Advice for Indiana’s Candidates for Governor

December 4, 2005

705 words

(Editors please note: subject is time sensitive and could be affected by breaking news)

INDIANAPOLIS — Here’s some advice for Indiana Republicans awaiting word of Joe Kernan’s election ambitions: Relax. No matter what Kernan does, your strategy is the same.

Here’s some advice for Joe Andrew and Vi Simpson, the two Democrats with the most to fear from Kernan’s decision: Stop pacing. He"s the best candidate. If he decides to run, do as Republicans Murray Clark and Luke Kenley did for Mitch Daniels. Step out of the way.

The death of Gov. Frank O’Bannon has added an almost surreal element to the 2004 gubernatorial race. Kernan, who stunned Hoosiers last year when he decided not to run for the office, is reconsidering. No surprise. Things have changed.

A year ago, Lt. Gov. Kernan had to choose between returning to normal life and non-stop campaigning for a job he didn’t much want. Now he’s governor. He has to put forth an agenda. He may need time to see things through.

Here’s what hasn’t changed: The pressing need to debate Indiana’s future.

Despite the new dynamic inserted by O’Bannon’s death — no voter will tolerate campaign messages perceived as criticizing the late governor — the issues driving campaign 2004 are unfazed.

Republicans need not utter the phrase "O’Bannon-Kernan administration" to make their case. It will be far more effective to point out that Indiana has been under Democratic rule for 16 years. And there’s a litany of economy statistics and newspaper headlines to justify calls for a new direction.

Here are just a few headlines that have appeared recently in the Indianapolis Star, pointing to serious problems in state government operations:

"Search warrants issued in state agency probe," Oct. 7. The story discussed a criminal investigation by State Police and the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office into "misappropriation of funds" at the Family and Social Services Administration.

"Indiana’s river of red ink may widen," Oct. 3. That was the title of an article reporting that the state’s budget deficit could grow $162 million this year.

"East Chicago pastor pleads guilty in theft of Build Indiana money," Sept. 22. That was the latest chapter in the saga of the Build Indiana Fund, a community project fund that was abused by lawmakers and beneficiaries, in part due to lax controls by the state.

Finally, there"s the economy. Few statistics have been bandied about this past year as often as the one about falling personal income. In 1965, the state ranked 17th in the nation in per capita income. By 2000, Indiana had dropped to 33rd, the largest decline of any state.

All these issues will demand aggressive action by the next governor. It’s unlikely Kernan can do much about them in his interim capacity.

State Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, has already said she’ll accept whatever decision Kernan makes. Joe Andrew says he’s in the race to stay.

Regardless, Democrats will be unable to match the enthusiasm and appetite of Republicans, who after 16 years out of power are as united and excited about Daniels, their likely nominee, as they’ve been in years.

Here’s one last piece of advice for both parties as they head into what may be the costliest campaign in Indiana history. It comes from former Democratic Speaker of the House John Gregg, now the president of Vincennes University.

"Hoosiers want a governor they know, or think they know. They want him to be like their dad or granddad, their brother or son-in-law. If they don’t identify with the person, it makes it difficult for the candidate to get elected," Gregg says.

It"s what Otis Bowen, Bob Orr, Evan Bayh and Frank O’Bannon had in common, Gregg adds. They were all "the guy next door."

That Hoosier bias worked again brash yet visionary Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith when he battled O’Bannon in 1996. It worked against the equally brash David McIntosh four years later.

Both Kernan and Daniels have the life experience and personality to relate to ordinary Hoosiers. Who has the stronger vision for Indiana’s future? That question will be front and center as soon as Kernan makes up his mind about running.

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