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Republicans win a mandate, all around

Democrats took it on the chin last week, locally, statewide and nationally.
Locally, the Harrison County Board of Commissioners became a Republican board when Republican challenger Jim Heitkemper upset commission chair Terry Miller, and the County Council remained in Republican hands. That’s the first time Republicans have controlled both the Harrison County Board of Commissioners and County Council at the same time. That speaks well for the GOP county organization, led by county and Ninth District chair Larry Shickles.
There were a few “high-profile” Democratic victories. Deputy Sheriff Mike Deatrick beat his boss, Sheriff Wendell Smith, for that office, and State Sen. Richard Young of Milltown and State Rep. Paul Robertson of Depauw will return to the Indiana General Assembly to represent us again in Indianapolis, as they have done so well for many years. The Democrats managed to hang on to control the House, by 51-49, although there may be a recount in one very close race. Republicans still control the Senate.
Democrat Ninth District Congressman Baron Hill defeated New Albany entrepreneur Mike Sodrel and will return to Washington, D.C., for a third straight term. (Only two other Democratic Congressional candidates won in Indiana: Julia Carson in Indianapolis and Pete Visclosky in northern Indiana.)
Harrison Circuit Court Judge Roger Davis, a Democrat, was reelected without opposition, and Democrat Dennis Byrd, prosecutor Ron Simpson’s right-hand man for many years, was elected prosecutor, also without opposition.
But other than that, last Tuesday was a depressingly long night for many Democrats. In Indiana, the Democratic candidates for secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and clerk of the appellate courts were all defeated.
The GOP will now control both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. President Bush now has the legislative muscle to realize his domestic agenda – homeland security, permanent tax cut, confirming federal judges – and proceed ahead with his single-minded effort to wage war on Iraq and distract our attention from finding Osama bin Laden, reviving a moribund economy, providing affordable prescription drugs for the elderly, and dealing with corporate corruption.
Several people who watch the political scene closely all say the same thing: George W. Bush is an immensely popular president who has big, wide coattails. His message resonated well with American voters, while the Democrats had no strong message or messengers. Since Sept. 11, they have had no choice but to support the Bush Administration or be viewed, somehow, as unpatriotic. So much for the loyal opposition.
George Bush worked very hard for GOP candidates, perhaps harder and more successfully than any other sitting president. He was all over the place, raising millions of dollars, directing attention to the United Nations, Iraq and the threat of terrorism, and asking voters to send people to Washington who will support him. If a Congressional candidate was in trouble, he or she called on W, and he was there, often helping other candidates at the same time. The Democrats had no one to call on. Where was Bill Clinton all this time? Or Al Gore? Who cared? It’s time Indiana’s charismatic U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh reconsiders his role on the national stage.
In Harrison County, the Democrats were clearly outworked, outorganized and outhustled in, we’re happy to say, a generally clean campaign by the candidates themselves. In the case of Terry Miller, who some people thought was untouchable, experience was not an advantage. Although we think he has been one of, if not the, strongest commissioners this county has ever seen, a very solid, dedicated public servant who never ducked an issue for 13-1/2 years, Miller was defeated by Jim Heitkemper, a fellow Elizabethan who seemed to come out of nowhere. But Heitkemper worked very hard and spread his conservative Christian message. Ironically, Miller may have spent too much time taking care of county (and family) business and not enough time campaigning. Many pro-Heitkemper votes may have been anti-Miller votes. It’s often pointed out that if you’re in office too long, you antagonize too many people. (C. Wendell Smith, sheriff for only about a year, may doubt this long-time-in-office theory.)
In the meantime, the Harrison County Democratic Party needs new strong leadership. It didn’t get out the vote or run a cohesive, coordinated, county-wide campaign in a county that’s changing. For example, Lanesville is no longer a Democratic camp.
President Bush got a mandate last Tuesday night. He now controls both houses of Congress and seems to be having his way with the United Nations with regard to Iraq.
Now that the election is behind us, the Harrison County Commissioners and County Council will, come January, have a mandate as well as the clout to address some heavy issues: animal control center, plans for a new hospital, road paving, casino money spending, long-range planning, the need for a county manager, etc.
Sometimes a mandate is a heavy burden because success is supposed to be a sure thing. But everyone knows that there’s no such thing as a sure thing in politics. Just ask Terry Miller. Ask Gov. Frank O’Bannon. A couple of years ago, they were sitting on top of the world, flush with casino money and a billion dollar state budget surplus. Then the unexpected happens: a recession and a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Things change.
We hope the Bush Administration is looking beyond its smart bomb campaign against Baghdad and the Republicans are looking ahead of the dog pound issue. Because, once the war begins, all plans go out the window.
You can bet the Democrats will be doing some long-range planning of their own.