Year in state politics full of drama, intrigue

It’s time for my top 10 state and local stories of 2017. Yes, we know there were a lot of national events taking place, but we focus on local and politics here.

1. A road to somewhere

Who would have thought that Indiana lawmakers would be thoughtful and responsible enough to not only come up with a multi-year, multi- billion road funding plan but also a way to pay for it using gas taxes and user fees? The next thing you know they will figure out Sunday retail alcohol sales.

2. The Rickers Revolution

You have to give credit to Indiana businessman Jay Ricker. He figured out a way to legally use the state’s byzantine alcohol laws and sell cold beer at a convenience store. And by doing so, not only did he turn the liquor establishment on its ear, but it got everyone talking about how ridiculous the state’s alcohol laws were, and it looks like Sunday retail sales is a real possibility next session.

3. I want my CBD

A legal opinion by the Indiana Attorney General regarding the legality of CBD oil has literally opened a hornet’s nest of CBD and medical marijuana advocacy. There are several bills being introduced that will not only legalize CBD oil but also expand who can use it. The state prosecutors don’t want it, but the veteran groups do. And I won’t need marijuana to thoroughly enjoy the fight that’s coming.

4. Hoosiers head to D.C.

With Mike Pence as vice president we saw a slew of Hoosiers head to D.C. to run the government. Seema Verma at the Center for Medicaid and Medicare, Marc Lotter a surrogate for the administration and Dan Coats at National Intelligence, just to name a few.

5. Murder by the numbers

The state of Indiana wasn’t the only entity taking things to the next level; the city of Indianapolis did too, at least when it came to its murder rate. As I write this, Indy is at 152 murders, the most in its history. And there still were a couple of days left to break that record.

6. Lawmakers leaving

The only thing stranger than the number of state lawmakers either retiring or announcing they’re not running for re-election is that it’s all been scandal-free, at least for now. State Senators Luke Kenley and Brandt Hershman, state Representatives Scott Pelath, Kathy Richardson and Linda Lawson are some of the more prominent names. Also leaving were state Senators Doug Eckarty and Jim Smith, and state Representatives Charlie Brown, Jim Baird, Greg Beumer, Wes Culver, Steve Stimler and Thomas Wasburne.

Did I miss anybody?

7. Congressional confusion

For a while, we had to ask if there was anyone not running for Congress in Indiana. With Todd Rokita and Luke Messer both running for the Senate, the 4th and 6th CDs suddenly became open seats, and there are no shortages of candidates. Also, keep in mind the Democrats running across the state, there’s a buzz out there that could turn into something similar to 2006, when the GOP lost three congressional seats.

8. Who wants to be a U.S. senator?

This will likely be our most significant story for 2018, but for now it’s No. 8. It’s going to be interesting watching Messer and Rokita try to claim the outsider mantle since both went to an exclusive private school, are attorneys and spent much of their adult lives helping run the government either at the state or federal level. And with so many GOP voters undecided, will that make an opening for Mike Braun, despite the fact he’s voted in a Democratic primary?

9. Holcomb’s first year

Or I could call this one, the return of the Mitch. Gov. Eric Holcomb got through his first year in office in pretty good shape. He got road funding under his watch, funding to fight opioid addiction, and the first steps were taken to modernize the state’s workforce efforts. However, he did have a couple of curveballs thrown at him, i.e., the head of DCS leaving in a not-so-quiet manner, as well some confusion by the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission over CBD Oil and Rickers being allowed to sell cold beer at its convenience stores.

10. Tale of two Indianas

This wasn’t a story per se, but more of a narrative created by the news. Indiana seemed to be a state where people were thriving (record job creation and investment, and growing populations) or it was dying on the vine (i.e., opioids, heroin, declining populations and school districts on the verge of bankruptcy). Keep an eye on this one; we have a sneaky feeling this is also going to be a narrative for next year as well.

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org. He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. He can be reached at abdul@indypolitics.org. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.