Members of the Indivisible NWI Steering Committee had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Griffin. Below read some highlights as you consider your choices for the primary on May 3.
Additional questions and answers have been added today, Friday, April 28. Due to time constraints, we were unable to finish our interview with Mr. Griffin. We sent him the questions and he kindly responded in writing to them. Find the additional questions and answers beginning with the question about voting rights.
We want to note that while Mr. Griffin was forthcoming in answering most of our questions, he was hesitant to talk about his stance on abortion. He didn’t want this issue to be raised in the primary; he wanted it to be something that comes up in the general election. He was concerned that this issue could undermine him in the primary. However, he did answer the question fully. Read his response to that question toward the end of this post.
The most pressing issues facing Indiana today.
- We need to address our responsibilities to public schools.
- Public schools are essentially a public good, both in an economic sense as well as a social broader sense. It is good for the public. It equips our young people to know STEM and the like. It is trying its best to equip all young people to become adults for the roles of citizenship in a democracy. Public education is an important responsibility of the state.
- We need to find imaginative ways to keep good teachers.
- We need to give teachers the kind of resources they need to best train our young people to responsibilities of citizenship in our current century and beyond.
- Public education has been politicized to its detriment.
- We need to look back to see what has worked well or determine that we need to try something else that is new.
- We need to think more about not just K-12, but pre-K-14. Students may not need college, but something post secondary is important to equip students with the skill sets they will need to succeed.
- Other issues are troubling, including shared equal dignity.
- He’s very schooled in the Declaration and the ideas that are embodied in it. He like the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution more because he thinks that’s the organic law of our country. It still speaks to us today. He believes we should all be about serving the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,
- When we talk about equality we need to understand what we meant when we said all men (today we would say people) are created equal. It means we should regard everybody with equal dignity. We need public officials who understand that and try to articulate that in a new and interesting way that may open minds. He worries that our politics have become so polarized that we may not speak in the kind of open minded way that we once required of people who legislated for us or who served us in any way at any level of government He has arrived at his points of views, opinions and principles after careful thinking. But he will respect the other person and listen to their argument and know he still needs to consider what the other person is saying.
The atmosphere in the General Assembly
He was enamored to be there. In the senate it is mostly a body of 50 people who endeavor to do the right thing. They come with their own points of view and some are very conservative. There is still a sense of comity, a sense of equal dignity for each other and good regard for one another. Legislators can talk with one another and get things done.
Gun laws and permit-less carry
- He voted against permit-less carry. He is very pro-police. The Superintendent of the State Police and most law enforcement agencies urged legislators not to pass this bill, that requiring a permit kept them safe and was a good tool.
- The old law that was in place was a good one. It respected 2nd amendment rights while
- preventing felons and those with mental illness from carrying a gun in public. Even with this new law that is still true, BUT law enforcement won’t know until after something harmful happens.
- He hopes there will be opportunity to revisit this law, but he is a realist about the current climate in the legislature.
Education—funding and oversight for public, charter and private
- He wants to examine the funding formula that ties itself to students. We need to look at new models. One of the things we need to think about are the fixed costs of our public schools and the variable costs.
- Charter schools are technically public, but are very advantaged in a way he finds troubling. They’ve been popular in places where people are left looking for safety; in urban centers they are a viable alternative where children could be safe because they get to select who gets to attend. Public education really has to serve the needs of the whole and they were supposed to take the students as they arrived and deal with them as they arrived and we’ve lost that. We need to restore that.
- Ever since 2008 in the name of property tax reform the operation of K-12 schools would be directly funded by the state. Once they did that that should have been in greater concert with local school boards. If the state has decided they’re going to fund education at the same level it always did or better and be responsible for it, the state legislature can’t say it’s a local problem.
- Look at the fixed cost of the schools. Let those costs be met and include teacher base salaries. Then tie variable costs of schools to student enrollment. That would immediately get at the funding problems experienced during the pandemic where everything is tied to your average daily attendance. It would take away some of the undue advantages that the charter schools seemed to have gotten that maybe they shouldn’t have had.
- He is not saying education shouldn’t be experimental. We could look at other approaches, such as boarding students in an all academic environment for weeks at a time with weekends off.
- Look at education as a public entity or a public good instead of a market good which says I should only pay for something if I’m getting a benefit from it. Public education is a virtue in our society that we need to restore.
Teacher pay and retention
- We are not doing it well now.
- We need to make a sustainable model that allows us to reward longevity.
- Make policies or strongly encourage schools to decide how much cash they are going to have on hand and how much of that’s going to be fixed as a reserve policy.
- There needs to be a third party estimate at what the likely revenue is to meet teacher needs.
- More importantly the state needs to be more involved in this issue.
- If we’re committed to teachers staying in the profession, we need retention bonuses and to make salaries higher.
- We need recruitment bonuses to attract teachers.
- Teaching is a combination of profession and craft. It’s a profession that requires academic and child development training and classroom management skills.
- He has lots of ideas, but most immediately he intends to hold regular meetings with teacher, parent, and leadership groups. He wants to form a small task force to advise him and other legislators on the problems in education and on issues of salaries and ways to retain and attract teachers. There are private sector analogies that might be used.
- When we say we don’t have the money for teachers, what is really meant is that we don’t have the will to find the money or we’ve chosen other things instead of that.
- We can use existing law to allocate funds for metal detectors. Public entities receive public safety money that could be used for that. There could be an agreement to jointly share in the cost of that or to fund over time. That could be done now.
- The infrastructure money the state is getting may also be a funding source for metal detectors because part of that money may be allocated to school safety.
- He is committed to spending some of the money on school safety.
- He will also include public safety people on his task forces to advise about school issues.
- He will make school safety a priority and that will include metal detectors, staffing with more officers, whatever is needed.
- He expects that at least in the senate, both sides of the aisle will be amenable to working on school safety.
Cutting corporate and business taxes
- These tax cuts come at the expense of ordinary taxpayers.
- Indiana has been cutting business taxes for 30 years.
- There is a strong strain of ideological belief that lower taxes for businesses encourages them to relocate to Indiana.
- We need to look at this policy and at other states that thrive economically and attract businesses despite higher taxes than Indiana.
- We need to look at why revenues in the state exceed our expectations so much. We need more data.
- Eli Lily’s decision to invest outside of the state is an early warning signal.
- There is no panacea, not one policy we could pass that would solve violent crime.
- Violent crime is an output from a series of situations.
- High educational attainment, jobs that can be a career with opportunity for financial growth would help. Knowing there’s reasonable chance of moving from an underserved community to a non underserved community would help.
- Our citizenship requirements in school are remarkably good. We could do a better job of reinforcing that and enhancing that to make it in some way a part of all curricula Pre-K-12. It would help because students would learn the importance of being honest with other people and believe in the dignity of work.
- He is open to people more knowledgeable about this issue sharing ideas that can be worked into policy.
Poor health outcomes in Indiana
- We need to de-politicize the public health mission.
- We need to reinforce its mission with more vigorous public education. For example, we haven’t done a very good job in recent years of reminding people of the harms of smoking.
- We have a good public health department and a great public health commissioner. We need to give them more resources so better public health education can happen.
- Schools would be a good place to focus education because it is the one place where we still see a lot of the people we serve.
- We can also improve health outcomes by making more health services available. We need to make preventative health care and preventative health steps more available.
- He is a person of faith. In fact, it is his faith that led him to the democratic party.
- No one in the democratic party would say they are pro-abortion.
- He thinks this issue is so deeply rooted in the personal faith of people that is is really not something that is appropriate for state or federal governments to legislate. It should not be something we should bar.
- We can be very life affirming even if the right is still in place because it is a health matter and it is a very deeply personal matter.
- He also believes in epistemology—that there’s two ways of knowing something. Those things he knows by faith he can only know by faith. Those things he knows by reason he can only know by reason.
- Governments should be basically committed to an epistemology of empiricism. A lot of what informs this increasing cry he understands in terms of the faith view of abortion but not the secular view of local, state, or federal governments.
- If we respect the separation of church and state and we respect how deeply this is a difficult issue, its better for us not to legislate in this area.
- Current law is that it is lawful to have an abortion. Indiana’s law provides that at 20 weeks abortion is illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother as determined by her doctor.
- If Roe is overturned, he does not favor calling a special session to deal with this. But if a special session is called he’ll hear arguments and he will vote as he shared with us.
- If abortion is outlawed, he doesn’t think the criminal justice system is the best way to end it.
- If we really believe there’s a moral or a life right we want to protect, he’s not convinced we talk enough about the mother. Woman who are pregnant now have a 50% higher risk of maternal complications than their mothers did. That rate is higher among people of color and in underserved populations.
- We should not have the right to an abortion abated. But that doesn’t mean we can’t argue for people to have health care to make our society and lives so rich and good that abortion is not a meaningful choice for people.
- Eliminating abortion will not really end it. It will make it more dangerous for the people who can’t afford to go to places where it’s still lawful.
Protecting voting rights
- Voting rights are fundamental. They are essential in our form of government, where we believe that the people are the sovereign.
- Like redistricting and gerrymandering, it is essential that we forfend efforts that make voting more difficult for any qualified voter to vote.
- He would be open to efforts to review current election registration law, and explore efforts to modernize it, including same-day registration, which he believes current technology could support while preserving free and fair elections. Registration has been in its history the answer to the problem of dual or duplicate voting.
- We can have free and fair elections, that preserve the desired protections while minimizing barriers to voters who wish to vote.
- He will support all efforts to retain the right of boards of election to authorize early voting.
- Acknowledging that he am serving in a chamber and general assembly that has strangle-hold Republican majorities, he will exert every effort to protect and extend voting rights.
Environmental issues, including carbon and coal ash
He favors lowering our carbon footprint, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and moving to transition to renewable energy sources. he believe these transitions can be sustainable. He acknowledges climate change and the science that shows we need to take steps to ameliorate it.
- He holds that there is nothing more important than the quality care of children and relieving their parents of some of the financially disabling costs of paying for it.
- It costs $1,051 per month — on average — for childcare for an infant. That is far too much for many parents to pay.
- At the same time, the waiting list for assistance through the Child Care and Development Fund — a federal program that helps low-income families get child care so they may work, attend training or continue their education is too long.
- We must make expanding the federal program a priority if we are to change the status quo.
- A good sign he thinks for this issue beginning to get the needed attention in the general assembly is that he was invited to participate in a letter being circulated for just that expansion.
- Housing insecurity is a plague for parents and their children.
- Wages increasing too slowly compared to housing costs and inflation is the underlying cause.
- The fix will be complex and will require the input of every state agency that helps provide assistance for families in need.
- To effectively tackle the issues of income and wealth disparity while solving housing insecurity will take the energies of all of us and a determination to stay at the table until a just resolution is found and enabled.
We are deeply gerrymandered in this state. What can we do about that?
- Voters are called to pick their elected representatives. It is not for the party in power to pick their voters. That’s basically what the system in place provides.
- A Citizen’s Redistricting Commission would be a great first step. Made up of an equal number of democrats, republicans and individuals who are neither republican nor democrat, these citizens would be called upon at regular intervals to create voting districts that align with communities, not candidates. Groups, such as Common Cause, AARP, the Indiana Center for Politics and the Indiana League of Women Voters have been working to make changes for more than a decade. We need to build consensus and advance their work through a legislative mandate.
Describe the atmosphere in the general assembly. Do you think it is possible to work with other lawmakers outside of your caucus? Are there issues where Democrats can work together with Republicans?
- The Indiana Senate does not possess the acrimony the U.S. Senate holds. That’s not to say we don’t disagree.
- Since becoming Senator for District 1 Feb. 7, 2022, I have been working across the aisle on a variety of issues, including legislation in Porter County that will allow Aberdeen to become part of Valparaiso, a measure introduced by Rep. Soliday, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Charbonneau, and signed on by Sen. Pol and me.
- In the Senate it is my sense that it still has a deep pocket of comity and respect between — and among — all members. It was my experience that there is a regard for fellow senators still abiding there.
- And like all legislating, the effectiveness of a legislator is the relationships that are evinced by the members’ personal integrity, trust, industry and thoughtfulness.