It was, utterly, one of the most painful political episodes I have ever had to watch as a political writer.
State Sen. Vi Simpson was seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2003. A straw poll had been set up for the annual Indiana Democratic Editorial Association shindig at French Lick on Aug. 23. Simpson’s opponent, former Indiana and Democratic National Chair Joe Andrew, fresh off naming millionaire Bren Simon as his running mate a month earlier, paid more than $50,000 to bring more than a thousand United Auto Workers into the rally.
When Andrew and Simpson presented their case, she was treated with epic rudeness, despite her long record in the Senate as a faithful labor advocate. She pulled out of the straw poll, saying, “I ask for your support, not today, but in May, when it counts.”
Andrew won the straw poll, 595 to 27, and he would say, “We carried 94 percent of the vote. That’s not divisive. Fifty-fifty would have been divisive. I’ve often said this campaign is a journey, and today makes it clear that it is a journey that Bren Simon and I won’t be making alone.”
UAW Chief Terry Thurman added the coda to the ugly event: “Today we became engaged in the campaign, a brass-knuckled brawl. And there’s no one better at a brawl than labor.” He accused Simpson of “sleazy, dirty politics,” and added, “If you were getting your butt kicked, wouldn’t you say it was meaningless, too?”
Simpson was only the second woman to run for governor in Indiana history at that point, following Democrat Virginia Dill McCarty’s unsuccessful run in 1984, losing the nomination to State Sen. Wayne Townsend, who then nominated Ann DeLaney as the first ticket female. They lost to Gov. Robert D. Orr.
I remember watching a beleaguered Simpson with her son, Jason Kinney, absorbing the punishment — from fellow Democrats, no less.
Seventeen days later Gov. Frank O’Bannon suffered a fatal stroke, setting in motion the kind of gender change in Hoosier politics that no one could have foreseen, particularly after the Simpson campaign episode.
A month later, Gov. Kernan chose former Indianapolis controller Kathy Davis as the first female lieutenant governor. Kernan said she was chosen as the most qualified person on the list “who happens to be a woman.”
A week later, Joe Andrew learned that his “running mate” — Bren Simon — had bolted and would support the now looming re-candidacy of Gov. Kernan, who himself had pulled out of the race in November 2002. O’Bannon’s death had catapulted him back into the fight.
Simpson would step aside as Kernan signaled he was in, saying, “The next time a woman wants to run for higher office, I hope the three words she hears are ‘come on in’ and not ‘you can’t win.’”
Mitch Daniels would bring State Sen. Becky Skillman to his Republican ticket in May 2004. And six months after that, the Daniels-Skillman ticket would defeat the Kernan-Davis counterpart, making Skillman the first elected LG.
After 188 years of white guys running the show, a dramatic shift took place in a little more than a year.
It took only four years for Jill Long Thompson to take it to the top rung, defeating Jim Schellinger for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination by an eyelash in 2008, then diversifying her ticket by nominating State Rep. Dennie Oxley. Long Thompson had trouble consolidating the Democratic factions after a bitter primary, particularly in some labor quarters, and lost to Gov. Daniels by 18 percent. Long Thompson was unable to gain traction on the money front.
This past week, Republican gubernatorial nominee Mike Pence has brought State Rep. Sue Ellspermann to his ticket, and Democrat John Gregg tapped Simpson. So this establishes an important trend line in Indiana politics, with government following a long-standing rule in both parties that if a chair is a man, the vice chair is a woman, and vice versa.
With 51 percent of the population female, and with 31 of the 150 Indiana General Assembly seats occupied by women (10 in the Senate, 21 in the House), the ranks of females are increasing. They are climbing the political ladder.
There is some irony here, in that Ellpsermann was a 2009 graduate of the Lugar Series, Sen. Dick Lugar’s program to give women political tools to succeed in government positions and getting elected. Daniels noted that 140 Lugar Series women served in his administration. As the mentor lost, a student is in ascent.
The long term question is at what point does a woman follow the path of McCarty, Simpson and Long Thompson, and then make a credible run for the top job all the way through a November campaign?
Neither Davis nor Skillman took that path. They didn’t have the time span that O’Bannon and Orr did, to use the Commerce post (which Skillman didn’t have) to build up years of IOUs and win.
Could Ellspermann be the woman who can bring it all together? It’s an intriguing thought, considering that many Hoosier Republicans will urge Pence toward a White House run in 2016, should he defeat Gregg and President Obama prevails over Mitt Romney.
We’ve come a long way …
BRIAN HOWEY: Climbing the Ladder: 51 percent of the population in Indiana is female, and 31 of the 150
Indiana General Assembly seats are now occupied by women
It was, utterly, one of the most painful political episodes I have ever had to watch as a political writer.
MS. TAKES: Smell of fresh air gave way to dryers
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READERS' FORUM: May 20, 2013
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Students enjoyed Rose study trip
Mark Bennett: High-profile mural connects historical dots from city to river
At 96 feet wide and 2 stories tall, the power, impact and value of the Wabash will be evident.
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READERS' FORUM: May 19, 2013
• Flawed reasoning on gun checks
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• Are the ‘makers’ doing the ‘taking’?
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• Another view of Hinduism
• Great experience for HCMS students
FLASHPOINT: A legislative session of missed opportunities
Given the nature of politicians, grand claims of accomplishments and overblown rhetoric about “historic” efforts are to be expected at the close of any legislative session.
RONN MOTT: Mushrooms = Hoosier happiness
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EDITORIAL: Insult to an independent press
Distrust of government secrecy has been elevated to an exceptional level with the disclosure the Justice Department covertly examined two months of Associated Press phone records to determine who leaked details to the AP about a foiled terrorist plot.
READERS' FORUM: May 17, 2013
Hinduism doesn’t deserve ridicule — Shefali Purohit, Terre Haute
RONN MOTT: Israel’s Air Force
Recently the Israeli Air Force bombed and rocketed a convoy leaving Syria going to Lebanon with rockets that were going to be used to attack Israel. It did not get there. It was destroyed.
EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news: Dashing finish for the Sycamores
It’s always thrilling to see Indiana State University’s athletic teams do well in high-level competition, and two specific teams rose to impressive heights last weekend in the Missouri Valley Conference outdoor track and field championships.
Readers' Forum: May 16, 2013
Moving Deming folks sounds ‘nuts’
Readers' Forum: May 15, 2013
Participants rise to the challenge: I would like to write a letter congratulating all the Wabash Valley Roadrunners that competed in the One America Indianapolis Mini Marathon.
RONN MOTT: Media merry-go-round
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LIZ CIANCONE: Courts see a different appearance than cops
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READERS' FORUM: May 14, 2013
ISTEP failure exposes flaws
Community hasn’t changed its spirit
Egregious threat to nation’s defense
READERS' FORUM: May 13, 2013
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MARK BENNETT: Life at face value: Mom’s simple advice still presents a valuable daily challenge
Most moms don’t base their advice on scientific research.
(Unless, of course, your mother is a scientific researcher. If so, carry a No. 2 pencil and take good notes.)
EDITORIAL: Better monitoring needed to prevent local environmental messes
The nasty, hazardous messes lurking in the community raise a bottom-line, red-flag question. Could these environmental problems have been monitored and, thus, prevented?
GUEST COLUMN: Nursing more than medicine and bandages
Being a nurse … Like most nurses, I chose this profession because I had a strong desire to help others and no other career would allow me the opportunity to touch lives the way I have been able to through nursing.
READERS' FORUM: May 12, 2013
Vigo Youth Football, entering 45th year, seeks new support
Media ignoring important case on abortions
Proud to be old-fashioned
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Promoting hate not a ‘brave’ act
FLASHPOINT: Again in 2013 General Assembly, middle class generally ignored
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RONN MOTT: ‘Raccoons II’
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Readers’ Forum: May 11, 2013
I just wanted to express my disappointment at the lack of response shown by President Obama after the Boston Marathon bombings.
Readers' Forum: May 10, 2013
CANDLES event plants new seed: On April 26, CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center hosted an event called “Sowing Seeds of Peace: A Celebration of Spring” at the Apple House. Our purpose was to introduce people to our concept of forgiveness as a seed for peace.
RONN MOTT: ‘NRA Convention’
At the recent NRA Convention in Houston, Texas, where the right-wing political hot air almost lifted the convention's building off its foundation, the NRA trotted out the forever yours political dame of the right wing, Sarah Palin. Sarah did not disappoint.
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RONN MOTT: ‘Heritage gone’
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