Indiana democrats fed up with being stiffed by Indiana Democrats will have a unique opportunity to voice their frustrations on Aug. 23. Every D who's any D will gather that weekend at the historic French Lick Springs Resort for the party's annual meeting of the Indiana Democratic Editorial Association. And this year, the entire Indiana political world will be watching.
Party Chair Joe Hogsett raised the usually unremarkable gathering's profile a couple weeks ago when he announced that the 250 to 500 Ds attending will conduct a straw poll to determine whom the "faithful" prefer as their nominee for governor in 2004, Vi Simpson or Joe Andrew. That means the media will be all over French Lick on Aug. 23, which translates into opportunity for citizen forces of democratic reform.
French Lick is conveniently located in the heart of new-terrain I-69 country, a half-day's drive from anyone in the state with a grievance against Bayh-O'Bannon Democrats. Pro-democracy motorcades traversing the state could carry the message of Democratic Party misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance to tens of thousands of citizens along the way.
Protests on the streets of French Lick just might send the message about state Democrats' capitulation on critical issues of social, environmental, and economic justice to hundreds of thousands more via TV news, the papers and the Internet.
Peaceful civil disobedience would almost guarantee an audience for the pro-democracy message.
In short, French Lick, on Aug. 23, would seem to be a fertile environment for citizen democracy.
Some argue that holding state Democrats accountable for their crimes against democracy is an ill-conceived strategy, that it will help Republicans gain control of the governor's office. Democrats, they argue, are the lesser of two evils.
But that view, while widespread, simply ignores Indiana's political past, present and future.
As anyone who has lobbied for social justice, followed I-69, or read Fran Quigley knows, this is not the Democratic Party of Birch Bayh, Andy Jacobs, Jim Jontz, or Julia Carson. Over the past 16 years, Evan Bayh and Frank O'Bannon slowly suffocated that party and dumped the body in some combined-sewer waterway.
The Bayh boy spends so much time in the Rose Garden glomming onto George W. Bush over issues of war and tax cuts for the wealthy that he's starting to smell like a Texas barbeque.
O'Bannon has taken the term "crony capitalist" to new heights. Aside from his inability to accomplish anything significant in eight years, other than ramming I-69 down the throats of a resistant public, Frank O'Bannon will be remembered for the ineptitude that characterized his time in office.
Today's Indiana Democratic Party is little more than a walking corpse, anyway. Consider the options Hoosier voters will face next May as they prepare to cast their first votes for governor in post-9/11 Indiana:
- Vi Simpson, a Bloomington woman.
- Joe Andrew, the former head of Bill Clinton's Democratic Party.
- David McIntosh, a right-wing fanatic who has already run for governor and couldn't even beat O'Bannon.
- Mitch Daniels, a protégé of Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar with close ties to the Bush administration.
No one can say today who will be sworn into the governor's office on Jan. 1, 2005. But the odds that his or her path will pass through French Lick would appear slim to none. Hand wringing over Democrats is wasted time and effort.
The notion that Democrats are the lesser of two evils in Indiana, or in the country for that matter, has a fuzzy basis in historical fact, at least as far as the environment goes.
America's original environmental president, who not coincidentally was the country's first and only 20th Century populist president, was a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt.
Another Republican president, Richard Nixon, created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and singed into law the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Endangered Species Acts.
Closer to home, Indiana Democrats in the 50s and 60s were fully prepared to industrialize the state's entire Lake Michigan shoreline, from Gary to Michigan City. Paul Douglas, a Republican senator from Illinois, saved the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Historically, on environmental issues like the Hoosier National Forest and I-69, Republican Lugar has been a far more reliable ally than Democrat Bayh will ever be.
State Democrats have no philosophical equal to Republican Gordon Durnil on the environment. And their record, from Lake Michigan to the White River to I-69, is why Hoosier environmentalists are leading the charge against them.
None of this is to say that Indiana Republicans are any better than Indiana Democrats. To be sure, they aren't. They're part of the same oligarchy, as the Indiana Secretary of State's Campaign Finance Page clearly shows.
It's to say that Indiana democrats owe Indiana Democrats nothing. And they should tell them so in French Lick.
Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative.
Campaign finance reports for individual candidates for state office are online at: ...