LOGANSPORT – Given all the coverage of Republican-approved redistricting plans and the overuse of the word “gerrymandering,” there’s now ample excuse for the Democratic Party to throw in the towel for the next 10 years.

And therein lies the problem for the Indiana Democratic Party. You can’t build success on excuses. You have to build it on ideas, accomplishments and trends of change.

So in this Halloween season when television reminds us of the Bela Lugosi era when Dracula was cool, it’s time to give a nod to Bram Stoker and introduce daylight to the discussion of competitive campaign races across our state.

Let’s start by remembering the example of the late Jim Jontz. He was a liberal Democrat who won a conservative Indiana House district, then a conservative Indiana Senate district and finally, a conservative congressional district. He did it by connecting to the people and providing constituent service. He did it by going door to door, and being a familiar name and face to everyone he served, whether or not they voted for him.

His crowning glory was winning the 5th Congressional District in 1986 when the district had 14 counties, but in 1990, partisan redistricting added six more counties. Had it not been for the Persian Gulf War, Jontz (pictured) might have served for 20 years in Congress. But the threat of Saddam Hussein and his non-existent nuclear weapons was enough to sweep Jontz from Congress. With history as our guide, Jontz was right not to vote for the war, but history has 20/20 vision. Politics does not.

Mike Schmuhl is an excellent choice for Democrats to lead the statewide party, but his success or failure will depend on who steps forward in this generation of Hoosiers to put their name, their heart and their brain on the line to serve not just their community, but their state and nation.

The truth of the matter is that Indiana is really a purple state that voted for Barack Obama in 2008. It’s one with its major metropolitan area growing a Democratic base into Hamilton County. It’s one that has age on its side as conservative rural areas decline in population and metropolitan areas grow in population. 

It won’t be reflected at the polls until there are more than moral victories. Sometimes, it just takes one issue to turn the tide. In 1986, it was party-run license branches that blew up in the face of the GOP, along with the idea that 20 years of one party running state government was enough. We’re approaching that two-decade limit again, but Democrats have to make the heat before the fire. Small town newspapers aren’t what they used to be, nor is the Indianapolis Star. It will have to be a social media wave of change, but if it can happen in Egypt to create the Arab Spring, it can happen in Indiana. Look how many people are spending time on their cellular phones and you see the vast potential that is being unmet by the Democrats.

It’s time for Democrats to take on regional issues, fiscal issues and social issues. And it’s long past the time to roll over and play dead because Republicans get to draw legislative and congressional maps and Democrats don’t.

There’s more to public service than party labels. Winning hearts and minds takes time.

It takes name recognition. It takes pertinence. It takes relevance. It takes pocketbook issues that typical people understand. It takes people who are willing to get off their couch and out of their comfort zone because they’re not comfortable with being bystanders at a house fire with the fire trucks miles away. 

Kitchell is the former Democratic mayor of Logansport.