EYE ON THE PIE: Mysteries abound in Indiana

May 1, 2006

There is so much I do not understand about Indiana. After living here for 35 years, after visiting every county and traveling almost every mile of state highway, after making friends with thousands of Hoosiers, I am in the dark on so many issues. Here are three examples:

Example 1: What do Mitch Daniels, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, and Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana have in common? They are all governors who have massive approval deficits. According to Survey USA (and their media sponsors WXIN-TV, WHAS-TV and WCPOTV), each of these governors has a net disapproval rating of 26 percent, tied for 46th among the nation's 50 governors. As of April 12, 35 percent of Hoosiers approved of Daniels' performance as governor while 61 percent disapproved. This spread has grown over the past year with a major shrinkage in the undecided group.

What is going on here? Our Man Mitch has been innovative and reasonably effective. He has not been as outrageous as Arnold or as ineffective as Katrina-damaged Kathleen. His programs for Major Moves and bringing efficiency to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles have been grossly mishandled. Some of his appointees lack positive personality traits and his personal warmth does not radiate through electronic or print media. But to be so low in his approval ratings is a surprise to me.

Example 2: The state spends $90,000 on a new slogan encouraging visitors to "Restart your engines." Wow. Just what we want folks to think about when they think of Indiana. Yes, air and noise pollution are our best features. Yes, we do attract the dregs to the drags. Yes, the declining automotive industry is consistent with cultural tourism. Or so the tourism agents of our states must be affirming.

Example 3: Indianapolis has a fantastic movie festival. How much money is spent on attracting Hoosiers from the 'hinterlands' to attend one or more days? Are there ads or stories in the Evansville, Munster, New Albany and South Bend newspapers? Maybe I looked on the wrong days, in the wrong sections, but I did not find such ads or feature stories.

We know so little about our own state. This is not just a matter of tourism. It is a vital aspect of our politics and our economy. Unless citizens of South Bend and Fort Wayne have tried to travel to Evansville, they have no understanding of the problems associated with driving south of Indianapolis. Unless you are a University of Notre Dame grad living in Indianapolis or south thereof, you don't understand the technical traffic term 'the Kokomization of a city'.

The diversity and vitality of Indiana is hidden in the data that suggest a state of decay. If we knew more about our state, we would feel much better about it and be better at selling it to others.

Yet, the decay of our state is often hidden because we prefer to call it our heritage. Our civic leaders will point with pride to local caskets of culture. They will praise skeletons of no significance rather than admit the emptiness of their communities.

Indiana is a place of surprises that most Hoosiers know little about because Indiana is ignored by most of its newspapers, radio stations and TV outlets. These information sources would rather cover local trivia than important issues in the next county.

Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.
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