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Friday, September 30, 2022
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  • BOONVILLE – What a difference an election makes. Make that the last three Hoosier elections that saw the Republican political straw crush the camel’s back in Southwest Indiana. Democrats got blistered in 2010, disfigured in 2012 and by the time 2014 came about, it really didn’t matter anymore. The show was over. I have lived in Southwest Indiana all of my life and have been active in every congressional, state and local race in my area for a very long time. Congressional races in our region were won and lost by both parties on a rotating basis for nearly a decade. The “Bloody 8th” Congressional District was a rollercoaster of winners and losers for years.  We had five different congressmen from 1972-82. The districts were drawn by Republicans in the 1970-80’s and by Democrats in the remaining years through 2010. Why the swings and so many changes? Why so solidly Republican today? And why have nearly all the legislative districts changed from solid Democrat to safe Republican?  If you were a Democratic candidate in 1974 you won. Simple as that.
  • BOONVILLE – Thank goodness the 2013 General Assembly is over and the leaders of our state decided to put the brakes on some of the frivolous bills that came before our lawmakers.
    The infamous ag-gag bill, a provision that would have criminalized almost any electronic messaging that might damage a Hoosier business, is my favorite.  Speaker Bosma gets an A-plus for his leadership in pulling this freight train disaster from the agenda.  Ever wonder if Sinclair Lewis would have finished “The Jungle” if the ag-gag bill had been in place?  We might still be digesting body parts in our canned ham.
    By no means was there only one irrational proposal in this past session. Some survived while others got the deserved meat ax. The Marion County government reform bill (SB 621) clearly is one that should have gotten the fatal blow.  But sometimes, partisan legislators just can’t help themselves.
    If the need for a quick and concise explanation of what “power grab” means, look no further than Senate Bill 621.  It is a thesis on the subject. Google “power grab” and you should be directed to SB 621.
     It’s beyond the bounds of believability when Sen. Mike Young, the Indianapolis Republican author of this spitefulness, said the it was not a power grab nor political,  just “good policy.”  If you believe that, then I think someone could substitute rabbit droppings on your ice cream, call it chocolate chips and convince you how yummy it is.
    At the conclusion of the session House Speaker Brian Bosma called the session “a tremendous success.”  Democrats called the session a missed opportunity.  I guess success and missed opportunities are in the eye of the beholder.
    We should commend Speaker Bosma for his inclusion of the minority caucus and respecting their rights. Of course, this might have been a little easier with Leader Pelath than it might have been with former Speaker Pat Bauer. Scott Pelath is smart, articulate and willing to work with anyone, when he and his caucus are treated with respect.  This seeming openness between the two leaders is a breath of fresh air in a legislative chamber that was often all-out political combat.
    You can be certain that Governor Pence and Speaker Bosma did not fail to notice that working with the new Democrat leadership was a welcome change.  I can still remember then-Leader Bosma walking into Speaker Bauer’s office during a recess in the final hours of the 2009 session.  He had a simple request. Then-Congressman Pence was in the chamber and Bosma asked the Speaker if he would allow him to introduce Pence and maybe permit him a couple minutes of remarks.  Acknowledging that we were seemingly pressed for time, Bosma pointed out to a disinterested Speaker that Pence was the number three ranking Republican in the U.S. House.  Without fanfare or any sense of empathy for the request, Bauer just repeated that we were “too busy.”  As often is the case when Bosma gets angry, blood raced to his face as he exited the office exasperated.
    Right after the furious exit, half-heartedly I said, “Pat, you are the meanest person I have ever known.”  With a broad smile and a twinkle in his eyes he graciously said, “thank you.”
    Five minutes later the House was gaveled in. Bosma tried to recognize Congressman Pence from his seat, but was ruled out of order by Speaker Bauer. After all, the Speaker had said we were too busy. And then, like a bolt of lightning, the Speaker announced that the House would be in recess for a three-hour dinner break.  So much for being too busy.
    Yes, you can be sure that Bosma and Pence did not miss the daily diatribe of former Speaker Bauer.
    There is no doubt that Governor Pence and Speaker Bosma welcomed the new change of House Democrat leadership.  I’m even more certain that Pence will never know how fortunate he was in working with Leader Pelath.  Lines of communication and mutual respect among leaders are key elements to making the legislative process work.  Bosma and Pelath both deserve our respect for their mutual openness with each other.
    The bigger question this past session is what did the House super majority do to promote jobs and a better quality of life for Hoosiers.  If this were a “bull’s eye” query, the center of the target would say “missed opportunity.”  It seems like every time a large tax cut is implemented, our legislators toot their political horns.  Such was the case this year as well. A billion dollar tax cut.  Something for everyone.  Increased funding for schools, roads and child services.  What more could a Hoosier want?  Maybe the average Hoosier just might want to be included in these endeavors.
    Governor Pence got a half a loaf of his tax-cut bread, though this tax-cut manna does virtually nothing for the bottom line of most Hoosiers.  When fully implemented, this cut would not come close to the Daniels tax rebate that every Hoosier benefited from in 2012.  The average Hoosier will see just over a hundred bucks.  The average Hoosier millionaire?  About $3,500 bucks.
    The unfortunate fate for average Hoosiers continues. There seems to be a common theme about Hoosier tax cuts. The 25-percent corporate tax cut was accelerated. The financial institutions had a tax cut.   And the inheritance tax is eliminated.  There’s a common thread about these tax cuts.  They help rich people and not average Hoosiers.
    Ask a Hoosier you might see on the street three simple questions.  Will you benefit from a corporate tax cut?  Are you going to celebrate the big-bank tax cut?  And finally, do you think you will ever inherit any monies that will even be eligible for an inheritance tax?   My best guess is that the answers are a resounding “no” on every question. What about those omnipresent claims that corporate tax cuts will create jobs?  Actually, I believe that folks who are already highly paid and near the top of the corporate ladder would only get bigger bonuses with such a cut.   Let me explain.
    A couple of years ago I asked a corporate finance officer of a large Indiana company what would happen if they received a 25% Hoosier corporate tax cut. Would they create jobs with the new-found money? The answer was sobering. “We don’t create jobs with tax cuts. We create jobs when there is more demand for our product. We cut jobs when the demand is less demand. I hate to say this, but any new-found money at the end of the year is added to our profit line. That extra profit would just mean my share of the profits (bonus) would just be larger.”
    I asked an honest question and received an honest answer.  Want to lay a wager at an Indiana casino that the same holds true for the financial institutions tax?  You just might win that wager.
    When discussing the action or inaction of the past session, one has to wonder why there wasn’t an emphasis on jobs. Two of the state’s largest jobs initiatives that were immediate, shovel ready and  would employ thousands of highly paid construction workers were placed on the shelf of missed opportunity by the legislature and Pence.
    The legislature rendered the Rockport Coal Gasification plant dead in the water and Pence withdrew state support for the Posey County Midwest Fertilizer plant.  Combined, these southwest Indiana facilities would have created thousands of highly paid construction jobs for several years and hundreds of highly paid permanent jobs for the next several decades.    
     And have you ever considered why the legislature and Pence said no to the Affordable Care Act?  How in the world can you say no to a health care plan that will cost the state zero dollars through 2016, insure more than 360,000 uninsured Hoosiers, and add billions in new heath care spending with upwards of 30,000 sustained and new jobs?  The answer:  Only if you live in Indiana.
    Hoosier federal taxes will pay for insuring folks in all of our contiguous states and elsewhere, while we continue to ponder the fate of more than 800,000 uninsured Hoosiers just because we can. One would think that if Arkansas could find a solution for buying into the program then we Hoosiers might do so as well.
    If all the facts about the entire 2013 session were presented in a fair and impartial manner, one would wonder what the average Hoosier would think of the handiwork of the 2013 session.  Would they call it a “tremendous success” as portrayed by Speaker Bosma or “a missed opportunity” as relayed by Leader Pelath?
    The bull’s eye was ready to be pierced with arrows of opportunity for our state and not only did they miss the center, they missed the target as well.  It was a missed opportunity for a state that can do better.

    Stilwell is the former House Democratic Majority Leader and an HPI columnist.
  • BOONVILLE – It is increasingly difficult to live in the ever-growing red state of Indiana if you are a working family labor advocate, a woman or someone who wants the Indiana House to boost the number of Democrats in that chamber. Let’s review these one at a time.
    Working families & labor:  As a longtime advocate for folks who believe in labor unions and the right to have a union, it is sad to say that Indiana has been joined at the hip with Wisconsin.  I will admit that the indifferent majority Republicans performed this blood-spattered surgery without a surgical scalpel approach.  They treated everyone equally.  Teachers, building trades, factory workers, state workers and more were brought to the legislative slaughterhouse and stripped.  And I was foolish enough to think that jobs with a union representation were the kind of jobs we wanted, jobs that pay better, jobs with health care and maybe a pension and jobs that do not allow discrimination on pay or gender.  Maybe these legislative surgeons will put down their scalpels after the 2012 surgeries.  My guess is they will place somebody else on the gurney as they expand the social agenda.
    Women: As many political junkies do, I woke up Wednesday morning and turned on CNN to catch up on the news.  Our wannabe U.S. Senator Richard Mourdock’s political mug shot was front and center.  Oh, if we could take those frightful words back. Mourdock’s ill-fated statement at the end of the debate:  “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
    And this man wants to represent me in the U.S. Senate?  What is far more alarming is that he wants to represent the three million plus females in our state.  A guy who set out to destroy the Hoosier auto industry is now dictating to Hoosier women who are violated that God intended it to happen.  Sure hope my granddaughters never have to say that their U.S. senator is Richard Mourdock.  And if they ever join the Girl Scouts, I sure hope they never come face to face with a guy in the legislature with the last name of Morris!  Yes, the same lawmaker who was one of 100 House members who refused to support a nonbinding resolution celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts because he feels the group is a “radicalized organization” that “sexualizes” young girls and promotes homosexuality.  Wow, it sure is nice to know that the Hoosier M&M boys are out there protecting our Hoosier girls and women!  Good grief, I cannot even believe I live in a state where we elect the likes of these M&M extreme ideologues.
    Indiana House: A couple of months after the disastrous (for Democrats anyway) 2010 elections, Brian Howey asked me for my thoughts.  I said that it would be nearly impossible for the House R’s to keep 60 seats and that there was not enough political talent in the state to keep them all.  I went on to say the river counties (that would be the Ohio River) and Southern Indiana would have several competitive seats and things could get back to normal somewhat quickly.  The river counties and Southern Indiana have historically been conservative, but somewhat reliably Democrat at the local and statehouse level.
    I want on to inform the Howey Report that, “Southern Indiana is a gun-toting, Bible belt conservative blue collar area that doesn’t think kindly of folks who don’t think like they do; and they will punish you at the ballot box every time from top to bottom.”  They sure proved this point in 2010 when they linked the entire Democrat ballot with the then unpopular president and Obamacare.
    A whole lot has changed since I made those ill-fated comments.  What a difference mapmaking, the disintegration of the Democrat caucus and a decided money advantage can make!
    I have always believed that Democrats cannot control the House without the South.  It will not happen this election year, or anytime soon, until a firm leadership team is in place that has a strategy much like that of former Speaker Michael Phillips. They went from 27 seats to a majority in a little over a decade.
    The new House maps, coupled with unprecedented retirements of a dozen long time Democrats, have made 2012 impossible.  When you factor in the money advantage, the race for the House is a Republican House quorum-proof election.
    As recently as 2008, House Democrats had a 19-5 Southern Indiana advantage.  Today, that relates to a 16-8 Republican advantage.  If the R’s run the slate on tossup races in this area, then they will have the same advantage House D’s had for decades.  With 25% of the House seats in Southern Indiana, you cannot win the House if you lose the South!  There must be a Democrat Southern Indiana strategy before one even thinks about increasing the caucus numbers.
    The Republican caucus has the money to win elections.  Unlike close financial parity in years past, the R’s own the political money chest, and they are passing out their booty in a lot of races and a lot of places.
    Even in HD74, the seat of LG candidate Sue Ellspermann, and the only R seat that got more Democratic (54%), House R’s have dumped nearly $100K in late television and mail in a district where the challenger was selected by a caucus only a couple of months ago.  It appears that they are not only trying to win the House with the South, but to win a quorum-proof chamber in the process.

    Stilwell is the former Indiana Democratic House Majority Leader.
  • BOONVILLE, Ind. - Nearly every political observer has reported that House Democrat Leader Pat Bauer, one of the most colorful legislators of all time, is in a brawl to retain his caucus leadership post.  As a longtime Democrat legislator (1996-2010), I know all of the caucus members fairly well, including Bauer.  I understand where everyone is coming from.
    The upheaval in the caucus is not something new.  The only thing new is the breadth and depth of the lack of confidence in their leader.  Make no mistake about it. This is a serious threat to Pat Bauer. The future direction of the House caucus hangs in the balance.
    As with many things concerning the Indiana General Assembly and the House Democrats in particular, this is all about Pat Bauer. When one looks at Bauer, you have to look at the whole package, the good, the bad and the ugly. If House Democrat members want change they better bring their A-game.
    The pugnacious leader from South Bend has never backed away from a political street brawl and will use every trick in the book to win. If you’re looking to have an ultimate political showdown with Pat Bauer, you better bring your lunch, because it will be an all-day wrestle in the mud. And if you call a caucus, you had better make sure that all members are present and your votes counted, and then counted again.
    When I was first elected to the General Assembly I found that caucus members had a myriad of opinions on the fiery Ways and Means chairman. Some marveled at how he mastered the mystery of putting together a budget that most caucus members praised, while getting the Republican Senate leadership to agree to his package. Others talked behind his back that he did not include anyone else in the caucus when making deals or putting budgets together.
    This continued through that unexpected evening session in 2002 when Speaker John Gregg announced from the podium that he was not running for reelection and was retiring from legislative service. That’s when the Bauer faction and the Bauer adversaries began to align the battle lines. Many of the legislators in these factions exist today, albeit they may have changed sides.
    Pat Bauer began his quest for the leadership of the Democrat caucus only moments after the Gregg announcement. One veteran lawmaker jokingly commented, when watching Bauer engage in a conversation with a member at his desk near the back of the house floor, “What’s he doing back here? He’s never been to this part of the chamber. Heck, that’s the first time he’s talked to that member in years.  He must be running for Speaker already.”
    That’s the same Pat Bauer that many of the caucus members loved to hate, but it’s also the Pat Bauer that most folks don’t see. He works harder, raises more money, puts in more hours, campaigns relentlessly (maybe a little recklessly at times) and does it nonstop to remain the leader of the House Democrats. But too often the good has to compete with the bad.   He trusts very few people, makes decisions singlehandedly, runs the caucus his way and does not allow much of the talent within the caucus to participate.
    Since the first leadership race in 2002 there have been members who wanted to take Pat out. There were members who just did not like him. There were members who thought they could do a better and smarter job. There were members who envisioned themselves just being the leader, with no thought of the work ethic and political back-scratching needed to get the job done. But in the end, there were no “wannabe” leaders who put in the hours for fundraising and campaigning to achieve their goal.
    But Pat Bauer did.
    And then there were members who genuinely thought Pat Bauer was just not the type of leader the caucus needed. They resented that he did not have frequent caucuses; they resented his style or lack of style of leadership; they resented not knowing what was happening or what was coming down on the floor; and they resented that Pat Bauer was the decision maker for virtually every detail in a micromanaging bully-pulpit style in both caucus elections and house policy. I know, because as the Majority Leader I had caucus member after caucus member come to me to “complain or explain” what Pat Bauer was doing and why he was doing it.
    During my tenure as the Majority Leader and floor leader from 2002-2010, I had a good relationship with the Speaker. But it was a continual challenge to keep him focused, on track and include our talented caucus in decision making and power sharing.  
    That challenge often went unfulfilled.
    Make no mistake about it. Pat Bauer is a talented and loyal partisan who will never back down from a good political fight. And he will pick one just as quickly. He has a cadre of loyal members who will always follow their leader.  But he also has a declining base of support from the very caucus he created.
    That’s where the problems occur. All members have the right to have their voices heard, their issues addressed and their complaints aired. It is an insider club where only the members’ voices and votes count. And if you are on the downward slide of enough votes, things are going to happen. You are going to lose or you must change. That’s the dilemma for Pat Bauer. If he does not change he most likely will not have the votes within his caucus and his leadership will pass to a new generation.
    Change is difficult for anyone, let alone a person who has ruled with impunity for so long.  As stated by Lesley Weidenbener of the Courier-Journal in a recent article, “House Minority Leader Pat Bauer is not facing the wrath of voters after 42 years as a representative in South Bend. He’s facing an upheaval in his caucus, one that threatens to evict him from the leadership post he’s held for a decade.”
    Leader Bauer’s autocratic control over the years has exasperated so many of his caucus members that his support has most likely dwindled to the lowest level during his leadership tenure.
    I was talking with one member who had the political knowhow and common sense that many in the caucus don’t have. This legislator is not out to get Pat. This legislator wants Pat to change and work with the rest of the caucus in a team-oriented approach in both elections and policy. They want him to utilize the talent in the caucus.  And they want him to share information.
    But they aren’t holding their breath.
    They know that Pat Bauer will not change and the only way to achieve change is to change the leadership.  They are saddened that Pat Bauer might go out this way, given the talent and positive leadership that he has provided in nearly a half century of service to his state, his party, his caucus and his members.
    Time is running out.  
    The Republicans have 60 members and gerrymandered maps. Most political observers conclude that if the caucus returns 40 members it would be a banner year. Any more than that would be exceptional.
    A candidate in a key house race said, ”I hope that they get their act together. I’m out here every day in 100-plus-degree temperature busting my tail going door to door. I will need the support of the entire caucus and a unified caucus to make this race work. All this infighting will make it all the more challenging.”
    It’s a lot more than caucus in-fighting; it’s about change and who can deliver the most votes once the election is over. It should be about how every caucus member can do everything possible to win every competitive race and make a surprise or two for the Republicans.  
    It should be about helping all those candidates who are knocking on doors in 100-degree temperatures.  

    Stillwell is a former House Democratic majority leader and a regular HPI columnist.  
  • BOONVILLE - Of all the Republican possibilities in our clearly Republican leaning state I was mildly surprised that Congressman Mike Pence chose Sue Ellspermann, the freshman legislator from Ferdinand to be his running mate. It’s not that she is not a bright, hard-working issue-driven ambitious officeholder – she is – but because I’m not sure what she brings to the ticket.
    Upon learning of the announcement, I called a long time political operative who knows Ellspermann fairly well. His comments were succinct:  “It really speaks to the character of Pence that he would consider someone who is a complete novice and has zero qualifications for the job. Does anyone in the state of Indiana think that she is prepared to be governor of our state?”      
    Has there ever been a freshman legislator on the gubernatorial ballot in the Hoosier state?
    I know Sue Ellspermann well enough to know that you should not ever underestimate her and her ambitions.  She defeated me in my SW Indiana legislative seat fair and square in the 2010 elections.  And she did so without the standard negative campaign mode of operation that most challengers rely on to win. Actually, we both signed a “no negative campaign pledge” and to the best of my knowledge we both held true to our pledge.
    But make no mistake about it, the race for governor and lieutenant governor is not just another interesting legislative contest. The gloves will come off and the race for ideological purity will begin.
    When folks ask me about Ellspermann, I often use different adjectives to describe her.  Words like hard working, motivated, smart, ambitious and good on her feet. She can speak and work a room standing up, sitting down, using a podium, sitting in a chair or just walking through the audience.
    When campaigning for the 2010 primary (more about that later), Ellspermann actually knocked on my front door looking for votes. My wife was cordial but said “no thanks” when offered her campaign flyer. My point is that she and her campaign team ran a most efficient campaign that had scores of volunteers and motivated supporters. When my latest poll in early October 2010 showed that I had a 66% job approval rating and a 66% positive name recognition (with low negatives) I almost quit reading the poll since these kind of numbers normally mean reelection. But after continuing reading, the numbers reflected a different scenario.
    Voters were prepared to “not vote for Russ Stilwell.” And they did.  She won by 800 some votes out of 20,000 plus votes cast. My message to those who say Ellspermann is not ready for the job: Do not underestimate Sue Ellspermann when it comes to a mammoth political challenge.  She’s focused, motivated, self-confident and more.
    But there are and will be challenges for the Pence campaign with Ellspermann on the ticket. The first thing that comes to mind is how voters (Tea Party voters?) will react when they realize that she voted in the Democrat Primary Election in 2008.  One can only assume that she voted for Obama or Hillary. That would give even main street Republicans pause, let alone the Tea Party types who seem to dominate the Republican party. Her Republican ideological purity might be questioned.
    Other challenges that the Ellspermann nod will bring is the absolute disgust that organized labor has for her outspoken views on right-to-work. Now I’m not suggesting that these voters were going to vote for Pence, but many of these union members believe Sue Ellspermann is the right-to-work lightning rod. They follow her with protests at many of her campaign and other public appearances. This is a blip that a campaign does not want to have.
    Ellspermann does bring ideological purity and single-messaging that would be consistent with Pence.  She is an attractive female candidate who never sees a challenge she doesn’t think she can overcome with her educational pedigree. She balances the gender portion of the ticket and is an ideological twin of Pence when it come to supporting business interests and unwavering disapproval of anyone who believes in a balanced view of women’s reproductive health issues.
    I would suggest that Ellspermann’s geographical location does not bring very much to the political table except for her home county.  Like most state legislators, her name ID is mostly not well known and most folks will not know much about her.  That is a dilemma.  The Pence campaign can identify her and introduce her as a leading economic development proponent who brings experience and gender balance or the Gregg campaign can introduce her as an inexperienced freshman legislator that brings more of the same from a clearly right of center ideological campaign team.
    At the end of the day it will be Hoosier voters who will make the choice. And like most every gubernatorial campaign in modern history, the LG candidate is mostly along for the ride. The first test of any pick for LG is that they do no harm. Ellspermann passes this first test, provided she is forgiven for wandering into the Democrat primary election booth in 2008 to support Obama or Clinton.   
    Time will tell if she passes the others that will surely come as the campaign grinds it way to November.
    The gubernatorial race has always been between the candidates running for governor, not the LG candidate.  The Ellspermann pick for Republican LG in 2012 will not change this time-honored fact.  
    A freshman legislator from a southern Indiana rural community will not advance the Pence campaign nor will it hinder the campaign. It will only add gender balance with a candidate who is smart, motivated and ambitious.  

    Stilwell is the former Indiana House Democratic majority leader. He is a regular HPI columnist.
  • BOONVILLE  - Sometimes it’s hard to look at raw numbers and predict a scientific numerical outcome. And if you’re talking about political numbers in an unpredictable political environment, it’s anyone’s guess. Political polling is the science we most often use, but these polling creatures just don’t capture everything that folks on the ground feel in their veins and know in their hearts.  Welcome to the world of Hoosier politics and the race for the Indiana House in 2012.

    Some pundits are already expounding that a GOP supermajority might be in the making. Others are predicting that House Democrats will transgress from political disaster in 2010 to political catastrophe in November. And others are predicting the calamitous doom of B. Patrick Bauer and his House minority leadership.

    Add these predictions together, throw in a dozen House Democrat retirements coupled with a Republican gerrymandered political map that has a current 60-40 GOP advantage, and it’s easy to forecast such doom. But there’s something that’s just not right in the air, not resonating on the ground, and just isn’t predictable this year.

    Make no mistake about it.  Indiana is a Republican state and statewide voter history is proof when we look at races where most folks don’t know the candidates and mostly vote the party line. Races like state treasurer and state auditor fit the category.

    House Democrats found it challenging to win with good maps and it will be far more challenging with the gerrymandered GOP maps.

    Let’s look at the challenges and opportunities for 2012 in the race for the House. My crystal ball isn’t in full radar mode just yet, but mark my words that there will be surprises for those who predict House Democrats will be on the short side of 35 seats in 2012.

    Sometimes there is a national wave or sentiment that carries all the way to our state legislative seats. Just look at 2010. If you had an R beside your name, you automatically picked up nearly 10 percentage points.  We all know why. Folks were mad and they were angry with President Obama and the newly passed health care reform. They were questioning the economy and jobless numbers. They pulled the elephant tail and voted for a different kind of “change.”

    Little did they know that this pulling of the tail would set off a barrage of change that would spark a fire that would grow into an inferno. This fire would alienate hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers like never before.  Did I mention labor union members?  Teachers? The poor and underprivileged? Women?

    I’m referring not only to some of the more egregious and controversial Indiana legislative issues, but also those far right issues being tossed about by those who covet the Republican nomination for president.

    They are pandering to the base and the right of the political electorate. That leaves the middle, women and the conventional left up for grabs.  And this is how Democrats have always won in the Hoosier state, both statewide and in legislative districts!

    Despite the GOP gerrymandering the maps, it would appear to the most strident political animal that there could be enough seats in play before this election season is over to cause the Rs more than just a little after-dinner heartburn.

    John Gregg will be the strongest Democrat candidate for governor since Evan Bayh. Remember in 1996 when the underdog, then Lt. Governor Frank O’Bannon, coasted to a 52-47% victory over Steve Goldsmith, the GOP “anointed one” who was favored to win?

    Hoosiers still like governors who steer their political vehicles down the middle of the road, like the Gregg campaign. Folks who drive off the road on the far right don’t fare too well. And the Pence campaign needs a four-wheel-drive to keep its machine operational in that off-road, far-right lane.

    This statewide campaign will have coattails for House Ds in competitive seats. Did I say Southern Indiana?

    Why did Hoosiers vote for “change” and pull the elephant tail in 2010?  Did the GOP have better candidates and issues? No, they had a national wave that provided a 10-point advantage.

    In one Southern Indiana district the incumbent Democrat had polling numbers of 66% positive name recognition, 66% positive job performance, and single digit negatives only three weeks before the election. Those are numbers that most incumbents would be proud of and almost always win with.

    But the reelect number was under 50%. The voters were prepared to not vote for a Democrat. This happened all over Southern Indiana and the issues were not local and state issues, they were federal issues. This incumbent lost, as did virtually all of the Democrat incumbents in this region. All had similar numbers. The Rs had unprecedentedly built in numbers from a national political tsunami.

    Sometimes all the time and money we place in our political operations just cannot be overcome when a national wave occurs. Look at 1974 and the Watergate elections.  How about 1994 and the Gingrich “Congressional Revolution”? If the national debate on the far right, commonly referred to as the Republican primary season, continues - a gentle wave could be emerging that just might grow into a cyclone of political consequences reminiscent of 2010 in reverse. 

    Unlike in 2008 when Obama and Clinton were campaigning for the middle and Reagan Democrats, the 2012 national GOP contenders are pandering to the far right with a look that would strain the neck of any casual observer.

    There is one segment of our Hoosier population that is hopping mad and they can’t wait to draw some political blood in the 2012 elections. Hoosier labor union members normally have a far greater registration number than the average Hoosier voter. And they normally vote in far greater percentage than the general population. They don’t call it “organized labor” for nothing.

    Even though the labor density of our state is only about 10-12% (20-25 if you count the spouses), their voting percentage is far greater than their numbers indicate.  In a normal year labor union members and their spouses would be a third of the electorate.

    And they would split their votes nearly 2-1 for the Democrat vs. the GOP candidate.  f you add in the teachers, you have a pool of nearly 400,000 voters, or double that counting spouses. That’s a lot of political power!

    In a normal year (whatever that is) you would find nearly two-thirds of these voters casting ballots, a far greater percentage than the general population. But 2012 is not a normal year.

    Teachers and union members are incensed with the antics of the GOP-dominated legislature and their Right to Work and anti-teacher agenda. In my 40 years in the labor movement, I have never before seen as much excitement, passion and a “ready to get even” mood.

    I predict that 2012 will be an extraordinary year for this group of activists. Their voting percentage will dramatically increase and the percentage for the GOP will fall off considerably. It’s not unlikely that there will be a voting percentage upward of 80 with a nearly identical percentage voting for the Democrat candidate. In some cases they will just be voting against the GOP candidate because of their divisive positions.

    Do the math. This translates into raw political power; political power that is passionate, energized and ready to take back their state. And if you add up the numbers, it could be upwards of 50% of the electorate, counting spouses.

    And let’s not forget about the “love to hate him and hate to love him” Democrat leader that some folks just love to demonize. Pat Bauer may be many things to different people, but he is a workaholic who loves to win.

    There is no one who works harder to raise dollars for his caucus. There is no one who is more loyal to his caucus members when an election is on the line. If in doubt, just ask countless numbers of existing and former House members who relied on the monies that Bauer relentlessly raised each cycle.

    House Democrats lost in 2010 because the Republicans nationalized the campaign, not because of a lack of effort or some screw-up by Bauer or the campaign team.  There were nearly one million personal contacts at doors and on phones for the House candidates. I’m confident that this program will only be accelerated in 2012. And you can bet that organized labor will be in full organized campaign mode too.

    Yes, we all know that at the end of the day it takes good solid candidates, good issues and a respectful campaign budget to win elections. It also takes a little good fortune. For all the good fortune that the GOP had in 2010, it appears to this writer that those riches might well be a thing of the past in 2012.

    Stilwell is the former House Democratic majority leader.

  • BOONVILLE - Last month I made a couple of predictions about what Right to Work will deliver to the Indiana General Assembly. Unfortunately, I was right.
    What were those predictions? “Right to Work legislation will take the 2012 session of the Indiana General Assembly on an absolute crawl so broad and consuming that Hoosiers will think it has come to an absolute halt.”  I think that was an understatement.
    I predicted, “There will be more protests, more lobbying and more television and news shows focusing on this one single issue than all other issues combined in years past. RTW will take the breath out of every other issue before the legislature.” Ditto!
    And I predicted that national pundits will set up shop in Indiana and make our Hoosier state the centerpiece of what’s wrong with America. And just in time for the Super Bowl week with an international audience! Ditto again!
    Sometimes I just hate for bad predictions to become authenticated. This is the critical mass week for RTW.  Want to get this entire mess behind us and begin the work that most folks elected our legislative members for in the first place?
    Pick the poison that takes this issue off the table.  It not a top 10 list, but it just might be worth taking a look at.
    1. Take the bill off the agenda, stuff it in a sock made in China and hang it from the Hoosier windmills in NW Indiana that are made in Europe. Not likely.
    2. Maybe, just maybe, the House and Senate Republicans could realize that putting off this fast-tracking of RTW could bring reasonable minds together and solutions could be achieved with a more deliberate approach. Did I say this would also enable us to have a demonstration-free Super Bowl celebration as well? Nope, ain’t gonna happen either.
    3. You know what? Maybe the House Democrat Leader and the House Speaker both have a good idea.  Let’s fully disclose where all the money is coming from on the myriad of ads that are dominating our radios, our flat screens and public media. Seems logical that the public would want to know from whom and where the money is coming from. Is it from Hoosiers or outside interests? You know what? When a decent idea like this comes forth, you know it ain’t gonna happen.
    4. Here’s one for the RTW advocates. Make sure that every legislator knows what RTW really means. When the House majority leader appears confused, wanna bet that there’s a whole lot more? Case in point:
    Go to and see the interview between Rep. Kreg Battles and House Majority Leader Bill Friend that occurred on January 5. When asked whether workers should pay a fee to their union for representation, Friend responded, “I think that is a very discussible issue.  The issue of payment of fees is a point worthy of discussion. I don’t object to that.”
    What? Paying a fee for union representation is the very essence of what RTW is all about! If the House majority leader is confused on this issue, one would presume that most of the rest of his caucus is baffled as well.  And what about the general public? Does this mean that we need more education? Duh? Does this mean that RTW will slow down from the fast-track ? No chance. It’s all about cramming this issue to the Gov’s desk before the Super Bowl!
    5. How about a novel idea? Let’s let the people decide. What? Let the people decide the most divisive issue in generations? When legislators don’t even know what RTW is really all about, how can the public know? Most reasonable Hoosiers don’t have a clue what RTW is about. If we can’t have democracy in the Statehouse, maybe we can give it back to the Hoosier voters.
    6. Maybe we should take a deep breath, take RTW off the fast-track path and put it on a state referendum and let democracy work. Let the people decide seems like a reasonable approach. Who benefits?  Everyone.
    House Ds get a breather and the House Rs can renew the Daniels aggressive agenda without interruption.  And Hoosiers can begin the process of educating themselves about whether or not RTW is sound public policy.  Betcha there’s a bunch of House Rs who would like for the people to decide as well. Then they wouldn’t have to make that dreadful vote and pay the piper this fall.
    7. Wanna bet the Chamber, the Republican leadership and the out-of-state financiers of the RTW campaign think this kind of democracy is a good idea? Nope, they’re not going to let RTW off the rails. It’s muscle flexing time.
    Most observers recognize that this isn’t about fairness for Hoosier workers. It’s about payback time. It is all about the business community and their Republican allies banding together to weaken unions and help make our state be union free. Generally, when you let the people decide, sound logic and good decisions often prevail.
    8. NY Times: “Democrats resumed their boycott of Indiana House sessions Tuesday after the Republican-controlled labor committee approved Right-to-Work legislation in six minutes without public testimony, committee debate or amendments.” This short but true statement should shame every Hoosier and encourage every state legislator to stop and take a breath. It should motivate them to slow down the RTW freight train, get it right and listen to the people. Oh, if it was only that easy. It isn’t and they won’t!
    9. We now have fewer than 24 days in the countdown for the Super Bowl in Indy. We will be on the international stage for a week, and more. And what will we be sharing the spotlight with?  You got it . . . Right to Work and the fast train to nowhere. Surely cooler heads can prevail and slow it down before it careens off the rails.
    10.  This debate reminds me of the Van Morrison song, “Fast Train.”  The RTW fast train. “Well you’ve been on a fast train and it’s going off the rails ... And you can’t come back, can’t come back together again ... And you start breaking down... In the pouring rain ... Well you’ve been on a fast train.” The lyrics were as poignant then as they are now. RTW is on a fast train and it’s going off the rails. Let’s allow the people decide and put it on the train of Hoosier democracy.

    Stilwell is a former Democratic House majority leader.
  • BOONVVILLE - After reviewing all of the attention being focused on Right to Work in our Hoosier state by the proponents and opponents, I realized the obvious:  Gov. Daniels and our Republican legislative leaders want the same things that I do.
    One might ask, how can that be?  After all, Russ Stilwell is a passionate labor advocate, former member of the House Democrat caucus and an outspoken opponent of most of the anti-labor agenda items the Republican leadership is delivering to our state.
    Yep, it’s true.  They want good-paying jobs that support a family.  They tout jobs with benefits like health care and a vacation every now and then.  And a job that just might provide a little retirement nest egg.
    And guess what?  That’s exactly what almost every union job provides. It just does not make any sense that this is the same gang that sets out to destroy labor unions and our middle class.
    The Republican-controlled legislature and their leadership team cannot call our Hoosier state a great place to live when they place the blame for our economic peril and high unemployment on our public servants who educate our kids, pick up our trash and clean their offices.
    When they seek to eliminate unions, end collective bargaining and initiate Right to Work, they are seeking to undermine the middle class as we know it.
    They are destroying the only segment of our society that demands that Hoosier workers are paid a fair wage, have a safe place to work and share in the fruits of their labor.  Many of our prominent presidents and national leaders seem to agree:
    ”Every advance in this half century – Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education, one after another – came with the support and leadership of American Labor.” – President Jimmy Carter
    Only a handful of reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions and depriving working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice. I have no use for those, regardless of their political party, who hold some vain and foolish dream of spinning the clock back to days when organized labor was huddled, almost as a hapless mass.
    “Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower
    “Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours, and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor.” – President John F. Kennedy
    “If I went to work in a factory, the first thing I’d do would be to join a Union.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt
     “There are no rights and no work in Right to Work.” – Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
    I recognize that only about 12% of Hoosier workers are in unions.  But that 12% sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to a union.
    And now our illustrious legislative leadership has proclaimed that the implementation  of  Right to Work will produce more jobs, bring in more companies and treat workers with dignity and respect.  Give me a break.  Don’t think most Hoosiers are ready to start drinking that Kool-Aid.
    I’m sure that these same leaders must have supported the ill-fated Herman Cain presidential campaign.  They must have loved his 9-9-9 plan.  After all, it sounds just like the recently implemented Hoosier 25-25-25 plan: Cut unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for workers by 25%. Cut corporate and business UI taxes by 25%. Cut corporate income tax 25%. There are many Hoosiers who believe that unions might be the last line of defense for workers and keeping the middle class.  These same folks also don’t buy into the theory that the implementation of  RTW is because of some economic advantage.
    They see it as I do.  It’s a political assault to put labor unions out of business in our state.  It’s a final stake in the heart of those who, for the most part, support the “other political party.”
    We constantly hear that Indiana ranks fifth in the nation for a great business environment.  Yet these same folks blame unions for not having enough jobs.  Their solution?  Destroy unions, pass RTW and pass another tax break for folks who just don’t need them.
    RTW is a simple but divisive concept.  I guess that most of the General Assembly members don’t fully understand it.
    RTW is no more than mandating that there cannot be a union security clause in any labor agreement.  It is not about protecting workers from paying mandatory dues.
    I keep hearing the Chamber of Commerce, that great institution of workers’ rights, defending Hoosier workers against forced unionism. It’s the first time I’ve heard the Chamber defending workers’ rights in a long, long time.  And they got it all wrong.
    Workers in union shops do not have to belong to the union.  But they do have to pay a “fair share” for having representation and benefits of a union contract provided by their union.
    Right to Work actually means that a worker in a union shop would not have to pay any fees for union representation, but get all the rights and privileges of the union contract.
    And the union must represent these non-paying workers in all contractual matters, just like they do for their co-workers who pay union dues.  And get this.  They can even sue the union if they believe they don’t get fair representation.
    This isn’t about fairness for Hoosier workers.  This is about pay-back time.  It is all about the business community and their Republican allies banding together to weaken unions and help make our state union free.
    Each time the House Republicans overreached, they paid the price in the next election.  Yep, history does repeat itself.  They did it with prevailing wage in 1995 and lost in ‘96.  They did it again in 2005 and lost in ‘06.
    And they are doing it again in 2011 and will pay the price in 2012.  Yes, we do have referendums in Indiana.  They are called elections.
    My predictions?  Right to Work legislation will slow the 2012 session of the Indiana General Assembly to an absolute crawl so broad and consuming that Hoosiers will think it has come to an absolute halt.
    There will be more protests, more lobbying and more television and news shows focusing on this one single issue than all other issues combined in past years.  RTW will take the breath out of every other issue before the legislature.
    I predict that national pundits will set up shop in Indiana (both from the right and the left) and make our Hoosier state the centerpiece of what’s wrong with America.  And just in time for the Super Bowl week with an international audience!
    And I predict that at the end of the day, folks will be asking, “Why didn’t we talk about jobs?  Why didn’t we talk about our schools?”
    And as the 2012 session begins and explodes, they will ask the old question:  “What were they thinking?”

    Stilwell is a former Democratic majority leader in the Indiana House.
    BOONVILLE - John Gregg just might be the personification of what a broad & diverse segment of Hoosiers see in themselves.  Family first; funny and smart; humble but yet ambitious and a consensus builder while sticking to a core set of principles founded in working class values.
    The ideal of the Renaissance Man originated in Italy.  It is based on the belief that a man’s capacity for personal development is without limits; competence in a broad range of abilities and areas of knowledge should be every man’s goal and is within everyman’s grasp.
    John Gregg could be characterized as a Hoosier whose expertise and knowledge spans a significant number of subject areas and with a quick wit too.  He just might be the Hoosier version of Renaissance Man.   He just “gets it” so much better than any other political face in our state.  He is smart (three university degrees plus a law degree), funny and passionate about everyday Hoosiers.  While others talk about family values, John Gregg practices them.
    If you underestimate him he will prevail every time.
    When John Gregg was Speaker of the House during the 2007/08 sessions, I was a freshman legislator.  We had a 50-50 divided house.  However, Democrats were the “majority” party due to a “quirk” in the law inserted the year before by then majority Republicans.  In the event of a tie in the Indiana House, the winner of the gubernatorial race would decide the majority. They just knew that their candidate would win. He didn’t, Frank O’Bannon did and John Gregg was the Speaker of the House.
    John’s leadership during his tenure as Speaker from 1997-2002 could be characterized as some of the best times in our state. We passed balanced budgets; we had budget surpluses; we brought our state into the 20th century with much needed worker benefit reforms and stretched that 50-50 majority to a solid 53-47 bloc.
    During his tenure Speaker Gregg could sometimes get the minority party spittin’ mad.  Just like a Sunday morning preacher, Speaker Gregg would explode and pound the podium and chastise the opposition party when their antics needed addressed.  And then when the R’s were just about to explode and walk, Gregg would crack one of his famous one-line jokes and have the entire Assembly in stitches.  His humor and quick wit saved many a day for the session.
    During the final days of my freshman year I did the unthinkable.  I informed Speaker Gregg and then Ways and Means Chairman Patrick Bauer that I was not going to vote for the budget.  Eleven were prepared to join me.  Trust me when I say these two leaders were not pleased.
    What was the issue?  Indiana lagged at the absolute bottom of the pile for all 50 states in Unemployment Insurance and Workers Compensation for our workers.  Until that was addressed, the budget vote was at a standstill.
    For three straight days, Gregg, Bauer, myself and a couple of prominent labor folks huddled to try to get some sort of solution before the session ended.  On the last night an elaborate procedural process was cleverly implemented. It was Sine Die and late in the evening.  The only items before the session ended was the Conseco Stadium funding formula (this had broad support) and another similar funding mechanism for Indianapolis, both of which had strong republican support.  Before these bills were handed down for the final vote, Speaker Gregg used the procedural process to introduce the workers unemployment and compensation bills.  The House R’s were infuriated and immediately walked off the floor, never to return.
    As an elated Gregg took his then considerable frame and smacked the walls in jubilation, he echoed those sweet words that he had finally punched the Republican’s button just like Speaker Phillips had done.  And for a cause that helped Hoosiers throughout our state.
    What about those bills?  Governor O’Bannon called us into Special Session with all three bills (including the labor provisions) combined in one bill.  It would be an up or down vote taking the good medicine with the bad medicine, depending on your point of view.  The bill passed with broad bipartisan votes (remember, we only had 50 votes) and shortly after, Frank O’Bannon’s poll numbers soared to well over 60%.  Speaker Gregg had earned respect and admiration from his caucus and his adversaries as well in getting the job done.
    When John Gregg saw a complicated issue or problem, he was not shy about calling in others to help find a solution. This was a leadership style that shaped his speakership and led to some of the most dominant years for his party during his tenure as speaker.
    When Gregg was speaker, there was a daily session in the speaker’s office from a broad cross-section of our caucus that reviewed every bill, every amendment and every possible scenario before session started.  His leadership style was inclusion, listening to others.  But make no mistake about it; at the end of the session, he was the decision maker.  But he made those decisions with open input from a broad cross-section of our caucus.
    If someone thinks they are going to outwit, outdebate or upstage John Gregg, they had better bring a sack lunch to the event, for it would be an all-day affair.  Gregg is deeply religious, but doesn’t wear it on his sleeve.  John is sometimes brilliant in his uncanny ability to remember names and quote the scriptures when making an impromptu speech or remarks.
    When one takes in the entire persona of Speaker John Gregg, you have just what Hoosier voters are looking for. He is a straight-talkin’, bible quotin’, tell-it-like-it-is Southern Indiana Democrat who is pro-gun and right to life. Unlike many in the other party, he does not wear his social positions on his sleeve or post them on his forehead. He talks about jobs and the economy and how we can move our state forward.  John Gregg talks about opportunity and inclusion.
    While the opposition for the gubernatorial race often wears their values on their sleeves, John Gregg, the Southern Indiana Hoosier Renaissance man, keeps his values where voters want him to – in his heart!.

    Stilwell is a former Democrat House majority leader.
  • BOONVILLE - My observations and opinions about Mitch Daniels during his tenure as the Governor of the State of Indiana range from outrage to admiration. As a partisan Democrat who was the House Majority Leader during four of his first six years in office and as a labor-oriented public official I have observed a master politician at work.
    One of the first chance encounters I had with Mitch Daniels was a couple days after he was sworn into office in 2005.  We had never actually met.  We had never crisscrossed the same circles and we certainly never lived in the same neighborhood.  But that morning when I was walking up the steps to the capital and the governor was a few steps behind me, I said, “Good morning Governor.”  To my shock he said, “Good morning Russ.  How’s things in Southern Indiana.”
    Right then and there, I knew that Governor Mitch had done his homework and that it included infinitesimal details about his political opposition and most likely as whole lot more.  Mitch knew his opposition and his potential allies even though their paths had not crossed.  He was ready.
    As a self-anointed political junkie, I appreciate good political instincts and well-run campaigns. Daniels, when campaigning for governor in 2004 ran one of the best campaigns ever devised in the Hoosier state. From the good “Aw shucks” southern drawl when he was in the deep south of our state to the scholarly policy initiatives he advocated across the 92 Indiana counties, Daniels took politics to a level never mastered in the state.  And he did this (and again in his 2008 reelection campaign) without smearing his opponents with slick, controversial and nasty negative campaign commercials.  Daniels took campaigning to a whole different level.
    My favorite (and there were a lot of favorites) commercial was when Daniels comes on air and says, “Any garden that is 16 years old needs a little weeding from time to time.”  It was the ultimate dig for taking a shot at 16 years of Democrat control in the governor’s office.  And Mitch was great at this brand of messaging.
    The RV?  Who would have thought it was the engine that could. And the overnights?  Staying with supporters and others in their homes in every nook and cranny in our diverse state gave him a perspective of what real Hoosiers were thinking.  And he put those perspectives to good use.
    A couple years ago Gov. Daniels was scheduled for a Chamber of Commerce breakfast address in my hometown of Boonville, a 7,000-something community with far more Democrats than Republicans.  We chatted a minute or two at the chow line and he asked me about my yard and if my mowing it twice a week was keeping me busy.  What? How could he know something as arcane as that!
    Actually, he had spent the night with a longtime friend of a staffer of his that he did not know (so, that’s how they do it?).  Just so happened that my neighbors were the parents of the friend and when Daniels asked if they knew Russ Stilwell, they released the mowing routine.  It’s always the little things that a politician remembers and relays later that makes a lasting impression. And I bet Gov. Mitch had done these uncountable times as he traveled the state.
    Daniels for president?  Actually, I am very pleased that he decided to not get in the race. My reasons are pure and they are politically motivated. I like and support President Obama and his position on the ballot in 2012 would not help our Hoosier democrat candidates! He would have been a force to be contended with at the national scene and would have provided the Republican party with a smart (actually very smart) candidate who know s the issues and understands the electorate and has an uncanny ability to take complicated problems and have the electorate understand and then support his position. He did this time and again in the Hoosier state and would have assuredly done this with a myriad of far more complicated subjects at the national level.
    Even though I firmly believe that Daniels is a superb politician who can outline an aggressive agenda and even get it passed I also believe the “national press corp truth squad” would get the gov in a jam from time to time.  Remember the line, “We created two jobs for every job lost.” And how about all the little things he didn’t include when taking credit for the fiscal health of the state finances?  
    It doesn’t matter.  At the end of the day he sold his message, had substantial voter approval and moved the state in the direction he wanted.  I just happened to disagree in the direction.
    Clearly, Mitch Daniels could be a bit feisty from time-to-time. He called then-House Speaker Pat Bauer a “car bomber” and chastised others with clear and direct assaults. That’s OK, I guess. After all politics is still a rough and tumble sport in the Hoosier state and one has to occasionally engage, lest they get run over.
    Shortly after the 2010 elections when the Republicans had overwhelmed the Democrats, not only in Indiana but throughout the nation, I received a call from a key staff person in the Daniels administration.  Now what in the hell were they calling for?  After all, I had just been defeated in my marginal Democrat district (after 14 years) by a most worthy opponent who was the beneficiary of lots of campaign bucks from the governor’s Aiming Higher PAC.
    Gov. Daniels was scheduled to be the speaker for an announcement of a major coal gasification plant breakthrough that would bring a $2.5 billion investment to our state and create thousands of jobs for several years building the facility.  Clearly, one of the few issues that me and the Daniel’s administration agreed on and worked on in a collaborative manner was this issue.  I authored three bills in three successive legislative sessions to make this plant an option.  Gov. Daniels used the power of his office and political capital to make the gasification plant a reality.
    So why did his office call?  The senior staff person said that Gov. Daniels wanted to personally invite me to the announcement and that I was the only person that the governor had so instructed to be invited.  And true to form, I was the only elected official (make that former elected official) official that Daniels singled out for helping to make this plant a realty.  Later his staff told me that he knew how much work I put into this controversial plant and wanted in let everyone know. Sure not the Mitch I knew in our legislative battles. But, I’m sure it’s the Mitch that most Hoosiers came to appreciate.
    We will never know if one day Mitch Daniels one day would have been a statistical footnote of a wannabe Republican presidential contender, a Republican nominee or even president.  We will never know if an honest and frank discussion about our national debt and entitlement programs between two intellectually superior candidates would have made a difference and changed direction of our nation.
    But what we do know, and what I believe, is that President Obama should breathe a sigh of relief that Mitch Daniels doesn’t have him in his political sights.  Even a partisan democrat can appreciate good politics (now, I didn’t say policy) and Mitch Daniels’ application of politics is as good as it gets.

    Stilwell is a former Indiana House Democratic majority leader.
  • BOONVILLE - A lot has happened since the opening gavel of the 2011 Indiana General Assembly session.  As Dylan sang decades ago, “The times, they are a-changin’.”
    There were winners and losers, as well as a myriad of time bombs for campaigns to come and political junkies to ponder.  From the beginning, this session was going to be about change and how that change was defined.
    The Hoosier political landscape has changed.  New legislative maps entrench the Republicans for years to come.  Congressional maps had winners and losers and a host of new candidates are off to the races, even though announcements are in the distant future.
    Congressman Joe Donnelly gets screwed in the congressional maps and is positioned to be a formidable U.S. Senate nominee.  Senator Lugar is challenged by the tea baggers and the half-cocked state treasurer. And former Speaker John Gregg is on the Democrat circuit. Sure looks like 2012 is going to be a fun year.
    Governor Daniels will be making a decision in the next few weeks about his presidential ambitions.  Will he or won’t he?  You would have to be living under a rock if you did not think a Daniels presidential run is imminent.
    When House Dem leader B. Patrick Bauer told me back in 2008 that Daniels was running for president, I thought he was nuts.  As I have often said, never underestimate Pat Bauer.  The former Speaker got it right long before anyone even thought about a Daniels presidential run. Anyone, that is, except maybe Daniels.
    My guess is that the average Hoosier did not pay a lot of attention to whom they were voting for in 2010 and what the consequences might be.  My crystal ball also informs me that most aren’t fully informed about the massive change conducted in Indianapolis over the past few months.
    But just wait.  I am certain they will be fully informed of the mischief, the walkout and the attacks on public education, labor, Planned Parenthood and more.  Every conceivable political angle from every potential advantage point will be hand-fed to every constituency group for political advantage by the Ds and Rs.  After all, the election is only 18 months away.

    Click on the headline the read the entire post.
  • BOONVILLE - A couple weeks ago, I talked about being “politically boxed in a corner.”  We discussed how to get out, what the price might be and are you willing to pay the price.
    Isn't it funny what 10 days can do to ease the complexity for an exit strategy, particularly if you had not wanted one for the past month?  In case you’re been living under a rock, “The House Democrats are Back.”
    Prediction:  In less than a week, the House R’s will wish the Dems had stayed in Urbana.  They will face a worn-out, issue-driven wide-awake caucus bent on making sure that the issues they hold dear have a voice.  And there will be no shortage of Democrat debate, or amendments for that matter.   
    For the first time in a long time, I suspect that many of the House Dems have read and reread each of the House R’s controversial bills – and there are plenty of them. And they have prepared and reviewed amendments.
    Add all this together and throw it in the political blender with a Type-A legislator who hasn’t had a chance to debate for weeks and you’re got late night sessions, pent up passion and Hoosier politics at its best.
    The House D’s have been considering how they might return to the capitol ever since they left. Much has happened. What started as a walk-out on Right to Work (and other issues, for sure) ended up being the longest legislative caucus walkout in modern day history – in any state.
    There are still a myriad of still lingering issues that the House has on its calendar that will make this session interesting. Did I mention project labor agreements, school vouchers, collective bargaining and the budget?
    Political pundits, including this one, have been ranting for a month or more about the Democrat walk-out. It never came close to receiving the Wisconsin national media frenzy. But it did strengthen the will of a whole lot of Hoosiers on the receiving end of the over-reaching republican butcher knife.
    Sometimes the House Democrats just can’t help themselves. And sometimes the House Republicans, despite a sizable majority, do the unthinkable and make self-inflicted wounds on their political armor.
    History will record two classic wounds: 1995 and 2011. For one, the history is already etched in the books and for the other (2011), history is being recorded. The House R’s had it all in 1995 with a 56-44 majority that resulted from the Republican wave in the 1994 elections.
    And then they did the unthinkable. They made sure the Democrat base was energized!
    They took on our public school teachers and the ISTA. They conducted a full scale attack on labor and the building trades (remember the rallies?). And for good measure they smacked around the trial lawyers and attempted mid-census redistricting that caused a 10-day democrat walkout. The result? They rallied the Democrat base and lost their majority the very next election.
    This year? Time will tell but history has a strong habit of repeating itself. The R’s took on every anti-labor issue imaginable. They shredded the ISTA into pieces. They made our public school teachers the scapegoat for all of our education woes. And for good measure they took their agenda to a whole new level of rallying the Democrat base!

    Stay tuned for 2012.  It should be interesting fodder. The Democrat base is energized!
    What about the return of the Democrats?  Will they be subdued into submission?  Don’t think so!
    My best guess is the five-week 15-round bout the House D’s sprung on the House R’s was the opening of a multi-bout fight.  he issues are still there. The D’s are still simmering over the overreaching and the House R’s feel it’s their time.
    Not really a good recipe to sing, “Getting’ Together”, from the old Tommy James and the Shondales song from the 60’s.  Those lyrics won’t make it past the first week of long night sessions.
    Gettin' together is better than ever;

    Gettin' together never felt like this before; 

    Gettin' together is better than ever; 

    Gettin' together.
    But the issues are so very real . . . and so very partisan . . . and so very polarized. Gettin’ Together just may not be better than ever! Getting’ together might be lining up for the feature fight in another 15-round fight.

    Stilwell is the former House Democratic majority leader and a regular HPI columnist.
  • BOONVILLE - Last weekend (March 12-13) I decided to take a trip to Urbana, Ill., and see firsthand what all the fuss is about in this college dominated community just a few miles from our Hoosier border.  When I pulled into the parking lot of the Comfort Inn I knew right away that House Dems weren’t holed up in a four-star hotel.
    And no, there wasn’t a hot tub, as Mitch likes to suggest from time to time.  What I did see was a group of special Hoosiers defying all odds to ensure that their beloved state continues to value fairness in the workplace and classroom.
    As I visited with these former colleagues, I realized that they’re not in Urbana to score political points,  and they’re not in the Land of Lincoln for the purpose of offending the new Republican majority.
    They know they are the last assemblage left in the Hoosier State that can prevent the wholesale destruction of the middle class and the union members who sustain the middle class.
    They sent strong signals to the other side that they are prepared to come back, debate the issues and finish their collective work if one particularly offensive bill is rescinded   Seems like a simple solution to such a complex stalemate.  But politics and Type A personalities never make for simple solutions.
    I have known House Democrat leader Pat Bauer for a long time, and I’ll readily admit that he can be difficult to deal with from time to time.  But I also know a lot about this man that many folks don’t.  After spending several hours with him this past weekend, I renewed my belief that no one, and I mean no one, would relish rolling in the muddy ring of politics with Pat Bauer.
    Unlike most politicians, Pat Bauer is an excellent listener.  He takes ridicule and Bauer-bashing with a grain of salt, although sometimes I think it bothers him more than he shows.  But he is one thing above all else – one tough in-your-face leader.
    Contrary to his critics, he doesn’t always pick the fights.  Most just come his way and unlike many of his contemporaries, Pat Bauer never walks away from a fight.  And if that fight is for the things he champions most, there is not a fiercer combatant than the feisty out-spoken Irishman from South Bend, Indiana!
    Pat Bauer champions the fight for the little people (and no, not because he is short) and those that need a voice.  He champions the fight of the middle class, public schools and the rights of Hoosiers to have a union and earn a decent wage.  Sometimes I think that is his calling.
    Anyone engaged in a political fight with Pat Bauer had better be well prepared and ready to go the full 15 rounds.
    I really don’t know what round this legislative stalemate is in, but I know that Pat Bauer has a lot of rounds left in him.  He won’t bite off your ear to end the fight, but when the bout is over, you might wish he had.
    That brings me to the point of this article.  Are Pat Bauer and the House Democrats in a box?
    Some might suggest that these temporary residents of the Land of Lincoln are in a box.  Others might suggest that Speaker Bosma and his band of 60 are in a box.
    One should not be surprised that both caucuses are in a box.  On any given day these Type A personalities are boiling, enraged, fighting mad, livid, singing songs in caucus, or just resigned to another useless day of waiting.
    Like most Hoosiers, I would like for this stalemate to end.  So I thought I would do what any enterprising Hoosier would do: Find out how to get out of a box.

    Peanuts and the coconut
    In Africa and parts of India the natives use a unique technique to catch monkeys. They hollow out one end of a coconut and tie a long line to it. Then they put peanuts inside the coconut and hide it in the bush.  When a monkey discovers the coconut is filled with nuts, he works his hand through the small hole in one end of coconut to grab a fist full of nuts, but finds that when he makes a fist to grab the peanuts he is unable to pull his hand out through the hole.
    Once the monkey has his hand inside the coconut, the natives slowly pull in the line attached to the coconut. No matter how loud the monkey squeals, he remains trapped as long as his fist is clenched. The monkey is in a box and the only way he can have the peanuts is to give up his freedom.
    It looks to me that Speaker Bosma and the House Republicans are just like the proverbial monkey. They won’t let go of their over-reaching fist-clenching agenda on common construction, and every day Leader Bauer and his band of 39 pull that string ever closer to the brink of legislative destruction.
    What is a box?
    A box is a metaphor for a situation that restricts your freedom. House D’s stuck in Urbana and House R’s stuck in a half-empty legislative chamber are in boxes. But there is a way out of every box. One only needs to be willing to pay the price.
    When you remain in a box, you pay a price. The House D’s are feeling the wrath of Hoosiers for not doing the job they were elected to do. House R’s are on the receiving end of a barrage of outrage from many of the voters who put them in office. I can’t believe either side is enjoying its position.
    The way out of the box is to pay a price.
    The House D’s have served notice that their price is one lonely legislative arrow in the overloaded Republican quiver of arrows.
    The House R’s?  Seems their price was $250 daily fines, a poorly sung melody in their caucus that pissed off the D’s and a Republican letter serving notice that their agenda was nothing short of the Second Crusade.
    Pay the price and get out of the box?
    House D’s were probing for a rallying cause, and the House R’s sent them a Right to Work curve ball that was hit out of the park all the way to Urbana.  It’s time for Speaker Bosma to unclench his fist full of labor-troubling peanuts and this “session of all sessions” can begin anew.
    When you are trapped in a box you should remember that Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” claims that there is nothing more dangerous than a foe that has no way out but to fight. And if the fight goes another round, my money is on the tough-nosed guy in the corner protecting the little guy on the street. My money’s on Pat Bauer and the House Democrats.

    Stilwell is the former Democratic House majority leader.
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  • Morales denies sexual harassment allegations; Wells comments
    "As a husband and father, I understand sexual harassment is deplorable and can leave devastating scars. The claims being made against me are false and I unequivocally deny all of them. The women, who will not reveal their identity, cannot corroborate their stories. They have neither documentation nor sources to substantiate their defaming comments. The falsities stem from 15 years ago and were not brought forward until now. The timing is clearly politically motivated, especially considering one of the women mentions that she is now volunteering for my opponent's campaign. The claims were printed in a publication that uses a disclaimer stating, 'This is a compiliation of pure gossip, rumor and blatant innuendo'. I am appalled to be included in this publication (and) I was not provided an opportunity to respond to these falsehoods before they were printed." Republican Secretary of State nominee Diego Morales, responding to allegations published by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz at IndyPolitics. Democrat nominee Destiny Wells said in a statement: "Diego Morales' victims need to be heard and believed. It takes tremendous courage in coming forward, and the last thing I want is for their personal sacrifice to be for naught. While this race has been focused on safeguarding our right to vote, we too must safeguard a woman's right to exist in the workplace free of sexual harassment and assault. For weeks we have seen mounting evidence that Diego will say and do anything to get what he wants — as Hoosiers, I know this is not in line with our values — we have had enough."
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