Chris Bowen, Libertarian candidate for mayor of Indianapolis, visited the NUVO offices on Aug. 24. Excerpts of this interview were printed in our Aug. 31, 2011 issue. An edited, full-length interview transcript is posted below.
Editor's Note: Our profiles of Mayor Ballard, Melina Kennedy and Chris Bowen mark the first installment of our coverage leading up to this fall's municipal election. Over the next few weeks we'll analyze some of the complicated issues taking center stage in the mayor's race, offer many more detailed candidate profiles and provide some basic voter orientation information. Stay tuned for more stories leading up to the comprehensive NUVO Election Guide, currently slated to hit the street Oct. 19. If you'd like more details on any specific issues to help you make better-informed decisions at the polls, let us know!
NUVO: If you were to brag about Indianapolis at a national mayors' conference, what examples would you use about what makes this an exceptional city?
Chris Bowen: There are a lot of things we should be proud
of in Indianapolis, for instance, fluoride toothpaste was invented at Indiana
University. People don't realize that; it's something to be proud of. The
breathalyzer was invented by Indiana state police, right here in Indianapolis,
so we've got a thriving community of entrepreneurs and entrepreneur spirit in
Indianapolis, even going back to the days when they were first racing on an
actual brick surface out at the Indianapolis 500, they were actually testing
engines and parts on cars and racing against each other with all these
developments we see out in the automobile industry today. ...I would brag about
as our rich history, we still have a lot to offer and I would hope that
companies would consider moving here when they look to relocating.
The state has done a pretty good job with our budget, where we're sitting as compared to the rest of the country, so we already look attractive to a lot of people. ...We don't have a lot of traffic to speak of, you can pretty much get anywhere in the city within 20 minutes. We have a thriving arts community...
NUVO: What aspects of the city make it a difficult place to brag about?
Bowen: [In] the education, the cuts that we've seen. I was in college originally to be a teacher and we just recently laid off 3,000 teachers a couple years ago and we haven't really been hiring those teachers back... We've kind of lost our sense of priorities... I understand the Colts do a lot for us, but should we really be having a discussion of raising taxes for a private enterprise such as an NFL team at the expense of our children being educated? If I was a business owner looking to move here, will the people I employ have a school system available to them where their children are going to get an effective education, where they'll have all the books that they need, all the supplies and teachers that are going to do a good job and make sure that they get educated?
Then, of course, we've put off a lot of the infrastructure upgrades. So we have this huge strain of money coming in that we've really sold out our future revenue to have money now, and so it looks really nice that we have the Super Bowl coming...but what we've been doing the last 20 years? I don't think that just this last year, focusing on infrastructure has really changed the outlook or the culture of the people that are making these decisions. What happens when...all that money is gone...and we didn't take care of what we needed to take care of?
NUVO: What it the appropriate role for a city to take in terms of local economic development?
A: Well, one of the things that has always made me scratch my head here in Indianapolis is that it looks like we have two or three different organizations responsible for the same thing... A government can't really create jobs except a government job, but what they can do is get out of the way so that a private industry can start to thrive and grow again and create jobs.
One of the big things right now is the smoking debate. I think we might be able to generate a little bit of revenue for the city, while at the same time really answer that debate once and for all [by] maybe attaching to a bar and liquor license a $200 a year fee for them to allow smoking. ...The city can use that money for anti-smoking campaigns in the schools, but at the same time you're allowing the business owner to say, "Hey, I'm deciding for myself what's best for my clients, what's best for my business and at the same time I've got that 'This is a smoking establishment' on my front door, so that anybody applies to work [acknowledges] a certain level of risk, just as I am as a business owner taking a certain level of risk to put my money, to put my collateral on the line for the business loan that got this whole thing started that provided the job.
I'm an outsider. I'm not a career politician. I think that a mayor needs to appoint 18 people, so I'm going to have to hire some of the best and brightest people to help us out. There's got to be...fresh ideas.
It's like owning pets and your house has that smell [people visiting] can smell when you have cats or dogs...When you live there everyday eventually you don't smell it anymore. It's the same thing with government: You're hiring the same two parties, you keep electing the same two viewpoints, and they've been there so long and you start to get used to the funk that some of them are creating. So you need to hire outside people you need to hire somebody that can come in and be a new set of eyes.
NUVO: How would you prioritize redevelopment projects throughout the neighborhoods?
Bowen: I'd really like to focus on expanding the arts and continuing to connect those areas of talent together.
I think that there's some areas of town that have been neglected far too long we need to focus on. I think it's great that Meridian got repaved, it's great that up by where I live on the Northside close to Castleton that we're repaving the roads, that we're updating the interchanges over the interstates. But at the same time, look at Brightwood; it's got a rich history, it's been a neighborhood since Indianapolis has existed, but it's been allowed to deteriorate. A very beautiful building [my] elementary school at 51, it's boarded up and allowed to deteriorate.
Look at the Eastside, look at the Westside. It seems ironic to me how poverty and crime and deteriorating neighborhoods all seem to run hand in hand. When is it the Eastside's turn, when is it Little Flowers' turn? ...The neighborhood associations [are] doing the best that they can, but they need help.
...At first Arsenal Tech High School was slotted to get the practice facility for the NFC team, and for some reason now it's going to a private university. That kind of angered me a little bit, and yeah I went to Tech High School — I graduated from there, so maybe a little bit of my opinion on that is bias — but I think that the inner-city kids who are going to public school deserve that more than the people going to a private university that could have found other ways to fund it whereas IPS couldn't of found other ways.
We were really looking forward to that, and some other high school football programs closed so that the students who wanted to participate in high school football could go to Tech High School because we were anticipating getting that money and getting those facilities updated there. If you go on the outskirts of town, if you go to a Ben Davis or a township school such as Warren or Lawrence...they seem to have enough money to do what they want to do with their children for their extracurricular activities. When is it Marion County's turn? When is it inside of 465's turn?
That's what really concerns me about the economic development. It always seems that the focus goes to the same places. And, yeah, I grew up at 42nd and Post Rd. I'm proud of where I grew up, and a lot of people say 'Well, you can't even go back to your neighborhood.' Yeah, I can and I would not be scared because that's where I grew up and anybody that lived back there back then that would remember my face would know that I belong there just as much as anyone that lives there now. I haven't forgotten my roots, I'm definitely an East-sider but I've seen some places on the west side that are struggling, some places on the south side.
Fountain Square has waited a long time for this and it's really nice to see that the street crews are down there expanding, and they're expanding the Cultural Trail. I just want to make sure that the money stays there for those kind of projects. Now we've got this money up front...we've got to make sure that we're pinching every penny and every expenditure is going through a fine-tooth comb. This is our future we're talking about.
NUVO: Indianapolis has some of the worst air quality in the nation. To what degree could or should a mayor respond?
Bowen: Well, being a Libertarian, it's a really a hard position to be in because we don't want government breathing down our necks all the time. So a lot of us would say "Why do we need the EPA?" But I'm one of the few Libertarians [who] would probably keep the EPA around because that's protecting our future. I'm adopted and my father is half American Indian, so on his side of the family growing up I used to hear a lot about nature and how modern technology is really supposed to save us time so that we can connect with each other and connect with the earth, but it just seems like the more technology we have, the worse we are stewards of what we've been given. One of my favorite Indian sayings I heard when I was growing up was that we don't inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
What a mayor can do about that? I really don't know. One of the things we are working against is that Indianapolis is down in a valley, so naturally any kind of pollution we get from industry is just going to sit here. It's really a wonder that the air quality isn't worse, in my opinion. What can we do, it used to be in Indiana when I was growing up you had to get a sticker that your car had been inspected, I'd like to go back to that. A lot of my Libertarian candidates will hate me for saying so...
We got our priorities out of whack because here we are in a city that has beautiful parks, sitting in one of the states that has some of the most beautiful forests in Hoosier National Forest that you'll find in the country, but we stopped inspecting cars, we laid off inspectors that go around and keep industries in check. It's something that has happened federally as well as in the city. I don't know as a mayor I could do anything about it, but at least I could be the spokesman or the person that's saying "Hey, we need to get our priorities straight."
I was a scout when I was a kid... When we went camping you were supposed to leave it like you were never there to begin with. I think that the modern man does not have the proper outlook of that and maybe that will be something I will have to learn more about, what a mayor can do. From what I've been looking at what a mayor can, I don't know that I can do much, but I would like to.