I love you Abdul, but....

Dateline: Sun 31 Dec 2006

So what do people in rural Indiana care about? Giant water parks, free health care, public schools?? (Apologies to Talladega Nights).

OK, how about --- the governor????

Not quite. The Greencastle Banner Graphic newspaper, the voice of Putnam County in western Indiana, always includes a year-end supplement, a (nearly) day-by-day summary of the stories that captured our imaginations, or at made Page 1.

This rear-end review illustrates some truths about life in the cornstalks. Contrary to what some folks in Indy believe, the good people of Putnam -- and I suspect the rest of rural Indiana -- are not nursing a wet hen over the governor's role as a change agent. Nor are we all torn up about Daylight Savings Time, crying in our trans-fat filled McDonald's milkshakes about those extra hours of sunshine.

We are not rioting because of the threat of new highway construction. The controversial toll road lease to foreigners is not even a blip on the Putnam County radar, which happens to be devoted to keeping the meth dealers at bay.

And we decidedly do not have our longjohns in a twist over the lack of five-story buildings on our humble town square. So take that, my friend Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, Mr. Media Smart Pants in Indy. Abdul is the author of a column for the current NUVO: "The Governor and the 'Small Town Theory," which deserves a response.

Abdul's premise is that people in small towns and the hinterlands hate change -- that explains, says Abdul, why Mitch's disapproval ratings are at 59 percent in central Indiana, outside of Indy, and almost as low in northern Indiana (51) and southern (46 percent). Therefore, suggests Abdul, the hicks in the sticks are not on board with the guv's innovations, and My Man Mitch has morphed into NOT My Man Mitch out younder. Thus those of us corn-fed and lovin' it are advised by Abdul, an attorney, to "move someplace with a building taller than five stories so they can get the lay of the land."

OK, fine, Mr. Big City Smart Guy. But until we all roar over to Hendricks County for that big change of scenery, here are some of the stories that rocketed Putnam County in 2006 -- THIS is what's on our pea-brains:

Crime. That's what concerns people everywhere -- it's your neighbor getting his door bashed in, or his brains. Crime is local; it's the chat at the barber shop as well as the spa. In the Putnam County Banner Graphic's roundup, 27 stories out of 236 listed relate to crime, but it's not the kind of gruesome homicide that is crushing Indy. Our Page 1 crime stories typically involve meth busts, drug trafficking at the Putnamville Correctional Facility, arson, child abuse, vandalism and theft, occasionally by persons in a position of trust which makes for Page 1 status. Nobody was murdered, but there were several incidents of vehicular homicide.

Other hot topics: "Bloated gas prices" got two mentions, mainly because gas, at one point, was cheaper in Plainfield, Brazil and Crawfordsville than Greencastle.

Several stories related to the possibility of new businesses being developed here. The county, like the state, is job-hungry. Still, according to Indiana Workforce Development and federal statistics, Putnam is faring better now than a year ago: our jobless rate was 4.6 percent in October of 2006, contrasted with 6 percent in October of 2005. Overall, Indiana's jobless rate has also improved -- from 4.9 percent in 10/2005 down to 4.6 percent in 10/2006. But still, Indiana is in a heap of trouble -- the national unemployment rate was 4.1 percent in October of 2006.

What else rocks our world? Tourism (more than 2,000 calls came in about the area's Covered Bridge Festival), a successful livestock auction at the Putnam County Fair, and schools and student success (including a 4th grader in Bainbridge who got a perfect math score on ISTEP). Basically the news we like is local local local -- Lottery winners, charity drives, courts, smoke-free initiatives and preparations for epidemics that never hit (bird flu and Nile Virus).'

Finally there was the Page 1 story about a 7-year-old Rottweiler suspected of suffering from Rocky Mountain Fever. Blood samples were sent to a lab and came back positive. Two months later, the B-G reported, "Meanwhile, secondary blood tests from a dog who doctors initially believed had contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted fever in a Putnam County Woods....have come back negative."

That's about as negative as it gets out here.

As for Gov. Mitch Daniels, this is not an election year. Let the guy do his job. As long as the dog doesn't die and the jobs trickle in, we've got progress.

comments: ruth@ruthholladay.com

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