NASHVILLE, Ind. - At 9 p.m. on Election Night November 1990, John Gregg was standing with Jerry Denbo in the Greene County Courthouse in Bloomfield talking on the phone to Diane Masariu in Indianapolis.
“Jerry Denbo won,” Gregg said to the Democratic aide of this new legislator from French Lick.
But Masariu had good news and bad news for John Gregg. Indiana Democrats reclaimed the House after the torturous 50/50 split. And the bad news? “John, Stan got beat,” Masariu said. She was referring to Sue Scholer’s stunning upset of Floor Leader Stan Jones in Lafayette.
“We’ve got to think about this,” Masariu said of the now open leadership post. “Does something like this interest you?”
Gregg’s mind began to churn. He immediately wanted to call fellow Democrats Mark Kruzan, Marc Carmichael and Craig Fry to weigh his options. Then he looked at Denbo.
“Stan Jones from Lafayette just got beat,” Gregg said. “I want to run for majority leader. Will you vote for me?” Denbo said yes. “Jerry, if it goes to a second ballot, will you vote for me?” Denbo replied in the affirmative. “And if it goes more than that, will you go over the cliff for me?”
Once again, Denbo said yes. Then he asked, “What’s the majority leader?”
John Gregg spent just four years as a “back bencher” after winning a House seat in 1986. He was either the No. 1 or No. 2 Democrat in 12 of his 16 years in the House, rising to floor leader in in 1990 and then Speaker in 1996, just two years after the historic Republican tsunami. After six years at the helm, working under Govs. Evan Bayh and Frank O’Bannon, Gregg walked away from his political career in 2002 to concentrate on fatherhood and his legal career.
Now, a decade later, Gregg is poised for a political return, joining Doc Bowen as a Speaker taking aim at the governorship. “He will probably have the greatest depth of knowledge of state government since Otis Bowen,” said State Rep. Winfield Moses Jr. “He knows everybody. He knows the results. He has a good idea of where he likes to lead. He’s got rapport with all the people who were there. There aren’t too many Speakers who actually come out and do this: Bowen was the last one. The legislative background saves you years of learning the minutiae of the bureaucracy. He knows FSSA, environmental department, public resources, state parks.”
In Gov. Bowen’s book “Doc: Memories of a Life in Public Service,” the former Republican Speaker wrote that going into his first session as governor in 1973, “I had advantages. I personally knew almost every member in both caucuses in both houses. We respected each other. Our occasional disagreements were good-natured ones.”
Gregg is now engaged in what will be an epic race against the probable Republican nominee – U.S. Rep. Mike Pence – in 2012. They consider each other friends. They were Indiana University Law School classmates. Pence helped Gregg land a radio show on WIBC. Both are excellent communicators. Both come from the conservative, pro-life, pro-gun wings of their respective parties.
In the June 16 edition of Howey Politics Indiana, Pence’s 10-year congressional career was analyzed in what is, to date, the most extensive coverage of the Columbus Republican’s legislative career. Today, HPI intends to focus on Gregg’s 16-year career in the Indiana General Assembly. The tasks are considerably different. Pence has long been considered a rising star in both the Indiana and national Republican Party. He has left a lengthy trail of election defeats and victories, votes, a quick ascent into congressional leadership, dozens of speeches and hundreds of press releases articulating his often nuanced stands on issues ranging from abortion, to the economy, press freedom, war, to immigration.
Gregg’s paper trail is much less evident. He ran and won eight races in the tiny 45th House District centered around Vincennes and Knox County, feeding off the socially-conservative Reagan Democrats. After Gregg left the House in 2002, Republican State Rep. Bruce Borders has held his seat ever since. While many have long considered him – or any House speaker for that matter – potential gubernatorial or congressional timber, he has mostly been out of the public eye for a decade now. He is the civic father of the tiny, farming community of Sandborn, as well as Vincennes, where he served as interim president of the university there. His farm straddles the White River with views of two time zones – Gregg said in a Jefferson-Jackson Day speech he can stand in one zone and pee into another – and both Greene and Daviess counties. The new I-69 is just a few miles away from his homestead and the Crane Naval Weapons Support Center, the region’s biggest employer, is just over the horizon. It is coal country, and he worked as a lobbyist for two Fortune 500 coal companies. He practices law in Vincennes and with Bingham McHale in Indianapolis.
While Democrats are eager to take pot shots at Pence, most legislative Republicans, both current and former, did not avail themselves for HPI interviews about Gregg’s legislative career. It might be that the enduring friendships still exist despite more than a decade of some jarring legislative showdowns, or a reluctance to say too much at the expense of their own party’s probable nominee. It is hard to find an enemy of Gregg’s at the Statehouse.
“John’s wit and humor rescued many moments that could have gone the other way,” said Democratic Caucus Leader Dale Grubb. “That’s the trait he had when he dealt with candidates and people. People tend to say, ‘I relate with this guy.’ That served him well.”
Moses adds, “John Gregg was successful for a simple reason: He likes people, he communicates well, and he gets you to answer yes. He doesn’t do something unless he feels strongly. You feel good working with him. Usually it’s when someone wins, someone loses. When his programs win, a lot of people win.”
Indiana Democratic Chairman Dan Parker, who was hired by Gregg in 1995, says Gregg’s power came “from the sheer force of his personality.”

Early career
Gregg entered the House in 1986, sat in seat 92, and watched Republican Gov. Robert D. Orr push his A Plus education plan, one that he opposed, though he was impressed that one of the oldest governors in Indiana history was so dedicated to the state’s children. It was his first on-site gubernatorial case study.
“I always give Bob Orr high marks,” Gregg said. “Here was the oldest governor of our state and oldest governor in the union. He was 75. It was his last session and this guy comes up and puts up a major education initiative when he could have sat back and done nothing. And Bob Orr has probably never gotten the credit for championing education, bringing it to the forefront. You had (State Reps.) Stan Jones and Marilyn Schultz always talking about it, but before that time a governor had never said, ‘We’ve got to do something.’”
Gregg also watched Orr and Lt. Gov. John Mutz establish an Asian presence that has since resulted in more than 220 Japanese, Korean and Chinese companies establishing Indiana facilities.
“Like most freshman members you wanted to get on Ways and Means and it didn’t happen,” Gregg said. “I got on the County and Township Committee and learned a lot. I served on Natural Resources because of my coal background. It was in my second term that I got on the Ways and Means and that’s when you were able to learn more about many things. You’re not just looking at things from 30,000 feet. You could drill down and figure out where the money came from, but also when it came in. It’s not just there in a bank. It trickles in.”
His second term was an historic one: Democrat Evan Bayh was elected governor, ending a 20-year drought for the party while commencing 16 years of Democratic rule. And the House had its first 50/50 split. Democrat Michael K. Phillips and Republican Paul Mannweiler shared the speakership, Republican Pat Kiely and Democrat Pat Bauer rotated as Ways and Means chairman. The woofer/tweeter dual speakers had to find one vote from the other party to pass anything. If a bill tied in committee, it went to the floor with no recommendation. Committee chairs had “wild cards” to move legislation. Creating the calendar was arduous. There was a learning curve for the rookie governor.
The Democrats reclaimed the House in 1990 and with Gregg now majority leader, he had a different role in working the legislation on behalf of Gov. Bayh. He is proudest of helping Bayh shepherd his 21st Century Scholars program into law. He also wrote a law that kept biological parents from reclaiming children they had given up for adoption years earlier.
In 1991, Speaker Phillips chose Gregg to draw the House and Congressional maps. In 2001, as Speaker, Gregg worked extensively with State Rep. Ed Mahern to draw the maps, making Gregg the key driving force on House maps for two decades, much to the chagrin of Republicans. In doing so, Gregg played an instrumental role in keeping his party competitive in the House.
“That first session when you’ve got the governor, the governor sets the agenda, as opposed to the House caucus,” Gregg said. “Gov. Bayh had an agenda of the efficient government. If you remember, in those first two years we managed to cut the excise tax, which was an extremely unpopular tax. We passed a balanced budget, even though people said they were unbalanced.” Gregg notes that with the excise tax cut, “that does something to the numbers.”
In 1993, both Bayh and former Republican Speaker Paul Mannweiler remember the budget the House passed, only to earn Bayh’s veto. When the legislature overrode Bayh’s veto with two-thirds of the vote, Gregg voted with the minority. “That took a lot of courage on his part,” Bayh said. “We came within 48 hours of a government shutdown. I felt it spent too much and the deficit was too big so I vetoed the bill. He was one of the Democrats who was willing to stand up to the speaker and his own caucus and vote to sustain my veto. I’m sure it was not easy for John to disagree with the speaker and the majority of his caucus. A lot of politicans say they are fiscally responsible, but that vote proved that he was. It was a tough vote. It can give you some insight on his insistence as governor, who wants to fund education and commerce and the environment, it all has to be done in the framework of a budget, and making sure spending didn’t get out of control. I thought that was a real character moment for him.”
Mannweiler calls Gregg a “great politician” who could deliver a “stem-winder.” But “from a standpoint of getting things done, he just didn’t care that much about policy.”
Phillips begged to differ, calling Gregg a “quick study” and on issues he didn’t necessarily champion, “he was willing to adapt his his position. He learned how to balance interests. I depended on him greatly as floor leader.”
While the Democrats had the governorship and House, the Senate throughout Gregg’s legislative career stayed in Republican hands. The other notable element was “record job growth” during the 1990s. “Both parties worked hard at making an environment for businesses to expand.”
Gregg says of Gov. Daniels, “Our governor has done that and I want to do the same thing. I just want to see - instead of $10 an hour jobs and no benefits - I want to see us have jobs with more money and with benefits. I want to strengthen the middle class instead of subsidizing the low income people. During those four years when I was majority leader under Speaker Phillips, we toed the line on spending. But we increased funding for public education.”
Asked about the Bayh mantra of no general tax increases, Gregg said that he brought that position with him from Sandborn. “I’ve got to be candid with you: there was no time I ever thought we’d do a general tax increase. I think that Evan Bayh’s leadership and Frank O’Bannon as lieutenant governor, we wanted to show we could live within our means, we would not be tax-and-spend Democrats. Dick Dellinger used to call us that. But you have to remember the Republicans in the early ‘80s had raised taxes so many times.”

Leadership quests in 1990, 1994
The day after Stan Jones’ defeat in 1990, Gregg called Phillips to tell him, “I’m going to do this.” Phillips was worried about dividing the caucus. “We can’t have any hard feelings over it,” Phillips said. State Reps. Jesse Villalpando, Bob Hayes and Hurley Goodall were also lining up support, as Gregg did well past midnight.
That Wednesday afternoon, the four were summoned to Phillips’ Statehouse office. “Is there something we can do to avoid this fight?” Phillips asked. Goodall responded, forcefully, telling Phillips he shouldn’t interfere. “We are all friends, this will be a good way to let us all vet and let some steam off, and we won’t be mad,” Gregg recalls Goodall saying.
“Are any of you guys going to be mad if someone gets it and you don’t?” Phillips asked. He heard four affirmations. The concerns were soon laid to rest. Gregg was popular with most of the new members from the classes of ‘86, ‘88 and ‘90. He won with 26 votes on the first ballot, with Kruzan projecting the tally. “I owe Hurley a debt of gratitude,” Gregg said. “It had been a team effort and it brought new blood into the caucus.”
Four years later, in that fateful 1994 election, Gregg was unopposed, though around Labor Day he began sensing trouble for his party. About 10 days before the election, he went to Dale, a Democratic area in Spencer County near the Lincoln homestead, to campaign for Phillips. “That’s when I knew we were in trouble,” Gregg recalled. He would go door-to-door, introduce himself as a Democrat, and ask people to vote for Phillips. “People were answering the door and they weren’t saying anything,” Gregg said. “That bothered me.” He found another man cooking soup beans in his backyard. Gregg made the pitch and the man responded, “I used to be a precinct committeeman here for the Democrats. I think Mike has a race on his hands.”
“When he said that and by the way he said it, I thought he might not support Mike,” Gregg said.
For the first time in his political career, Gregg spent Election Night in Indianapolis and not at home. Phillips had called him on Sunday and told him, “I need to stay down here. It’s going to be close. I’m going to win, but I need to stay here in case there’s a recount.”
Gregg arrived at the Statehouse around 5:50. At 6:07, he got a call from State Rep. Paul Cantwell. “I’m beat,” Cantwell said. “Two precincts came in, one of them is mine and one’s my neighboring precinct. I should be a thousand votes up and I’m 80 votes down. I’m beat.” A few minutes later a city councilman from Marion running against Dean Young called in. The former football coach had lost his home precinct by 100 votes.
A few hours later, word came that Speaker Phillips had been upset by Sally Rideout Lambert. Later that night U.S. House Speaker Tom Foley had also lost. “He was to me and still is larger than life,” Gregg says of Phillips, who is now practicing law in Boonville. “He led that caucus for 20 years. He was the only leader in that caucus, except Pat Bauer and Chet Dobis, that we knew.”
The shock quickly wore off and Gregg was joined by Moses, Kruzan and Paul Robertson, and they drew up a list and began making phone calls. Several hours later, Gregg had enough votes to ward off a potential challenge from Bauer, who later decided not to seek the caucus leadership.

The overreach and the speakership
Minority Leader Gregg almost immediately retooled House Democrats. He hired Dan Parker. He had Dr. Jim Riggs come in and explain polling. “I had never seen a crosstab before,” Gregg said. They went to Washington to learn how to run campaigns. A professional mail house was lined up. Craig Fry and Susan Crosby began recruiting candidates. “If they went south, they took Dale Grubb,” Gregg said. “If it was in an urban area, Charlie Brown would go.” They would narrow it down to one person, then Gregg would show up to make the final pitch. The current members were told to raise their own money. “We put them on a green diet,” Gregg said. “If you’re not raising money, you’re not getting any from the caucus.”
Then the Republicans made Gregg Speaker.
“I talk about our governor,” Gregg says of Daniels. “It creates some gasps, but I tell them, ‘Our current governor is a leader.’  That normally gets their attention. I say, ‘You don’t have to like where he has led us, or agree with us, but if Gov. Daniels says we’re going through that wall, not only are we going through that wall, he’s the first one through it. I think Hoosiers appreciate that.”
Bowen wrote, “A governor must be a decisive problem-solver, have good character, and be willing to lead politically, governmentally, and symbolically. A public official’s most important traits are honesty and integrity. These are the foundation of credibility, a public leader’s most precious commodity. A governor cannot lead by trying to please everyone, straddling the fence, or trying to come down on both sides of it. He must lead by making decisions based on common sense and tempered by compassion.”
Without a governor in Indiana, or a president nationally, the Republican Class of ‘94 tried to instill a revolution from the legislature. The Class of ‘10 is trying to do the same thing, with Gov. Daniels being the big difference. In 1995, they took on the ISTA over fair share, and picked a fight with labor over prevailing wage.
“After the 1994 election, they acted like they had a mandate,” Gregg said. “They got Congress for the first time in 40 years. They had their Contract for America. We called it the Contract on America. They came in, and said, ‘Let’s settle some old scores.’ They wanted to get rid of fair share for the teachers, they wanted to do away with the prevailing wage, the mini Davis-Bacon Act. Well, there was no reason to mess with fair share. They just wanted to mess with the teachers and the ISTA. The one that really baffled me, like it did this time, the building and trades people, because on a lot of social issues, these guys were starting to feel real at home because of Ronald Reagan and the social issues, and the Republicans went out and smacked them in their wallet. They did it in ‘95 and they did it this time. It’s amazing.
“I became Speaker because of what they did in 1995. They also tried to illegally redistrict. I call it overreaching. It made me Speaker. And it will make me governor.”
This past week, House Republicans led by State Rep. Jerry Torr and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce issued a draft report on Right to Work. Current House Minority Leader Bauer said on Wednesday, “Despite ample evidence presented in several hearings that Right to Work does not bring additional jobs to a state, but does lower wages and makes workplaces more dangerous, it appears that the party in control of our state government is hell-bent on bringing this ruinous policy to Indiana. If they choose to continue these radical attacks on working Hoosier families, Indiana House Democrats will reserve the right to respond appropriately.” Bauer led all but one House Democrat on a five-week boycott to Illinois last winter.
Gregg said, “If they had gone in and concentrated this session on jobs, jobs and jobs, if they had concentrated on that instead of attacking and trying to destroy public education, destroy the middle class. Well, they’ve unified our base and I want to thank them. I tell my buddy Paul Mannweiler, “You made me Speaker. I just saw Jerry Torr downstairs and I just thanked him again.”
On Election Day 1996, Frank O’Bannon upset Stephen Goldsmith for the governorship, and Gregg became Speaker, thanks to a law Mannweiler pushed in 1995 that specified that in the event of a 50/50 House, the party of the governorship would rule.
“We went from 44 members to 50,” Gregg said. “I was the Speaker. I set the calendar. I recognized the members. I put the bills on the calendar. I sent the bills to committee. I did all the firing and hiring. But there wasn’t a day went by that I didn’t know I had to work with the other side. We only had 50 people. It was a good exercise in letting everyone having a seat at the table. Everyone had a right to sit at the table.”
Describing that year is a staple of the pitch candidate Gregg has been making to voters this year.

Speaker Gregg
Gregg was now serving under his third governor, and second Democrat. Two sessions stand out.
In 1997, the regular session blew up when Gregg tried to get workers compensation increases in exchange for the construction of Conseco Fieldhouse. Gov. O’Bannon, Lt. Gov. Kernan and Mayor Goldsmith worked the halls to get it passed. Gregg, meanwhile, had been approached by Republican Reps. Dean Young and Dick Mangus, who would support the workers comp increases. That was the grand compromise: the largest workers comp increase in the state’s history, along with the new NBA arena in Indianapolis.
In 2002, Gregg worked with Minority Leader Brian Bosma, Kernan and the Senate Republicans to forge property tax reforms in a special session that went into late June. Gregg takes great pride in ending the inventory tax, one that he calls one of the most “anti-business” in the nation.
It also included an expansion of gaming. Gregg was opposed to the expansion, but has changed his stance. “I really view gaming totally different than when I was Speaker and as a member,” Gregg said. “I recognize it as a legitimate business. I don’t view gaming any different than any other business. It is a business that is heavily regulated. We’ve not had indictments. We’ve not had any kind of federal investigations or anything like that.”
The 2002 session may also pose the biggest problem for a Gregg gubernatorial campaign: the health care for life deal for legislators that was later rescinded by Speaker Bosma.
“He was one of the architects of it,” said Indiana Republican Chairman Eric Holcomb. “If you thought Obamacare was bad, you haven’t seen that Indiana plan.”
Holcomb also believes that Gregg is vulnerable on the abuses associated with the Build Indiana Fund, the lottery profits that were spent at the discretion of individual members. And he believes that Gregg played a role in the “structural deficits” that Gov. Daniels inherited in 2005, though it was three years after Gregg left the Statehouse. Holcomb put the deficits in the $700 million range. “They perfected the art of budget gimmicks by delaying the payments to schools and local governments,” Holcomb said. “They also raided the teacher retirement stabilization fund of $20 million.”
The one flaw for Republicans on that front is that the Senate was controlled by Republicans like President Pro Tem Bob Garton and Finance Chairman Larry Borst for the entire time, though both were upset in primaries after Gregg left.

Learning from governors
Gregg spent his entire speakership with Democratic governors in office. While he offered praise for Orr and Daniels, it was Bayh and O’Bannon who clearly shaped his speakership.
“They both showed Democrats could govern responsibly and be good fiscal stewards,” Gregg said of the two Democrats. “That’s something I’m proud of and I’m proud of them for leading that charge. They built a pro-business environment. They said that government needed to create that environment to grow, attract and expand businesses. They want good jobs, good paying jobs. That’s one thing I took from them.”
Gregg remembers meetings with Bayh and O’Bannon in the governor’s office. “This is something every governor has to do. I don’t know how many hours I sat at that big oval table in the governor’s office with a big legal pad and no staff, surrounded by legislators, Rs and Ds, and they were able to help hammer out a compromise. I saw that.”
Bayh called his relationship with Gregg as “collaborative.”
“I would make my recommendations, improvements and alterations, and ultimately John was good at counting the votes and learning where the consensus was,” Bayh said. “He was very good about working with other legislators and figuring out what could be done. In all of those years, there was a Republican majority in the Senate and so you had to keep that in mind, too. I thought John was a very astute student of the legislature and, frankly Brian, I wish I had had a little more experience before being governor. I think I learned it over time, but it’s a good attribute to have.”
Bayh also sees Gregg’s presidency at Vincennes University as an important building block for the next governor who will be faced with a jobless rate in the 8 to 9 percent range, as well as his legislative relationships with both Republicans and Democrats. “The word I would use is trust,” Bayh said. “Trust and respect. To get things done, you have to have both of those. One thing about John Gregg, people on both sides of the aisle think he’s a good person and a man of his word.”
The modern governors Gregg worked with have shaped his views. “In the case of both of those gentlemen, and I see this with Gov. Daniels, they become the face of the state. All three of them championed Indiana, as a place to come and do business, a case to provide good education,” Gregg said. “The styles were different between Gov. Bayh and O’Bannon, mainly because of an age difference. Gov. Bayh was a unique governor in Indiana’s history.”
But Gregg adds, “For the first time since George Craig in 1952 or Gov. Paul McNutt in 1932, I would be like a Gov. Orr, Daniels or Kernan. I’d be at the end of a career rather than the beginning. I’ll tell you why that’s important: I’m not worried about credit, I’m not worried about the next election down the road, I’m not worried about what the national pundits say. All I want is what’s good for Indiana.”