the only candidate discussing it.  (Her silence must mean Susan Brooks is perfectly fine with our present situation.)  But I asked Shawn why he bothered to mention labor unions, here in our district.  And his response convinced me that we owe it to him to vote for him this fall.

Denney believes, and studies have shown, that strong unions result in higher wages, equal pay for women, quality healthcare, and other benefits that, in turn, set the bar for other businesses in the community.  Therefore, unions need to be nurtured rather than fought.  This is an important piece to the income inequality issue.  And while the Hamilton County is admittedly not a strong district for skilled trade labor unions, many if its residents are employed as teachers, public employees, and public safety workers, who have suffered more than most of us with their loss of collective bargaining rights.  Just ask any teacher in the Carmel/Clay school system.  We all lament the fact that teachers, police officers, and firefighters are woefully underpaid.  Shawn Denney intends to actually do something about it.  Furthermore, the 5th District does include parts of Madison, Grant, Howard, and Marion Counties, where union membership remains strong.  I believe this could be a strong issue for Denney.

Denney also believes in raising the minimum wage, passing the Equal Pay Act, supporting our veterans, and making higher education (including trade schools) affordable for all.  He and I are both sick and tired of watching our youth graduate from college with mountains of debt.  We’re sick and tired of Indiana attracting only unskilled low-paying minimum-wage jobs.  These jobs are widening the pay gap, and crumbling the middle class.  Indiana must set a goal of attracting

high-skill high-pay jobs, and the way to do this is to prove we have an educated work force.  The only means to this end is to actually educate our work force!  And we must make their education affordable.

These are big-idea issues, but then Shawn Denney is a “big idea” guy.  He’s talking about issues Susan Brooks will probably never address.  Remember, she’s part of what I call the Mike Pence Cheering Section, comprised of Indiana Republicans who would love to see Governor Pence become U.S. President in 2017.  So she will not discuss all the low-skill low-pay jobs Pence has attracted.  She will not discuss how Pence has made every effort to weaken the Indiana State Teachers Union.  She will not discuss income inequality, as it was her party who dropped top marginal tax rates to their lowest level since the 1920’s.  And she will not discuss the fact that these low rates, coupled with deregulation of the banking industry, resulted in both the Great Depression of the 1930’s and the Great Recession of the 21st Century.

The bottom line is the GOP has been given a chance – if not a second, third, and fourth chance.  The GOP has failed.  We’re living with the result of their policies.  It’s long past time to elect a Democrat to represent us in Washington, and I cannot think of a better-suited candidate than Shawn Denney.  But again, we must vote!  We know the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh crowd is going to vote, so it is imperative that we show up in force this November.  Our country will not change itself.  We must change it one election at a time.


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