FRIEDMAN: Democratic visionaries are many and spread broadly

November 26, 2011

Shaw FriedmanQUESTION: Who are the up-and-coming visionaries in Indiana politics?

ANSWER: Hoosier Democrats have a strong lineup of change agents.

Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott represents a new generation of populist Democratic leaders. McDermott solidly won re-election by steering riverboat money to scholarships and by fighting electric utility NIPSCO’s proposed rate increases. In South Bend, former Rhodes scholar Pete Buttigieg was elected mayor this month and brings youthful enthusiasm and business savvy to the job.

Karen Freeman-Wilson, a former Indiana attorney general, is already at work on job creation and crime-fighting strategies for Gary. Newly elected Indianapolis City-County Councilor Vop Osili knows how to excite the party faithful.

The Legislature is fertile ground for the emergence of leaders like state Rep. Scott Pelath of Michigan City and state Rep. Kreg Battles of Vincennes. In the state Senate, Karen Tallian of Portage and John Broden of South Bend bear watching.

On the legislative staff front, Justin Moed, Indianapolis, has impressed many. Tim Henderson, who leads the campaign efforts for Senate Democrats, has demonstrated solid instincts over the years.

There are any number of younger Democrats around the state organizing campaigns who bear watching.

Ryan Nees of Kokomo is a seasoned consultant finishing his studies at Yale who has assisted Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight. Andy Downs of Fort Wayne runs the Mike Downs Center at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and managed Graham Richards’ run for mayor in 1999. Rebecca Pearcy, John Gregg’s campaign manager for governor, brings a wealth of campaign experience to her duties.

From Rick Scalf, a campaign consultant in Columbus, to Dave Galvin, principal in a political consulting firm, to Perry County’s Chris Coyle, there is energy and creativity. Emily Gurwitz, finance director at the Indiana Democratic Party, has impressed many. Amy Clifford and Les Miller of Indianapolis form a potent team as they work for progressive Democrats.

Former Indiana House staffer Tim Jeffers is viewed as a skilled insider helping Indianapolis architect Jim Schellinger with party-building efforts. Jeffers is viewed by many as a future pick for state chairman.

When it comes to campaign managers, plaudits go to Mike Schmuhl of South Bend and Kevin Smith in Hammond. Schmuhl cut his teeth as manager for congressman Joe Donnelly before managing Buttigieg’s election this year. Smith managed McDermott’s campaigns and is viewed as key in helping McDermott build the Lake County Democratic Party (which McDermott chairs) into one of the most potent political organizations in the state.

Fort Wayne retained Democratic Mayor Tom Henry, and one of those young visionaries helping assist Henry is John Court.

Other up-and-comers include Jeff Coyne with Indianapolis consulting firm Winston-Terrell. John Zody, former chief of staff to congressman Baron Hill, earned his stripes building Indiana Young Democrats. Valparaiso attorney Clay Patton is a former co-director of the Indiana Election Commission who helped turn the Porter County Democratic Party into a formidable presence.

Among federal appointees, few are more respected than former Evan Bayh staffer Phil Lehmkuhler, now running USDA-Indiana. Former Bloomington Mayor John Fernandez, an assistant U.S. commerce secretary, has a strong government pedigree. Bayh’s former state director, Dave Rozmanich, of Lake County, is another seasoned political operative.

Dustin White of Jeffersonville and Don Miller, former director of the Indiana Ports Commission, both impress with their knowledge of politics and their “eye to the future.” Nancy Guyott of Indianapolis has brought new energy to the AFL-CIO and will key efforts to oppose right-to-work legislation.

Hoosier Democrats have an impressive array of individuals willing to “fight the good fight” for ordinary Hoosiers.•


Friedman is a LaPorte attorney and former legal counsel for the Indiana Democratic Party. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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