First it was Gov. Mike Pence who couldn’t find Elkhart County on a map. Now it’s U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly.
Pence, who served six terms in the U.S. House of Representative, extensively toured Indiana after taking office as governor. Still, he didn’t pay his first official visit to Elkhart County until April 18.
Donnelly lives in Granger. You’d think that after three terms representing the 2nd District in the U.S. House he’d make it a point to spend time in Elkhart County, especially as he crisscrossed the state this year promoting jobs.
But you would be wrong.
Donnelly opened his term as senator with a statewide tour he called “I Work for You.” This is how his website described the trip upon its Jan. 18 conclusion: “This week, Senator Joe Donnelly completed a four-day, 18-community ‘I Work for You’ tour from one end of Indiana to the other. His goal was to listen to Hoosier businesses, universities, and members of the ag community as to the issues most important to them. Senator Donnelly was sworn in as Indiana’s U.S. Senator on January 3, 2013, and this was his first statewide tour.”
Donnelly’s press release goes on to note that the journey totaled 1,345 miles, and a Google map shows that he visited these 18 communities:
About a month later, Donnelly launched his “Closing the Skills Gap Tour,” which he used to promote the America Works Act — a bill promoting education and training programs that offer industry-wide job credentials. Donnelly describes the bill as a way to help employers find skilled workers.
It sounds like an initiative perfect for Elkhart County, where a 2009 federal study found “the highest percentage of production occupations in the country.” Yet somehow, Donnelly didn’t schedule a “Closing the Skills Gap” visit in Elkhart or Goshen, choosing to stop in Indianapolis, Terre Haute, Jeffersonville and Evansville, instead.
Donnelly represented Elkhart County during the Great Recession, when RV manufacturers laid off thousands of workers, unemployment reached 20 percent and The New York Times described Elkhart as “the white-hot center of the meltdown of the American economy.” He saw how the county fought back, leading the nation in job growth between September 2011 and September 2012.
But he surely knows that despite our progress, unemployment remained at 9.4 percent in March. He also knows — or should — that poverty here increased 64 percent between 2007 and 2011 and among children, it grew by 89 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau found that in 2011, more than one in four of the county’s children lived below the poverty line.
None of that matters, apparently. When he assembled his “Hooiser JobsRoots” tour, a series of meetings between Donnelly and educators, civic leaders and business owners to discuss “the best ways he can help Hoosier businesses develop more jobs for hard-working families across the state,” Donnelly visited Evansville and Terre Haute for the third time, made return trips to Fort Wayne, Lawrenceburg, Lafayette and New Albany, and also made stops in Gary and Noblesville.
Granted, Donnelly only won 42 percent of Elkhart County’s vote against Republican Richard Mourdock in November. But that doesn’t matter; he’s our senator too and it’s about time that he engages our business owners, our workers, our educators and community leaders on the economic challenges we face in Elkhart County.
Elkhart County. It shouldn’t be that hard to find, senator.
Just go to Granger and turn east.