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HPI Analysis: House Dem exodus puts Bauer in crosshairs
2/14/2012 9:51:00 AM
This article was originally published in the Feb. 13, 2012 edition of Howey Politics Indiana.
By BRIAN A. HOWEY
GREENCASTLE, Ind. - The magnitude of seismic Republican Statehouse gains that have Indiana Democrats careening from disaster to catastrophe came into clearer focus on Friday when 12 House Democrats with a combined tenure of 236 years did not file for reelection.
The looming retirements make the Republican super majority of 67 seats - needing a pickup of seven - a distinct probability. Add in the GOP retirements and the House will be losing 340 years of experience, an unprecedented departure of institutional tenure.
An HPI analysis of House races shows that of the 10 open seats due to redistricting, Republicans are in the driver’s seat in just about all of them. A 70-seat majority is not beyond the scope.
State Reps. Chet Dobis, Nancy Dembowski and Craig Fry did not file for reelection by the noon deadline Friday, joining Dale Grubb, Dan Stevenson, William Crawford, John Day, Jeb Bardon, Dave Cheatham, Scott Reske, Mary Ann Sullivan, and Dennis Tyler in the biggest House exodus in modern Hoosier history. Democrats controlled the redistricting in 1991 and 2001, and the exodus following those revamps did not approach this level.
In February 2002 after House Democrats drew the new maps, only three Republicans, then in a 53-47 minority, retired: Reps. Dean Mock, Brent Steele (who ran for the Senate), and Mike Herndon. They were joined by four Democrats – Reps. Gary Cook (who ran for mayor of Plymouth), Dick Bodiker, Mike Dvorak (who ran for St. Joseph County prosecutor) and Speaker John Gregg.
Three current Democrats are in or seeking other offices: Reske in the 5th CD, Sullivan for the state Senate in SD36, and Tyler is now the mayor of Muncie.
Retiring Republicans are Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Espich, and Reps. Dick Dodge, Rich McClain, Ralph Foley, Phil Hinkle, Tom Knollman, and David Yarde. They have 104 years of tenure. Yarde is challenging State Sen. Sue Glick in the GOP primary.
Bauer challenge inevitable
The looming disaster is already prompting some Democrats to think about dumping Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer. Lake County Democratic Chairman Thomas McDermott Jr., told HPI that with former Rep. Trent Van Haaften filing in HD76 - a lone bright spot for the caucus - to run in a race with State Rep. Wendy McNamara that he abandoned as part of the 2010 disastrous “Bayh Dominoes,” a leadership challenge to Bauer is inevitable.
“Rep. Trent Van Haaften, if he’s successful in his return to the General Assembly, has already made clear he’s challenging Bauer,” McDermott said. “One way or another (Bauer) gets challenged.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Mitch Daniels, speaking to Hamilton County Republicans in Carmel, said of Bauer, “We have been blessed by our opposition. My heart is full of gratitude, really.”
The big question is whether that challenge happens in the coming weeks, with Democrats fretting at Bauer directing the caucus campaigns after his gutter tactics helped create the 40-seat minority during the 2010 election cycle.
The biggest surprise Friday was with Dobis, who was elected to the House in 1970. He was drawn into a district with State Rep. Vernon Smith, then purchased a home in Schererville. But when the filing dust settled, Republican Lake County Councilman Rick Niemeyer of Lowell had filed and he emerges as a favorite for at least one GOP pickup. Democrats filing include Lon Childress, Al Cottingham and John T. Hart. Dobis did not comment on his decision. He had battled Bauer, calling him “paranoid” in recent years, and lost his leadership position when he and Bauer sparred over the Illiana Expressway bill. In 2011, House Speaker Brian Bosma appointed the Democrat to a committee chairmanship, an unprecedented move aimed at power sharing, but seen by Bauer as an invasion of his caucus power circle.
The Dobis bug out is indicative of the treacherous path Bauer has led House Democrats and the realities of the new GOP-drawn maps.
“We wanted a bigger name to fill that spot for us,” said McDermott, “but with the make-up of the district, it was hard to convince them it was a winnable seat. I’d say Rick Niemeyer is the favorite to win the 11th District.”
In addition to Dobis, Democrats could lose HD5 that Fry is leaving and Sullivan’s HD97, along with open seats in areas represented by Reske and possibly Cheatham in Southern Indiana where Indiana Democrats are seeing their base dramatically erode during the 2010 debacle.
Two consecutive years of bitter fighting over the Right to Work, education reform and abortion restriction legislation and a distinct minority of 40 seats left a number of House Democrats questioning the civility of the process. Grubb quit as caucus chair in January after divisions surfaced within the caucus over the walkout. Cheatham announced he wouldn’t seek another term, citing the contentious atmosphere in the House.
But there were other reasons for the Democratic diaspora.Tyler was elected mayor of Muncie. Fry ran for mayor of Mishawaka in 2011, but an Indiana Democratic Party direct mail piece accusing Mayor Dave Wood of hiring a child molester backfired in epic fashion. Fry lost what was expected to be a competitive race by an astounding 76-24% margin and his House reelection this year was far from assured. Democrat Jerod Warnock and Republicans Dale DeVon and Cory Stith have filed and it is unclear who might have an advantage this fall.
Dembowski decided to retire when she was placed in HD20 with Tom Dermody. Other retirements due to redistricting included Stevenson, who gave way to Mara Candeleria Reardon. Reske was drawn into a hostile HD37 and opted to run for Congress. Barden was also drawn into a district with another Democrat and decided to retire. Sullivan’s new HD97 that is much more Republican prompted her to run against State Sen. Brent Waltz.
In 2010, the House Republican Campaign Committee targeted a number of Democratic caucus leaders, defeating Bob Bischoff, Paul Robertson and Nancy Michael. They barely missed Grubb, who won by fewer than 500 votes.
House leadership retire instead of upset
Unlike legendary Indiana Senate leadership that left office with the sting of defeat at the ballot box, the Indiana House is seeing a change of the guard with the retirements of Espich and Crawdord, his Democratic counterpart. The retiring duo had combined for 80 years of service.
Espich, R-Uniondale, announced his retirement in a letter to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on Friday, rather than take part in a GOP primary showdown with State Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, that local observers believed would have favored Leonard. “I have worked hard and tried to lead well. I hope I have succeeded in the minds and hearts of my constituents,” Espich said. “But, in fact, it has been an easy task to act in their interests. This is because I share their belief in the importance of faith and traditional American values in our lives and society. I have never had to compromise my actions or act in ways that were not in support of the thoughts of my neighbors.”
He pointed to other representatives now serving southwest Allen County and Wells County, including Leonard, Kathy Heuer, R-Columbia City, and Matt Lehman, R-Berne. “These incumbent representatives are all my friends. All of them serve the same principles of faith and traditional American values that most of us hold dear. They each do a great job serving their constituents and will do likewise in their new area in the coming years,” Espich said. “For these reasons, I have decided not to seek re-election as a state representative.”
Speaker Bosma praised Espich, saying, “Jeff Espich is the most dedicated and talented citizen legislator I have had the privilege of working with over the course of the past two decades. His constant eye on the taxpayer’s bottom line and incredible attention to detail have protected the citizens of our state beyond what they will ever realize. He will be sorely missed and fondly recalled as a dedicated and frugal public servant for many years to come.”
Crawford announced last year that he would retire and Marion County Democrats have slated Robin Shackleford, who ran a spirited but unsuccessful race against Hinkle in 2010. Both Crawford and Espich were elected to the House in 1972 and alternated as Ways and Means chairmen for most of the past two decades.
Espich and Crawford entered the legislature a couple years after legendary Senate leaders President Pro Tempore Bob Garton and Finance Chairman Larry Borst. Borst was upset for reelection in 2004 by Waltz and Garton was defeated in 2006 by Greg Walker. Espich and Crawford followed in the footsteps of power house legislators Pat Kiely, Paul Mannweiler and John Gregg, who retired in their prime.
11 GOP primary battles
The other emerging story line is the plethora of Republican primary battles, though virtually none take aim at the historic 2010 freshman class.
Eleven GOP incumbents facing primary opponents include Doug Gutwein in HD16 (Lunchpail Republican Diane Boersma);Timothy Wesco in HD21, who faces Lunchpail Republican Randy Conner; Rebecca Kubacki in HD22 (Jon D. Hare); Don Lehe in HD25 (Franklyn Voorhies); Kathy Kreg Richardson in HD29 (Steven R. Powell); Heath VanNatter in HD38 (Stephen A. Wilson and David E. Brown); Timothy Neese in HD48 (Bristol businessman Jerry Brewton and Randall Weinley); Bob Cherry in HD53 (Sam Weist); Kathy Heuer in HD83 (Keith Potter); Phyllis Pond in HD85 (against perennial candidate Denny Worman); and Robert Behning in HD91 (Michael A. Scott).
Other than Boersma, Hare and Conner, it is unclear at this writing which of the challengers are being supported by the Lunchpail Republican PAC. Chairman David Fagen has said, “Though the Lunch Pail Republicans PAC was formed to run candidates against incumbents who vote for overreaching legislation like ‘Right to Work,’ we are prepared to use our resources to protect incumbents who are attacked for voting against this bill.”
Only three House Democrats – Earl Harris in HD2 (Ricardo Garcia); Charlie Brown in HD3 (Gary attorney and State Board of Education member Tony Walker); and Vernon Smith in HD 14 (Sherman D. Carson) - are facing primary challenges. The Brown-Walker race bears watching due to the challenger’s credentials.
In HD100, a district likely to stay Democratic, Sally M. Johnson, Jonathan Katz, Zach Mulholland and Dan Forestall have filed and will face former Republican Indianapolis Councilman Scott Keller. Forestal, a firefighter, was endorsed by Marion County Democrats Saturday.
How the open seats stack up
Of the 11 open seats, HPI’s earliest forecast has Republicans with an excellent shot at nine of them, including:
ν HD11 with Rick Niemeyer (whose father, Ernie, was a former state senator) with the winner taking on the winner of the Democratic primary that includes Lon Childress, Al Cottingham and John Hart. McDermott was unsure which Democrat would emerge. “All of the candidates are relatively new,” McDermott said.
ν HD13 where Attica Clerk-Treasurer Sharon Negele (who narrowly lost to Grubb) faces Stephen Aichner and Dan Young with the winner taking on Democrat Mark Straw.
ν HD17 where Culver Coca-Cola executive Frances Ellert (who lost narrowly to Rep. Dembowski in 2010) faces Republican Timothy Harman in the primary with no Democrat filing.
ν HD24 where Steven Braun of Zionsville is favored over Kiefer C. Dobbs and Mindi Fisher McMillan, with the winner taking on Democrat Maurice O. Fuller.
ν HD37 where Todd Huston, a member of the State Board of Education and former chief of staff to Supt. Tony Bennett, is taking on Indiana Township Association President Debbie Driskell. No Democrat has filed.
ν HD47 where Republicans Leonard Compton, Mark Meadows, John Price and John T. Young have filed (but no Democrat).
ν HD51 where Dr. Dennis Zent is facing Aaron Claudy in the primary and Lon Keyes has filed for the Democrats.
ν HD52 where Gary Harbaugh, Paul Moss, David Powers and Ben Smaltz have filed with the winner taking on Democrat Charles Odier.
ν HD55 where former USDA official Bob White is facing Republicans Sam Harvey, Lora N. Williams and Cindy Meyer Ziemke with the winner taking on Democrat David Moeller. White has a big fundraising advantage.
ν HD64 where Republicans James Amick and Thomas W. Washburne have filed with the winner facing Democrat Mark Norton.
ν HD82 where David Ober, a protege of State Sen. Jim Banks, is facing Mike Caywood, Denise Lemmon, and Wesley Ortell with the winner facing Democrat Mike Wilber.
ν HD92 where former Marion County sheriff candidate Tim Motsinger is facing GOP primary challenges from Brad Rider and Richard B. Scott Sr. with the winner taking on either Democrats Brian M. Cooper, Tyjuan Garrett or Karlee D. Macer.
ν And HD97 where Republican A. J. Feeney-Ruiz has been slated by the Marion County GOP with the winner taking on Democrat Justin Moed.
ν HD100: Former Republican Councilman Scott Keller has filed. Forestal is be favored.
Early HPI favorites in the open seats include Niemeyer in HD11, Negele in HD13, Ellert in HD17, Braun in HD24, Huston in HD37, Zent in HD51, White in HD55, Ober in HD82, Motsinger in HD92 and Feeney-Ruiz in HD97. That list shows the GOP favored in 10 of the 11 open seats.
In HD60, Peggy Welch will likely face Morgan County Clerk Peggy Mayfield. Welch was drawn into the district with Foley, who is retiring. Mayfield faces a GOP primary that includes Keegan Clark and Daniel Elliot. The district is distinctly Republican, but Welch has a history of winning in GOP districts.
In HD76, Van Haaften will take on Rep. McNamara, the race that should have happened in 2010 until U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh abruptly abandoned his reelection, U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth entered the Senate race, Van Haaften the 8th CD, and Sen. Bob Dieg HD76.
The other noteworthy trend is that credible Democrats like John Barnes and Sullivan have opted to run in the Senate and not the House.
The combination of Republican-controlled redistricting, the avalanche of Democrat experience headed for retirement, Republicans favored in a vast majority of the open seats, a still unpopular President Obama, and Pat Bauer calling the shots for a House Democratic caucus still stinging from the awfully executed campaign of 2010 is leading to a Republican super majority in the Indiana House, poised to join their Senate counterparts.
Or, if you’re a Democrat, this is a Bauer-induced disaster heading toward catastrophe.
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