Howey Politics Indiana: Indiana Democrats will avoid arcane issues

LaPORTE – Despite some wishful recurring thinking from my brethren on the other side of the aisle about some kind of Bernie vs. Hillary battle for the soul of the Democratic Party supposedly playing out, real insights by those who know organizing Indiana political campaigns realize that’s just not the case across much of Indiana.

Unlike Hoosier Republicans, who it appears spent a good deal of energy fighting this past weekend at their convention about competing platform planks and do seem to have some real philosophical splits playing out between social conservatives and the more moderate wing of the GOP, most Hoosier Democrats understand we’re not in any position to have these arcane fights about who is sufficiently purist to pass any kind of label to be a Democrat.

With control of the White House, both houses of Congress, the governorship and the legislature in Republican hands, most Democrats I speak with around the state are ready to come to Indianapolis this upcoming weekend with a needed show of support for our newly minted state ticket and to go out from there working to make some gains both in the partisan makeup of the legislature and in picking up another seat or two in Congress.

Frankly, the enthusiasm building around 2nd Congressional District nominee Mel Hall (who won all 10 counties over his primary challengers) and Liz Watson in the 9th (who many believe will send Trey back to Tennessee) has been contagious. While there were some minor philosophical disputes that played out in both primaries between contenders, there was no bridge-burning that we saw that would poison one segment of the party against another. There are solid nominees for the party as well in places like the 3rd District – Courtney Tritch – who could break through if the wind is at our backs as many anticipate.

There seems to be a sense that having U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly at the top of our state ticket will be a big help to Democrats running not just for Congress and legislature but also for Democratic county candidates around the state. No matter how many times Republicans may chant, “Send Joe Home,” most seasoned Republican operatives will confess over a beer that Joe Donnelly is one of the most experienced and hard-working campaigners they’ve ever seen. Always the “Happy Warrior” who seems to thoroughly enjoy and relish his time on the campaign trail, he has thrived and flourished in his role as a U.S. senator, maintained a sense of decency and purpose advocating for Hoosiers, and cast common-sense votes that are squarely in the mainstream of Hoosier thinking. With the vitriol and nastiness that dominated the GOP Senate primary making it one of the most bitterly contested in the nation, that’s not easy to paper over on the other side, and the recurring absence of Congressman Luke Messer at various party functions speaks volumes that indeed “all is not forgiven.”

Democratic State Chairman John Zody is being widely praised for constructing a state ticket composed of Valparaiso attorney Jim Harper for secretary of state, former State Rep. John Aguilera of East Chicago for treasurer and Joselyn Whitticker of Marion for auditor. Harper comes from a family of lawyers in Porter County and seems articulate in espousing more open and increased voter access and participation. Aguilera served four years in the Indiana House and was a productive member of the Lake County Council. He’s a former president of the Indiana Latino Institute. Ms. Whitticker is a small business owner and former school teacher and administrator. She’s a branch leader for the NAACP and was elected to serve on the Marion city council.

Democrats know that to compete and win this year statewide, minor stylistic differences are going to have to be put aside and all segments will need to put their shoulders to the wheel and advocate positions that resonate with hard-working Hoosier families.

That’s why I wouldn’t expect the kind of fight that Republicans witnessed at their state convention occurring this next weekend. Instead, I would anticipate Democrats taking a strong stand in defending the Affordable Care Act, on which there is agreement across all segments of the Democratic Party has been generally positive for Hoosiers and yet which Republicans keep trying to kill because it emerged under President Obama. Most alarming was the brief filed by the Trump-Pence Justice Department just days ago that seeks to kill of one of the most popular parts of the act, that of preserving insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

Despite the notable success of the Affordable Care Act in not only expanding Medicaid coverage to 400,000 needy Hoosiers, the ACA brought peace of mind to an estimated 1.5 million Hoosiers in the private insurance marketplace who feared being denied coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Republicans campaigning in 2016 were aware of just how popular those guarantees were and Indiana GOP congressional candidates as well as the Trump/Pence ticket made numerous assurances to voters that even if they were successful in repealing the ACA, they’d keep those protections. The lawsuit filed by Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill and the position taken this past week in a legal brief by the Trump-led Justice Department have demonstrated how fleeting and illusory those promises were. (Hill represents the far right wing of his party and his extremism has butted up against the more moderate and consensus-building governor on several issues, whether they be needle exchange programs or CBD oil, showcasing the sharp differences that exist between the two factions that were on display this past weekend.)

Democrats know that protecting guarantees for Hoosiers that their pre-existing health conditions will not be used as a basis to deny insurance coverage, and fighting to preserve the ACA, are key mobilizing issues on which all Democrats – no matter where they fall on the spectrum – can agree. I anticipate a highly unified and energized group of Democrats leaving the Indiana Convention Center when all is said and done on Saturday afternoon.

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