by Dave Kitchell
— May the best man — and woman — win.
It’s come down to that in the race for Indiana governor with both Republican Mike Pence and Democrat John Gregg selecting a female to join them atop their party’s state ballot. Pence moved first with the selection of freshman State Rep. Sue Ellsperman, then Gregg wasted little time in naming State Sen. Violet “Vi” Simpson of Elletsville as his running mate.
For the third time in eight years, both major parties will have male-female tickets. Yet the remaining “glass ceiling” question all Hoosiers have to wonder about is when Indiana will elect a female governor, or have a female lieutenant governor elevated to the governor’s chair. Indiana’s last two lieutenant governors have been women and the announcements this week all but assure the next lieutenant governor also will be female.
We’re coming closer to the day when the governor will be a female, but the race is still about two men for now. Some may forget that just four years ago, former Congresswoman Jill Long Thompson gave the major parties their first top-of-the-ticket female candidate.
In Simpson, Gregg not only picked a veteran of the Indiana Senate but one of the great minds in the Indiana General Assembly over the past 20 years. She’s never been in a Senate majority, but her name has frequently been mentioned in the same breath with some of the state’s major legislation.
The lieutenant governor choices in both cases seemed to avoid northern Indiana constituencies. It’s a bit peculiar since roughly two-thirds of the state’s population lives in the area from Indianapolis north to the Michigan state line. Pence lives near Indianapolis, and Simpson lives just south of it. It might have made sense for Pence to pick someone more like Simpson since he has no state government experience. It also might have made sense for Gregg to pick someone from northern Indiana since Pence didn’t.
This race might have taken on more interest in Cass County’s neck of the woods had Gregg’s choice been Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight or Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry.
Goodnight, the second-term mayor of the City of Firsts, is likely among a handful of names that could provide Gregg with what he might have needed most: A northern Indiana Democrat who could possibly deliver a swing county and give some balance to his legislative background.
If there were a huge contender other than Simpson and Goodnight, it likely was Henry. Allen County is historically Republican, but the mayor’s office can occasionally produce some Democrats who can carry one of the state’s largest counties and move it to the Democratic column on the map. Any portion of northeastern Indiana isn’t exactly the easiest of places for Democrats to win. If Henry could have delivered it, Gregg might have had an easy choice. We’ll never know.
Goodnight was well-positioned for a couple of reasons. One is that he presides over a city that was as threatened by the 2008 auto industry collapse as any in Indiana. Four years later, Goodnight presides over a city that has won a national award as the Comeback City of the Year. Not since another Democrat, Steve Daily, presided over city hall in Kokomo has the city enjoyed as upbeat a period as it is enjoying now with Chrysler and Delphi, the city’s two largest employers, humming. Kokomo is making the transition to the new U.S. 31 Bypass that will relieve congestion and open up new areas for development east and south of Kokomo and the growing corridor between Indianapolis and Kokomo.
In choosing lieutenant governors — people who might eventually have to lead state government in the event a governor completes two terms, dies in office or leaves for a higher position in government — gubernatorial candidates of any party usually like to choose candidates with experience at running some level of government, and doing it successfully. Goodnight is younger than Gregg, which could have positioned him as Gregg’s eventual successor down the road. Neither of the major party candidates bring that background to their respective tickets.
Goodnight has some family ties to Cass County and his wife, the former Kelly Hinkle, is a Cass County native. Goodnight, like Pence, has run as a congressional candidate. He’s not exactly a household name in Indiana, but he’s not a political unknown either, and he’s not up for election for the office he currently holds.
It might have made sense for Gregg to choose a mayor instead of a state legislator because that’s a strength he already brings to the ticket. Goodnight’s administration has been able to weather the budgetary storm the state’s fiscal straits have placed upon metropolitan areas, and Kokomo doesn’t have as broad a tax base as Fort Wayne, Terre Haute or Evansville. The fact that President Obama has been to Kokomo and held it up as an example of the reasons why the auto bailout was needed shouldn’t have hurt Goodnight’s chances.
And perhaps the best reason for choosing Goodnight was that famous signature farewell from the late CBS anchor, Edward R. Murrow, which would make a ready-made campaign slogan for Gregg: “Goodnight and good luck.” It worked for Murrow and the producers of a movie about his life.
Without the Kokomo mayor, a good night is what Gregg needs on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and a little good luck in a campaign in which you are starting with a funding deficit wouldn’t hurt.
In Simpson, the phrase “vying for No. 2” has taken on new meaning. Make that Vi-ing for No. 2.
• Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached through the newspaper at firstname.lastname@example.org.