Q&A with Mike Schmuhl, new chairman of Indiana Democratic Party

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Mike Schmuhl, Indiana Democratic Party chairman (Photo courtesy of Indiana Democratic Party)

Mike Schmuhl became the Indiana Democratic Party chairman in March and is faced with the task of rebuilding a party that hasn’t won a statewide elective office in nearly a decade. A South Bend native, Schmuhl managed childhood friend Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign, as well as his mayoral campaign in 2011.

IBJ recently had a chance to talk to Schmuhl about his rebuilding efforts—and the prospect of Buttigieg coming back to Indiana to run for office. Here’s what Schmuhl had to say.

How prepared is the party to win at least one statewide race in 2022 or 2024?

That work is starting right now, and my goal is to build a stronger foundation for our party in every county across the state, all 92 counties. I think that what we need to do as the Democratic Party is to make sure that there’s that base of support and engagement and involvement, year in and year out. So we’re not just dependent on a strong campaign popping up every few years. I think once we have that, we’ll be able to be more successful county by county across the state, and win bigger races, win those marquee races. And, I’ll tell you, I’m 38 years old, and in my life it has really been 50/50 in terms of statewide elected officials. We’ve always had a democratic senator or a democratic governor. Now, it has swung the other way, but we’re much more a middle-of-the-road state than what people give us credit for.

How do you go about rebuilding the party in the state?

There are two things I want to build in this position. One is a year-round organizing program that trains and engages people in a community level across Indiana. They’re building relationships, they’re having conversations, they’re having events and training on how to use available sources like data and voter lists. Things like that we’ve always done, but I think doing it in a way that’s more correlated and spread out across the state will be essential.

The other thing is more related to media and information. We need to educate Hoosiers more on their elected officials, who’s on the ballot and the issues that are facing them every day. So, I’m looking to build a small team at the [Indiana Democratic Party] that can do a few different things. Go on offense and talk about the values that we have and the policies we’re pushing. We’ve all seen in the last few years the misinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news—not the IBJ—it’s all out there. We need to push back against that and call it what it is.

What is one thing you learned from managing the Buttigieg campaign that you can transfer to statewide campaigns here in Indiana?

The biggest thing I learned, not just with Pete but also with someone like Senator [Joe] Donnelly, is that you go everywhere and you talk to everybody. Not just speaking with people who are like-minded or voted a certain way in the past, but you go everywhere. And that’s actually what we’re doing right now, with the American Rescue Plan Tour that we launched this month. We’re going to around 30 counties around the state to talk about the American Rescue Plan and the benefits that it’s bringing each and every Indiana community. We’re on the third week of that, and it’s great. We’re going to communities small, medium and large to talk about the benefits and what Democrats are doing to deliver to Hoosiers.

How is that tour going, and what’s the overall aim of it?

It’s going great. … We have speakers from across the state to participate in this tour with us. Big names like Joe Donnelly and John Gregg, former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, State Senator Jean Breaux, Christina Hale – the list goes on and on.

The aim is really to go on offense. We went through a lot over the last four years and now Joe Biden is our president and I think each and every day is showing what steady, competent presidential leadership looks like and the rescue plan has COVID in the rearview mirror. It’s extremely successful in delivering for communities across the state

What does the recent announcement of McCormick officially switching parties mean for Indiana Democrats?

She’s the most recent superintendent of public instruction and in her career has worked for our kids, education and the future of our state. She was an elected Republican official who, I think, day in and day out saw what the Republican Party was doing in our state and how they were governing. To her, it just wasn’t the right path forward. I’m excited she’s joined, sort of formally, our party. She’s joined the tour and talked about the rescue plan’s investment in public education and our kids. She’s a great partner.

The state party is getting some money from the DNC to help rebuild the party, specifically at the county level. How much are you getting and how will it be used?

We are still crunching the numbers on how much, but we are going to get more money per month from the DNC. It’s the largest investment the DNC has made into state politics in its history. So I think what we’re really seeing is a 50-state strategy from Joe Biden and Jaime Harrison, the chair of the DNC.

It’s a huge benefit to us. It gives us more resources to build more programs and hire more people, and I think you’re seeing that Joe Biden is a traditional party-builder. He’s someone who wants to go to every community and wants to be president for all Americans. He wants to rebuild the middle class, invest in our future and set us up for success. He’s not just focusing on blue states or purple states, but all states. It’s a huge benefit to the work we’re doing here.

Some take your selection as Indiana Democratic Party Chairman as an indication that your childhood friend Pete Buttigieg may return to the state eventually and run for governor or U.S. Senate. Is that going to happen and would you encourage it?

Well, I think he really likes being the U.S. Secretary of Transportation right now. He’s hard at work there, so it would be a little premature to talk about any of that. But he is a Hoosier, and he has said that Indiana will always be home for him. Right now though, I think he’s pretty good where he is.

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11 thoughts on “Q&A with Mike Schmuhl, new chairman of Indiana Democratic Party

  1. Here’s a radical concept for Mr. Schmuhl to consider: Go back to embracing the values the Democrat Party stood for as recently as two generations ago: America first, God & Country, etc., rather than depending on an amalgamation of misfits challenging, even berating as obsolete, the sensibilities of hard-working Americans in an unabashed attempt to seize power and money for global elitists and domestic career political parasites like the Obamas, Schumers, Pelosis, Bidens, Clintons, et al.

    Does Mr. Schmuhl really think, does any contemporary Democrat really think, that a 1955 Democrat, a Union member with a not-unfounded suspicion of some big business practices, a Democrat who probably had guns for hunting and self-defense and would have been be appalled at the idea of killing babies in the womb and living in a culture spending an entire month “celebrating” a common sin as wonderful, would feel at home in today’s Democrat party?

  2. I’m so glad Indiana got Mike Schmuhl! Hopefully he bring the State out the the GOP supermajority that’s good for absolutely nothing.

    1. Brings*

      Dear IBJ, you really should think of adding an editing feature to your comment section.

    2. The editing feature possibility is one thing on which we can agree, Wesley. I suspect they don’t allow it because they don’t want posters to have the ability to change something a subsequent poster has criticized, thus making the subsequent poster look stupid for having misquoted the OP, since the OP later changed his/her/its remarks.

      BTW, a good way of checking one’s writing is to read it ALOUD before posting. Sometimes you pick up errors when you read something aloud that your mind would silently read as correct, even though it isn’t. (Had I done that, I wouldn’t have that extra word “be” in front of the word appalled!)

    3. Bob, reading this aloud catches errors, but it doesn’t really help when you’re posting nonsense.

      Your solution for Democrats is to be Republicans of the 1980’s. Even that only plays in Indianapolis (where the Marion County GOP is as incompetent as the Indiana Democratic Party) and the surrounding suburbs thanks to the radicalization of the GOP.

      But, worry not. Indiana Republicans will, I am sure, unveil maps for the next decade of elections that ensure that they will remain in power. Those suburbs will vote into a void as they will be in districts drawn to ensure that they are outnumbered. So Republicans will continue electing such talents like a Mike Braun (who hasn’t screwed up a TV interview yet), Jim Banks, Greg Pence, Tennessee Trey Hollingsworth, Jack Sandlin, Curt Nisly, or John Jacob.

      Besides, all the young people who would tilt the state towards Democrats? They don’t stay in Indiana, they just leave. They can’t get into our universities thanks to an Indiana GOP that refuses to increase higher education spending, thereby encouraging them to take more out-of-state students instead of educating our best and brightest.

      We spend all that money to educate kids from K-12, they encourage them to move away and take their talents elsewhere. Little wonder that Indiana is a state that is dying and bleeding population from everywhere except Indianapolis and the suburbs.

      Tell me what Indiana Republicans have to offer for the future. More tax cuts that do nothing to attract businesses? More spending for religious schools? More culture war nonsense from Todd Rokita?

      Indiana is a state that works … in distribution centers, working two jobs in an ever-more-difficult effort to make ends meet. Little wonder people get abortions, they can’t afford to raise kids.

      If Indianapolis is so awful, why do people around the state move to the Indianapolis area? When will the state of Indiana figure out they should copy what Indianapolis does, as opposed to telling Indianapolis what not to do?

  3. Excited to have good, young leadership in the Indiana Democratic Party. If more Hoosiers actually looked at which party was actually delivering in areas in which our state falls behind nationally (education, environment, health and wellness, etc), Jennifer McCormick won’t be the only Indiana Republican to switch parties.

    1. Oh, Dana; and what have the Democrats done for Indiana in the areas you mention? You say they are “delivering.” What have they delivered…other than promises that if they are just given more money, they will “fix” anything and everything? They have an iron grip on Indianapolis government, so how has the city benefited from Dem Boss Hogsett and his minions? Yes, they’ve “delivered” an astounding murder rate, if nothing else.

    2. And Bob, when Indianapolis voters had the chance to punish Hogsett for that murder rate in 2019 and elect Jim Merritt, they … instead not only re-elected Hogsett, they voted most all of the Republicans off the City County Council.

      Chuck Brewer did better in 2015 than Jim Merritt did in 2019. Merritt was every bit as incompetent and useless as a candidate as Woody Myers was in the Indiana governors race and he was an anchor on the ballot.

      Please, go on about how awful the Democrats are. They’re guilty of some of it, I’m sure. But the Indiana Republican Party and the Marion County GOP need to figure out how to appeal to voters who don’t get all their news from Fox and aren’t all angry at the latest irrelevant manufactured crisis designed to keep them voting Republican so the rich donors get their tax cuts.

      The Indiana GOP makes it easy for Democrats in Marion County when they don’t have ideas, they just want to tell Indianapolis what NOT to do from the Statehouse. Don’t protect renters from slumlords, don’t build that bus line down Washington Street. Local control is only for Republicans, according to the Indiana GOP. When it comes to a city run by Democrats, Republicans at the statehouse believe in Big Government and overriding the will of voters.

      Indianapolis as a city would be better if it had two parties offering real ideas.

    3. Bob P, at least Hogsett is actually rebuilding our aging infrastructure unlike Ballard, who squandered millions just putting a pretty surface coat on the roads, which subsequently crumbled after he left office. And the murder rate? Check the stats. Violent crime is up across the country. But, I’m sure you wouldn’t have any problem with sensible gun regulation reform now would you?

  4. Rebuilding the Indianapolis infrastructure? That’s laughable. He hasn’t even rebuilt downtown after his riots. (Which were not peaceful, cost millions in losses. and sadly several deaths.