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By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – It was October 1984 and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wayne Townsend dropped by the Elkhart Truth editorial board to make his pitch for his challenge to Gov. Robert Orr. Along for the ride was a young, handsome Evan Bayh. Fellow reporter Phil Schermerhorn looked at Bayh and asked, “Evan, what are you running for?” The rest is history.

After managing his father’s losing U.S. Senate race in 1980, Bayh got his law degree from the University of Virginia, then he and IU classmate Joe Hogsett systematically plotted a takeover of the Indiana Democratic Party. The senator’s son would win the 1986 secretary of state race, defeat Sen. Frank O’Bannon and then place him on the ticket for a 1988 gubernatorial run, defeat Lt. Gov. John Mutz for governor, and that commenced a four-cycle, Second Floor winning streak that would finally end at the brainpan of one Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. 16 years later.

Today, with the defeat of U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly and tiny Democratic gains against the GOP super-majorities in the Indiana General Assembly, the party is abjectly irrelevant. Mike Braun’s upset has rendered Indiana a one-party state.

Unlike 1984, when Evan Bayh was the savvy young heir-apparent, there is no such dominating figure on the horizon. His twin sons, Beau and Nick, have just mustered into the Marine Corps and Army from Indiana, so it would be at least three cycles before they would have a chance to move back, trade their Pacer and ISU t-shirts worn during the father’s final (and losing) 2016 Senate campaign to establish residency, find a trade and build a political base.

Back in the Democratic desert days of the 1980s, there were ambitious Sens. Townsend and O’Bannon. Today, there is none. In the House, there is ousted Minority Leader Terry Goodin, the only Democrat representing a rural district. And, really, no one else who has hinted at running for governor.

Democratic State Chairman John Zody intends to stay on, even though he has won very little in two cycles and it’s been three cycles since a Democrat won statewide. The party picked up three House seats and one in the Senate, but Republicans retain super majorities (67-33 in the House, 40-10 in the Senate). “I will stay here as long as I feel like I can make a positive impact on that. This job is not about me; this is about moving the party forward,” Zody said. It will be interesting to learn how Democrats define “forward” in a party that holds only two federal seats and remains in a super minority swamp at the Statehouse, with no constitutional offices. 

House Democrats jettisoned Goodin Wednesday less than a year after taking the helm from Scott Pelath, selected State Rep. Phil GiaQuinta. “I am pleased that our caucus was able to pick up seats in Tuesday’s election, but I feel that we can do more to ensure that all Hoosiers are given a voice in their state government,” he said. “We have a growing number of diverse voices in the House Democratic Caucus, and I intend to use their skills to provide a vision of how government can work for the people of Indiana. We will begin to articulate that vision in the 2019 legislative session. We need to have a fairly aggressive agenda that will benefit Hoosiers. Once we are through session, it begins anew with recruiting solid candidates. We had some great people run but ran out of funds to get them over the line.”

The rising star mayor, South Bend’s Pete Buttigieg, wants to leap frog into the 2020 presidential race and, perhaps, a shot at Vice President Mike Pence if he rounded out a Democratic ticket.

Indiana Democrats have a decent mayoral bench behind Buttigieg. That would include Hammond’s Thomas McDermott, Kokomo’s Greg Goodnight, Fort Wayne’s Tom Henry and, of course, Joe Hogsett. But beyond Richard Lugar, Indianapolis mayors don’t do well statewide, as Bill Hudnut discovered in his 1990 secretary of state loss to Hogsett and Stephen Goldsmith learned in his 1996 loss to Lt. Gov. O’Bannon.

Then there is 2016 LG nominee Christina Hale, who had been eyeing an open gubernatorial seat in 2024, assuming Gov. Eric Holcomb wins reelection in two years. She told HPI earlier this fall she would reassess after this midterm, but amidst the Donnelly wreckage and the three-seat gain in the General Assembly, there is only a ripple to ride, not a wave.

McDermott told HPI on Wednesday morning that he is being urged to challenge Attorney General Curtis Hill in 2020, and would consider a gubernatorial run. If Donnelly opted to challenge Gov. Holcomb, which some Democrats are now pondering, McDermott would back him. 

“Running for statewide office takes a year or a year and a half of your life,” McDermott said. “If you don’t have a fair chance, do you want to give up a year of your life? What did John Gregg and Christina Hale do wrong in 2016? Nothing. Circumstances in Washington, which are beyond your control, can doom you.”

That was in reference to Donald Trump nominating Gov. Mike Pence for vice president, salvaging him from an uphill reelection bid against Gregg, who had learned from his 2012 run and had put together a credible campaign in 2016 that was crushed by the Trump/Pence wave.

“If I were to run statewide, I would be down the middle,” said the three-term Hammond mayor, who is a Navy veteran and a Notre Dame graduate.  “Our party focuses on too many extreme left issues. It alienates union workers. I see Democrats winning in Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois and we’re getting beat. That tells me we’re doing something wrong. We’ve got to appeal to Republicans. If we don’t, we alienate 50% of the voters.”

Hale said she thinks voter turnout was the problem. “Democrats didn’t do as well as we should have… we have more people engaged than we have in recent years, but we still have far too many that are willing to sit on the sidelines,” she told the IBJ. “More than anything, you gotta get out and vote.” 

Hale said the polls made people feel like Donnelly wasn’t in trouble. “I think we made a critical error in listening to this polling. So many people sat on the bench and sat this one out. If we continue to do the same thing and expect a different result, that’s crazy. I think that we have reached a point of significant low self-esteem as a party. There are many people that are going to want to refresh the way we do business.”

In 2011, Bayh declined to seek a third, non-consecutive term for governor, citing the GOP super-majorities and a lack of party support in either chamber. The irony there is had Bayh opted for that race in 2012, as opposed to pushing aside Baron Hill for the U.S. Senate race where he ended up in the Mitch McConnell/Todd Young buzz saw, it might be Gov. Bayh on this very day. When Bayh was governor, he had long coattails, but that was before river country flipped Repubican.

Two-time nominee John Gregg has been the most conspicuous Democrat acting like a prospective candidate, appearing on Twitter with party candidates across the state. Hale has done the J-J Dinner circuit, speaks for Democrats in the media, while McDermott showed up for SD31 nominee Derek Camp in his unsuccessful challenge to Sen. Jim Merritt, but there has been no systematic Rotary Club, VFW or J-J circuit riding that would capture the imagination of Democrats searching for another Bayh – or Moses.

The 2020 gubernatorial race is not a topic familiar names are conspicuously addressing. The hospitality suites at the IDEA convention at French Lick last August were few and far between. At this point, there is no Bayh-like heir. The boo-yahs are reserved for young Nick and Beau on their respective military bases. 

Welcome to Indiana, a one-party state until further notice. 
  • PORTS: STATE EYES LAND ON OHIO RIVER - State officials considering a swath of land along the Ohio River for a possible new shipping port have extended their option to buy the southeastern Indiana acreage (Associated Press). An agreement announced Thursday extends until June 30, 2019, the Ports of Indiana 's option to buy up to 725 acres near Lawrenceburg, about 30 miles west of Cincinnati. The previous purchase option was set to expire on Dec. 31. The land was once owned by Indiana Michigan Power Co., but is now owned by a development company. If Indiana goes ahead with the purchase, it would pay $8 million for the site, which officials say would become Indiana's fourth state port, spurring local development. Indiana currently operates Ohio River ports in Jeffersonville and Mount Vernon, and a Lake Michigan port at Burns Harbor.

    WIC: STATE WARNS FAMILIES ABOUT FLAMMABLE PLATES - The state of Indiana is urging families to stop using plates that were distributed through a public food program (Associated Press). The plates have dividers with labels that show recommended portion sizes for protein, fruits and vegetables. The state says two plates caught fire when they were placed in microwave ovens. Some plates have metal labels that aren’t safe for microwaves. More than 8,500 plates have been distributed since June through the WIC nutrition program, which stands for Women, Infants and Children. In a statement Friday, the state says the plates should be returned or destroyed.


  • DEMS CALL FOR WHITAKER TO RECUSE: Democratic leaders pressed the Department of Justice's top ethics official on Sunday to provide answers on whether the department has advised acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation (NBC News). In a letter to Lee Lofthus, the assistant attorney general for administration, Democrats highlighted Whitaker's past comments criticizing the Mueller probe and what they called a "troubling" conflict of interest as evidence that he should have no role overseeing the investigation. "There are serious ethical considerations that require Mr. Whitaker’s immediate recusal from any involvement with the Special Counsel investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election," the Democrats wrote.

  • POLL SHOWS MAJORITY OF HOOSIERS FRET SCHOOL SHOOTINGS:  A majority of Hoosiers are now worried about the potential of a shooting happening at their local schools, a concern that seems to have grown in the wake of a 13-year-old boy opening fire at Noblesville West Middle School earlier this year – injuring a teacher and another student (Fox59). And while adults across Indiana also want safety measures enacted to protect school children, few believe either arming teachers or banning assault-style weapons would be effective in preventing gun tragedies. Those are among the conclusions of a new Ball State University study set to be released next week; a research summary was obtained by FOX59.com in advance of its presentation to a gathering of legal professionals on Tuesday in Indianapolis. “There have been a number of tragic incidents nationwide, including the one in Noblesville in May, so it’s not surprising that people would be concerned,” said Charles Taylor, who directs the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State, which conducted the study.

    POLICE STEP UP SCHOOL BUS ENFORCEMENT: The tragic deaths of three children on Oct. 30 in rural Rochester, Indiana, who were struck and killed as they crossed a road to board their school bus, has spurred procedural reviews and action by local school and law enforcement officials (Poulton, NWI Times). The Lake Central School Corp. is the most recent to work with police on its new Stop Arm Violation Campaign. As of Friday, all school buses display black ribbons to bring attention "to this serious matter and to honor the recent victims of tragedies across" the U.S. related to the failure of motorists to stop every time the school bus stop arm is activated, Superintendent Lawrence Veracco said in a news release. The release exhorted drivers to be aware that when the stop arm is extended, students may be crossing to the other side of the street. "We thank our community in advance for making the commitment to pay closer attention to our buses and the children who enter and exit them on a daily basis," it said. Hobart Police Chief Richard Zormier posted a Stop Arm Violation notice on the department’s Facebook page recently. “We are providing local school bus drivers with a new form for reporting violations,” Zormier posted.

    NO CHALLENGER FOR PELOSI EMERGES: The House Democratic rebels trying to keep Nancy Pelosi from becoming speaker have a big problem: They can't seem to find someone to run against her (Politico). The naysayers claim they have the 15 to 20 votes it would take to block Pelosi on the House floor. But so far, no one's stepped up as an alternative, and it's unclear who might. Also unknown is whether that person would have a prayer against the experienced Pelosi, as flawed as her detractors say she is. Pelosi is acting like the next speaker already, and any effort to replace her faces immense obstacles without a viable alternative, said Democratic lawmakers and aides. “In politics, nobody is perfect, including Nancy Pelosi. But the basic rule is you can’t beat somebody with nobody,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who backs the California Democrat. “That’s the problem with Nancy’s skeptics.”

    HOUSE DEMOCRATS PREPARING TRUMP PROBES: Fresh off a resounding midterm elections victory, House Democrats on Sunday began detailing plans to wield their newfound oversight power in the next Congress, setting their sights on acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker while rebuffing calls from some liberals to pursue impeachment proceedings against President Trump (Washington Post). Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who is poised to take control of the House Judiciary Committee, said he will call Whitaker as a first witness to testify about his “expressed hostility” to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation. Nadler said he is prepared to subpoena Whitaker if necessary. Another incoming chairman, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) of the House Intelligence Committee, raised the possibility of investigating whether Trump used “instruments of state power” in an effort to punish companies associated with news outlets that have reported critically on him, including CNN and The Washington Post. And Democrats on the House Oversight Committee plan to expand their efforts to investigate Trump’s involvement in payments to women who alleged affairs with him before the 2016 election, a committee aide said Sunday night, potentially opening up the president’s finances to further scrutiny.

    TRUMP PAYS TRIBUTE TO WORLD WAR I SOLDIERS: President Trump paid tribute Sunday to U.S. and allied soldiers killed in World War I as he and dozens of other world leaders commemorated the 100th anniversary of the end of "a horrible, horrible war" that marked America's emergence as a world power (CBS News). "We are gathered together at this hallowed resting place to pay tribute to the brave Americans who gave their last breath in that mighty struggle," Mr. Trump said at the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial in the suburbs of Paris, where more than 1,500 Americans who died in the war are buried. "It is our duty to preserve the civilization they defended and to protect the peace they so nobly gave their lives to secure one century ago," he said.

    SATELLITE PHOTOS REVEAL NORTH KOREA NUKE DECEPTION: North Korea is moving ahead with its ballistic missile program at 16 hidden bases that have been identified in new commercial satellite images, a network long known to American intelligence agencies but left undiscussed as President Trump claims to have neutralized the North’s nuclear threat (New York Times). The satellite images suggest that the North has been engaged in a great deception: It has offered to dismantle a major launching site — a step it began, then halted — while continuing to make improvements at more than a dozen others that would bolster launches of conventional and nuclear warheads. The existence of the ballistic missile bases, which North Korea has never acknowledged, contradicts Mr. Trump’s assertion that his landmark diplomacy is leading to the elimination of a nuclear and missile program that the North had warned could devastate the United States. “We are in no rush,” Mr. Trump said of talks with the North at a news conference on Wednesday, after Republicans lost control of the House. “The sanctions are on. The missiles have stopped. The rockets have stopped. The hostages are home.”

    31 DEAD, 228 MISSING IN CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES: As deadly wildfires that have claimed at least 31 lives continue to scorch California, officials are trying to help people find hundreds of missing loved ones (Associated Press). Many of the missing are from Butte County, where the most destructive fire in state history is burning. Some 228 people remain unaccounted for in the Camp fire, county Sheriff and Coroner Kory Honea told reporters Sunday evening. Meanwhile, 107 people previously deemed missing have been found, some in shelters, he said. Honea said his office had received more than 550 calls from people looking for missing friends and relatives. The Camp fire -- one of the state's deadliest -- virtually obliterated the town of Paradise, home to more than 26,000 people. Twenty-nine people have died in the Northern California blaze. Further south, near Los Angeles, the Woolsey fire has claimed two lives.

    GOV. BROWN CALLS WILDFIRES THE ‘NEW ABNORMAL’: California Gov. Jerry Brown, now seeking a “major disaster declaration” from the White House to bolster the emergency response to three catastrophic wildfires, warned Sunday that those who deny climate change “are definitely contributing to the tragedy” of what he predicted could be years of damaging firestorms due to rising temperatures and increased drought conditions in his state (Politico). “Things like this will be part of our future ... things like this, and worse,’’ warned Brown at a Sunday press conference, flanked by fire and emergency officials delivering an update on three major fires still raging through the state which have killed 25 to date. “That’s why it’s so important to take steps to help communities, to do prevention and adaptation.” Brown’s remarks came after a tweet by Trump on Saturday in which the president argued: “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” Asked to respond to the President's tweet Sunday, Brown called California's recent battles with massive wildfires "the new abnormal.'' He added: “Scientists and the engineers and the firefighters all tell us forest management is one element’’ to control them, but warned governments must address “a whole range of actions'' to address a problem he said may cost "billions" of dollars to tackle.

    HPI DAILY ANALYSIS: U.S. House Democrats are preparing to go down a tortured path. First, there is no emerging challenger for Nancy Pelosi, who appears poised to play right into President Trump’s reelection playbook. She is and will continue to be Trump’s perfect foil. Second, they are preparing an investigation frenzy against Trump, with many predicting it will bring about impeachment, with utterly no prospects of a Senate conviction, unless the Mueller probe report shows indisputable evidence of high crimes and/or misdemeanors. Trump’s reelection campaign will be predicated on this type of overreach by House Democrats. - Brian A. Howey

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