Recently I was in the press box at the Statehouse with my esteemed editor from NUVO, Rebecca Townsend, and while we were waiting for lawmakers to take up their next bill, she asked me an interesting question: How did I develop my political attitude? I thought I'd share my answer with you here. Let's be honest, it's not every day you come across a guy named Abdul-Hakim Shabazz with a conservative-libertarian political bent.
In fact, in my younger days you would have probably mistaken me for Bobby Seale or Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. provided they had a jheri curl and wore a Members Only jacket. I freely admit I was a lot more liberal in my teenager years. I wasn't quite ready to lead the Black Liberation Army, but we were moving up the ranks rather quickly.
So what happened?
In the late 1980s, my Dad's government obligations had us relocate to Europe. We lived in West Germany and I attended college in Munich. While there, I did a lot of traveling, particularly behind the old Iron Curtain. Most revealing for me was a trip to Prague in what used to be Czechoslovakia. We were taking a tour of the city when I saw hundreds of people in a line outside of store. I asked the tour guide what they were in line for? I thought they were there for concert tickets, but it wasn't, it was shoes. He told me people stand in line for hours for shoes and are lucky to find two the same size. To add insult to injury, this was during the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Revolution so there were giant banners of Lenin all over the place.
That image was fresh in my mind when I came back to the United States to finish my education. I was attending Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb, Ill., right outside Chicago. I had discovered talk radio and was listening to WVON-AM, the urban talk station out of the city on which I heard a steady stream of people complaining about how miserable their lives were and how white folks wouldn't give them anything. After seeing real poverty abroad, I couldn't believe how people here whined that they weren't getting enough food stamps and government assistance. I found it annoying but that's not what pushed me over the edge.
What sealed the deal for me was my attempt to join a "black" campus organization. My Dad had encouraged me to join one of those groups, so I decided to follow his advice and re-establish my "roots." The first meeting was like something out a bad John Singleton film. Here I am in a room full of young students, who for most were the first generation of their family to go to college, so they are under tremendous pressure. And the fact they are city/urban kids going to school in predominantly rural environment didn't help. So what message do they get from the cast extras from a "Different World" who were running the meeting? Instead of one of encouragement and support they get the "You know these white people don't want you here. They just want your money and then they will kick you out. The only people that really care about you are us. Any questions?"
That is when I politely stood up and said, "You Negroes cannot be serious!" And left. I could not believe the idiocy I was hearing. Instead of encouragement and support, these guys were perpetuating the victim mentality. These kids needed hope and reassurance, not fear mongering.
I switched my major from engineering and computer science to broadcasting, excited that way I could bring a different message of self-empowerment and assurance to folks who truly needed it. There was no need to wait on anyone to do something for you when you are perfectly capable of doing it yourself. And to top it off, there was nothing more fun than writing a television commentary or newspaper column to tell the poverty pimps and enablers that they were full of you know what.
The same thing was true for graduate school, law school and most of my professional commentator life. I have been preaching the message of self-reliance, individual liberty and personal responsibility. And embedded in that is an empathy for individuals who are truly in need that we as a society should do all we can to help lift them up so they can stand on their own two feet.
Yes, I get a lot of grief for having my opinions, but I came by them honestly and I don't apologize for them. I truly believe the best political philosophy is one that believes the answers to society's problems lie in the individual who doesn't sit around waiting for others or the government to do something for them and then complaining when it doesn't happen.
I've thought this way for 20 years and I honestly think if more people did, this world would be much better off, or at least mine would.
I thought about doing my usual top 10 list of stories I thought had the biggest impact in Indianapolis in 2013, but with a new year coming up, why not do something different and pontificate about the future as opposed to dwell on the past.So, for this column, I have decided what things Indianapolis should do for 2014 so it can, as my favorite Indiana Governor likes to say, go from good to great.
* Crime will always be part of life in any city, however in 2013 we saw the largest increase in homicides in five years. We're adding more police, but, if you dig deeper into the murder numbers, you'll find an interesting statistic.According to IMPD, as of December 2013, nearly 80 percent of the victims and perpetrators had violent felonies on their records.And the average age of the suspect was 26.This clearly says someone is not only breaking the law, but getting out early.Republican State Senator Jim Merritt is introducing legislation that would require mandatory minimums for violent crimes committed with guns.Maybe if some of these guys weren't getting back on the street early, a few more people might be alive.
* You can't address crime without addressing families.And as much as the individualistic conservative finds this thought offensive, if people aren't going to parent, unfortunately the community is going to have to.However, government can partner with the faith-based community to help reach young people so they don't become 26-year old murders with prior felony convictions.Churches and other not-for-profit faith based groups should have their doors open after school and on weekends to provide kids with a safe place.For funding, Indy should tap into the business community.
* Of course, a city can't function unless it has more taxpayers. And the only way you get more taxpayers is to create more jobs. One big problem is connecting individuals with the jobs that are there. You've heard of the skills gap, where people don't have either the technical skills to qualify for a position or the soft skills (interviewing, resume writing) to land the job. The city, Indy Chamber, Employ Indy and Ivy Tech should do "Township Roadshows" where they not only do job fairs in every township in Indianapolis, using employers who are hiring in those townships, but also have the resume writing and job interview seminars to go along with it.
Those are the three areas Indy really should focus on to take the city to the next level. Of course there are the other things we usually talk about, mass transit, roads and infrastructure, parks and green space, bike lanes, etc.I didn't go into any detail about them, not so much to ignore them, but those issues are always in the backdrop and it goes without saying the city needs to take a look at them.
But if Mayor Greg Ballard and the Indianapolis City-County Council can focus on those three areas in 2014, they'll both have plenty to brag about in 2015, which by the way is an election year.
A few years ago if you asked if I thought the amendment banning same-sex marriage in Indiana would easily pass the electorate, I would have said, "Sure." Today, I am not so sure.
As we all know, attitudes on this issue have moved faster than Glenda Ritz running out of a State Board of Education meeting, and the latest three polls show that if this were to go to the electorate, the initial odds favor the opponents of the amendment.
* On Sept. 24, Freedom Indiana released a poll showing two-thirds of Hoosiers oppose the amendment. The actual ratio was 64 to 36 percent of 800 registered voters surveyed.
* A Nov. 14 poll by WISH-TV and Ball State University showed 58 percent of 600 Hoosier adults surveyed opposed the ban while 38 percent supported it.
* A poll commissioned by the Indiana Family Institute in October said 62 percent of the 504 likely voters surveyed said they support the amendment while 33 oppose it.
So we have three polls staring us in the face. Let's assume all three are valid, even though my friends at the Indiana Family Institute have yet to release their crosstabs. So what's the average?
According to my math, 51 percent of Hoosiers oppose the amendment while 45 percent support it. Of course this is where the standard line comes in "the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day."
This trend really should not surprise anyone. As CNN recently reported, more than 1 in 3 Americans live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal, Hawaii and my home state of Illinois were the last two to join the club. Gallup released a poll back in July showing 52 percent of Americans supported legalized same-sex marriage and 41 percent opposed. It's worth noting that back in 1996, 68 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage.
Now before marriage amendment opponents get too excited, they should realize they have their work cut out for them. GOP internal polling prior to the last election had the marriage amendment question polling at about 56 percent. Also, as anyone who has taken Politics 101 knows, mid-term elections are a little bit of a different creature and turnout is a lot lower than in years when presidential elections are held.
In fact, marriage amendment supporters are counting on lower voter turnout to save the day. Unlike 2008 when Barack Obama was on the ticket and voter turnout was 62 percent, supporters say this election will be more like 2002 when there was no gubernatorial or U.S. Senate candidate at the top of the ticket. Voter turnout in that election was only 39 percent.
The counter to that, however, is that marriage amendment opponents have Megan Robertson — one of the smartest political operatives in the state — on their side. She helped Congressman Luke Messer, R-Ind., get elected in a crowded 2012 primary, but her real claim to fame came with the crucial help she provided Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard in his 2011 quest for re-election. That race had 12,000 more straight-ticket Democratic voters heading to the polls than Republican, but Ballard beat Melina Kennedy by 8,000 votes. So somebody did something right.
Of course all this could be made moot if my friends in the Legislature do the right thing and figure out a way to kill this thing. The polls indicate that support will only continue to erode as time goes on.