Small towns, big needs

Video version of this blog post.

As part of this campaign I am visiting local towns throughout the district. These are tiny municipalities. Tipton has 5,000 residents. Sheridan has 3,000 people. Arcadia has 1,500.

The people in these places have needs for their communities. They want clean parks, good schools, and the potholes to be filled in. This is what I hear when I talk to everyday people.

In Cicero, it’s the pool at Red Bridge Park that is the current hot topic. It was built in the 1980s, and fell into disrepair over time. Like many similar facilities across the country, maintenance costs continued to increase, and eventually between these problems and the pandemic, the pool was closed for a season.

Replacing a 30-year old pool is like replacing any structure of a similar age. It’s going to cost more than it did, because modern projects do more than they used to do. Filtration and security systems are more advanced, materials and design considerations make pools safer than they used to be, and the amenities we want in 2021 are not the same we wanted back in 1985. When the town council made calls to get estimates, they found price tags that pushed into six and seven digits. For a town whose budget is about $8 million a year [1], that’s just not something many councilors feel they can focus on right now.

And so, they ordered the pool to be torn down. And if you ask the residents who have been swarming these meetings and talking on the various local Facebook groups, that decision was made hastily, without enough input or sufficient transparency.

Thankfully, temperatures have fallen a bit. Residents who want a new pool are working to create a non-profit foundation and conduct a survey. But the point remains: small towns have big needs. And one of the greatest needs is for people who care about the community to show up.

As a member of Congress, I will not be able to attend as many town councils as I have been. But meeting and connecting with local leaders is absolutely essential. And understanding how Federal resources can and should be used to help communities is, to me, a critical part of this role.

Because even small towns have big needs. And their biggest need of all is to have people who care.


[1] Financial information for many parts of Indiana municipalities is available online at https://gateway.ifionline.org/public/FD/overview.aspx.

Why I’m an Independent

Many people ask me why I’m not running with one of the main political parties. They want me to be a Republican, a Democrat, or perhaps a Libertarian.

I am not. And answering this question is like working your way through a buffet. You might not like the taste of every morsel, but each is sufficient to satisfy your hunger. And you know this. You know this because every time you hear about something in politics, you can’t help but think about political parties. You wonder about private meetings and secret alliances. You know that every official who is a member of a party is being pressured by that party.

It’s happening in the news right now. The Democrats are pushing a couple of their own senators to get in line on spending bills. The Republicans are pushing their own members on the topic of the 2020 election. Federal elected officials don’t just represent voters, they represent their party. You know this.

You know that parties are a huge problem because bills have to be labeled “bipartisan.” We can’t assume they are a good idea. We have to be told that both parties are working together on these proposed laws.

You know that parties are a huge problem because research organizations have to be labeled “nonpartisan.” We can’t trust groups to do honest work without that extra adjective.

None other than George Washington thought that parties were such a terrible idea that he warned about them in his farewell address:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

George Washington, 1796

Doesn’t that sound like what’s happening today? Each election cycle is the “alternate domination” of one party “sharpened by the spirit of revenge.” That many “seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual.” This is what Republicans and Democrats seem to do.

I’m an independent because I’m not looking for any of those things. I don’t want to dominate. I am not out for revenge. And I certainly don’t think we need to centralize more power in elected officials.

I’m an independent because we are all, in our hearts, independents. We were created as a nation of independents when we first broke away from England, and we’ve been coming up with independent ideas and new ways of thinking ever since.

And I get that a lot of people affiliate (or even register) with a political party, but that’s not what the polls say [1]. In fact at present there are more independent voters (44%) than there are Democrat (30%) or Republican (25%).

It’s no wonder we don’t feel represented.


[1] https://news.gallup.com/poll/343976/quarterly-gap-party-affiliation-largest-2012.aspx

No Money Means More People

There is no problem in our political system more pernicious than money. This is what politicians do more than anything else: ask for donations. According a slide deck from the Democratic National Campaign Committee [1], freshman members of Congress should expect to spend four hours on the phone every weekday—dialing for dollars. Plus another hour at fundraising events in person.

This a real PowerPoint slide. Seriously:

It’s no wonder Congress doesn’t get much done any more. Members are spending much of their time asking people for money. And for the most part, they ask the same people for money over and over again.

It’s also getting worse because the limits of how much a person can donate keep going up and up, and because of a wide variety of campaign finance vehicles [2] that allow money to be raised and spent without much transparency.

But the main problem with money in politics is that it does a great job of keeping people out of politics. Yes, that’s right. You can’t get much access to candidates or elected officials if you haven’t spent a ton of money supporting them. Which means that most people will never donate to a political campaign, which means that most of the political process is about focusing on people who (a) have money and also (b) are willing to give it to politicians and political parties.

That doesn’t sound like democracy. Politicians should be responsive to everyone, not only donors.

And that’s one of the main reasons I’m not accepting campaign donations. I want to be available to everyone. No matter the size of your bank account.

I am running for Congress, but I am not for sale.


[1] From https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/01/14/the-most-depressing-graphic-for-members-of-congress/. It’s worse now, and of course both parties do it.

[2] Like super PACs, which you’ve probably heard of, and a bunch of other examples that are more obscure.

This Campaign is Working (And What’s Next)

Let’s review:

  1. I’m running for U.S. Congress.
  2. I have no background in politics.
  3. I’m not raising money or spending oodles of my own money.
  4. I’m promoting my campaign by word-of-mouth.
  5. It’s working.

Why do I know I’m getting traction? Lots of reasons. But first my favorite, which is data. Here’s a quick snapshot from the dashboard of my campaign website:

Ten thousands views is solid. Over three hundred visitors is solid too. And its not just here. Take a look at something from my campaign Facebook page:

And it’s not only online. I’m going to lots of community events and people recognize me from the last community event. Simply by showing up at town council meetings, for example, I’m doing something that other candidates aren’t doing.

Slow and steady progress is appealing. What I need next is to get the message out to more people in huge waves. Being retweeted by someone who has a few more followers than I do. Getting more coverage in the media. Finding a way to get exposure.

Obviously, everybody is trying to do this. If you work for a company or a non-profit, part of the budget goes to marketing. Zillions of dollars are dedicated to advertising, including roughly $10 billion per cycle on political campaigns [1]. Lots of people spend their entire working life trying to promote brands, products, or services to the general public. It’s not easy to do, and it’s definitely not easy to get a “big win” and “go viral.”

But I think I have an advantage over someone who is trying to sell a gadget or get people to listen to their podcast. I think I even have an advantage over all of those other candidates who are members of big political parties. Because I’m doing what all of us want: telling the truth. And I am not asking for your money, but only that you spread the word.

Which again, seems to be working. So pass this along to someone you know. “Regular guy running for Congress as an Independent, not raising money, not pushing a partisan agenda, who isn’t lying all the time.”

Bigger moves are coming. And I need from you is to keep spreading the word.


[1] https://theconversation.com/the-scale-of-us-election-spending-explained-in-five-graphs-130651

Why Apathy Is Winning

Earlier this week I went down to the Indiana Statehouse to speak out on redistricting. This was the third hearing I had attended in person and in each case the experience was the same. Every single member of the public who got up expressed serious concerns about the proposal. If there was the opportunity for the minority party to speak, they did the same thing.

But there were no delays, no compromises, and seemingly no interest in feedback. The vote was held on Friday and it followed party lines almost exactly.

As I said in person, this doesn’t feel like democracy. Watch for yourself:

Is it worth explaining the intricacies of why the district lines are unfair and why the process is less than transparent? Maybe. But chances are if you care about that kind of thing, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

And if you don’t care about the details, it’s only yet-another-example of corruption in our government.

The result is apathy. Most people have decided that politicians are corrupt and there’s nothing they can do about it. The redistricting hearings show that government is broken: no matter what people said, the party in power drew maps that keep them in power.

(Maps they drew behind closed doors, released and voted on within two weeks, for which underlying technical data was not immediately made available—and which will define the next ten years of districts for the state.)

How do I plan to get people to care about politics?

I don’t. I plan to talk to them as people, and work to earn their trust as a person.

Because you can’t be apathetic if you trust someone. You’re focused on them being the person they promised to be.

What Everybody Wants Except The Politicians

Most of the issues that are mentioned in political discussions are extremely contentious. That’s usually what you see presented on the news or in fiery comment threads online. It’s what you see when protestors and counter-protestors clash in public. It’s what you see when current officeholders release messages: scorched earth commentary all controversy and almost zero substance.

But it turns out that there are a handful of issues that almost everyone supports except for politicians. And all of these issues are about power and trust. For example:

Term Limits – A whopping 80% of Americans support the idea of preventing politicians from keeping the same office forever [1]. A few states have managed to do this for a few positions, but usually through citizen initiatives and not via the elected representatives. And as I’ve said before, support for term limits shows how much we distrust elected officials.

Personal Internet Privacy – Almost everyone in America feels the same way. We think that “social media companies should be regulated to protect the privacy of personal data.” And this isn’t a partisan issue: 87% of Democrats, 87% of Republicans and 86% of Independents agree with this statement [2]. Yet, we haven’t seen much lately on this topic. Which is probably because of the massive political campaign donations from tech companies [3].

Special Interest Groups – Pretty much all of us (76%) agree that the government is run by a few big organizations and wealthy individuals looking out for themselves—not by representatives and bureaucrats serving the people [4]. But since 1998, total spending on lobbying has more than doubled and shows no sign of slowing down [5].

Redistricting – This is the topic of the moment (which I’ve also talked about before) because states are required by the U.S. Constitution to redraw their lines every ten years following the Census. If you ask average people, most of them don’t think politicians should be responsible for drawing their own districts [6]. But that’s what’s happening. And if you go to the hearings (as I’ve been doing) you’ll hear citizen after citizen standing up to express concern—but no one standing up to say that they support the proposed maps.


These examples should not exist. Politicians should be talking about controversial topics, debating and studying them, listening to voters. But if an issue is one where almost everyone feels the same way, why aren’t we passing a law and moving on?

Because in many ways, the politicians aren’t here for us. They are here for themselves.


[1] Here’s one poll, and here’s a roundup of other polls from years ago, and here’s a poll suggesting widespread support for term limits even on Supreme Court justices.

[2] This comes from a 2020 poll conducted by Harvard University.

[3] The Observer has reported on these donations which tend to lean Democratic. But there hasn’t been much movement on the topic, beyond a couple of bills (like the SAFE DATA Act) which are stuck in committee.

[4] According to Pew Research in 2018. And that’s 71% of Republicans and 86% of Democrats.

[5] Probably more than doubled. A Statista chart claims an increase from $1.45B to $3.49B in the last two decades. But in truth, we really don’t know how much is being spent on lobbying, because the data isn’t coded correctly. Yikes.

[6] People generally support independent redistricting commissions.

Almost All Memes Are Dangerous

If you want to understand politics in 2021, you’ve got to understand memes. These are images but it’s best to think of them as viruses. They spread from person to person and cause mental infections. And while the ideas usually have perhaps a grain of truth almost always the meme is designed to get you to believe something uncritically.

Memes are so dangerous, it’s not often wise to release them into the wild without a safe container. So here’s one I’ve seen floating around, and I’ve carefully removed the hazardous edges to explain how it works.

This class of meme, if it had a Latin name, might be Announceious Single-Reasonum. That is, the person sharing the image is telling everyone what they believe and giving one major rationale they think is good enough all on its own.

It gets worse. This particular meme uses something beloved by English teachers everywhere: parallel construction.

I can’t show you the actual verb employed in the meme because it gives away the topic. That’s how utterly toxic these viruses are. But there is power in using the same word. It ties together the first and second half of the meme, giving the argument weight.

More context; read carefully.

Now the meme is starting to feel bulletproof. The two things are clearly connected. Or at least, the things are the same. One was already done, the other should be done. Right?


Okay. It’s time to descend into the biohazard lab. Put on your gloves and goggles. To make sure no one gets hurt, I’ve hidden the next image behind a link. Take a deep breath. And when you’re ready, take a look.


This is an enormous area of policy discussion, and really there are almost no serious proposals for a complete cancellation of all federal student loans [1] and the experts don’t anticipate that happening anyway [2]. Plus if you think about it what happens to all of the students who are currently in college and incurring debt? And what prevents colleges from increasing the cost of education further, since they know the government will pay it?

Obviously these details can be discussed and maybe even worked out, but the meme makes a blanket statement proposing “cancellation.” And this is the first way that memes cause injury. They make assertions as if they were true and complete. But they often aren’t. A total cancellation of all student loan debt is not a feasible idea. That’s not what you want to hear if you’re one of those 45 million people, but it is the truth.


At this point, the right thing to do is to stop reading the meme. Any image that mentions a policy idea which is unworkable is not worth your time. But that’s not how our brains work. We can’t stop. We have to keep going.

Try not to get infected.


Responding now is like trying to get spilled milk back into the jug. The word cancelled is obviously wrong. Nobody took a look at a bunch of specific tax returns and then decided to throw them out. But in any case, if someone got away with not paying taxes, shouldn’t we go after them and make them pay their taxes? What does other people’s student loan bills have to do with any of that?

If you carefully take it apart, the meme doesn’t make any sense. Yes: we do have problems with the cost of education and student loan debt. Yes: our tax code has problems too, especially with regard to the ultra wealthy.

But these facts are not connected. They are two very real issues, but they don’t have anything to do with each other [3]. And yet, this meme insists that they do.

And like all viruses, the host is infected. And chances are that this virus will be shared with others.

There is no other choice. All we can do is to implore one another: think carefully before you click.


[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/04/22/student-loan-forgiveness-where-members-of-congress-stand.html

[2] https://time.com/nextadvisor/loans/student-loans/student-loan-forgiveness-predictions/

[3] Okay, sure, they are both vaguely related to government corruption, but what’s not related to that?

Gerrymandering is Not Announcing Your Intentions

For several years, I taught college courses at IUPUI. The most important day of the semester is the first one, when the professor distributes the syllabus and explains the parameters for the course.

I always tried to make it clear what we would be doing week after week, and importantly, the criteria by which students would be graded. Although the contents of assignments and discussions would be a surprise, the intentions were well defined.

But that’s not at all what happens when legislators draw maps. Because yesterday, a committee at the Indiana statehouse released their proposed maps for state and federal offices, and they are…frustratingly vague.

Yeah, sure, you can click through to get a bit more detail [1], but these outlines on voting districts don’t tell you the important bits, such as income, age, and race distribution. Nor do we have the original computer files that were used to create these maps, since those haven’t been released either.

Really, all we know is that these outlines look a slightly bit different than the current outlines. And the current outlines have been widely described as partisan and unfair. Also there are only going to be three public hearings on the new maps. One was the day after they were released. One is the day after that. The final vote is a few weeks away.

If you’re getting the sense that very little about this process is democratic, you’re absolutely right. The lawmakers are, as the expression goes, picking their constituents. The nine congressional districts are likely to have the same balance of Republicans and Democrats that they have had for nearly a decade.

That’s why I am running for Congress. Because it shouldn’t be more of the same. We should all know what the parameters in advance.

Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.


[1] Because they are the party in power and drawing lines is partisan, the maps are on https://www.indianahouserepublicans.com

The Reality Party is #7

I’m not running with a political party, and a New York Times piece out today helps illustrate why. It’s an op-ed centered around a twenty question quiz, and it claims to sort Americans into six political subdivisions based on their responses. It’s like being placed into a house in Harry Potter: your answers make you a Gryffindor, a Hufflepuff, a Ravenclaw, or a Slytherin.

But these questions are painful, because they don’t dig at the real issues. Question 3 asks, yes or no, “Should same-sex marriage be legal?” This is obviously designed to force respondents to announce their moral views on the lives of others.

Yet, there’s something more fundamental to consider: should the government be involved in registering, licensing, and tracking personal relationships at all? Why have we done it historically, and should we keep doing it? What are the benefits and drawbacks to the government’s role in marriage?

Another prompt asks how strongly you agree or disagree with the statement: “Local governments should decrease the size of police forces and the scope of their work.”

Which is bad question design. Because what if you want police forces to have more officers, but a narrower focus? And it’s not as if these departments aren’t already struggling to retain staff [1], nor are they similar across the country [2].

The worst one may be this: “I would rather be a citizen of the US than any other country.” (Possible responses range from strongly disagree to strongly agree.)

But this is a bullshit question: of course none of us actually know what daily life is like in every other country in the world. None of us are qualified to objectively pick the place that would be best for us. Perhaps once in a while the grass looks greener elsewhere. Is that how we’re supposed to answer this?

All of the questions in this list are broken. If we did create a political party in response to this quiz , it would be a seventh option: The Reality Party. Because in truth, the answer to pretty much all of the questions is either “we have no way of knowing” or “it doesn’t matter, because a change in policy wouldn’t have a practical effect anyway.”


The Democratic and Republican teams aren’t working any longer. And new parties based on the dumb questions from the existing parties—those wouldn’t work either.

Today, the main role of the political parties seems to be to get people to focus on fantasies. That they can change the behavior of millions of people with a new law or address systemic problems by adding or eliminating some government program.

This is why I am not running with a political party. We need to have more fundamental discussions. We need to talk about genuine principles, not unworkable policies. We need to accept the reality that most people have thrown their hands up in frustration. That most people don’t really subscribe to even most of the views of one party or the other.

That if we bother to vote, we are often doing so as a defensive action. To slow down the side which is definitely the worst option of the two.

So let’s stop trying to sort ourselves into political parties–the current ones or some imaginary list. What matters is that we’re Americans.

And our country needs our help.


[1] https://www.axios.com/police-morale-suffers-recruiting-down-fb25f81e-b423-41fe-9d5f-242d43ebf337.html

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/05/08/most-police-departments-america-are-small-thats-partly-why-changing-policing-is-difficult-experts-say/

Everybody is in the wrong (at least a little)

Video version of this blog post

Here’s one way to summarize American politics these days:

We have the truth. It’s those other people that are completely full of it.”

There aren’t many slight differences of opinion, where people can see each other’s points and calmly discuss the nuances. Nope. For many, it’s all extremism, all of the time.

This is in part because of a psychological phenomena known as confirmation bias. In short, when we get new evidence, we tend to use that information to confirm what we already believe, rather than evaluating it independently.

That’s what happened last week when a local TV station in Oklahoma City released a segment about the current state of the pandemic. Here’s the headline and the lead sentence:

Patients overdosing on ivermectin backing up rural Oklahoma hospitals, ambulances

A rural Oklahoma doctor said patients who are taking the horse de-wormer medication, ivermectin, to fight COVID-19 are causing emergency room and ambulance back ups.

KFOR-TV

Almost everything in that statement is not factually true:

  • There is no backup in hospitals or ambulances caused by people taking ivermectin.
  • A doctor didn’t make this claim, at least not based on the quotes that appear in the video.
  • Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic medication that is used both in humans and in a variety of veterinary settings, including in horses, dogs, and reptiles.

Again, it’s not true. But it sure feels true. That’s because there have been all kinds of other stories in the news related to these topics. People have been taking this drug recently. There is some indication that it might be helpful against COVID-19. And ivermectin can be purchased over-the-counter without a prescription, including from farm supply stores as well as online retailers.

From there, the story only gets worse. Rolling Stone magazine ran a piece using the KFOR article as their source. MSNBC picked it up too. So did lots of other commentators, especially those on the Left for whom the idea of “hospitals backed up due to people taking horse medication instead of following expert advice” feels like a true story.

It’s confirmation bias. People tend to take new information and assume it supports what they already believe.

But this story is false. And guess how those on the Right responded? By claiming this is “another example” of media dishonesty. And they note that there isn’t much of a response to their critique: Rolling Stone made an update, but not a retraction. KFOR has been silent on the matter. Few of the high-profile commentators have apologized for spreading false information.

Thus, we are probably at the end of this news cycle. By the time you read this, the world has moved on to being angry about other things.

And maybe it will be the Right who makes the error the next time. Maybe they will fail to double check their sources. Or even act with intentional malice, as some claimed happened this time.

Either way, it’s the confirmation bias that is eating us up, bit by bit. We have to stop believing things because they sound like they are true.

Because “sounds like true” is not the same as actually true. Even if that seems easier to believe.