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Opening Arguments

Sagamore schmagamore

I neglected to post about this when it first broke, but they were talking about it on the "Indiana Week in Review" show I watch on PBS every Sunday, so this gives me another chance:

Many more residents are set to receive "Sagamore of the Wabash" designations under new Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

The Pence administration will allow each of the state's 150 lawmakers to nominate two residents each year for the recognition, which honors distinguished service. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported Wednesday that Pence's chief of staff circulated the new rules among state lawmakers.

The new rules could mark a large jump from former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who awarded 245 "Sagamores" during his eight-year tenure.

Pence would have to work to match the numbers reached by previous governors, however. Former Gov. Robert Orr conferred the honor more than 4,200 times in eight years and former Govs. Evan Bayh and Frank O'Bannon each topped 3,000.

Back when members of City Council were allowed to divide up and parcel out economic development money, I called it an Incumbent Protection Fund. Council members able to dole out money for fix-up projects in their neighborhoods would get a certain number of votes because of it. I think I'd classify this Sagamore inflation the same way -- the more awards handed out, the more the number of grateful constituents. (Although there is a danger, too, noted Democrat Ann Delaney on the IWR panel, quoting Abraham Lincoln's warning that patronage tends to create 10 enemies and one ingrate.)

You can use the same argument to support this plan that council members used to justify their distribution efforts. Just as council members are in a better position to know their districts and where the funding would do the most good, legislators are the most likely to know who deserves the award in their districts.

But the main argument against it is also the same one against the councilmen: dilution. Money dribbled out on alley repaving and streelight replacement is money that could have been used in the aggregate on a big (and potentially effective) economic development project. An award given to 300 people a year is not quite as valuable as one given out to a handful. It's the old "if everybody's special no one is" effect of the self-esteem movement.