By John Pickerill
It is sad to see what today’s political power does to good people. And it is heartbreaking when it happens to someone as nice as Dr. Tim Brown, a good Christian man, and compassionate doctor. I have been told on more than one occasion how he went above and beyond the call of duty as an emergency room physician to help patients and their family deal with tragedy. But for even a good person, being elected a state legislator and proceeding into the statehouse is like walking into a swamp. Corporate lobbyists are constantly on the prowl to influence lawmakers, to pass a certain bill that will give a government-granted advantage to their company, which will give it a government-granted rise in profits. And those lobbyists have unbelievable amounts of money at their disposal. Even as a good person, when you’re up to your armpits in alligators it’s hard to remember your objective was to drain the swamp.
Rep. Brown made the following promise to voters: “I, Tim Brown, pledge to the taxpayers of the State of Indiana, that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.” That pledge is about to be tested. The Republican-proposed gas tax increase (House Bill 1002) will be voted on next by the House Ways & Means Committee, and Rep. Brown is its chairman.
It will not be an easy decision for him. On his right shoulder rests his tax pledge, his angel. On his left shoulder rests the lobbyist money, his devil. Over the last four years, Brown’s re-election campaign received more money from the “Build Indiana” political action committee than any other donor. Build Indiana PAC is funded by the road construction industry, companies like Milestone Contractors, Rieth-Riley Construction Company, and Irving Materials who are drooling over the possibility of $1.2 billion in additional road construction contracts that result from the gas tax hike.
Lobbyists seeking to buy influence know who has influence. And the chairman of the Ways & Means Committee is perhaps the most influential chairman of all. Meanwhile, we the citizens of District 41 (Boone and Montgomery County for the most part) don’t stand a chance to compete with the kind of money that lobbyists give Brown. From 2013-2016, Brown’s campaign received $476,308, but out of that only $5075 came from donors inside our District. In other words, only 1% of his campaign contributions came from the citizens he represents.
Honor his pledge to oppose any and all tax increases? Or keep the corporate donors happy who fund his re-election campaign? With enough campaign cash, Brown knows he can drown out his challenger’s voice. He can buy so many postcards, radio ads, newspaper ads, yard signs, even television ads, that the voters will hardly notice the other guy. And if by some chance his challenger becomes popular anyway, the standard political playbook would be a smear campaign to tarnish the reputation of that challenger. Money controls the message the voters hear. Besides, by the 2018 election, the voters might forget about the tax increase, right?
Honor his pledge? Or keep the re-election campaign dollars coming in?
Honor his pledge? Or preserve his political power?
Representative Brown has a big choice to make.