Tag Archives: Indiana

Federal court weighs key decision on LGBT-workplace bias

A rare full-court session of a U.S. appeals court in Chicago heard arguments this week on whether protections under a 1964 Civil Rights Act should be expanded to cover workplace discrimination against LGBT employees, as hopes dim among some gay rights activists that the question will be resolved in their favor following Republican election victories.

Several of the 11 judges at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals signaled they are ready to enter what would be a historic ruling broadening the scope the 52-year-old landmark law, with the court directing the toughest questions during the hourlong hearing at a lawyer who argued only Congress could extend the protections.

Judge Richard Posner repeatedly interrupted the lawyer representing an Indiana community college that was sued by a lesbian for alleged discrimination and at one point asked: “Who will be hurt if gays and lesbians have a little more job protection?” When attorney John Maley said he couldn’t think of anyone who would be harmed, Posner shot back, “So, what’s the big deal?”

Even if the 7th Circuit becomes the first U.S. appellate court to rule that the law covers sexual-orientation bias, legal experts say the issue is likely to land before the Supreme Court. Chances of a majority of justices agreeing that workplace protections should include LGBT workers will be slimmer if President-elect Donald Trump fills a high court vacancy with a social conservative.

A GOP-majority House and Senate also makes it unlikely the next Congress will amend the statute, said Chicago-based labor lawyer Barry Hartstein.

“You can’t count on Congress or the courts,” said Hartstein, who wants the act to cover LGBT workers.

President Barack Obama’s administration has taken the position that the law already prohibits discrimination of LGBT workers. It has criticized courts for a reluctance to reach the same conclusion.

The 7th Circuit decided in October to rehear the case of teacher Kimberly Hively, who claimed Ivy Tech Community College didn’t hire her full time because she is a lesbian. The full court vacated the July finding by three of its own judges that the civil rights law doesn’t cover sexual-orientation bias. A new ruling is expected within several weeks.

The hearing focused on the meaning of the word ‘sex’ in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the provision that bans workplace bias based on race, religion, national origin or sex. Multiple court rulings back Maley’s contention that Congress meant for the word to refer only to whether a worker was male or female. Given that, he said it would be wrong to stretch the meaning of ‘sex’ in the statute to also include sexual orientation.

The school’s lawyer conceded the law is imprecise, but added: “That makes it an issue for Congress.”

Several judges challenged him for arguing it’s not a federal court’s place to mandate that a law do something lawmakers didn’t originally intend for it to do.

“You seem to think the meaning of the statute was frozen on the day it passed,” Posner said to Maley. “That, of course, is false.” And the judge added: “Are we bound by what people thought in 1964?”

He and other judges pointed to bans on interracial marriage as examples of laws that changed or were expanded by courts as societal norms changed.

In his presentation, the teacher’s lawyer pointed to what he described as the absurdity of one 1980s Supreme Court finding that if workers are discriminated against because they don’t behave around the office by norms of how men or women should behave, then that does violate the Civil Rights Law. But if a man or woman is discriminated against at work for being gay that was found not to violate the Civil Rights Act.

“You can’t discriminate against a woman because she rides a Harley, had Bears tickets or has tattoos,” attorney Gregory Nevins said. “But you can if she’s lesbian.”

 

Trump/Pence considering anti-LGBT extremists for transition team

Leaked documents indicate Donald Trump is considering for his transition team candidates with histories of anti-LGBTQ animus, including Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council, a hate group.

“Ken Blackwell is a man who has spent his entire career going after LGBTQ Americans. Blackwell’s leadership role in President-elect Trump’s transition team should be a major wake up call for anybody who ever had any doubt that LGBTQ people are at risk,” said JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs  at the Human Rights Campaign. HRC is the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group.

Winterhof continued, “Ed Meese and Kay Cole James, who are also reported to have key roles, have been vocal opponents of equality and other issues we care deeply about. The people President-elect Trump picks to serve in his administration will have a huge impact on the policies he pursues. We should all be alarmed at who he’s appointing to key posts on his transition team.”

Blackwell is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, which was named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He also serves on the board of directors of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

In addition to supporting measures to ban marriage equality, Blackwell believes being LGBTQ is a choice, saying, “The reality is, again…that I think we make choices all the time. And I think you make good choices and bad choices in terms of lifestyle. Our expectation is that one’s genetic makeup might make one more inclined to be an arsonist or might make one more inclined to be a kleptomaniac. Do I think that they can be changed? Yes.”

Meese, a former attorney general, is a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, an organization that asserts that laws protecting LGBTQ people are not “necessary” and “weaken the marriage culture and the freedom of citizens and their associations to affirm their religious or moral convictions…”

According to NBC, the conservative Heritage Foundation is helping vet candidates for Trump’s cabinet.

Meese supported Indiana’s religious refusal law enacted under Vice President-elect Mike Pence, saying it “has nothing to do with refusing to serve gay people.” Meese has also said that marriage equality “shows how the culture has deteriorated over two centuries.”

Kay Cole James, president and founder of the Gloucester Institute, is a former senior vice president of the Family Research Council and a former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

She worked in the administrations of George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.

The Advocate reported that in her book Transforming America from the Inside Out, James compared LGBTQ people to drug addicts, alcoholics, adulterers or “anything else sinful.”

Court rules against Pence plan to bar Indiana aid to Syrian refugees

A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court’s order blocking Indiana Gov. Mike Pence from barring state agencies from helping Syrian refugees resettle in the state.

A three-judge panel for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on Monday agreed with an injunction a federal judge issued in February.

The judge found Pence’s directive “clearly discriminates” against refugees from the war-torn nation.

The appeals court says federal law doesn’t allow a governor “to deport to other states immigrants he deems dangerous.”

Donald Trump’s running-mate, Pence, was among dozens of governors from mostly Republican states who tried to block Syrian refugees after the Paris terror attacks last November.

Indianapolis-based Exodus Refugee Immigration, which helps Syrian refugees with medical and social services and job training, challenged Pence’s order.

The group’s statement, published on its website, says, “Exodus resettles refugees from several different countries including Burma, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Somalia, Bhutan, China, Afghanistan and Syria. In 2016, Exodus expects to welcome approximately 900 refugees to Indianapolis.”

Trump ‘got as much as he could and then pulled out’ of blighted Gary, Ind.

Donald Trump swooped into Gary, Indiana, on his private jet and pledged to make the down-on-its-luck city great again.

It was 1993, and the New York mogul was wooing officials in the mostly black city to support his bid to dock a showboat casino along a Lake Michigan shoreline littered with shuttered factories. Trump and his representatives later told state gaming officials he would leverage his “incomparable experience” to build a floating Shangri-La, with enough slot machines and blackjack tables to fill city coffers and local charities with tens of millions each year, while creating scores of well-paid jobs for minority residents.

“We are looking to make this a real peach here, a real success,” Trump said of the project.

Today, as the Republican presidential nominee pursues black voters with vows to fix inner-city troubles, many Gary residents say his pitch to solve the problems of crime and poverty is disturbingly familiar. Like others who have done business with Trump, they say their experience offers a cautionary tale.

Little more than a decade after investing in Gary, Trump’s casino company declared bankruptcy and cashed out his stake in the boat, leaving behind lawsuits and hard feelings in a city where more than one-third of residents live in poverty. Trump’s lawyers later argued in court that his pledges to the city were never legally binding. Trump told The Associated Press that his venture was good for Gary.

Local civic leaders disagree.

“What you had was a slick business dealer coming in,” said Roy Pratt, a Democratic former Gary city councilman. “He got as much as he could and then he pulled up and left.”

Charitable foundation promised

A company town founded by U.S. Steel just 30 miles southeast of Chicago, Gary peaked in size in the 1960s at nearly 200,000 as black residents arrived from the South looking for jobs and an on-ramp to the American dream.

Gary’s fortunes fell with the steel industry. The remaining 77,000 residents abide persistent crime and chronic unemployment. Broadway, the once-thriving main thoroughfare, is now lined with vacant buildings, a boarded-up wig shop here, a once-regal theater there.

In 1993, when Gary was to get Indiana’s first licenses for riverboat casinos, there was Trump, presenting a plan for a casino he claimed would revitalize the city’s waterfront.

Due to concerns over his finances after two then-recent corporate bankruptcies, city officials initially did not recommend Trump for a license, but he didn’t give up. Trump went directly to the Indiana Gaming Commission with a beefed-up proposal.

In a September 1994 presentation, Trump’s team touted his “superior marketing and advertising abilities” to pitch a 340-foot long vessel called Trump Princess with more than 1,500 slot machines and enough nearby parking for 3,000 cars. Trump also said he would revamp an “eyesore” hotel near City Hall, according to a transcript.

Trump’s team projected an annual take of $210 million by the fifth year the casino was operating. Gary’s cut would be 1 percent of the gross gaming revenues along with other taxes, a projected haul of about $19 million annually.

To sweeten the pot, Trump’s representatives said they would try to ensure that at least two-thirds of the casino’s staff would be minority residents from the surrounding area, according to the transcript.

He offered to fund a new charitable foundation endowed with a 7.5 percent stake of the casino’s stock, estimated by Trump’s company to be worth $11.5 million. His official proposal also listed eight “local minority participants” in the project, a diverse group of men in medicine, business and law.

“When we put our name on something it’s more than just recognition,” Trump told the commission. “It’s very important to us so we’re looking for a long-term, very solid relationship.”

Trump reneged after license approval

Based on the strength of Trump’s revamped proposal, the state gaming commission overruled Gary officials, awarding Trump one of the two casino licenses. A May 1996 agreement signed by the Trump organization said the developer would “endeavor” to fill 70 percent of its 1,200 full-time jobs with minorities, and more than half of them women. Trump was to invest $153 million, including $10 million on local redevelopment projects that included renovation of the sagging downtown hotel.

The eight business partners in Trump’s license application had been offered a chance to buy shares worth more than $1 million, but most didn’t have the money.

So both sides negotiated a deal. For no cash up front, they would be given 7.5 percent of the stock for the riverboat and another 7.5 percent was to go into a trust benefiting local charities, according to a summary of the deal Trump’s lawyers sent to one of the men, Buddy Yosha.

The men were to pay in promissory notes and would be repaid later in cash or dividends from the casino.

A brief outline of the agreement was in the original casino application. And Trump’s Indiana-based attorneys confirmed the investors’ role in a February 1994 letter, saying they were confident they would get the license, show “genuine interest in being a good corporate citizen” and “provide substantial benefit” to local residents.

However, the men said Trump reneged once the license was approved. None got stock in the casino, and the money for charity was less than promised.

All eight sued Trump for breach of contract, alleging they were used to “Hoosierize” Trump’s application with gaming officials and then dumped once the license was approved.

“We felt cheated,” Yosha told the AP. “He said he’d do one thing and then he changed. It’s like what he’s doing with every position. He changes in the middle of the stream.”

As construction on a dock for two side-by-side riverboats proceeded in spring 1996, Trump’s company began hiring in advance of the casino’s grand opening in June. But his commitments to hire minorities and local businesses never came to fruition, according to local leaders.

“Trump reneged on both of those commitments,” said Richard Hatcher, a Democrat who was Gary’s first African-American mayor. “It simply did not happen.”

Hatcher helped bring a 1996 lawsuit, weeks ahead of the casinos’ opening, alleging Trump’s organization failed to meet promised hiring goals for minority and local residents and businesses, and had only hired 20 percent minorities. Though more than half of Trump’s casino staff was eventually made up of racial minorities, the lawsuit said blacks were overwhelmingly relegated to minimum wage jobs, such as valets and janitors. The better-paying positions on the casino floor, such as table dealers and pit bosses, were reserved for whites, according to the lawsuit.

Trump’s lawyers said the minority hiring goals were not legally binding. They succeeded in getting the lawsuit dismissed on procedural grounds.

The other lawsuit, filed in federal court by the eight jilted business partners, continued. Six of the men dropped out of the case after Trump’s company agreed to pay them a combined $2.2 million, but Yosha and another man, William Mays, refused to settle.

When the case went to trial in March 1999, Trump testified he didn’t know the men.

“I have never even seen them until this morning,” Trump told jurors. “I never had a contract (with them). I never even met any of these people. I was shocked by this whole case. I had no idea who these people were.”

Yosha acknowledged that he had not met Trump but said he had negotiated extensively with Trump’s lawyers.

The jury awarded Yosha and Mays $1.3 million. But Trump appealed, and in 2001 a federal appeals panel overturned the jury’s award, saying the agreement between Trump’s company and the two men had not been legally binding.

The judge also said Trump had met his charitable obligations through The Trump Foundation, a more modest effort than originally proposed, which was to give $5,000 college scholarships to 10 graduating high school seniors in Gary each year.

Profiting from bankruptcy

In 2004, Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts Inc., the parent company of the Gary casino, sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Trump sought to restructure $1.8 billion in debt, much of it tied to hotels and casinos in New Jersey and New York.

Don Barden, a prominent black businessman from Michigan who owned the casino boat moored next to Trump’s, bought out Trump’s stake in Gary the following year for $253 million. According to financial disclosures, the proceeds from the sale were used to shore up the financial condition of Trump’s other casino and resort properties.

Through his spokeswoman, Trump told the AP he stood by his record but declined repeated requests to discuss the details.

“It worked out very well and was very good for Gary, Indiana,” Trump said, according to his campaign.

Current Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, a Democrat, said there were some benefits to bringing gambling to the city. Gary still gets about $6 million a year in gambling revenues, but not the $19 million Trump originally predicted. Trump also brought his Miss USA Pageant to Gary twice, briefly providing some of the glitz and glamour he had promised.

What remains today is far from the world-class facilities Trump boasted he would create two decades ago.

A decade after Trump pulled out, the two original riverboats, now called The Majestic Star and Majestic Star II, are still docked in Gary’s industrial harbor, hemmed in by a gray vista of dirt piles and cold smokestacks visible from the dingy windows. The carpets are faded and interiors dated with mirrored ceilings and walls. On a recent workday, a sparse jeans-and-sweat-pants crowd lined up for the serve-yourself soda and coffee between games.

The dilapidated hotel by City Hall was never renovated and was demolished in 2014. As for promises of high-paying jobs, a study for the state gaming commission found the median annual salary of a Trump casino employee in 2004 was $25,000, worth about $31,800 today when adjusted for inflation. That amount is slightly higher than the city’s median household income.

“When a community brings in gaming to spur economic development, I think one of the things we look for are long-term partners,” Freeman-Wilson said. “That was not what we found in Donald Trump.”

Trump won the county that includes Gary in May’s Republican primary, but the area is expected to continue to be a Democratic stronghold in November. A GOP presidential candidate has not carried the county since Richard Nixon.

Headed into November, Trump hopes to win over black voters.

“What do you have to lose?” Trump asked at a recent rally in Florida. “It cannot get any worse. And, believe me, I’m going to fix it. I’m going to make it so good.”

Asked about Trump’s pitch, former Indiana gaming commissioner David Ross, who was on the board that awarded Trump the casino license, said it would be a bad bet.

“What you have to know is that Trump is for Trump and he’s not for any black voters or anybody,” said Ross, a physician in Gary and a Democrat. “He’s not a guy who’s looking to help people. What he’s looking for is to make some money for Trump.”

— By Sophia Tareen and Michael Biesecker, AP writers

 

Trump taps anti-gay Indiana governor as running-mate

Donald Trump told Republican officials he picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate, a Republican source said.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee is to announce his choice on Friday at 11 a.m. in Manhattan.

Trump told national Republican officials that he had settled on Pence, according to the Republican source, who is familiar with the campaign’s operations. Sources had told Reuters earlier that Trump had been leaning toward Pence but cautioned that he could still change his mind.

Trump is to be formally nominated as the party’s candidate for the Nov. 8 election at the Republican National Convention next week in Cleveland. Traditionally, the vice presidential choice is used to build enthusiasm among party loyalists.

Trump’s choice of running mate is seen as critical because his defeat of 16 rivals in the Republican primary race left the party divided and some party leaders are still uneasy about some of his campaign positions, and his style.

Roll Call, which first reported the news, said Trump was reportedly impressed with Pence’s calm demeanor, his experience on Capitol Hill and as a governor, and Pence’s potential to assist in governing if Trump wins in November. Trump, a New York businessman, has never held elected office.

Trump had also considered former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 73, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, 53, as finalists.

Gingrich told an ABC News correspondent he would not be surprised if Trump chose Pence.

Pence, 57, a former congressman, is seen as a safe choice, not too flash and popular among conservatives. He made a national reputation for himself with his aggressive defense of legislation allowing business owners to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against gay people. His position sparked a national boycott of his state.

Pence also has strong ties to billionaire donors Charles and David Koch, including current and former staff members who have worked for them.

Pence is to the right of Trump on other issues, signing restrictive abortion legislation and pushing to defund the Planned Parenthood women’s health care organization. Trump has said he opposes abortion, but his views have been inconsistent, and he has said Planned Parenthood provides some valuable services.

TESTING CHEMISTRY

Pence and Trump met on Wednesday at the governor’s residence in Indianapolis. They were joined by members of Trump’s family.

Pence had backed a Trump rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, in April before the Indiana primary, but he praised Trump and said he would work on behalf of the eventual Republican nominee. Trump won Indiana anyway, prompting Cruz to drop out of the race to be the party’s nominee.

Pence had considered running for president in 2016 before deciding to run for re-election as governor. Conservatives had urged him to seek the White House, but his anti-gay reputation hurt his national profile.

This year, he was the target of a mocking social media campaign by women outraged at a law he signed creating new restrictions on abortions. Feeling that the law invaded their privacy, women responded by calling Pence’s office to describe their menstrual periods or tweeting similar messages.

Pence ran unsuccessfully for Congress twice before he won election to the House of Representatives in 2000, where he was chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservatives.

FLURRY OF MEETINGS

In what has been an unusually public process of making his choice of running mate, Trump, 70, sat down with both Pence and Gingrich separately in Indianapolis on Wednesday.

He also met with a fourth potential No. 2, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, 69, of Alabama, who has been one of Trump’s closest advisers.

Trump had dinner with Pence on Tuesday night after they appeared together at a rally. Joined by daughter Ivanka and sons Donald Jr. and Eric Trump, Trump also had breakfast with Pence and his wife, Karen, on Wednesday at the governor’s residence in Indianapolis.

Trump adviser Ed Brookover told CNN that Trump “first and foremost” wants a running mate who he has good chemistry with and someone who can help him govern best.

***

About Pence … a latecomer to the Trump bandwagon

Shortly before Indiana’s Republican primary election in May, Mike Pence endorsed Trump’s rival, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Pence praised Trump at the time, but he compared Cruz to former Republican President Ronald Reagan and called him a “principled conservative.”

Trump won the state anyway and Cruz dropped out of the Republican race. Trump and Pence have since met to discuss the running mate position.

WELL-CONNECTED WITH DONORS

Pence has strong ties to billionaire donors Charles and David Koch, including current and former staff members who have worked for them.

After saying he was primarily self-funding his campaign during the Republican primaries, Trump has been holding fundraisers during the general election, with support from the Republican National Committee. The New York businessman comes to the money race at a considerable disadvantage, however, compared with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

A SOCIAL CONSERVATIVE

Pence sometimes describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”

Pence in 2015 signed a so-called religious freedom law that opened the door to anti-gay discrimination. When he was in Congress, he opposed repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring gay people from serving openly in the Armed Forces.

He also has pushed restrictive abortion regulations and has pushed for Congress to defund Planned Parenthood.

CRITIC OF WALL STREET BAILOUT

He was a vocal opponent of the 2008 Wall Street bailout.

In September 2008, Pence, then a U.S. House member, argued against the $700 billion package to stabilize the U.S. financial system, saying it would “nationalize almost every bad mortgage in America.”

Pence also said the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation passed in 2010 would hurt jobs. Trump has vowed to dismantle Dodd-Frank, though he has not said how he would replace it.

OPPOSITION TO SYRIAN REFUGEES

Pence opposed allowing Syrian refugees coming to the United States to settle in Indiana.

In November 2015, the governor directed state agencies to suspend the resettlement of Syrians there. A family that was supposed to arrive in December was instead sent to Connecticut. A federal judge later ruled the order “clearly discriminates” against refugees from a particular country.

However, Pence tweeted disapproval in 2015 for Trump’s idea to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Pence called it “offensive and unconstitutional.”

Wisconsin DOJ shrinks environmental protection unit

The Wisconsin Justice Department has shrunk staffing levels in its environmental protection unit to the lowest level in 25 years.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports the unit had six attorneys last year compared to 10 as recently as 2008.

A DOJ spokesman says he couldn’t explain the trend, although he mentioned that lawyers with the agency’s special litigation unit and solicitor general’s office work so closely with other attorneys that it’s hard to determine how much responsibility they’ve assumed for environmental protection.

Carl Sinderbrand, a lawyer who once worked in the environmental unit, says the staffing reduction may reflect the dwindling number of pollution cases the Department of Natural Resources has referred for legal action.

Last year fines against polluters dropped to their lowest point since at least 1994.

In other environmental news …

Companies will study risks to underwater pipeline

The state of Michigan has tapped two companies to analyze the financial risk of an oil pipeline rupture in the Straits of Mackinac and evaluate any alternatives to the pipeline.

Enbridge Energy, based in Calgary, Alberta, has agreed to pay $3.5 million but will not oversee the studies. Enbridge owns the twin oil pipelines in the area where lakes Huron and Michigan converge.

Det Norske Veritas will determine how much money would be needed to clean up an oil spill. Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems will study alternatives to Line 5. The announcement was made Tuesday.

Line 5 carries nearly 23 million gallons of light crude oil and liquefied natural gas daily. It runs across Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before entering the Straits of Mackinac. It ends in Sarnia, Ontario.

 

California governor looks to extend climate-change efforts

California Gov. Jerry Brown has launched a campaign to extend some of the most ambitious climate-change programs in the country and ensure his environmental legacy when he leaves office in two years.

The centerpiece of the push is a cap-and-trade program that aims to reduce the use of fossil fuels by forcing manufacturers and other companies to meet tougher emissions limits or pay up to exceed them.

The program has been one of the most-watched efforts in the world aimed at the climate-changing fuels.

The four-year-old program, however, is only authorized to operate until 2020 and faces a litany of challenges, including a lawsuit questioning its legality, poor sales of credits, and lukewarm support among Democratic legislators to extend it.

With Brown set to leave office in 2018, a state appeals court is considering a challenge from the California Chamber of Commerce contending the pollution-credit program is an illegal tax, not a fee.

Environmental groups say the lawsuit and overall uncertainty about the survival of the program are undermining the market for pollution credits. A May auction saw companies buy only one-tenth of the available credits, leaving the state billions of dollars short in projected revenue from the sales.

Meanwhile, groups representing oil interests confirmed last week that they are in direct talks with the Brown administration over cap-and-trade.

 

India state aims to plant a record 50 million trees in a day

Hundreds of thousands of people in India’s most populous state jostled for space as they attempted to plant 50 million trees over 24 hours in hopes of shattering the world record.

Officials in Uttar Pradesh distributed millions of saplings to be planted across the state to help India’s efforts to increase its forest cover, and to get into Guinness World Records for the most trees planted in a day. The current record is 847,275, set in Pakistan in 2013.

More than 800,000 people, including students, lawmakers, government officials, housewives and volunteers from nonprofit organizations, headed out Monday to plant the saplings at designated spots along country roads and highways, rail tracks and forest lands.

Uttar Pradesh’s top elected official, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, said that planting 50 million trees would spread awareness and enthusiasm about afforestation and environmental conservation.

“The world has realized that serious efforts are needed to reduce carbon emissions to mitigate the effects of global climate change. Uttar Pradesh has made a beginning in this regard,” Yadav told volunteers in the city of Kannauj, 250 kilometers (155 miles) southwest of the state capital, Lucknow.

India’s government is encouraging all 29 states to start tree-planting drives to increase the country’s forest cover as part of commitments made at last year’s climate change summit in Paris.

Democrats working to expand U.S. Senate map into red states

Following a recruiting success in Indiana, Democrats are eyeing Kansas as they try to expand their playing field into red states and take back the Senate.

GOP Sen. Jerry Moran is up for re-election in Kansas, Republican-friendly territory that’s on few lists of competitive races this year. Thus far his opponents are little-known, but Democrats are considering a Kansas businessman, Greg Orman, who ran for Senate two years ago as an independent, to see if he might make another try this year, according to one Democratic official with knowledge of the deliberations.

Orman challenged longtime GOP Sen. Pat Roberts in 2014 and ran a more competitive race than expected, although Roberts ultimately won. Orman could get on the ballot as an independent by filing petition signatures by Aug. 2.

Orman did not return phone and email messages seeking comment. The Democrat who discussed his potential candidacy did so on condition of anonymity ahead of an official decision.

The focus on Kansas follows developments in Indiana, where Democrats were applauding news that former Sen. Evan Bayh is looking to make a comeback.

Bayh’s candidacy would instantly create a competitive race in Indiana, where incumbent GOP Sen. Dan Coats is retiring and the Republican candidate to replace him, Rep. Todd Young, can’t match Bayh’s name ID or fundraising.

The developments in both states stand as the latest examples of Democratic attempts to mount competitive races on Republican-friendly terrain, as they try to capitalize on turmoil around Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

“It’s going to be good for the country, good for Indiana to have him back,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Monday of Bayh, adding that Trump “speaks for the Republicans” and creates opportunities for Democrats to compete around the country.

Top tier, 2nd tier, 3rd tier

In addition to top-tier races in politically divided or Democratic-friendly states including Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, Democrats have been promoting a second and third tier of Senate candidates in GOP-leaning states including Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina and Iowa. None is favored to win, but all give Republicans something they need to pay attention to in a year when Democrats are on offense nationwide.

Democrats need to net four or five seats to win back Senate control — four if they hang onto the White House and can send the vice president to break ties in the Senate; five if they don’t. With a handful of competitive races around the country, one seat can make all the difference.

In the game of chess that Democrats and Republicans play, even if Democrats’ favored candidates don’t end up winning in places like Indiana or Kansas, forcing Republicans to spend money in states they’d considered safe is its own victory.

“We’re seeing that more are tipping into play, maybe not winners, but in play,” said Michael Meehan, a longtime Democratic consultant, pointing to North Carolina, where GOP Sen. Richard Burr is defending his seat, and Arizona, where Sen. John McCain is up for re-election. Both are states where Hispanic voters angered by Trump’s rhetoric on immigration could create problems for GOP incumbents.

But Republican campaign officials disputed the notion the Democrats would be able to compete successfully in red states. They noted they scored their own coup last month, when they convinced Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a former presidential candidate, to abandon his retirement plans and announce he would seek re-election.

 

Armed man on way to gay Pride event was under gun ban

Indiana “blew it” by not enforcing a gun ban against a man who was armed when he was arrested in California while traveling to a gay Pride event, a state Democratic lawmaker said Tuesday while advocating for stricter gun controls.

James Wesley Howell, 20, was ordered in April to forfeit all firearms under the terms of his probation on a misdemeanor intimidation conviction, for allegedly pulling a gun and making threats against a neighbor in southern Indiana.

But it’s unclear whether Howell obtained the three assault rifles found on him in Los Angeles on June 12 after the judge’s order or whether he had them before it was issued, state Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis said during a news conference outside of the Statehouse.

“Every step of the way we blew it,” said DeLaney, who is up for re-election in November and said he’ll propose legislation for the GOP-dominated General Assembly to consider next session.

Howell, who is from Jeffersonville, Indiana, and faces weapons and ammunition charges, was arrested in Santa Monica, California, hours after the deadly attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. He also faces a child molestation charge in Indiana — allegations a local prosecutor said apparently spurred his cross-country journey to Los Angeles.

Clark County chief probation officer James Hayden has told The Associated Press that probation officials had rated Howell a low-level offender in the misdemeanor intimidation charge, and that a probation officer met with him in May, but had yet to schedule an in-home visit by the time Howell made it to California.

Police found in Howell’s car a loaded assault rifle with magazines rigged to allow 60 shots to be fired in quick succession and 15 pounds of chemicals mixed and ready to explode. He also had two other loaded rifles, ammunition, a stun gun, a buck knife and a security badge.

DeLaney said he wants to introduce bills that would ban large ammunition clips and “automatic military-type” weapons, as well as increase funding for county probation departments in light of recent changes in state sentencing laws that are directing more people to probation and community corrections programs rather than jail or prison.