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Sunday, May 19, 2019
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  • INDIANAPOLIS - There's an old aphorism about being a mayor that goes, "Plowing streets isn't a partisan issue." In other words: Being a Republican or Democrat might signal the governing approach of a legislator or a candidate for state or federal executive office with a broad range of powers, but it doesn't tell you much about how a mayor may manage a city. Once elected, a mayor — perhaps more than any other officeholder — is judged more on their ability to deliver results around nuts-and-bolts issues than their ability to advance an ideological agenda. And yet so many obituaries for the late Dick Lugar note that he was a successful senator and he was a successful mayor, but fail to make the connection that he was a successful senator because he was a successful mayor. To most commentators, his eight years leading Indianapolis are merely a one-sentence biographical prelude to paragraphs about his thirty-six years of achievement in Washington. But it wasn't those achievements that earned Lugar the title of statesman, it was his approach to governing. And in so many of his later achievements, we see the approach of a mayor: Someone who understood that bringing people together, solving problems, and delivering results should be the goal of government, at whatever level.

  • INDIANAPOLIS - In the week since his death, much has been written about Birch Bayh's time in the U.S. Senate, and his place in the pantheon of American history. Rightfully so, as Bayh's impact rivals that of any Hoosier to serve in our nation's capital in any capacity. But before going to Washington, he was a farm boy from Vigo County serving Hoosiers in Indianapolis over four terms as a state representative. None of the obituaries give his time at the Statehouse more than a passing mention, and only then because he served for a term as the Speaker of the House. I suspect this is for a few reasons. First, for most Hoosiers, the Indiana General Assembly has never been as visible as its federal counterpart. This was particularly true for the era when Bayh served, as the legislature met for barely more than two months every other year. Second, this lack of visibility and interest means there is little widely available material on the Indiana General Assembly prior to the last decade or so. Researching the goings on in our legislative bodies requires access to newspaper archives and session journals, which can typically only be found at a library.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – Julia Nelson (R-Delaware County) never set out to be the first woman elected to the Indiana General Assembly. A long-time suffragette, Nelson was 56 years old in 1920 when women first had the right to vote in Indiana. She chaired the Delaware County Republican Women’s Club that year in order to encourage women to utilize their new right (and to encourage them to vote Republican when they did). Then on Saturday, Oct. 30, 1920 — just days before the November 2 election—incumbent State Rep. J. Clark McKinley (R-Delaware County) suddenly died. Local Republican leaders quickly made the decision to reward Nelson’s efforts by running her in McKinley’s place and by that evening she was officially a candidate for office. Barely 72 hours later, they were celebrating the accomplishment of sending the first woman to the General Assembly. Because it is unclear if Nelson’s name actually replaced McKinley’s on the ballot, or if party leaders merely decided she would be the recipient of McKinley’s votes, most sources today consider her only to be the first woman to serve in the General Assembly, and not the first to be elected (since McKinley was the original candidate). But newspaper articles from 1920 make it clear that at the time they considered her to be the first elected.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – National chatter about a potential wave election has persisted since at least the spring of 2017, and conventional wisdom for the past 18 months or so has been that Democrats will take control of the U.S. House but struggle to take control of the U.S. Senate because they have to play too much defense. As we’re now within 100 days of the election, speculation will quickly crescendo as pundits attempt to discern what kind of wave, if any, might be approaching our electoral shores. In the midst of such an environment, “What constitutes a wave election?” is a question that rarely gets asked, as most settle for the ambiguous expectation of big gains for the party out of power. Meanwhile, “What does this mean for down-ballot races in Indiana?” is a question that rarely gets answered, at least not in a way that achieves consistent consensus. But by investigating the former question, we have a better chance of using historical data to attempt to answer the latter. Over the last 50 years those criteria leave us with seven wave elections: 1974, 1980, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2008, and 2010. So far, so good; even without our criteria, most observers would probably settle on those same elections.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – With the announcement that Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring, speculation is mounting that 7th Circuit Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was on a short list of potential replacements. Because Barrett lives in Indiana and teaches law at the University of Notre Dame, this speculation is especially ramped up in the Hoosier State. This begs the question: How many other Supreme Court justices hailed from Indiana? Well, that depends on how you look at it. In the case of a U.S. representative or senator, it’s pretty easy to determine a home state. Just look at where they were elected. Similarly, since most presidents and vice presidents have previously held elective offices, you look to the state where they were previously on the ballot. Supreme Court justices, on the other hand, don’t typically have a history of being on the ballot, so an alternative method is needed to determine a home state. Here we have four options: 1) State of birth; 2) state where formative years were spent; 3) state where a significant part of adult life was spent; and 4) the state from which the justice was appointed (note: because most Supreme Court justices come from lower courts, this is the standard the Court itself uses, and it generally reflects on which court they served and/or which state within the district or circuit the justice lived while serving).
     
  • EVANSVILLE – For political junkies, it’s the 1968 Indiana Republican Convention that best exemplifies a sort of golden age for state convention floor fights. The gubernatorial battle on the GOP side that year is well-remembered because it was a hotly contested race between the sitting secretary of state (Edgar Whitcomb) and the sitting speaker of the Indiana House (Otis Bowen), both of whom would eventually become beloved governors (less well-remembered is that future U.S. Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz was a third candidate in that race). It’s also remembered because it marked a sort of statewide coming out party for Keith Bulen, who helped engineer a coalition of large county delegations that backed a successful slate of candidates led by Whitcomb. The 1968 Republican race for governor stands out as much for its place in the significant Bulen mythology that would build over the subsequent three decades as it does for any candidates involved. In truth, it was actually the 1968 Indiana Democratic Party convention that produced a floor fight to be remembered, both because it featured a colossal upset and because it ended with what’s probably the narrowest margin of victory ever seen in a state convention.

  • INDIANAPOLIS – When the Indiana Republican and Democratic parties meet this weekend and next, respectively, for biennial state conventions, the main attraction of each will be the selection of candidates for secretary of state, state auditor and state treasurer. Then again, these may only be main attractions in the nominal sense as both parties have unopposed slates and will likely endorse their top-of-the-ticket standard bears by acclimation. But whether we’re talking about the mid-term year conventions that select the three constitutional offices, or the gubernatorial year conventions that select the statutory offices of attorney general and superintendent of public instruction (the latter will happen only once more before being removed from the ballot), uncontested races have become more or less the norm. Exhibit A: I suspect that most readers didn’t realize I omitted the lieutenant governor as a convention-selected candidate, because in practice it has become merely the ratified choice of the primary election-selected gubernatorial candidate (and no longer occupies its own ballot spot in November, to boot). Of course, it’s no secret that modern convention politics lack the drama of a bygone era. In order to generate more enthusiasm around the events, Indiana Democrats now market their conventions as “Big Dem Weekends” and have moved their annual fundraising dinner to the first night to attract donors and others who might not otherwise serve as delegates. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS – As we’ve watched political events in Indiana unfold over the past few weeks (and really, as we’ve watched them unfold nationally over the past few years) there’s a temptation to suggest that we’re witnessing things that have never happened before, that we’re in a uniquely historical time in our politics. But with more than 200 years of state history to draw on, it turns out that King Solomon was probably right: There is nothing new under the sun. Consider the rise of Mike Braun, who is taking his outsider businessman campaign into a general election for U.S. Senate, against the backdrop of a long line of Hoosier Senators with deep political experience. Todd Young, Joe Donnelly, Dan Coats, and Dan Quayle all came from the U.S. House; Evan Bayh served as governor; Dick Lugar and Vance Hartke both served as mayors of major cities; Birch Bayh had been speaker of the Indiana House; and Bill Jenner had been the State Senate pro tem. Braun (who only served a handful of terms as a rank-and-file state representative) certainly appears to have a unique background. But Homer Capehart was the original trailblazer of the outsider-businessman-to-U.S.-Senate path.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – Only one state senator in Indiana’s history has been elected to serve 10 terms. Unofficially, and depending on which state government entity you believe, there may actually be two, but that’s a messy story that may soon be moot anyway, so let’s start with the straightforward data. When Wells County Democrat Von Eichhorn retired from the Indiana Senate in 1966 after serving a then-record seven terms, a freshman legislator named Joe Harrison, R-Attica, entered the chamber. Nobody would touch Eichhorn’s record until 1994, when Harrison was elected to an eighth term, followed by a ninth term in 1998, and – by default after no one filed to run against him in either the primary or the general – a 10th, and final, term from 2002-2006.  It wouldn’t take as long for Harrison’s sole ownership of the record to be challenged; Larry Borst, R-Greenwood, ran for his 10th term in 2004, and Bob Garton, R-Columbus, did so in 2006; both, however, would lose their primaries. No one else had the opportunity to attempt a 10th term until 2014, but that year Johnny Nugent, R-Dearborn, opted to retire after nine terms rather than run for reelection.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – As covered in Parts 1 and 2, from Indiana’s founding in 1816 until the “Black Day” of the General Assembly in 1887, the lieutenant governor served as the State Senate’s true presiding officer with the Senate president “pro tempore,” or pro tem, infrequently playing a bit, ceremonial role. When Republican Pro Tem Isaac P. Gray used his limited power and political cunning to essentially trick Democrats into ratifying the 15th Amendment, he made lifelong enemies in the Senate Democratic caucus. That didn’t change, even after he became a Democrat himself and was elected governor. Gray’s 1886 bid for the U.S. Senate, an office, at the time, selected by the state legislature, not the Hoosier electorate, led to an escalating political chess match between the Democratic governor and his rivals in the Democrat-controlled State Senate that culminated in the physical beating of a Republican lieutenant governor on the Senate floor and the ensuing Statehouse riot that lasted for four hours.
  • The Making of the Modern State Senate Pro Tem: Part 2, The “Black Day” of the General Assembly

    INDIANAPOLIS – As covered in last week’s Part 1, under Indiana’s 1816 and 1851 Constitution – as well as State Senate rules dating back to the First General Assembly – the lieutenant governor as president of the Senate was the chamber’s true presiding officer. The lieutenant governor had the power to create committees, name members and assign legislation to committees, and to manage the operations of the Senate on a daily basis. 
    The pro tem position was an afterthought, serving in a ceremonial capacity only when the lieutenant governor was absent, rarely for more than a few days at a time, and only elected on the first day the lieutenant governor was gone. But, the move toward the modern understanding of the two roles can be pinpointed with remarkable accuracy: Feb. 24, 1887.

  • First in a three-part series

    INDIANAPOLIS  – With the recent news that Senate President Pro Tem David Long will retire in November, journalists, lobbyists, and legislators alike are already starting to size up his legacy.  For most, figuring out where Long ranks compared to other pro tems is complicated primarily by the fact that for nearly 40 years Hoosiers have only experienced two of them. What most don’t realize, though, is that the history of the position  – at least the modern version of it – only extends back another decade from there. So, if you want to rank the influence of Indiana’s pro tems, your only real five options are: 1. Phil Gutman, the man who made the position what it is today and helped usher in some major reforms to the structure of Indiana’s government during the years 1970 to 1976 (a period that saw 11 constitutional amendments adopted, nine of which changed state government); 2. Bob Fair, the Democrat who got his one term from 1976-1978 during the only time in the last 50 years that Democrats controlled the chamber, and who saw some of his own party turn against him by the end of the long session because they thought he wasn’t hard enough on a Republican governor; 3. Chip Edwards, who had just settled into the position by the time he was indicted on federal bribery charges near the end of his two-year term in 1980 (and then convicted of extortion, lying to a grand jury, and corruptly influencing a grand jury witness before year’s end);
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  • Pence urges Taylor grads to take a 'service attitude'
    "Wherever life takes you... take a service attitude. Consider others as more important than yourselves. Go show the world every day, that we can love God and love our neighbor at the same time." - Vice President Mike Pence in his commencement address at Taylor University on Saturday. Pence received a standing ovation even after about 40 students and faculty members walked out in protest. The university's faculty voted 61-49 to approve a motion of dissent against the commencement speaker, according to The Echo student newspaper.
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  • Indiana newspaper closings continue

    Indiana's atrophied newspaper saga continues. Today we learn of the closing of the Hendricks County Flyer, which covered Brownsburg, Avon, Plainfield and surrounding areas. Publisher Beverly Joyce told readers that only 6% of recipients voluntarily paid for the paper. “Unfortunately, the business model of free content to a large print audience was not sustainable,” the paper quoted Joyce saying. “We tried every way we could to keep the operation viable.”

    This sad news comes as close to 1,800 newspapers across the U.S. have closed since 2004. Other newspapers closing in Indiana include NUVO Newsweekly in Indianapolis and Green Banner Publishing of Pekin, which had newspapers in Scott, Washington and Floyd counties. The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel is now a one-person operation.

    This is a crisis for Hoosier citizens. Where will they be getting their local news? - Brian A. Howey, publisher


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