Bill Oesterle: Rural Republicans don’t need politicos pandering to them

Keywords Opinion / Viewpoint
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Recently, local blogger and self-described urban consultant Aaron Renn penned an article [“Revisiting Mitch Daniels’ ‘Truce’ on Social Issues,” May 4,] dismissing the gubernatorial achievements of Mitch Daniels and advising Hoosier Republicans to pursue his version of a socially conservative agenda instead.

Aaron’s piece is remarkable for its revisionism, tortured logic and factual errors. I don’t have nearly the space to attempt a point-by-point rebuttal. Mark Lubbers wrote a good one that you can find here. Instead, I will focus on his broader themes.

Aaron completely disregards Indiana’s perilous economic condition in 2004. He seems to imply that erasing $700 million in debt, reforming a broken property tax system, solving a massive infrastructure funding gap, negotiating the Great Recession and so on had no positive impact on the state. Instead, he bemoans that Mitch and his lingering “Indianapolis Establishment” influences have cost Indiana its socially conservative soul.

It is a strange anti-elitist conspiracy argument that attempts to appeal to rural Republicans by painting them as oppressed little guys. It also completely ignores the fact that Mitch crushed the self-styled social conservative Eric Miller by 50 points in the 2004 primary. Eric made similar arguments back then, and rural Republicans overwhelmingly supported Mitch.

In spite of the many problems with Aaron’s historical analysis, his policy advice is worse. He thinks Indianapolis “Establishment Republicans” run everything. They don’t, by the way. He warns that they better pay more attention to the issues that matter to rural Republicans. As an example, he advises Gov. Eric Holcomb to conduct a “victory tour” promoting the passage of a law that allows Hoosiers to carry a gun without a permit.

That suggestion sounded odd to me, but, according to Aaron, I am a “Metro Elite.”

So, for a fresh perspective on this, I called my buddies at the Cass County Fine Arts and Crappie Fishing Society. These are some 70-year-old guys that I hunt, fish and drink beer with from time to time. Unlike Aaron, they have owned and shot guns their entire lives. They are card-carrying NRA members, never attended college and all became successful fathers, farmers and business owners. They stepped out of central casting as Hoosier Rural Republicans.

When I asked their titular leader Gary Yeakley his opinion of the permitless carry law, he called it “the dumbest idea I ever heard” and “a solution missing a problem.” I don’t have statewide polling to support it, but I suspect Gary’s opinion is widespread. The problem with Aaron’s is that he assumes rural Republicans are stupid. He thinks they can’t recognize pandering when they see it. Oddly, he seems to be the elitist.

I have always found rural voters smart. They are practical and discerning. In 2004, Mitch appealed to that practicality when he asked, “Why don’t we start with the problems we all agree on?” They responded overwhelmingly.

Fast forward to the recent Republican primary. Aaron warned of a “coming rupture” in the party. He pointed to 21 legislative primary challenges as evidence. Interestingly, 19 of those challengers lost—by wide margins.

Indiana still has a lot of big problems that we can all agree on. Hoosier leaders would be wise to follow Mitch’s lead and work on those.•


Oesterle is the co-founder of TMap and Make My Move. He was the campaign manager for Mitch Daniels’ first run for governor.

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5 thoughts on “Bill Oesterle: Rural Republicans don’t need politicos pandering to them

  1. A true leader does not go around dictating to people how they should think based on where they live. Mitch gained trust all over the state by traveling and listening to everyone’s voice on what mattered to them, prioritizing the issues and thinking outside the box for solutions. As a result Indiana became a better place for all Hoosiers to live.

  2. As a member of a family with four Purdue University graduates spanning three generations, I am very grateful Mitch has been President at Purdue. The university has always been world-class, but he has done nothing but elevate that status over his tenure. Mitch’s strength is simple. He understands money and finance. He knows what value is and he is successful at structuring government and institutions to maximize value. Purdue is Indiana’s “Land Grant” university, a status of legislation enacted by Abraham Lincoln that provided a mechanism to raise funds by using federally granted land to finance institutions. Land grant colleges in most states typically include an emphasis on agriculture and engineering. Many Purdue alumni have a strong connection to rural America and enterprises by virtue of the agricultural school at Purdue. Indiana has been blessed to prosper from eight years with Mitch in the governor’s office followed by his tenure at Purdue University. He has been successful by utilizing his keen understanding of functional boundaries of government and commerce to bring disparate groups together to accomplish outcomes that benefit the greatest number of citizens possible. He is a true leader.

  3. When Mitch ran for Governor, I was the county chair for the Jay Co Republican Party and I was serving on the local school board. Most state politicians had rarely, if ever, visited our corner of the world. From day one, Mitch committed to letting every community in Indiana know that he was listening, literally. He visiting our community at least five times as I recall. Every time, asking questions, listening. If there was some issue that came up in our community, we could call his staff and we received at least an ear if not a solution.

    Mitch’s genius was to live his public life how he lived every day. A devout Christian who has put his money, without fanfare, behind faith based causes. He didn’t use his faith as a rally cry to the polls but did so as a living example. This is the problem we face today. Most of my friends, those who have been in the trenches for the party their entire lives, are disgruntled. How have we found ourselves in this toxic morass of name calling and virtue signaling? That answer is easy. Many of those in power haven’t had the spine to stand up for what they believe but have chosen to hide behind soundbites and emotional pleas. Why? The two biggest reasons, both intertwined, fundraising and staying in power.

    I would call on our party to take the example of Mitch Daniels. His goals weren’t to pay lip service and virtue signal. He landed on how he could put forward an aggressive and visionary agenda that lifted all boats. Think about what was accomplished, as referenced by Bill. Generational change.

    As a resident of small town, rural Indiana, I am offended and concerned that someone like Mr. Renn would attempt to throw more fuel on the fire in order to reaffirm a supposed gap in values between Hoosier rural and urban residents. Rural communities hold no monopoly on values nor do we serve the public good by infighting and calling each other names and throwing insults. If we are to succeed going forward, we need to respect each other and embrace our common goals. We need to rally around our proud Hoosier experience and actually focus on what’s best for us as a state without regard to what we feel will raise money or based solely on doing what one might feel is necessary to remain in favor, for now.

    Mitch Daniels not only is a man of character and faith, he was focused on what part he could play in moving ALL of Indiana forward, often against the grain of what was popular at the time…and we are better for it.

    Bryan Alexander