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MYERS: Hoping conventions never go out of style

September 15, 2012

Woodrow MyersFor an actor, actress or movie buff, it is the Academy Awards. For a basketball player and fan, it is March Madness or the NBA Finals. For the swimmer, gymnast, or distance runner and those of us who admire their talents, it is the Olympics.

But for politicians and political junkies, their party’s national convention is the ultimate event—where their candidates are nominated, the best political speeches are given, and an extravaganza is choreographed to convince the American people our plans, our platforms and our candidates are the best way forward.

I was fortunate to lead the Indiana delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. We were 105 Hoosiers from all over Indiana—younger, older, everyday employed workers, union members and leaders, elected officials, homemakers, businessmen and businesswomen, students and grandparents.

Most of us paid our own expenses. We were a cross section of the state, both elected and appointed to be the Indiana voice. The experience of being in Time Warner Arena, applauding terrific speaker after terrific speaker, voting for the party platform, trading buttons with our neighbors from Ohio and Kentucky, getting rained on almost every day and having to give up our umbrellas before entering security, hoping they would still be there when the evening was done (and they were) turned into the experience of a lifetime.

All of our nation’s senior Democratic leaders were there—Kerry, Clinton, Biden—along with the newcomers we’ll hear much more from over the coming years. From breakfast every morning through afternoon committee meetings, caucus meetings and campaign briefings, to the last speech of the evening, the days were filled with passion and passionate people who knew the issues. People who want our country to evolve to the best it can be were everywhere.

The leader of the delegation is the fortunate soul given the responsibility to execute one of the time-honored rituals of political conventions—roll call. The purpose of the roll call is for each state and territory to tell the convention secretary how the state is allocating its votes.

However, given that President Obama was our only candidate, the roll call was not important as a mathematical exercise; rather, it was an opportunity for each state delegation to band together and in 60 seconds tell all the other states why the Great State of Indiana is special.

The progression was alphabetical—Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois and then Indiana. As we stood by the microphone waiting our turn, Hoosier pride erupted. Hoosier mayors and congressmen were standing next to private citizens, all wanting our state to be well represented. After declaring Indiana as the heart of the heartland, we paid tribute to Sen. Birch Bayh and congressman Lee Hamilton and cast our 101 votes for the president to be our nominee once again.

Political conventions may be anachronistic. In recent history, they have virtually no role in actually determining the nominee or the vice presidential candidate. There are no longer smoke-filled rooms where “deals” are cut.

They are well-orchestrated television events produced by the same folks who understand that the Super Bowl is much more than a football game. It is a visual spectacle filled with inspiration and passion.

It is an enormous undertaking and a logistical and security nightmare. It costs a lot of money, and it forces the host city to invest about two years in planning while putting all other major efforts on hold. Most people working in downtown Charlotte were given the week off or asked to work from home.

And in spite of the trouble and the cost, I hope we never give them up. It was one of the best experiences of my life.•

• Myers is a former chief medical officer for WellPoint Inc. and served as health commissioner for Indiana and New York City. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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