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Democrats rankled by 'flawed' leadership vote

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Indiana Democrats acknowledged Monday they face a significant challenge trying to unite the party in time for important 2012 elections after a messy leadership squabble over the weekend left key officials divided.

Some members of the party’s central committee said they are frustrated about a three-hour closed door caucus that was supposed to lead to the election of a new chairman. Instead, the committee voted narrowly to reinstate long time leader Dan Parker, who had resigned the position last week only to rescind the request just hours before the caucus.

“Some people in the state are very upset with the leadership of the party and are very upset with the way the entire vote was handled,” said Garrett Webb, a member of the Indiana Democratic Central Committee who participated in Saturday’s caucus and supported another candidate for chairman. “It’s going to be very difficult to achieve” party unity.

But Mike Jones, a central committee member and chairman of the party’s 6th district, said that while the process was “flawed” and left a rift among officials, he believes members can put aside their differences and focus on what matters: Winning races in 2012.

“I know I’m going to do everything I can,” Jones said Monday. “I’m hoping what’s going to come out of this is that the committee members—the district chairs and vice chairs—will soon have more say and more input into the daily direction of the party.”

Jones and Webb were among the central committee’s members who supported electing Joel Miller, a Marion County Democrat, to be the party’s new chairman. Miller was thought to have enough support among the party’s 18 district chairs and vice chairs—who are charged with picking the party’s leader—to win the job.

But the candidates for statewide office—namely former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg, who is running for governor, and U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, who is running for Senate—preferred another candidate. And when it became obvious late last week that their pick, Tim Jeffers, couldn’t win a majority of votes, the candidates decided they’d ask Parker to stay on.

So instead of the 18 district chairs and vice chairs voting on a new chairman, the full central committee—30 members—voted narrowly to let Parker rescind his resignation.

“The candidates asked Dan Parker to stay. They didn’t think it was in their best interest to switch horses midstream,” said Dean Boerste, a member of the Democratic National Committee and the state’s central committee. “And I think if that’s what our 2012 candidates wanted, if that’s what they thought could help them win, we should respect that.”

Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, said the resulting division among members could be a problem for Democrats as they enter 2012, when the races for governor, senator, Congress, the state Legislature and president are on the ballot.

“If the Republicans are smart, they’re going to be pointing out that Parker said last week it’s time for new leadership and suddenly he is the new leadership,” said Downs, who is active in Democratic politics in Allen County. “That means the Democratic Party can’t agree on what or who their leadership should be. That might mean the party is in disarray.”

But Downs said the latter doesn’t have to be true. If Democratic leaders across the state—particularly in larger counties including Vanderburgh, Lake, Marion, St. Joseph and Allen counties—were to come together to announce support for Parker, they could likely erase many of the ill feelings, he said.

“The transition of power can always be messy but it doesn’t necessarily mean there is disarray,” Downs said. “It can be a sign of a strong party, a diverse party.”

Robin Winston, a former Democrat state party chairman, said the key will be for Democrats to remember what matters most—not some family infighting but the struggle to protect Hoosier workers and families.

He said it will be up to Parker and other key leaders to rise above the squabbling.

“There were times when I was chairman that I had people in the room who didn’t like one another or who didn’t like me,” Winston said. “But we appealed to them on a larger issue. It might have been funding full-day kindergarten or putting more police on the streets or whatever the bigger issue was facing us.

“But it is the hardest thing to do, to take people who do not like one another and insist they work together on the bigger issue because the bigger issues are what matters.”

Parker was not available Monday for an interview about his decision to remain as chairman and was traveling in northwest Indiana, talking with local party leaders. But he said through email that he was “honored to be approached by party leaders to stay in my position.”

“What happened this weekend happens from time to time in any family and we'll be stronger for it in the long run,” Parker said. “We're all Democrats, and I look forward to continuing my service to the party."

Some members said the key to strengthening the party will be giving more voice to its local leaders. Boerste supported Parker’s reinstatement but he said he could see why other central committee members were upset.

Many entered Saturday’s caucus with little idea why Parker first resigned and why they would no longer had the opportunity to vote on a new chairman.

“These people on the committee felt they were blindsided,” Boerste said. “They don’t want to see it happen that way again.  They have a right to know what’s going on.”

Jones and Webb said they are hopeful that Parker and other party leaders will be more communicative in the future. But Jones said it’s also up to committee members to insist on input.

“I’m confident we sent our message,” Webb said. “I have every hope that more people will be brought into the decision making process. But I’m not going to count my chickens before they hatch.”

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  • I am all for Al
    sending every penny he makes to Washington. I guess I'm not a Tea Party member.
  • John Gregg
    So many Democrats are disappointed with how this was handled. My husband and I regret ever writing the Gregg campaign a check. There was so much excitement for his chances this spring and summer, and now he has just turned into the same old thing, which isn't good for a Democrat in this state. Just sad and disappointing.
  • WRONG AGAIN
    There are too many GAMES being played in the Indiana Dem Party.... I knew Dan Parker when he first got started...he is not the same man he was.....dems are tired of the backstabbing and the games....even Butch Morgan. Dans buddy had to step down when the corruption in the South Bend district he controlled for years. was exposed.....that is why I do not follow these guys ...over the cliff.....There are many more qualified and inspired party members but they are continually pushed out because they wont follow the hollow lead of these poor leaders
    Time for "occupy the in dem party"
  • We miss Evan Bayh
    The Democrats are fine - we jsut miss the great leadership provided for 20 years + form Evan Bayh. John Gregg is a GREAT candidate so lets get our eye back on the ball here people and stop pointing fingers. Too many young guns see a crack one for power and need to go thru the ranks!!
  • Tea Party
    Al,

    To set the record straight, most of the people in the so-called Tea Party movement were not extremists but realists who wanted less government and less federal spending. As we can see, out of control spending is about to ruin our nation. Combating federal spending is hardly the work of extremists.
  • Big Deal
    Apparently there is some division among the Democrats in Indiana. But compared to the Tea Party extremists trying to hijack the GOP, this isn't really much of a story!

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  1. Great article and post scripts by Mike L (Great addition to IBJ BTW). Bobby's stubborn as a mule, and doubt if he ever comes back to IU. But the love he would receive would be enormous. Hope he shows some time, but not counting on it.

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  5. If he's finally planning to do the right thing and resign, why not do it before the election? Waiting until after means what - s special election at tax payer expense? Appointment (by whom?) thus robbing the voters of their chance to choose? Does he accrue some additional financial advantage to waiting, like extra pension payments? What's in it for him? That's the question that needs to be asked.

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