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HETRICK: Thoughts on losing Lugar and his legacy of leadership

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Bruce Hetrick

One evening while attending Indiana University, I walked over to a lounge at a neighboring dormitory for a conversation with Indiana’s junior senator. As a political science major, I was eager to hear what Dick Lugar had to say.

I don’t remember the details of that group discussion, but I do remember that Lugar impressed me greatly—so much so that at some point in the months that followed, I decided I might someday want to become a Senate press secretary. And I figured the best way to launch that pursuit was to score a summer internship in Lugar’s office.

In hopes of landing the coveted gig, I agonized over a cover letter and resume. Finally satisfied, I mailed my sales pitch and eagerly awaited the verdict.

Several weeks later, I opened my mailbox to find an envelope from Lugar’s office. I tore it open, only to discover a rejection letter. It was signed by someone named Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., chief of staff.

If I’d only known.

While I didn’t get the Washington internship, I did land one in the mayor’s office in Fort Wayne. One of my responsibilities that summer was to assist the Mayor’s Youth Commission, a group of high school students interested in government.

One day, we took a field trip to Indianapolis. The mayor wanted us to learn about Unigov, which combined city and county government into a single entity.

When we arrived at the City-County Building, our host was a young deputy mayor who’d gotten his start under Mayor Dick Lugar and continued under Mayor Bill Hudnut. His name was John Krauss.

Little did I know that, 30 years later, Krauss would head the IU Public Policy Institute, I’d be his PR counsel, and we’d both be working with Gov. Mitch Daniels on a local government reform initiative.

Having parlayed that mayoral PR internship into a full-time job as a public information officer and speechwriter, I developed a deep respect for government press secretaries. Knowing firsthand the daily think-on-your-feet pressure-cooker, I’ve hired several press secretaries—Republicans and Democrats—during my career.

One of them was Nick Weber, who’d been press secretary for Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith. Nick worked for my PR firm in between political jobs, leaving to take the position I’d envisioned during college: Senate PR guy. Nick did stints in Lugar’s Washington and Indianapolis offices, and later became manager of Lugar’s 2006 re-election campaign.

The day after that election, I walked over to IUPUI to hear Lugar speak. Like all the other times I’ve had that privilege, he waxed eloquent on state, national and international affairs. Afterward, I complimented him on his remarks and on Nick’s good work on his behalf.

“Nick’s quite the campaign manager,” Lugar said with a wink. “He delivered 87 percent of the vote-–the highest margin of any Senate campaign in the country.” (Inside joke: Lugar ran unopposed by any major-party candidate.)

A few years later, I joined a group of smoke-free-workplace advocates for a meeting in Lugar’s Indianapolis office. We’d come to discuss some pending federal legislation.

As we sat in the conference room talking with Lugar’s aides, I looked at the chart on the wall showing the steady and significant decrease in nuclear weapons negotiated by Lugar and former Sen. Sam Nunn.

It made me proud that Indiana had produced a statesman who was playing not just the routine policy and constituent-service roles, but also making the world safer. When I got home from that meeting, I wrote Lugar a thank you note.

A few years ago, my niece, Adrienne Romary–-then a Butler University pre-law student—decided to pursue an internship in the U.S. Senate. She agonized over a cover letter and resume, sent them off to Sen. Dick Lugar, and eagerly awaited the verdict.

When the response arrived, Adrienne sent an excited e-mail to her Uncle Bruce. She got the gig.

That summer, Adrienne sent me a series of e-mails expressing admiration for her boss the senator, his staff and the work they were doing on behalf of people in Indiana and globally.

I was only a wee bit jealous.

When you’re blessed with a leader who has a vision beyond the status quo and who has principles beyond mere partisanship, you’re also blessed with talented people who choose to serve under that leader.

From Mitch Daniels to John Krauss, Nick Weber to Adrienne Romary, Dick Lugar inspired good people, whetted their appetite for public service, and delivered generation after generation of informed and involved citizens.

As one who first heard this insightful man in a college dormitory 35 years ago, I find it a crying shame that his character, principles and accomplishments have been shoved unceremoniously aside–-all in the name of rabid partisanship.

We’ve tossed out one of the best. It’s our loss, and the planet’s.•

__________

Hetrick is an Indianapolis-based writer, speaker and public relations consultant. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.

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  • Thank you Bruce
    Thank you for sharing your history. I, too, am saddened by the turn of events for Lugar. I so appreciate his willingness to go across party lines and the class in which he represented our state. While some people say he was absent...I always felt connect to Senator Lugar even though I've never met him.

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