With Butch gone, sea changes for Indiana Dems

The Indiana Democratic Party is going through a sea change in its hierarchy that since 1988 has been dominated by the Bayh political machine.

Morgan was a key cog in the Bayh operations. He was one of the last long-time county party bosses. The St. Joseph County Democratic headquarters is across the street from the courthouse and multiple sources say that while Morgan, who took the reins from long-time chief Ken Fedder in 1995, and who never held an elected office, was still a driving force behind the Democratic Party’s dominance in county politics.

The days of the longtime party boss may be over for Hoosier Democrats.

When you survey the Democratic horizon, S. Anthony Long of Boonville has been on the scene for decades, as has Dean Boerste, former Perry County Democratic chair and current Democratic National Committeeman. Mike Jones has chaired the 9th CD and now the 6th CD for much of the past two decades. And there is Marion County Democratic Chair Ed Treacy, who returned to power several years ago

Even though Bayh abruptly decided not to seek reelection to the Senate in 2010 and then declined to run for governor in 2012, many avenues of power and clout still run through him. Bayh is a close ally of John Gregg, 2012 gubernatorial nominee in waiting. Indiana Democratic Chairman Dan Parker, who has been in that position for seven years at the behest of Bayh, serves as his eyes and ears. Like Morgan, however, his long tenure has brought with it a growing list of detractors and enemies.

Thomas McDermott Jr., Hammond mayor and Lake County Democratic chair, adds, “Evan Bayh is active because of his presence and he has a $10 million purse. He (Bayh) may not live here anymore, but Dan Parker is very, very loyal. Absolutely Evan Bayh is still relevant.”

Some of that may shift if either Gregg or U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly win either the governorship or the U.S. Senate seat in 2012. “John Gregg is the perfect person for us,” McDermott said. “He will become that leader if he becomes governor. Right now we have no leader like that. We’re like a pack of Indians. We don’t have the one guy who can make the phone call.”

While there has been a post-Bayh void on the ground, that’s not to say Indiana Democrats didn’t play their cards wisely despite the atrophy at the top of the food chain and the stunning losses the party took on education reform, labor and abortion rights in the 2011 session of the Indiana General Assembly, where House Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer maintains diminishing power.

Parker was able to convene every five or six weeks the key party players that included McDermott, Weinzapfel, Carson, Donnelly, Hill, Ellsworth, Bauer, Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, Dr. Woody Myers, former Lt. Gov. Kathy Davis, former Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez and Jim Schellinger. They sorted out the 2012 ticket.

Bauer presided over the House Democratic campaign in 2010 that brought much criticism for the tactics he used, and he watched his majority cave from 51 seats to 40. With State Reps. Craig Fry and Dennis Tyler running for mayor of Mishawaka and Muncie, and the retirements of State Reps. Dale Grubb, Jeb Bardon and Bill Crawford, Bauer’s House Democrats are still under a severe squeeze and his grip on House leadership is not as secure. That comes following the 2010 retirement of Vern Tincher and Dennis Avery and the defeat in 2008 and 2010 of Bill Cochran, Bob Bischoff, Trent Van Haaften, Nancy Michael, Ron Herrell, Joe Pearson, John Barnes and Paul Robertson.

On top of that, several House incumbents (Reps. Chet Dobis and Vernon Smith; Reps. Dan Stevenson and Mara Candeleria Reardon) are facing each other in 2012 Democratic primaries. State Rep. Peggy Welch faces a tough general election battle against Republican State Rep. Ralph Foley and State Rep. Kreg Battles is pitted against Republican State Rep. Bruce Borders. State Reps. Scott Reske and Mary Ann Sullivan are running for other offices.

To be determined are Indiana’s big cities. Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry is in a tough race, as are Indianapolis mayoral nominee Melina Kennedy and Evansville mayoral nominee Rick Davis. Victories by Kennedy and Davis would open new leadership in the party’s main media market and in its southwest pocket and could produce leadership changes in the county parties.

McDermott observed, “It’s easy to get along now because the Republicans are such a threat. If we don’t get along, we’ll just be eliminated.”

(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Contact Howey at bhowey2@gmail.com.)

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