Baron Hill: How Democrats can win in Indiana again—matter!

November 30, 2018

Baron HillWhile national Democrats made significant election gains this year—taking over the U.S. House of Representatives, winning most governor seats, and winning back more than 300 state legislative seats—Indiana Democrats did not fare so well.

The U.S. Senate race proved not to be close, even though the polls before the election indicated a barn burner. No Democrats challenging Republican incumbents won their U.S. House races, even though Democrats in some cases raised far more money than their opponents. So what are Indiana Democrats to do?

First, leaders of the Indiana Democratic Party need to have an authentic and critical conversation about who we are and what we stand for in this state. Included in this conversation should be some of the winners in this latest election.

What, you say? Did we win some races? Yes, we did. Four pickups in the Indiana General Assembly, including the first openly gay state senator, J.D. Ford. These winners know a thing or two about winning in conservative Indiana and remaining true to their Democratic values. Their input is critically important.

Second, we need a consistent message that voters can relate to. I believe one of the problems we have is our diversity. Now, before my Democratic friends start yelling and screaming at me for saying this, let me say I am proud of our diversity. It is a very good thing.

I’m saying that it is hard to break through with a consistent message when we have such a big tent that is so inclusive. The answer for a consistent message, then, has to be that on which we all can agree. Whether you are black, white, red or yellow, male or female, gay or not, we all have shared interests and values.

Third, we need to do the hard work political parties are used to doing—only we need to step it up. One of my favorite sayings is, “Early to bed and early to rise, work like hell and organize.” Recruiting good candidates, registering new voters, and raising money are time-consuming and hard but fundamentally important. Nothing worthwhile comes easily.

Having a vibrant, robust two-party system is worthwhile. One-party rule invites arrogance and corruption in the long run and is not good for our state. Issues such as health care, public education, funding for roads and bridges, the opioid crisis, public health, fiscal responsibility and, yes, diversity and inclusion are better served when another point of view is heard. This can happen only when Democrats are heard, too.

What are Democrats to do in Indiana? Matter! We have done it before and we can do it again. Back in the mid-1980s, I was a member of the Indiana House of Representatives. Our leader, Mike Phillips, appointed me to be chairman of the Democratic House election committee. At that time, we had 38 members. Sort of like we are now. We set a goal of picking up seven seats to reach 45. People laughed and said gerrymandering would make that impossible.

Well, we didn’t pick up seven seats; we picked up 10 and got to 48 seats. Then later, we got the majority. And then Evan Bayh. And then Frank O’Bannon. It can be done.•

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Hill is a Democrat and former congressman from the 9th District in Southern Indiana. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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