FORT WAYNE – In the spring of 1968, the political leaders of the Allen County Republican Party gathered at the home of Chairman Orvas Beers to select the GOP convention nominee for secretary of state. Fort Wayne had been slotted for attorney general, but State Sen. Allan Bloom had turned them down. Instead, Lake County chose Ted Sendak. Fort Wayne now drew the slot to complete the current ticket with Secretary of State Edgar Whitcomb of Seymour, who was slotted to be governor.

No immediate nominee jumped out to the local brain trust. One of the participants noticed local banker Bill Salin mowing his lawn. “How about Bill Salin?” one of them suggested. Salin was not a local party activist and basically unknown outside northeast Indiana. 

Salin did head the trust department at Indiana National Bank in Fort Wayne. Banks, as we shall later note, then played an important part in the spoils system as well. And it should be noted that, while Salin disappeared from politics after being defeated by Larry Conrad in 1970, he went on to found the successful Salin Bank & Trust Company. 
So how did it come to be that a group of party officials could pick an Indiana secretary of state in such a haphazard reminder? As the story was told to me, I was just a kid absorbing great stories from those involved, back in the days when the state was led by Democrats. In 1960, Democrat Matt Welsh had been elected and followed by Democrat Gov. Roger Branigin, who was serving in 1968. The Indiana U.S. senators when I was growing up were Vance Hartke and Birch Bayh. 

A statewide deal among Republican county chairmen, organized by the largest county chairmen who controlled the most delegates, put together a geographical ticket, temporarily putting their hatchets in the ground instead of each other’s backs. Keith Bulen of Marion County was the biggest power. He even made peace with Seth Denbo, John Snyder, Buena Chaney, and the brokers of southwest and southeast Indiana. 

Whitcomb of southeast was first secretary of state, who then led the state ticket to victory as the gubernatorial candidate in 1968. Trudy Etherton of St. Joseph County was elected auditor. Richard Folz of Evansville became lieutenant governor. John Snyder from Washington in southwest Indiana was elected treasurer. We’ve already mentioned Sendak of Lake and Salin of Allen. 

William Ruckelshaus of Indianapolis was nominated to run for the U.S. Senate. The Republicans were hoping to win the presidency with Richard Nixon in 1968, which meant that National Committeeman Keith Bulen would be the point person for federal patronage since Ruckelshaus would, if elected, be his guy also. If Ruckelshaus lost, Bulen would continue to be the key Hoosier contact person. This was, I was told, part of the negotiation for a southern Indiana-dominated statewide ticket of nominees from southeast and southwest Indiana. 

The state treasurer’s post at the time was also part of the spoils system. There was not yet a requirement that state revenue funds had to be placed at banks that offered the best rates. Instead, funds could be placed in party supporters’ banks, which “helped encourage” contributions. Back then, major regional banks had a “Republican” contact and a “Democrat” contact. But banks were known, over time, to favor one side more than the other.

In a humorous side story, Treasurer John Snyder (who was also state GOP chairman from 1970-72), once told me that Orvas Beers was an ungrateful man. Snyder said that he (Snyder) was the first statewide elected official to endorse Nixon for president in 1968. He took Orvas Beers to some event and introduced him to Nixon, which is how Orvas became the state Nixon chairman. It wasn’t long afterward, when Orvas was blasting me for siding with “those people from south of 40,” that Beers said Snyder was a betrayer of friendships. He, Orvas Beers, the first chairman of a major county to endorse Richard Nixon, introduced Snyder to Nixon!

The reason I was connected to the politicians south of U.S. 40 was not locational. I was a young conservative activist, and because of that, was invited to be part of an Indianapolis group centered around Indianapolis News editor M. Stanton Evans.  Evans had been the primary author of the Sharon Statement, the statement of principles of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) created at the gathering at the Sharon, Conn., home of William F. Buckley Jr. Evans also wrote a number of books on conservatism, which were widely read among conservatives. 

A number of us were “token youths” at the gathering. They included R. Emmett Tyrell, John Von Kannon, J. Danforth Quayle, Daniel Manion, and a few other activists. The group went by different names, with the semi-public name being the “Beer & Pizza Marching Society.” It, along with the Denbo-Snyder-Chaney “south of 40” group, constituted the core of the non-Bulen fan club. The Indianapolis group, at this time, was particularly incensed by the massive downtown Indy power grab referred to as Unigov. 

A number of the Beer & Pizza Marching Society members illustrated to me the best example of existing party sub-clusters inside the larger party organization. State Sen. Leslie Duvall, Councilman Bill Schneider, Rex Early, and others were Indianapolis counterpoints to Bulen. BPM Herm and Fred Andre, Don Lipsett (who among other things created the conservative essential dress apparel at the time, the Adam Smith tie), and others were also key conservative activists. Twenty to 30 people usually attended the meeting, including many key appointees in the Whitcomb Administration. In other words, I became involved in the statewide brawl for ideological reasons. 

The 1970 fight for power was initiated largely over the fight for the U.S. Senate nomination to oppose Vance Hartke but spread into a county-by-county chairman brawl for the district chairmen posts to control the party. The most unusual part that I was involved in occurred when Gov. Whitcomb pulled the license bureau control from the Bulen-dominated faction. 

In Allen County, it meant that Bulen ally Beers lost control to DeKalb County and 4th District Chairman Dean Kruse. I was a good friend of Dean’s. Dean then picked the chairman of the Anthony Wayne YAF chapter to run the Allen County license branches. We quickly learned that Orvas Beers and allies owned the building the Fort Wayne License Bureau rented (supplemental income from rent as we also learned from the record books). We were ordered to vacate the building.

Young secured a large building on the Landing that until recently had been home to Calvary Temple’s Adam’s Apple Coffeehouse. We needed volunteers to help us move lots and lots of license plates, as well as get the license branch opened as soon as possible. At that point, I was only involved in the moving, including getting some vehicles from our furniture store. It was absolute chaos.

By late that night we were mostly moved in, but not totally. I was completely spent. I drove home our store’s pickup, with the back filled to the brim with license plates, and parked it in our family drive. My dad met me at the door and asked what was in the truck. I told him that they were license plates, so he went out to look. He came in somewhat agitated and asked if I realized those were all truck plates, worth thousands of dollars. No, I said, but I am exhausted and can’t do anything more so I’m going to bed. The next morning, he was asleep in the recliner in front of our front picture window with a view of the pickup truck.

Among the things I learned beyond the cost of truck license plates was that the county GOP officials each paid themselves some salary from the main bureau as well as supplementary ones. Other officials, including ward leaders, had income coming from part-time jobs. The full-time positions were patronage positions which included giving a percentage back into the two-party deal to fund state parties. 

County chairmen had considerable ability to have kids hired for summer jobs with the state highway department and many other patronage jobs. They gave adults the opportunity for full-time jobs. It other words, county chairmen had considerable influence beyond pleading with people to help as precinct workers. Lincoln Day dinners were flush with county and city employees “encouraged” to attend if they liked their jobs. County Chairman Orvas Beers’ law firm, at one point, included the congressman, the county attorney and the city attorney. It helped with business as well as power.  

One more very personal example from this period: I had been elected college Republican chairman by a nearly unanimous vote (my opponent voted against me). However, when the Snyder-Denbo faction lost to the Bulen-Beers faction, James Neal, whose family owned the Noblesville Daily-Ledger and who was secretary of the Republican State Committee, was chosen the new Indiana state Republican chairman in early 1972.

Neal told me that I was being removed as Indiana state college Republican chairman (it technically was his right but not respecting the votes of student clubs across the state). He said I could only regain the position with the support of my county chairman. We both understood that Orvas Beers was not going to clear me.

Nevertheless, I went to meet with Beers. He had actually helped connect me to Congressman E. Ross Adair when we were forming a Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Leo High School. I had headed Youth for Adair in 1968, which became one of the largest youth efforts in the nation. Orvas and his wife had been furniture customers at our family’s store in Grabill for years, and was a friend of my dad’s. But Orvas was mad.

Beers was particularly upset because I was attacking President Nixon for wage and price controls and going to Red China. He not only wouldn’t clear me for college Republican chairman, but back in 1970 he had removed me as president of Youth for Adair (the race that ended Adair’s career). He ended the discussion by telling me that I needed to go away for a few years and let people forget my right-wing stuff. He said that my family had a great reputation, that someday I could probably win elections if I could just understand that most political decisions were gray, not black or white.   

By the summer of 1972, he had taught me an even more valuable lesson. After booting me and other young conservatives from positions, he asked me – of all things – to head Nixon’s local Young Voters for the President organization. I responded that it was headed by a young person who had stayed loyal to Orvas and Nixon. His words still echo in my ears: “Yeah, but no kids will follow him. You need to do it.” In party politics, influence overcomes even intense personal fights. Or at least it used to. 

My next section on how the job of county chairman has changed will begin with Dan Quayle’s 1976 campaign. The spoils system had mostly ended. Quayle wanted to build his own organization based on the Kasten Plan, mostly skipping a weakened party structure. Party veterans viewed it as the potential death of political parties.