Former Second District Democratic Congressional candidate Andrew Straw is filing a complaint against the Indiana Democratic Party over alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act on behalf physically and mentally challenged Hoosiers.
Straw alleges that Democratic facilities in South Bend were not handicapped accessible as required by law.
A copy of the letter is reprinted below.
Dear Department of Justice ADA Complaints Manager,
My name is Andrew Straw, and I am an Indiana attorney who ran for Congress in 2011-2012. I ran first as a Democrat, and switched parties over violations of my and others’ disability rights.
As a Green Party candidate for Congress (1/3/2012 switch), I challenged my new party to address access issues at its convention, and this was very positively received, with over 100 people from 16 states joining a group for this purpose to advise the party nationally.
My Title III complaint is about two very specific actions of the Indiana Democratic Party.
1. First, the Party’s headquarters was, when I began my campaign, completely inaccessible to those with mobility impairments and needing a wheelchair. Please see this video.
At the time, I was suffering from extreme arthritis and mobility impairments from a severe car accident in 2001. My hip was shattered and fractured. I did not feel safe entering that building, and the Democratic county and district chair simply has refused to fix it since the early 1990s.
At the end of December, 2011, the Democratic leadership in South Bend put together a cheap ramp solution that creates a hazard for those using it. See photo, attached. It is made of plastic, has no railings, and twists on the uneven pavement. Other Democratic leaders offered a real ramp years before, but this was rejected. See photo of metal ramp with Rev. Greg Brown, attached.
In short, the Democrats discriminated against me as a person with a mobility impairment and every other person with a mobility impairment in the 2nd congressional district because that is where the district chair’s office was.
My campaign as a Democrat officially began on 5/5/2011. This problem existed every day I was a candidate, and notice was provided them of the problem years before I even came along. I switched to the Green Party 243 days after I announced for Congress as a Democrat.
I ran against the district chair on this basis on 5/22/2011. Therefore, there is no question they had notice from me for 226 days.
My damages claim is for:
1 day @ $55,000 = $55,000
225 days @ $110,000 = $24,750,000
TOTAL suggested damages: $24,805,000
The Democrats invite the public to this place to register them to vote, meet candidates, hold meetings for the public, and provide other materials from candidates such as political leaflets, brochures, and merchandise, which they sell.
I was prevented not only from meeting voters inside, but also meeting other candidates at meetings there on the basis of my disability. Meetings frequently happened there on weekends and holidays as well.
The responsible party originally was Mr. Owen Morgan, county and district chair. After he resigned in 2011, the responsible parties became Senator Broden, St. Joseph County chair, and Mr. Mike Schmuhl, the 2nd district chair.
I ask for the above damages and immediate accessibility of the entire Democratic office on Jefferson Street in South Bend, Indiana.
2. The Indiana Democratic Party’s rules include a provision excluding people with a mental disability or impairment from participating in its meetings. Rules also attached as a PDF, downloaded 9/11/2012.
Please note Rule 10(a), Party Access.
All public Party meetings shall be open to Party members, regardless of their race,sex, age, color, creed, national origin, religion, ethnic identity, economic status,sexual orientation, gender identity, physical condition, or philosophical persuasion. (As amended August 27, 2005)
The Democratic Rule 10(a) provides open meetings to those with a “physical condition,” but not those with a mental condition or disability. The rule of construction expressio unius est exclusio alterius dictates that this means those with mental disabilities are not guaranteed Party Access.
Similarly, in Rule 10(c), those taking a Democratic oath may be forced to take an oath that discriminates against those with mental disabilities.
Finally, in Rule 10(d), the party may under its own rules discriminate against those with mental disabilities in “registration.” Presumably this means voter registration.
It is clear the Party understands the meaning of the words physical condition and disability, because in Rule 15(i)(17), it uses the word “disability” to protect Indiana Democratic Party employees.
I have a mental disability, and it is bipolar disorder. The existence of my disorder was clear to the party due to media exposure prior to my campaign. I sought to run as Elkhart County circuit court judge in 2010, but the Democratic Party in Elkhart County refused to slate me on the basis of my bipolar disorder.
I was completely uninformed until media coverage after the fact that the 2nd district committee was holding an endorsement meeting for the congressional race. I assert that I was excluded on the basis of my mental disability, bipolar disorder, just as I was discriminated against the year before in the judge slating.
The Indiana Democratic Party followed suit one week later, never having interviewed me formally as a candidate, and endorsed my opponent, Brendan Mullen, in the primary shortly after the district did. The district chair, Owen Morgan, was instrumental in this, since he sat on the State Committee.
I claim $55,000 for the first meeting, and $110,000 for the second meeting.
As a matter of general application of these rules, I claim that all people with a mental disability have been excluded from meetings in Indiana.
NAMI says that 227,000 Hoosiers have a serious mental illness.
On their behalf as a class, I claim each was excluded from the 2nd district endorsement meeting, just like I was.
227,000 x $55,000 = $12.48 billion
I ask that this money be used exclusively to improve democratic access to the mentally disabled in the state of Indiana, and that it be distributed to organizations allowed to do public advocacy for them on democratic access.
One person kept the Democratic Headquarters handicap-inaccessible for nearly 20 years: Mr. Owen Morgan.
But the rest of the Party understood what he was doing, and he helped make the discriminatory Rule 10 rules on the State Committee. The state chair allowed this to continue even after I informed him about the problem, and his response was to remove my voter file (VAN) access.
Morgan is currently under indictment for leading a forgery ring to get petition signatures in the 2008 presidential election.
I claim $165,000 for the Rule 10 official exclusions of myself, and $24,805,000 for the exclusions from headquarters for 226 days when I was mobility-impaired.
I claim on behalf of the other 227,000 mentally disabled Hoosiers for their being excluded from meetings:
TOTAL: $12.48 billion
The Indiana Democratic Party is thumbing its nose at both the physically and mentally disabled, and I ask you to enforce the law and bring this state into the 21st Century—and into compliance with the ADA.
Andrew U. D. Straw
Attorney at Law
Candidate, Indiana Secretary of State, 2014