Morris: No More Mr. Nice Guys
In 30-some years of writing about Indiana politics, there is one race that I miscalculated so badly it embarrasses me to this day.
No, not Donald Trump’s romp through the 2016 presidential race. I’ll defer to the geniuses in the national press corps for that one..
It was the 2014 Republican primary for Indiana Senate District 15, a four-way race featuring a businessman and three current or former office-holders.
Businessman Jeffrey Snyder, I calculated, would not be a factor. Being too little known and with barely any political experience, he was on a wishful thinking quest. No, it would be a three-way race among outgoing Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries, current Allen County Councilman Darren Vogt and former one-term Fort Wayne City Councilwoman Liz Brown.
It would be a tight race, I thought, but Fries would eke out a victory. He was a popular sheriff and could undoubtedly have won a third term if not for the limits set by the Indiana Constitution. Vogt was not well-known to the average voter, County Council being the black hole of local politics. And Brown, well, she had a Reputation. Yes, she was probably the most conservative of the four, but she also was a prickly personality known for not playing well with others. She’d rather walk barefoot over glass than concede a point, however minor, to another Republican, let alone a Democrat.
It turns out that Snyder was the only one I was right about. Vogt wasn’t much of a factor, either. It turned into a two-way race, and Liz won handily. She didn’t exactly clean Ken’s clock, but 38 to 34 percent is a quite comfortable victory in a four-way race.
Where had I gone wrong?
As I thought about it, it occurred to me that perhaps the negative qualities I saw in Brown were the very qualities voters were looking for. If they were tired of politics as usual – and lord knows they had every right to be – then maybe they wanted to send a take-no-prisoners conservative to Indianapolis to kick butt and take names on their behalf.
If that’s the case, I don’t want to make the same mistake again, so I’m going to be a little more cautious in my assessment of the 2018 Republican primary to choose the contender to take on Indiana’s Democratic U.S Sen. Joe Donnelly.
It’s already a six-way race and likely to get even more crowded, but let’s face it – the only two candidates who really matter at this point are U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, each of whom has already raised more than $2 million.
Surely we will eventually learn something useful about all the candidates, such as their core philosophies, their voting records and their positions on the critical issues of the day. But right now, news outlets, including the venerable Associated Press, are in the “juicy tidbit” stage.
Joe Donnelly is a hypocrite, you know. He slams companies for using cheap Mexican labor instead of hiring honest American workers, but guess who his family business hires a lot of?
And that Luke Messer – his family lives in Washington more than they do in Indiana, and his wife makes an obscene amount of money as a part-time attorney for some Podunk little town.
And Todd Rokita? Well, he’s not a very nice man. He can reduce his staff to tears with his unreasonable demands, and more than one has walked out on the job. All politicians have egos, but he abuses the privilege, He’s even been known to yell at school kids. Scratch him right now. Voters aren’t going to send such a mean man to Washington.
I beg to differ.
I hasten to point out that I do not really know whether Rokita is Mr. Mean; he’s the nicest guy in the world for all I know. But he’s getting a Reputation in the media, so he might as well just accept it.
That doesn’t mean he should lose a lot of sleep worrying what the voters will think about that, however. If voters were upset about Indianapolis in 2014, they will be absolutely furious with Washington in 2018. They’re not likely to be looking for Mr. Nice Guy to represent their interests.
I have no idea whether Rokita will win the GOP nomination, let alone the general election. But whatever happens, it will have nothing to do with his personality.
Just ask the voters who send Donald Trump to Washington.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is a veteran of 40 years in Indiana journalism. As opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, he was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee.