What a difference a few months can make.
State Rep. Tim Neese, facing a Democratic challenger in the general election, sat down with The Elkhart Truth editorial board and declared that nothing mattered more in the 2013 General Assembly — nothing mattered more to his district or Indiana — than the economy, jobs, education and the passage of a two-year state budget.
We agreed. Calling him “a thoughtful and responsive voice for District 48,” we endorsed the Elkhart Republican for a fifth term.
So imagine our surprise when Neese, after winning re-election, authored a bill to keep the United Nations out of Indiana.
Focus, Mr. Representative. Focus.
Look back at Neese’s endorsement interview and he said all the right things. Start with the economy.
Indiana needs to expand its economic development efforts, Neese said, and perhaps lower its corporate income tax rate.
“If it’s good for business in Elkhart County, I’m going to support it,” he said.
He said that the budget lawmakers develop this session for 2013 and 2014 needs to be “a true and genuine budget,” with no transfers or borrowing for other funds.
He said that the sate “can never fund education enough” and might want to spend some of the state’s $2 billion surplus on schools, as well as the Family and Social Services Administration.
And social issues, such as a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage or legislation requiring public schools to teach creationism as part of the science curriculum? They should receive “virtually no time,” Neese said.
Firm, focused on issues of vital importance to the state and his district, he struck exactly the right tone. And then, sometime after the election, Neese stumbled.
Approached by leaders of a local tea party, Neese agreed to write a bill banning all governmental entities from implementing United Nations Agenda 21 — a nonbinding and voluntary 1992 initiative to encourage sustainable development, particularly in developing nations. Neese, in an interview with an Elkhart Truth reporter, could not cite any examples of Agenda 21 programs at the local level, 20-plus years after its creation. But tea party groups view the initiative as a U.N. plot to strip Americans of their property rights — a view held by Peter Recchio, the leader of the Tea Party of Michiana Action Coalition, who believes Agenda 21 puts Hoosiers “in peril of losing their rights that have been granted to them by the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Indiana” — and Neese agreed to write their bill.
The merits of Agenda 21 can be debated later. The biggest threat to Neese’s district — and to Indiana — is not the United Nations, but unemployment. While the country’s jobless rate slipped to 7.7 in November, Indiana unemployment remained at 8 percent. And in Elkhart, it’s a full point higher.
Attracting jobs. Keeping the employers who helped Elkhart fight back from 20 percent unemployment. Educating a new and modern workforce so that we can continue to rebuild our economy. That’s what matters in Elkhart — and in Indiana. Not the United Nations. Nothing else.
Tim Neese once understood the necessity of focus, but he allowed himself to become distracted. It’s time to return to basics.