Down for the CountHeres

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Down for the Count?

Here’s a story that deserves a bit more attention but hasn’t, to the best of my knowledge, gotten much play outside Indiana.

Republicans have gone to great lengths to protect Rep. Chris “The Count” Chocola (R) of Indiana from any fall out over his support for partially phasing out Social Security.

Actually, they’ve put almost as much effort into running cover for Chocola over his history of flip-flopping on the issue since in 2000 he said he was for complete phase-out, followed by a 2002 stance against phase-out, and a current stance in favor of partial phase-out.

But I digress.

Social Security has become a hot issue in Chocola’s district — occasioning even a visit from President Bush a couple months ago. And back on Monday, Rev. Lisa Doege of South Bend’s First Unitarian Church was planning to hold a program on the topic of Social Security at the church, which included Notre Dame Professor Teresa Ghilarducci, a pension policy expert who President Clinton appointed to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s advisory board and Indiana Governor O’Bannon appointed to serve on the Board of Trustees of the State of Indiana Public Employees Pension Board.

But Monday afternoon Doege got a call from State Representative Luke Messer, the executive director of the Indiana Republican party, who warned her that her church’s program on Social Security might cost the church its tax-exempt status.

According to this AP article, Messer based his claim on his understanding “that Ghilarducci was active in Democratic politics and contributed to the campaign of Joe Donnelly, who ran against Republican Rep. Chris Chocola in last year’s election.” The information had come from Chris Faulkner, Chairman of the St. Joseph County GOP.

Messer, as expected, says no threat was intended. The call was purely informational. And apparently he wanted a pro-privatization speaker included in the program.

But I think the nature of the interchange — a state party chairman warning a minister that her church might lose its tax-exempt status if she didn’t include his phase-out-enthusiast in a program her Church was holding on Social Security — speaks for itself.

Also, to the best of my knowledge, Rep. Chocola has made no public comment about whether he believes Messer’s actions were appropriate.

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