Howey Political Report
Bauer leading Democrats from disaster to catastrophe PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 31 January 2012 18:55

by Brian Howey
INDIANAPOLIS  - In the end, it was the crushing fines set up in the 2011 anti-bolt legislation that caused B. Patrick Bauer and House Democrats to cave on Right to Work Wednesday.
After intermittent walkouts throughout January, the issue came to a head and, ultimately, a 54-44 vote to pass HB1001, identical to the Senate version passed last week. While AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott promised to continue the fight in the Senate, this battle is essentially over.
The chaotic session began Wednesday with Democrats insisting the doors into the hallway stay open. Fearing yet another walkout, House Speaker Brian Bosma relented, and so the emotional debate on what Democrats were calling the “most divisive issue in a generation” continued between chants and shouts.
“This is Right to Work … for less,” Bauer stormed. “Less pay, less health care, and yes, less safety.”
“After your vote against the referendum, your vote is shallow and hollow,” Bauer said of a ploy that would have placed the issue on the November ballot, though there were constitutional issues involved with that. Republicans were having none of it.
It was a capstone legislative defeat for a 42-year veteran who has presided over his party’s fall from a majority to a devastating 60-40 minority after he waged one of the most tawdry campaigns in modern Indiana history, attempting to defend caucus members in 2010. In the process, Bauer helped lose the Democratic Party’s Southern Indiana base.
The more Democrats walked, the more fuel and fodder the House Republican Campaign Committee collected for fall ads in an attempt to gain a super 67 seat majority. For Speaker Bosma, it was a win/win. He passed his top priority, and he will have his caucus campaign against Democrats who bolted.
The Democratic caucus -where Gov. Mitch Daniels marveled at Bauer’s iron-fisted control - heaved and groaned under the weight of fines that would have totaled $10,000 per member if the boycotts had lasted through the Jan. 31 session day, when the legislature pauses for the Super Bowl. The theory was that Democrats would try and parlay their stand for labor with a worldwide audience, perhaps eclipsing the attention their colleagues received last winter in Wisconsin in that fight over collective bargaining.
Caucus Chair Dale Grubb quit that job as caucus unity was challenged over fines. There are some members facing tough challenges this upcoming fall - Reps. Ed DeLaney and Peggy Welch - who broke ranks and returned to the chamber while 35 of their colleagues sat out.
It was a perplexing dance with only one man - Bauer - knowing what the end game was. Asked if anyone was privy to the South Bend Democrat’s thought process and ultimate game plan, Democratic Chair Dan Parker could only smile and shake his head. No one else knew.
Weakened Democrats lamented the body blow organized labor would take with the looming Right to Work law. “This bill has been for all of us the most divisive,” said State Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville. “The thing that really got me was how it was handled. The procedures were thrown out.”
An emotional State Rep. Scott Pelath recalled how his father had to explain to the family why he was on a Pullman Standard picket line and there would be no paycheck that week.
But it was the newest member of the caucus, ponytailed Rep. Mike White of Muncie, who revealed the angst. “I’m the rookie here,” he said. “I’m also fresh off the streets. What the people on the streets tell me is they want us to get to work on a whole lot of other things.”
Indeed, as Democrats obsessed about derailing Right to Work and Republicans prepared to use the full weight of their daunting majorities, a litany of other important legislation ranging from mass transit to a statewide smoking ban to local government reform, were beginning to fall by the wayside.
And Republicans chided the minority that Right to Work would not be the end of the world. “The sky will not fall the day after Right to Work passes. It just will not,” said Rep. Sue Ellspermann. “Right to Work is clearly a job creation strategy as companies seek to locate to those states.”
During what would be a 54-44 vote with five Republicans joining the minority, the Democrats called for a voice roll call and the session ended in shouting.
“The only places where today’s events will be cheered is in the boardrooms of big businesses and corporations across this state,” Bauer – the face of the Indiana Democratic Party - fumed afterwards. “For those who threw their weight behind this plan, and were willing to trample on a lengthy list of constitutional rights in order to do so, there is only one thing to say: Shame on you.”
And in dozens of downtown restaurants and bars Wednesday evening, Republicans and business advocates were toasting a seismic victory in a northern state, clinking flutes and goblets of shame, red and white, sparkling and dry.
Had Bauer kept caucus losses to 55 seats, instead of 60, Right to Work probably wouldn’t have happened. Why he is still in power should be a question every Hoosier Democrat ponders.
John Gregg, phone home.
(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Contact Howey at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .)

by Brian Howey

INDIANAPOLIS  - In the end, it was the crushing fines set up in the 2011 anti-bolt legislation that caused B. Patrick Bauer and House Democrats to cave on Right to Work Wednesday.

After intermittent walkouts throughout January, the issue came to a head and, ultimately, a 54-44 vote to pass HB1001, identical to the Senate version passed last week. While AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott promised to continue the fight in the Senate, this battle is essentially over.

The chaotic session began Wednesday with Democrats insisting the doors into the hallway stay open. Fearing yet another walkout, House Speaker Brian Bosma relented, and so the emotional debate on what Democrats were calling the “most divisive issue in a generation” continued between chants and shouts.

 
Daniels gives an emphatic endorsement of Lugar PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 25 January 2012 20:51

by Brian Howey
CARMEL - Gov. Mitch Daniels offered up an emphatic endorsement of his mentor - U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar - before about 300 Republicans Wednesday night, calling him the “most significant public official in the last century in our state, quite possibly the greatest senator ever to serve from our state.”
The remarks came as Lugar is fending off a Tea Party fueled challenge by Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who has earned kind words from Daniels in the past, even giving him a rare mention in his recent book, “Keeping the Republic.”
In my opinion, Mourdock hasn’t even remotely come close to making a case that Lugar should be replaced. His fundraising has been anemic. His performance in office - which includes a significant decline in meeting attendance - raises questions about his priorities. This past week, Lugar reported $750,000 raised and $4 million cash on hand for his 4th quarter FEC report. It contrasted with Mourdock, who has yet to release his money totals, and countered a statewide Lugar TV buy in the Indianapolis, South Bend, Terre Haute, Fort Wayne and Louisville media markets with a tiny $2,500 cable buy during Monday night’s Republican presidential debate.
So it was fascinating to watch Indiana’s articulator-in-chief - Gov. Daniels - who will give the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address next week, speak of Lugar, who he called his “mentor, exemplar, coach.” The Lugar campaign had a video production crew recording every word; fodder for coming TV ads featuring a governor who had a 65 percent approval rating in a December Public Opinion Strategies poll.
The two men have a long history. Daniels was a young hire under then-Indianapolis Mayor Lugar, managed his 1976 and 1982 Senate campaigns, and became the senator’s first chief of staff.
Daniels left no doubt who he will support in the May 8 primary. “Public service practiced by Dick Lugar is truly a noble quality,” Daniels said at the Monon Center rally. “I’ve said before, here we have the entire package: intelligence, a commitment to the public interest of all, not a party, not a segment of society, not a base, the interests of all. His comments tonight I thought underscored so clearly why Dick Lugar is a man of the future. Seeing things that others aren’t able to see, having insights about what is facing this country, and the constructive ways forward that are just invisible to those of us with lesser talents.”
Prior to Daniels’ remarks, Lugar reminded his supporters that he had pressed President Obama on the Keystone Pipeline, which the president rejected earlier in the day. Lugar said the pipeline would have created 20,000 jobs - including new jobs at 12 Indiana companies - while providing “an independence in our oil supply.”
“People say, again and again, it’s jobs,” Lugar continued. “Don’t you guys get it? Well, we do get it.” Lugar and House Republicans included the pipeline in the payroll tax compromise, forcing Obama to make a decision within 60 days.
Daniels called the timing of his endorsement a “coincidence,” and observed of Lugar, “He’s right now, this evening, on the spear point of the biggest jobs issue. It’s not coincidental that on this date, he has forced the president’s hand. The president has made a colossal mistake. It’s a terrible disservice to tens of thousands of Americans who could have been employed. I believe he’s made a colossal mistake and a miscalculation in the politics of this year.”
“While we’re on the subject of coincidences,” Daniels continued, “it is certainly true that the preoccupation of our fellow citizens … is the restoration of economic opportunity, upward mobility, fortification of the middle class, which is always characterized in America and democracy. The senator reminded us, this is a dangerous world. It won’t leave us alone to solve our economic problems in isolation.” The governor noted that he had just come from the second of four Indiana National Guard funerals due to a road side bomb in Afghanistan on Jan. 6.
“There are not a handful of Americans alive who understand the sources of the danger, the things that might be done to protect Americans better than our senator,” Daniels said. “He is a national asset. It’s not just that Indiana cannot afford to relinquish. America can’t afford it either. How often we hear it said these days, ‘where are the statesmen? Where are those people in a polarized often toxic, highly personal, bitterly partisan world, where are those people who might bring folks together to achieve the kind of big changes this nation needs?’ There aren’t more than a handful of those, either. This is one person who is respected and trusted. He’s an asset that America needs and Indiana should be so proud that (he’s an asset) Indiana continues to provide.”
Daniels concluded by saying, “Yes, I am enthusiastic. You know how much we owe to the past efforts of this man, you know that is not the reason we’re here. It’s how much we have riding on his continued service and how much more of a brighter future we will have when he is secured in another term in the U.S. Senate.”
(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Contact Howey at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .)

by Brian Howey

CARMEL - Gov. Mitch Daniels offered up an emphatic endorsement of his mentor - U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar - before about 300 Republicans Wednesday night, calling him the “most significant public official in the last century in our state, quite possibly the greatest senator ever to serve from our state.”

The remarks came as Lugar is fending off a Tea Party fueled challenge by Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who has earned kind words from Daniels in the past, even giving him a rare mention in his recent book, “Keeping the Republic.”

 
Mitch and Morton and the Statehouse charades PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 18 January 2012 22:24

by Brian Howey
INDIANAPOLIS - Gov. Mitch Daniels, facing west as he gave his final State of the State address Tuesday, essentially stood back-to- back with the statue guarding the eastern entrance of the Indiana Statehouse – that of Gov. Oliver P. Morton.
A slender strand of history now connects the two. After Copperhead Democrats won the Indiana General Assembly in 1862, a political reaction to Morton's backing of the coming Emancipation Proclamation, Gov. Morton feared they would pull Indiana out of the Union. He sent Republican legislators to Madison, within easy access to Kentucky if Democrats tried to forcibly return them to Indianapolis. Thus, there would be no quorum, no General Assembly until the Republicans won it back in 1864.
Thus, the annual event of a State of the State address would be one where Republican and Democrat legislators would convene in the Indiana House since 1865 to hear the governor's annual report. Until Tuesday night.
Most House Democrats boycotted Gov. Daniels’ address, a political and emotional reaction to what had occurred Tuesday morning in the House Labor Committee. The meeting lasted just six minutes, with Chair Douglas Gutwein, R-Francesville, refusing all amendments and stymieing all discussion and public testimony on HB1001, the Right to Work bill.
“I think the light of democracy just went out in the Indiana House,” said Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute. “I’ve never seen a charade like this in my life,” said Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis. House Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer observed, “We have a Chinese democracy, joined by a quest for Chinese wages and Chinese benefits.”
State Rep. Craig Fry would ask, "What are you afraid of?"
Thus ensued the historic snub. Most House Democrats stayed away. Hoosier television viewers witnessed Daniels speaking to an almost half empty chamber (some senators took the seats of missing House Democrats). As the governor spoke, chanting and yelling could be heard outside the House chambers. "Walk out! Walk out!" the union members chanted.
The question of fear is a relevant one.
Many of the gathered Republican legislators – sensing palpable danger in the gathering protesters – were packing heat, more so than normal.
But politically, things seem stacked in favor of Republicans. The recent Public Opinion Strategies polls show large margins of support for Right to Work. Some 68% of Hoosiers are against the Democratic walkouts. The Republicans have a 60-40 majority in the House and a super majority in the Senate. And there stood Gov. Mitch Daniels, the most successful union-busting governor in Indiana history.
He would make the case to Hoosiers in his speech, saying, "Almost half our fellow states have Right to Work laws.  As a group, they are adding jobs faster, growing worker income faster, and enjoying lower unemployment rates than those of us without a law."
So if Republicans have public opinion, huge majorities and a sympathetic governor on their side, why, then, the heavy-handed tactics that have even some of the RTW proponents shaking their heads?
Speaker Brian Bosma has put Right to Work on a fast track with Gutwein as a loyal foot soldier, denying amendments, debate and testimony. It came after the Daniels’ administration tried to suppress the number of protesters in the Statehouse, and received a stunning rebuke not only from columnists, editorial writers, Democrats and union members, but Constitutional Republicans. Daniels quickly relented.
John Gregg, the former Democratic House Speaker now running for governor, has been mostly silent in recent weeks despite the growing controversy. It's as if he's allowing the GOP to self-destruct. He calls it the "overreach" because he's seen it before. “After the 1994 election, they acted like they had a mandate,” Gregg said. “They came in, and said, ‘Let’s settle some old scores.’ They did it in ‘95 and they did it this time. It’s amazing.
“I became Speaker because of what they did in 1995. And it will make me governor.”
Republicans defend the heavy-handed tactics, citing last year's five-week walkout to Illinois and – at this writing – four days of boycotts this year. Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, called the amendments and testimony “showboating.”
But with every controversial issue – some like Daylight Savings Time fought annually for more than a decade – the process was followed, the testimony heard, even if it had been repeated. Until this month.
With both sides digging in, all the other important legislation – human trafficking, a statewide smoking ban, an online sales tax, local government reform – is held hostage while Daniels and the Republicans try to finish off the unions, which since 2005 had steered $4 million into Democratic campaigns. This isn't so much about job creation as it is about politics.
As for Democrats, this is what happens when, as a party, you become vacuous defenders of the status quo and purveyors of campaign political porn. When a party becomes bereft of ideas and is simply there to obstruct, folks will vote for the other guy.
As for Rep. Bartlett citing this "charade," I recall he presided over a House committee a couple of years ago and tried to spike a package of local government reforms, scurried back and forth between the House floor and Pat Bauer's office to get orders, and then forgot to call for a vote as he gaveled the committee closed.
As in the parlor games we once played, one charade deserves another.
(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Contact Howey at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .)

by Brian Howey

INDIANAPOLIS - Gov. Mitch Daniels, facing west as he gave his final State of the State address Tuesday, essentially stood back-to- back with the statue guarding the eastern entrance of the Indiana Statehouse – that of Gov. Oliver P. Morton.

A slender strand of history now connects the two. After Copperhead Democrats won the Indiana General Assembly in 1862, a political reaction to Morton's backing of the coming Emancipation Proclamation, Gov. Morton feared they would pull Indiana out of the Union. He sent Republican legislators to Madison, within easy access to Kentucky if Democrats tried to forcibly return them to Indianapolis. Thus, there would be no quorum, no General Assembly until the Republicans won it back in 1864.

 
House Dems, Mourdock and showing up for work PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 11 January 2012 16:13

by Brian Howey
INDIANAPOLIS – With Indiana House Democrats not showing up for the people’s business on Wednesday – the first day of the Indiana General Assembly - they are on a collision course with regular Hoosiers, most who wouldn’t even think of blowing off a day of work.
Look no further than a Public Opinion Strategies poll conducted last Dec. 11-13 for the Indiana Realtors that revealed 68 percent do not approve of the five-week Democratic walkout last year. As pollster Gene Ulm notes, “Walk out at your own risk.”
Which brings me to the state’s “chief financial officer,” Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock. An analysis of Mourdock’s official functions in office reveal that since January 2010 when he began his reelecton campaign, he has attended only 34 percent of the meetings of boards he either presides over or is a member. The balance of funds involved with these boards is documented to be $1.537 billion.
This compares with 53 percent attendance of various boards from February 2007 when he took his initial oath of office to Dec. 31, 2009.
Mourdock was reelected to a second term in November 2010, was sworn in for a second term in January 2011, and then announced his challenge to U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar on Feb. 22, 2011. He has spent much of 2010 and 2011 campaigning for reelection, running for the U.S. Senate, or training for the Chicago Marathon. Mourdock has been a serial candidate, running 11 times for various offices since 1988.
Lugar missed only four of 235 votes in the Senate in 2011 and has a 98 percent lifetime voting record. When Lugar ran for president in 1995 he missed 26 votes, or 4.24 percent, and had a 96 percent attendance record. In 1996, he missed four votes (1.3 percent) and had a 98 percent attendance record while actively campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire and a number of early primary states.
U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, the presumed Democratic nominee for the Senate seat, did not miss a vote out of 814 taken from Jan. 5 through Oct. 27, 2011.
Of the 122 board meetings that have occurred through November, Mourdock has attended just 42, according to a study of meeting minutes, representing a 34 percent attendance. Of the 24 meetings of the Indiana State Police Pension and Benefit Fund Advisory Board, Mourdock has attended none as the sole trustee since January 2010. Between 2007 and 2009 Mourdock attended four of 53 meetings and just two of 19 meetings in 2009, when he made international headlines after filing a challenge to the Chrysler bankruptcy and proposed merger with Fiat in the summer of that year. Mourdock attended two board meetings during the Chrysler case deliberations, but the minutes of the board make no mention of the case.
On May 19, 2009, without Mourdock’s presence, the State Police Pension Board heard information on the treasurer’s new policy prohibiting state investments in companies receiving federal stimulus funds.
At a special meeting on Feb. 17, 2009, the minutes indicate that it was suggested the board look into investment strategies during the third quarter of 2009 due to the long-term impact of the 2008 market dive.
Mourdock has also missed all seven meetings of the Indiana Arts Commission Cultural Trust Fund Administrative Board, all four meetings of the Indiana Grain Indemnity Corporation, and all three meetings of the Financial Assurance Board. According to board member Bill Davis, the board frequently has not met due to lacking a quorum.
Mourdock has attended only one of 18 meetings of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, where he was selected by Gov. Daniels to be the vice chair. From 2007 to 2009, Mourdock attended 13 of 35 meetings or 37 percent of the time.
On the Hoosier START board, Mourdock attended one of six meetings since 2010, compared to 11 of 13 from 2007 to 2009.
Mourdock has attended just seven of 18 State Board of Finance meetings for a 39 percent rate since 2010, compared to 18 of 21 meetings he attended from 2007 to 2009. Former Treasurer Marge O’Laughlin told me she never missed one of these meetings and restricted her campaigning to the evenings.
When Mourdock is chair or secretary/investment manager, his attendance improves. As chair, he attended five of six Indiana Education Savings Authority Board meetings since January 2010, and all 14 of those meetings between 2007 and 2009. He has attended all eight meetings as chair of the Wireless Enhanced 911 Advisory Board; all 12 of the Indiana Board for Depositories; and all 35 Indiana Bond Bank boards, where he is chair.
When Mourdock is not chair or secretary of a board, he has a 19% attendance record since 2010.
“Treasurer Mourdock has chosen to designate a member of his staff who is either a subject matter expert or who manages the day-to-day affairs of that particular board’s funds as his designee,” spokesperson Ian Slatter explained.
There’s an old saying: When the water hole shrinks, the animals act differently. For Mourdock, the behavior changes when the campaign trail beacons.
(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Contact Howey at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .)

by Brian Howey

INDIANAPOLIS – With Indiana House Democrats not showing up for the people’s business on Wednesday – the first day of the Indiana General Assembly - they are on a collision course with regular Hoosiers, most who wouldn’t even think of blowing off a day of work.

Look no further than a Public Opinion Strategies poll conducted last Dec. 11-13 for the Indiana Realtors that revealed 68 percent do not approve of the five-week Democratic walkout last year. As pollster Gene Ulm notes, “Walk out at your own risk.”

Which brings me to the state’s “chief financial officer,” Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock. An analysis of Mourdock’s official functions in office reveal that since January 2010 when he began his reelecton campaign, he has attended only 34 percent of the meetings of boards he either presides over or is a member. The balance of funds involved with these boards is documented to be $1.537 billion.

This compares with 53 percent attendance of various boards from February 2007 when he took his initial oath of office to Dec. 31, 2009.

Mourdock was reelected to a second term in November 2010, was sworn in for a second term in January 2011, and then announced his challenge to U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar on Feb. 22, 2011. He has spent much of 2010 and 2011 campaigning for reelection, running for the U.S. Senate, or training for the Chicago Marathon. Mourdock has been a serial candidate, running 11 times for various offices since 1988.

Lugar missed only four of 235 votes in the Senate in 2011 and has a 98 percent lifetime voting record. When Lugar ran for president in 1995 he missed 26 votes, or 4.24 percent, and had a 96 percent attendance record. In 1996, he missed four votes (1.3 percent) and had a 98 percent attendance record while actively campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire and a number of early primary states.

U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, the presumed Democratic nominee for the Senate seat, did not miss a vote out of 814 taken from Jan. 5 through Oct. 27, 2011.

Of the 122 board meetings that have occurred through November, Mourdock has attended just 42, according to a study of meeting minutes, representing a 34 percent attendance. Of the 24 meetings of the Indiana State Police Pension and Benefit Fund Advisory Board, Mourdock has attended none as the sole trustee since January 2010. Between 2007 and 2009 Mourdock attended four of 53 meetings and just two of 19 meetings in 2009, when he made international headlines after filing a challenge to the Chrysler bankruptcy and proposed merger with Fiat in the summer of that year. Mourdock attended two board meetings during the Chrysler case deliberations, but the minutes of the board make no mention of the case.

On May 19, 2009, without Mourdock’s presence, the State Police Pension Board heard information on the treasurer’s new policy prohibiting state investments in companies receiving federal stimulus funds.

At a special meeting on Feb. 17, 2009, the minutes indicate that it was suggested the board look into investment strategies during the third quarter of 2009 due to the long-term impact of the 2008 market dive.

Mourdock has also missed all seven meetings of the Indiana Arts Commission Cultural Trust Fund Administrative Board, all four meetings of the Indiana Grain Indemnity Corporation, and all three meetings of the Financial Assurance Board. According to board member Bill Davis, the board frequently has not met due to lacking a quorum.

Mourdock has attended only one of 18 meetings of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, where he was selected by Gov. Daniels to be the vice chair. From 2007 to 2009, Mourdock attended 13 of 35 meetings or 37 percent of the time.

On the Hoosier START board, Mourdock attended one of six meetings since 2010, compared to 11 of 13 from 2007 to 2009.

Mourdock has attended just seven of 18 State Board of Finance meetings for a 39 percent rate since 2010, compared to 18 of 21 meetings he attended from 2007 to 2009. Former Treasurer Marge O’Laughlin told me she never missed one of these meetings and restricted her campaigning to the evenings.

When Mourdock is chair or secretary/investment manager, his attendance improves. As chair, he attended five of six Indiana Education Savings Authority Board meetings since January 2010, and all 14 of those meetings between 2007 and 2009. He has attended all eight meetings as chair of the Wireless Enhanced 911 Advisory Board; all 12 of the Indiana Board for Depositories; and all 35 Indiana Bond Bank boards, where he is chair.

When Mourdock is not chair or secretary of a board, he has a 19% attendance record since 2010.

“Treasurer Mourdock has chosen to designate a member of his staff who is either a subject matter expert or who manages the day-to-day affairs of that particular board’s funds as his designee,” spokesperson Ian Slatter explained.

There’s an old saying: When the water hole shrinks, the animals act differently. For Mourdock, the behavior changes when the campaign trail beacons.

(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Contact Howey at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .)

 
Remembering Bill Cook and Steve Jobs PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 04 January 2012 18:17

by Brian Howey
NASHVILLE, Ind. - “Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow.”
This is the most intriguing quote of 2011. They are Apple creator Steve Jobs’ last words before skipping the surly bonds, according to his sister. What was Steve seeing? God? Jesus? Buddha? The iCar? A Higgs boson?
We will never know. Harry Houdini left special instructions for communication beyond life. After a fist in the gut, a sudden death, no one ever heard from Harry again.
This all got me thinking of Bill Cook.
Bill passed away this year and is a Hoosier who left an indelible legacy, not only with his contribution to the medical community, but his commitment to the restoration of the splendid past into a sprawling future. I was most intrigued by the West Baden Hotel; when I first came upon it, it was a ruin. A good part of a whole five-story wing had collapsed. It was in terrible shape.
It was designed and built in 1901 by Harrison Albright, after a fire that same year destroyed the first resort built in 1851, named West Baden after a famous German spa. Albright created the largest free-standing dome in the world that wouldn’t be surpassed until the Houston AstroDome construction began in 1962.
Ownership by the Sinclair family eventually passed to Charles Ballard. Growing up in Peru, Ind., I lived in a subdivision adjacent to the huge Ballard estate there. Under Ballard’s leadership the hotel flourished until the stock market crash in 1929 and it was forced to close. West Baden steadily deteriorated for the next five decades.
I was sad about the condition of this fabulous hotel. I never dreamed it would be restored and I remember taking one tiny tile from the main atrium as a souvenir. It sits in a special place near my office.
But Bill and Gayle Cook, along with Indiana Historic Landmarks, stepped in and restored the West Baden Hotel. It is a magnificent place today. I remember writing a column at twilight at the bar in the atrium this summer, sipping a Stella, watching dusk wander into night, the lights low, the voices hushed. My computer was hooked into the World Wide Web.
The Cooks pumped tens of millions into its restoration.
When I was writing for NUVO Newsweekly, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting Bill Cook. As we gazed skyward, Cook explained, “I’m in awe. It’s like I’m a stranger in something I’ve done.”
This is a man who didn’t often search for words. But the wonder of the hotel left him pondering in beautiful fragments: “It’s just … the same sensation … that I have … such a magnificent building.”
I was truly moved.
More than a decade ago a friend and I took our kids to the partially restored West Baden. We packed a picnic lunch and a blanket and drove there. We spread out on the lawn and watched a huge Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane lift four prefabricated towers on the four corners of the hotel. It was a lovely experience, the completion of the exterior in the most grandiose of fashion. I was moved when the Sirkosky chopper took off from the ground several hours after the final tower had been affixed. It slowly lifted away and the massive rotors thumped our chests.
Everyone stood up and gazed into the sky as it rose above the building, hovering for a moment, and then it did a 360 around the hotel, nose at a downward angle, the crew taking one last look at its magnificence. It was a stunning, definitive moment that still leaves me breathless.
I last saw Bill Cook in 2010, after giving a speech to some of his Cook Group employees. Afterwards, we talked for about 10 minutes on the Monroe County Courthouse Square about the economy and the state of journalism. I thanked him for what he and Gayle did at West Baden.
In August 2003, I was next door to the old hotel at French Lick Springs and Gov. Frank O’Bannon was giving the keynote to the Indiana Democratic Editorial Association that night. I had heard the Governor speak many times, and when he began talking this night, I wasn’t taking notes. But then Frank began talking about the West Baden Hotel and I picked up my pad and pen and began scribbling notes. He told the story of how the architect Albright stood atop the dome while the workers pounded away the supports. Folks gawked below, wondering if the whole thing would really stay up “thar” or whether Mr. Albright would plunge to his death.
Of course, we know what happened. Albright survived, as does his splendid hotel today. But those would be Gov. O’Bannon’s last public words. He passed away a few short weeks later.
Why do I write this today? In hopes that in some Indiana garage or basement, some genius is bringing a fantastic idea to life and market, and that the next Bill Cook or Steve Jobs stands like a seed among us, leading us deeper into the 21st Century.
(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .)

by Brian Howey

NASHVILLE, Ind. - “Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow.”

This is the most intriguing quote of 2011. They are Apple creator Steve Jobs’ last words before skipping the surly bonds, according to his sister. What was Steve seeing? God? Jesus? Buddha? The iCar? A Higgs boson?

We will never know. Harry Houdini left special instructions for communication beyond life. After a fist in the gut, a sudden death, no one ever heard from Harry again.

This all got me thinking of Bill Cook.

 
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