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Longtime attorney, public servant’s book asserts perks prevail

September 23, 2015
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IL Photo/Eric Learned

Indianapolis attorney Donald P. Bogard started writing a critique of some of America’s most intractable problems in 2006. His book is out, but the problems haven’t changed.

“There are just so many problems the politicians don’t seem to care about solving,” Bogard told Indiana Lawyer. “They just want to stay in office.”

This could in part explain why non-establishment candidates — Republicans Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders — have momentum in polls heading into the 2016 presidential primaries, Bogard believes. Many political commentators have agreed in recent weeks with this assessment.

Bogard’s book, “Power Versus Country: Are the Political Elite Willing to Solve Our Nation’s Problems?” argues America’s governing class, particularly Congress, is more concerned about preserving privilege and perks than dealing with issues ranging from illegal immigration to preserving Social Security.

“There does not seem to be any genuine desire, collectively, to advance the cause of the United States,” Bogard writes. But, he asserts Democrats and Republicans can agree on one thing: “Power! That is the key. Those that have it want to retain it, and those that do not have it want to achieve it.”

Long active in Republican Party politics, Bogard said he wrote the book to spur interest in elevating results-oriented grassroots candidates over those who would perpetuate the prevailing partisan gridlock.

In “Power Versus Country,” Bogard focuses on four problems he believes could be resolved with sufficient political will to find common ground: perks members of Congress grant themselves, pork-barrel spending, illegal immigration and the long-term solvency of Social Security.

He acknowledges these aren’t the nation’s most pressing concerns, and that his ideas for solving them won’t appeal to everyone. But Bogard, who also for years taught political science and history at Franklin College and the University of Indianapolis, said the issues he focused on present starting points. He writes, “If members of Congress would work together to solve those four problems, that might lead them to cooperate to resolve the really difficult problems that face our country.”

The difficulty at least in addressing perks and pork is that members would be voting against the largesse they’re capable of bestowing on themselves, their staffs and constituents, Bogard writes. His book details numerous examples of little-known congressional perks such as staff bonuses, taxpayer repayment of congressional staffers’ student loans, and travel reimbursement for members of Congress far more generous than those available to traveling businesspeople.

A recurring theme in the book is lawmakers finding excuses for inaction. This is particularly true of addressing illegal immigration. “Congress and the president are afraid of offending a large block of current and potential voters because if they do, they and/or their parties might be targeted for defeat at the next election. The result of that, or course, would be that they would lose power.”

Bogard spent years researching and revising the book. Taking a somewhat lawyerly approach, he heavily sourced his arguments. He said he’s concerned that political polarization has so paralyzed decision makers that the environment has become a threat to the nation’s well-being.

“I wanted this to be more than just an opinion of some guy in Indianapolis,” he said. “I wanted to give (readers) something to think about.” Bogard said some of his friends have told him he was tougher in the book on Republicans than Democrats, but he said there are ample illustrations of transgressions on both sides of the aisle.

In his own political evolution, Bogard recalled being a Kennedy Democrat as a freshman at Ball State University in 1960, and four years later a Goldwater Republican. Looking ahead, he said it’s too early to say who might be a viable Republican presidential candidate, though he likes what he’s heard from Fiorina.

The current frontrunner Donald Trump? Not so much.

“I don’t see Donald as being able to sit across the table and negotiate meaningfully with the leaders of the world,” Bogard said. “It seems to me he flies off the handle without thinking.”

Bogard is a longtime corporate attorney who also served in the Office of the Indiana Attorney General before an appointment as president of the federal Legal Services Corporation during the Reagan Administration. He spent 2 ½ years in that position.

Serving in Washington “changes your mind about politics a lot,” Bogard said. “I got to Washington and the first day I got into my new office, there was a subpoena commanding me to testify in front of Congress the next day.”

Members of the Democratic-controlled body at the time believed the Reagan administration was intent on dismantling the agency — a belief Bogard admits wasn’t totally unfounded. Nevertheless, he said, “No one ever asked me what I wanted to do.”

Bogard said his mission was to run a good, efficient agency that spent money wisely and did as much as it could with available resources. He’s proud of his tenure.

“Each year we took care of more people than had ever been taken care of before, saved money, and we did it well, I think,” Bogard said.

Growing up with little in his hometown of Winchester, Bogard recalled his mother told him he always wanted to be a lawyer. He believes he was drawn to the profession because he noticed that the people he saw who seemed to be doing well were attorneys.

In the Indiana AG’s office, Bogard wrote numerous amicus briefs for matters that went to the Supreme Court of the United States in the 1970s. He later served as counsel to firms including Stokley-Van Camp and PSI Energy, a predecessor company that’s now part of Duke Energy. He still handles a few legal matters, contract work mainly.

Bogard wrote “Power Versus Country” out of a desire to inspire people who may lack political experience but have a desire to solve problems. “There really aren’t many people willing to do that. It’s my way or the highway, and it’s really ruining us as a country, I think,” Bogard said.•

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