Right now the idea of enduring another political campaign sounds about as appealing as listening to fingernails on a chalkboard, but Election Day 2012 is a mere forty-five months away. Never mind that we'll have elections in 2010 and 2011, we're just a little over three and one-half years away from choosing a new governor.
Although it seems crazy that anyone would go through the ordeal, if they want to be the next governor, they should be running right now. Several people are candidates, some openly, others more discreetly. Those of us interested in the outcome should be appraising the avowed and exploratory candidates so that we can begin the hard work of getting her or him elected. Which begs the question, "who is the best candidate for the LGBT community to support?"
This post isn't intended to be an assessment of the Daniels administration. That is a topic unto itself. Personally, I can find reasons to both commend and criticize his administration; on the whole gamut of contemporary public policy issues and on specific matters of concern to a gay man like me. I hope our next governor is philosophically slightly left of center. My political concerns are not confined to LGBT matters, but I especially hope that our next governor is a defender, maybe even, dare I go so far as to say, a champion of our people.
Such hopes are not silly or unrealistic. Just as the next governor must spend three years and nine months working for the office, we can spend the same time organizing to elect the candidate who best supports us.
Who Will It Be?
So, who will it be? There's no shortage of names on the Democrat side. The candidates most often mentioned are Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez, former Secretary of State Joe Hogsett, State Senator Vi Simpson, Eighth District Congressman Brad Ellsworth, Second District Congressman Joe Donnelly, and two 800-pound gorillas - Ninth District Congressman Baron Hill and former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson.
Potential Republican candidates are Lt. Governor Becky Skillman, Secretary of State Todd Rokita, former Attorney General Steve Carter and the ever-reprehensible Eric Miller.
My analysis is that Ellsworth and Donnelly will face considerable pressure to keep the congressional seats they first won in 2006 in order to help maintain the Democratic Party majority in the House of Representatives. Besides, it would be difficult to run a House re-election campaign in 2010 and then a gubernatorial campaign two years later. The same reasoning applies to Baron Hill although he is a favorite of many party regulars, enjoys greater name recognition and may be weary of so many hard campaigns.
Mayor McDermott doesn't seem to be gaining much attention and support. Hogsett is a sentimental favorite, but a bit tainted by his electoral losses. Senator Simpson is a favorite as well but may be more content with her new role as Senate Minority Leader. Weinzapfel is running hard and raising money. He's young, telegenic, and articulate and has been a good mayor. But, he's a bit handicapped by the impression that he's ambition in a suit. What's more, he'll have to decide if he is going to run for another term as mayor in 2011- a delicate decision that that could help or hurt whether he does or doesn't.
Bart Peterson has to be on anyone's short list of candidates. He has great name recognition, vast fundraising capabilities and intimate connections to the Evan Bayh political apparatus. However, he lost the Mayor's office to an unknown, in part because he seemed to have lost touch with voters. Who would fault him if he decided that he's had enough of politics and chooses to stay out of public life? The potential candidacies of Peterson and Hill may ultimately be determined by another election to be held in 2012.
Senator Richard Lugar will be up for re-election that year and at the end of his sixth term. No other person has ever been elected to more than three terms as United States Senator from Indiana. It's no stretch to speculate that he might retire. (Maybe while passing the torch to his man Mitch?) The two heavyweights, Peterson and Hill, may be eyeing that contest rather than the gubernatorial race.
As for who will win the all-important support of Senator Bayh, the safe bet is that he will avoid any commitment until he has tended to his own re-election in 2010.
As for the Republicans, I would have to guess that Lt. Governor Skillman is the most favored candidate.
Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez
All of which leads me to ruminate on the candidate I find most intriguing - Sheriff Dominguez. He is in the middle of his second term, which expires in 2010, leaving him plenty of time to campaign. He is a former Indiana State Trooper, a former deputy prosecutor, a former Member and Chair of the Indiana Worker's Compensation Board. He was born in Texas to immigrant parents. His family moved to Lake County when he was small child so that his father could work in the mills. He has survived the rough and tumbles of Lake County politics with his reputation intact and prudently distanced himself from the more unsavory political players in the region. He has administered his office with honesty, efficiency and innovation.
Dominguez's politics are unapologetically traditional blue-collar Democrat positions. His personal story is compelling. In early adulthood he contracted a severely disabling neurological disease. He spent several years mostly paralyzed. He had to learn how to walk, feed himself, drive and generally care for himself when most men of his age were at their physical peaks. He understands pain and deferred dreams from firsthand experience.
His ancestry may be seen as a political liability. There is no shortage of bigotry in Indiana or anywhere else. On this point, it must be noted that President Obama will be running for re-election in 2012 and will certainly invest resources in carrying Indiana again. Now that our State and the nation have cleared one of the greatest racial barriers, could Hoosiers overcome another? To be more politically realistic, would his Hispanic background really be a liability in 2012?
The President has shown that Indiana can be won by carrying a combination of urban areas located in about fifteen counties. Maybe race and ethnicity is a little consequence to these voters and will be even less so in the near future. If these voters support President Obama, is it reasonable to anticipate that they might vote for Dominguez as well?
Prejudice isn't confined to the rural areas of our State, but perhaps such votes in such areas might be offset by the votes of the increasing numbers of Hispanic persons living in our smaller towns. This is all speculation, but it seems as though a good argument can be made that a Hispanic surname isn't the impediment to election in Indiana it once may have been.
The real political handicap may be that he is from Lake County. The salient response to these concerns is that no Democrat wins statewide office without a big plurality of votes from Lake County. Dominguez would not only garner such a plurality but he has historically run best in the southern, more Republican, half of the County demonstrating some measure of cross-over voting appeal.
The Sheriff has not yet been in a situation where he has had to make any significant statement on LGBT issues. He is known to be personally quite tolerant and accepting. He has privately noted that the anti-marriage amendment is nothing more than an effort to increase far right-wing voter turnout by demonizing people who are a threat to no one.
There is still time to sort out the candidates and marshal support, but less time than we realize. Roughly 2,800,000 Hoosiers voted in the 2008 election. If LGBT people comprise ten percent of that number, we're a potential voting bloc of 280,000 people; more than enough to decide the outcome of any election. Imagine if we were the single-minded, monolithic force that our detractors portray?
So, let the guessing games begin. More importantly, let's do our homework, pick our candidate, organize and put them in office. Right now, from my perspective, Roy Dominguez may be worth consideration for the next governor of Indiana.