• Alfredo Estrada | Lake County Young Democrats

    Lake County Indiana Young DemocratsThe 2016 elections are a year-and-a-half away. To the average citizen, that may seem like a while. To the Lake County Young Democrats, that makes now the ideal time to start getting people involved.

    The organization is aiming to energize young voters in Lake County. Chairman Alfredo Estrada, who has held his position since February, sees getting the youngest generation interested and involved as a top priority.

    Alfredo Estrada Lake County Indiana“We want to let them know there’s people their age who care about politics,” Estrada said. “It’s important for us to take responsibility in the political process, because the state might be moving in a direction that’s not healthy for them or their families.”

    Estrada was mum on potential 2016 candidates, as party bylaws stipulate Lake County Young Democrats must stay out of primaries. However, he offered some insight on what issues could be in play in 2016. For the state of Indiana, he named education and the economy as potentially big talking points.

    “There’s been an assault on Hoosier families through school funding and wages and jobs,” he said.

    On the national level, he described immigration as an issue that keeps becoming more difficult to ignore.

    “It hasn’t really been addressed,” he said. “It’s something that eventually is just going to boil over.”

    Estrada also stated a desire to move away from the concept of voting Democratic simply because Republicans are the alternative.

    “We want to move away from this anti-Republican message," he said. “We want to speak about who we are, what our ideas are. We feel that if voters really look at the issues, they’ll see that they’re more Democratic than they believe.”

    To that end, the focus right now is on reaching out to voters and finding what’s important to them.

    “The plan until this summer is to reach to those from 14 to 35 and to talk to them,” Estrada said. “By 2016, we hope those issues develop into talking points in Lake County. If we can get candidates and governors to come here and talk about those issues, we know we’ve done our job.”

    Lake County Indiana Young Democrats LogoAs part of that outreach, the organization held its first official gathering at Wildrose Brewing in Griffith on May 22. Despite the "young" part of the group’s name, the evening was attended by local residents of all ages, both longtime Democratic Party members and those who’ve only reached voting age in the last election cycle or two.

    Allowing in such a diverse range of people and viewpoints is essential, according to Estrada. It’s through such debate and discussion that the party finds a platform that’s the most beneficial to everyone.

    “We’re the party that debates within ourselves to figure out the answers to difficult questions,” Estrada said.

    While Estrada stresses the importance of voting, he’s quick to point out that fundamental change requires more than just casting a vote every election. It also involves getting the community energized and letting their voice be heard.

    Estrada, who's married with three children and recently earned a law degree from Valparaiso University, understands how life can be busy. However, he emphasized that every little bit of work helps the party and its cause.

    “Everybody’s busy," he said, “but you find time when it’s important to you. If it’s only an hour a month, it’s one more hour than the party had before. Or if you don’t join [the party], it’s just talking to your brothers and sisters, your mom and dad, and those you care about about the issues.”

  • Civic engagement will help Lake Station move forward

    The City of Lake Station began to turn the page on the Keith Soderquist era this week with the Democratic caucus selection of former Mayor Dewey Lemley as interim mayor.

    “I want to move the city on from a bad experience,” Lemley told the Post-Tribune. Voters will elect a new mayor in November between Democrat Christopher Anderson and Republican Ed Peralta.

    I got the chance to cover the Lake Station City Council for a brief time, and as many Northwest Indiana reporters can tell you, there aren’t many cities like it when it comes to an engaged citizenry.

    More often than not, municipal meetings are sparsely attended affairs with limited discussion. Councils and boards run through routine agenda items as reporters try to figure out the best angle for their story.

    Lake Station has always been different. I got a sense of that the first time I covered a meeting. At the time, Soderquist was a mayoral candidate, and during the discussion portion of the meeting, a City Council candidate called for his resignation over electioneering charges. A spirited back-and-forth ensued with random comments interjected by citizens in the audience. It would be no problem pulling a good story together. 

    As I was gathering post-meeting quotes, a city official volunteered that a group of them were heading over to the Dairy Queen and asked if I wanted to come along. It’s not the kind of offer a reporter usually gets, but like I said, Lake Station is different. It’s a city where council meetings are as much a social event as they are an administrative task.

    I covered several more meetings during the transition between the Shirley Wadding and Soderquist administrations. They were always well attended with plenty of discussion and council members who seemed to relish the sparring with citizen commenters.

    I’ve spoken with others who covered Lake Station and had similar experiences. Despite the recent difficulties, the city has the asset of citizens who are engaged with their government and aren’t discouraged from voicing their displeasure. That energy will serve the city well in this transition.

    And if you’re wondering, I did politely decline the Dairy Queen invitation -- the sacrifices we make in the name of deadlines.

  • Could 2016 be a libertarian moment? Maybe.

    I’ll preface this by saying that I am decidedly NOT a libertarian myself. So, I am by no means an expert or insider on the Libertarian Party or its supporters, and this piece is not an endorsement. I am merely an observer. But as an observer, I think there’s a real possibility the Libertarian Party could play a role in reshaping the political conversation during this election.

    For those unfamiliar with libertarianism, the short version is that it supports limited government and personal freedom. Some in the movement take that to mean practically no government, favoring, for instance, shutting down or privatizing all government agencies and public services. However, Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Gary Johnson (a former Republican governor of New Mexico) is currently describing it much more palatably as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.”

    In the past, the Libertarian Party hasn’t been much more successful than your average third party, gaining a few seats in local governments but barely making a peep on the national stage (Johnson got just short of 1 percent of the Presidential vote in 2012, and that was the party's best showing ever). But if you’ve watched any of this Presidential campaign, you know that this is not like other election years.

    Donald Trump has proven to be  a divisive figure within the Republican Party. Several longtime Republican lawmakers and officials refuse to support him, and there’s apparently an effort to change the rules at the party’s convention next month to prevent him from gaining the nomination. Should those efforts fail, it’s not too much of a stretch to say a significant amount of Republican voters won’t vote for him, either.

    If those voters just don’t vote at all, the Republican Party can just write it off as a fluke election because of Trump. But if they were to all vote for another party, that could send a message that the GOP would be foolish to ignore.

    What message might that be? Well, if the appeal of libertarianism is that it’s “fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” then, perhaps, be socially liberal. Meaning, be inclusive, instead of appealing to the anti-LGBT, anti-immigrant crowd. Also, both libertarians and conservative Republicans claim to be for small government, but for libertarians, that also means towards things Republicans generally support, like military interventionism and the war on drugs.

    Now, this scenario makes a few big assumptions. The one that Trump will turn off a good amount of potential voters doesn’t seem too farfetched. Those voters rallying around Johnson, however, assumes that there is a sizable contingent of Republican voters who are, in fact, much more libertarian-leaning than their party leaders. I think there is. Maybe not the completely pure libertarianism that's against nearly all forms of government, but certainly the more inclusive, less militaristic and authoritarian variety.

    Maybe my assumptions about what will happen and what it’ll mean are wrong (again, I’m no expert). Still, Nate Silver, arguably the best name in polling today, suggested this weekend that Johnson could get a notable percentage of the vote in several states (including Indiana). So, the Libertarian Party’s performance is something to watch this year.

  • Is social media activism effective?

    Social media allows each person to be a part of the conversation, rather than just an observer of it. But talk is one thing. Results are another. So is it really possible to bring about changes in governmental policy through social media?

    It can certainly be a tool to fuel grassroots activism. For instance, the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street started with recruitment and mobilization on social media. The ease and simplicity of communication allowed both to share information and promote their messages. Both ballooned into massive movements that spread on a national and international scale.

    Additionally, Barack Obama recognized the power of social media when he first ran for President. By reaching out to voters directly online in addition to traditional media appearances and campaigning. It worked pretty well. Regardless of what his legacy as President will be, his influence in political campaigning will unarguably leave lasting legacy.

    But the case of Obama also, in a way, represents the limits of social media as a tool for change. While he was able to go from a Washington newcomer to President in a short amount of time, he’s a Democrat, still a member of the two-party establishment. Occupy had more radical ideas than the establishment, and while they may have become a part of the conversation, they have had little luck finding elected support.

    That’s in this country, where we have political and intellectual freedom. In the case of the Arab spring, where those rights aren’t always guaranteed, the results have with little exception gone one of two ways. Either those in power crackdown on dissent (like Syria), or if a regime is ousted, the vacuum is filled by those with all the power (Egypt).

    In fact, another case from that region exhibits how social media can be used for propaganda. ISIS, the terror group that has risen to power in Iraq and Syria, has used social media to spread their message, make threats and showcase their might. They have even “hijacked” popular hashtags for greater exposure. To us, these posts are horrifying. To extreme minded individuals with sympathies toward ISIS’s anti-Western beliefs, it probably a good recruiting tool.

    A Tool of the Masses

    In short, social media is a tool, but it’s a tool that can be used by the powers that be as well as the masses. As this platform continues to evolve, where do you see it going and where will it take us? 

    Like all media, consume wisely.

  • Lake County polling goes to court

    In light of all the candidates jumping into the 2016 Presidential race, let me take the opportunity to urge my fellow residents of Lake County to pay attention to a case currently before the Indiana Supreme Court: State of Indiana v. John Buncich.

    A little background: Senate Enrolled Act 385, passed by the state legislature, requires a study on consolidating Lake County voting precincts that cater to 500 voters or less. The law is ostensibly aimed at making the polling process more efficient.

    The law was struck down by the Lake County Circuit Court for violating the State Constitution, which prohibits passing local or special laws related to elections, among other things. The case went before the state Supreme Court on Thursday, which is set to rule on it.

    The law applies only to Lake County, proponents claim, because it has a high number of such small polling precincts. However, plaintiff John Buncich, Lake County Sheriff and Chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party, argues that the law would make voting more difficult for Lake County residents.

    Buncich is not wrong to be skeptical. The last half-decade or so has seen the rise of voter ID laws in several Republican state legislatures, supposedly to ensure voter integrity, even though the extent of “voter fraud” is beyond minuscule (Indiana passed such a law before the slew of other states followed through). Such laws have disproportionally made voting more difficult for poor and minority voters in those states. And a lot of those same states have also cut down on early voting programs and restricted voting hours.

    Is the law aimed at Lake County a similar attempt by a Republican legislature to place voting obstacles on a strongly Democratic corner of the state? To be fair, Lake County’s turnout in last year’s election was only 27 percent, so maybe it is just about streamlining the process. I’d at least like to think that the Republicans' reasoning is out of practicality, not a partisan move to limit democracy for their benefit.

    But even if they are acting in good faith, I’m still against such polling place consolidation. I believe citizens should be given every opportunity to vote. If that means several precincts that cater to a relatively smaller number of people, so be it. The cost of keeping those polling places running is a small price to pay for democracy.

    However the Court rules in this case, all Lake County Residents planning to vote should pay close attention to their registration status and their assigned polling place. There’s still plenty of time to get everything in order before next year’s primaries and elections.

  • Low turnout, lower information

    Republicans are claiming that they have the mandate of the voters to govern after their midterm victories two weeks ago. Well, that is how our system works, or is supposed to work. In practice, though, our election results might not definitively reflect what the people want.

    This is especially true of these midterms, which saw the lowest turnout since World War II at less than 37 percent. At best, this is reflective of only the more dedicated voting blocs. But even for those who do vote, the choices they made may not be truly representative of their beliefs.

    Polls often tell a different story about what people want than the officials they elect. Probably the most high-profile example of such disparity is Obamacare: the name is viewed very negatively, but everything under the law is very popular, and people who live where the law was fully implemented love their new insurance. Polls similarly show a majority of the public supports immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, even a seemingly controversial assault weapons ban.

    And yet, they don’t vote that way.

    One conclusion might be that polls are only representative of a sample of the population, but then, the same can be said about an election where only slightly more than a third of the electorate voted. A more likely explanation: people vote without knowing exactly what they’re voting for.

    It’s easy to say people vote for attitude and personality more than issues, and that’s probably true to a certain degree. But as someone who reads and follows the issues and candidates for even small local offices as much as I can, I can honestly say voter misinformation goes beyond simply not paying close attention. While voting this Election Day, even I didn’t know at least half of the people running on my ballot. Candidates for certain Lake County offices had little to no coverage in local papers and not even so much as a yard sign as far as name recognition.

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s gone to vote and had this reaction to their ballot. I'd imagine most people probably just select the party with which they identify…which might partially explain why so many incumbencies rarely budge and issues rarely make any headway.

    Low information and low turnout are both bad enough, but put together, it not only explains why American democracy is beyond dysfunctional, but makes you wonder how it ever wasn’t. And it’s a problem without any apparent solutions. I mean, how do you get the majority of the electorate to care about the issues enough to vote but not get taken in by empty campaign platitudes?

  • The easiest thing you can do today…that could make a difference

    To vote in the Indiana Primary on May 3, today is the deadline to register. And this year, the primary might actually matter.

    Well, it always matters. Sure, it can seem like a mere formality at times, such as when candidates for certain offices run unopposed. Or, since our primary is on the later end of the schedule, if the Presidential nominations are already decided and several people on the ballot aren’t even still running. But in either case, the votes are still counted.

    This year is different, however, as both major party races are far from settled. The battle for the Democratic Presidential nomination is still competitive, and since Democratic pledged delegates are awarded proportionally, every vote truly does count. On the Republican side, it realistically looks more like a contest between Donald Trump and a brokered convention at this point than between him and any other candidate. Still, every last vote matters in that contest as well.

    Aside from the national elections, there's still the matter of choosing candidates in state and local elections. Here's a little refresher you can use to familiarize yourself over the next four weeks if you're unfamiliar with them.

    Turnout for the Indiana Primary has been pretty low in Presidential election years, usually hovering around 20 percent since the start of the millennium. The one exception was in 2008, when Hillary Clinton won a close contest in the state, but not by enough of a margin to weather the campaign of then-Senator Barack Obama. Our state played a part in what was widely considered the last stand of the Clinton campaign by pundits and the media.

    And the turnout form that Primary? 40 percent.

    The Republican race that year was already decided before the Indiana Primary. This year, with both parties having incentive to get out and vote, there's no reason we can't top that.

    So, if you’re eligible to vote but not registered, do so. You don’t even need to go out on this wintry day to do it.

    If, however, you’re reading this when Monday has passed…well, register to vote anyway, so you can do so in November.

  • The ups and downs of online political outreach

    Indiana Senate Democrats, half of whom are from right here in the Region, have developed a site where Indiana residents can voice their concerns on the issues and vote on which ones are most important to them. The top results will be the party’s legislative priority in the next session.

    I think this is a GREAT idea. Regardless of the issues or even the party, this sort of channel can give a better, clearer voice to elected officials’ constituents.

    But is this a good thing, considering the kind of stuff people do on the web?

    Here are some ways it could be positive:

    • This could be an interesting way to get young people, a voting bloc for whom voter turnout is generally low, more involved in the process. Who knows? Maybe if this is a success, it could lead to a push to make voting via computer or even smartphone a reality, which might ensure greater participation by removing the effort of physically going to your polling place.
    • Traditional polling methods are becoming less accurate, as the model is mostly built on conducting polls via landline phones. Remember landlines? Those phones from back in the day that had no text function or Internet access, that were attached to walls, and where you had to physically press individual buttons to make a call? Well, one certainly would think online polling is the way to reach the under-30 crowd.
    • Aside from voting on issues that are already in the news, users can submit laws that they would like to see, which can then be voted upon by site visitors. If corporate lobbyists can literally write bills for Congress, then why not regular people?

    And now, some corresponding drawbacks to each of those things

    • Do we want to make something as important as selecting our leaders available with the same level of thought and effort as a taking a Buzzfeed quiz, or liking a Facebook post, or favoriting a Tweet? Heck, the voting button on the site looks exactly like the “upvote/downvote” functionality on Reddit.
    • Ballot stuffing, or other poll manipulation. Even if a poll is set to where each person can only vote once, web users can create throwaway usernames or even simply use another browser window to manipulate results.
    • Have you even been on the Internet? Well, it has this tendency to bring out the id in people, in all its anger, venom, ignorance, and xenophobia. The notion that a hateful and horrifying idea might be put forth on a platform like this is secondarily disheartening to the fact that I could see people supporting it, possibly a lot of them. And let’s not forget the trolls who’d abuse it.

    In spite of all that, I still think this is a great idea. In fact, I’d say the political process could use more direct interaction with the people via the web. I just recommend that people running the site be able to tell the different between the trolls and the people who are serious about it.

  • Who's on the ballot tomorrow in Lake County?

    Tomorrow is the Indiana Primary, and it’s looking like our state will play a crucial part in the Presidential race for both parties. But while you’ve heard plenty (and then some) about the race for the White House at this point, don’t forget that we’re not just choosing Presidential nominees.

    We’ll also be selecting nominees for local, state, and federal offices tomorrow. Several candidates are unopposed, but there are some nominations that are yet to be decided. So, here’s a little refresher regarding who is running for what office in Lake County.

    If you declare as a Democrat tomorrow, here’s who you’ll see on the ballot:

    PRESIDENT

    • Hillary Clinton
    • Bernie Sanders

    UNITED STATES SENATOR

    • Baron Hill

    GOVERNOR

    • John R. Gregg

    UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE, DISTRICT 1:

    • Willie (Faithful and True) Brown
    • Peter L. Visclosky

    JUDGE OF THE CIRCUIT COURT

    • Carrie Castro
    • Marisa McDermott
    • George C. Para 

    COUNTY RECORDER

    • Terence Hill
    • Gregory J. Sanchez
    • Carl Ivy Weatherspoon, Jr.
    • Carolyn Jordan
    • Mike Brown

    COUNTY CORONER

    • Merrilee D. Frey
    • Phyllis V. Perkins
    • Samuel Smith, Jr.

    COUNTY SURVEYOR

    • Bill Emerson, Jr.

    For the following offices, it varies depending on which part part of Lake County in which you reside. If you're registered to vote, you can find your specific ballot here.

    STATE SENATOR

    • DISTRICT 2:
      • Lonnie M. Randolph
    • DIST. 3
      • Ethel Jeanette Williams
      • Eddie Melton
      • Darren L. Washington
      • Dave Spott

    STATE REPRESENTATIVE

    • DISTRICT 2
      • Rosa Maria (Rose) Rodriguez
      • Earl L. Harris, Jr.
      • Drake Morris
      • Tammi Davis
    • DISTRICT 1
      • Linda Lawson
    • DISTRICT 3
      • Antuwan Clemons
      • Charlie Brown
    • DISTRICT 11
      • James Metro
    • DISTRICT 12
      • Mara Candelaria Reardon
    • DISTRICT 14
      • Vernon G. Smith
    • DISTRICT 19
      • Shelli Vandenburgh

    COUNTY COMMISSIONER

    • DISTRICT 2
      • Gerry J. Scheub
    • DISTRICT 3
      • David Gonzalez
      • Richard L. Alyea
      • Dan Reed
      • Christine Cid
      • Michael C. Repay

    And now, the Republican ballot:

    PRESIDENT

    • Ted Cruz
    • Ben Carson
    • Chris Christie
    • Marco Rubio
    • Rand Paul
    • Jeb Bush
    • John R. Kasich
    • Donald J. Trump
    • Carly Fiorina

    Even though only Cruz, Kasich, and Trump are the only candidates still running, all nine are still on the ballot.

    UNITED STATES SENATOR

    • Todd Young
    • Marlin A. Stutzman

    GOVERNOR

    • Michael R. Pence

    JUDGE OF THE CIRCUIT COURT

    • Douglas M. Grimes

    COUNTY RECORDER

    • Joseph M. Ramos
    • Gerald Swets

    STATE REPRESENTATIVE

    • DISTRICT 11
      • Michael J. Aylesworth
    • DISTRICT 12
      • William I. (Bill) Fine
    • DISTRICT 15
      • Hal Slager
    • DISTRICT 19
      • Julie Olthoff

    COUNTY COMMISSIONER

    • DISTRICT 2
      • Jerry Tippy
      • Daniel C. Langmesser
      • Eldon Strong
    • DISTRICT 3
      • Mark J. Leyva

    So, there you have it. Take a little time in the hours left before the polls open tomorrow morning and study up on these candidates you might not have heard of until now. And don't forget to vote tomorrow, and to bring a valid ID with you.