Last week, I got a message from Jim and Tomi Allison. Tomi is a past, long-serving Mayor of Bloomington, Indiana (from 1983-1995) and she and Jim had sent this letter to the editor of the Bloomington Herald-Times. After over a week with no acknowledgement of its receipt–let alone a reply–they were convinced that it wouldn’t be published.
Here is the letter:
“In the coming election American voters will have a rare opportunity to defend their country’s historic ideal of representative government—a government chosen by and for the people, regardless of race or gender, in a peaceful transfer of power. Never have the attacks on this ideal come so fast and furious: the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol; the hi-tech gerrymanders mapped for partisan advantage in elections for Congress and state legislatures; the dark money flooding election campaigns; the attempts in state after state to suppress the vote by making it harder to register or cast a ballot; the attempts to seize partisan control of the vote counting process; the unscrupulous politicians who strive to shake confidence in our democratic elections and replace them with authoritarian rule.
“What can Hoosier voters do in defense? For one thing, they can come out and vote. Secretary of State candidate Destiny Wells suggests that we should see Indiana as neither red nor blue, but as a purple state with a low voter turnout. In other words, the laws passed by our representatives would be more to our liking if more voters turned out for the elections that seated those representatives. Whereas Wells wants more turnout, her major opponent would discourage turnout by shortening the early voting period, supposedly to save money.
“Never has it been so vital to put Country before Party in an election for Indiana’s Secretary of State. Why? Because our Secretary of State oversees the implementation of Indiana’s election rules. And, as Political Science Professor Marjorie Hershey wrote in an H-T article of 10/02/1922, “If you can control the rules, you can control the outcome.”
“This is no time to put Party before Country in the implementation of our state’s election rules—a state whose Constitution mandates and whose voters deserve free and fair elections. That’s why my vote will go to Destiny Wells for Indiana Secretary of State.”
I am sharing this letter, not just because I agree with it (although I do), but because I am bemused by the evident decision of a local newspaper to ignore a well-written, thoughtful letter from a former Mayor of the City.
I’ve thought a lot about the current, dangerous state of American politics and political debate, and I always come back to the role played by our current information environment–especially but not exclusively the disintegration of local news.
Americans these days live in alternate realities buttressed by our ability to confirm pre-existing biases by a click or two. But partisans’ vastly enhanced ability to indulge confirmation bias isn’t the only negative consequence of our fragmented media environment–studies have confirmed that people who occupy a self-selected “bubble” are insulated from news they need in order to make sound decisions and cast informed votes. (One recent study showed that large numbers of voters who supported Trump in 2016 had never heard about the accusations of fraud, the “grab ’em” tape, or other negative accusations, despite widespread reporting from more traditional sources.)
Here in Indiana, I have no idea how many people are aware of the Secretary of State’s race, aware of the very checkered past performance of the Republican candidate, or the fact that his nomination was the result of a petulant effort by Republicans angry at Governor Holcomb to deny his favored candidate the nod. Not being a Bloomington resident, I also don’t know whether the Herald-Times has reported on the race.
I do know that a local newspaper has a basic obligation to cover local and state politics fairly and objectively–and in my opinion, that obligation extends to the publication of a well-written endorsement by a former Mayor.
I encourage readers in Bloomington–and elsewhere in Indiana, for that matter–to share Mayor Allison’s endorsement.
Kennedy recently retired as professor of law and public policy at the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI.