We Hoosiers in our bicentennial year have lived at the center of the political universe. So many fates and futures passed through the crossroads of America that Donald Trump even called us “Importantville” on the eve of our May 3 primary.
It revealed the double-edged blade to Trump in what has essentially become a “post-truth election.” He clasped our better angels, saying, “Now Indiana is becoming very important ... you folks belong where you belong; it's called Importantville right? I love it.”
The following morning, he was accusing Sen. Ted Cruz’s father of complicity in the assassination of President Kennedy.
Trump would go on to clinch the Republican presidential nomination in Indiana after he had been exhorted to victory by our sports pantheon of Bobby Knight, Gene Keady and Lou Holtz. He would find his vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, here, though it appears our governor, fearing a re-election defeat to John Gregg, literally flew out to New Jersey in mid-July to box the nominee into that decision.
This past year, we have witnessed the lieutenant governor shuffle, with Pence dispatching Sue Ellspermann to Ivy Tech and fetching Eric Holcomb out of the U.S. Senate race.
The deck was cut and tapped again when Pence ascended to the national ticket. Attending Pence’s veepstakes audition at a Westfield sports complex, I was denied entry. Asked what the problem was, the Trump people told me I was “banned” from the event. In 30 years of reporting, I had never been blacklisted by a campaign.
A few calls to Rex Early and the governor’s peeps, and I got in, where I was subsequently shepherded into a pen of media jackals. Trump would later pronounce the press corps liars and scum as his supporters turned to gawk.
In some states, they would jeer reporters and photographers and throw stuff. Hoosier folk tended to smile and wave. I never sensed fear or offensive derision from my Hoosier brothers and sisters.
On top of all that, former governor and senator Evan Bayh reappeared out of thin air with his $10 million war chest, nudging Baron Hill aside to take on the Marine, Republican Todd Young, in a Senate race that could decide which party controls that chamber.
I watched Hillary Clinton speak to 300 folks in a sweaty Indianapolis park gym two days before the primary, then witnessed in epic fashion 10,000 folks fill a good part of Monument Circle in the heart of the state the following evening to rally on Bernie Sanders. It was a fitting scene in our bicentennial, as Sanders and Trump fed off the same suspicious energy of rigged systems and economies, each winning the Indiana primary with 53 percent of the vote.
With a Nikon dangling from my neck, I snapped photos of Sanders fueling his followers under the corporate logo of Anthem across the circle. A few days before, peering out of my office window, I saw flashing squad-car lights before rushing over to Shapiro’s Deli. Donald Trump had arrived to order a Reuben. A Secret Service agent ordered me to get down from the chair I was standing on to shoot more photos.
I witnessed the twisting of 44 Republican arms in a Cleveland hotel lobby, a process that brought Holcomb the gubernatorial nomination with a mere 12 votes.
There was a transplanted Tennessee millionaire named Trey taking on a former Miss Indiana named Shelli in the 9th Congressional District. Her family had owned a LaGrange Shell station. Up north, we watched a former reporter named Jackie Walorski attempt to fend off a former South Bend cop, Lynn Coleman, she covered on her beat.
These were the players and events that brought us this peculiar year, one like we’ve never seen before and probably never will again. As a steward of the process we call democracy from my perch in the Fourth Estate, I have great angst and trepidation. Our institutions ranging from Congress to the press and, in the last few weeks, even the FBI, are all distrusted and under duress. There are calls for revolution in the streets.
In our state, after the stunning assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., we stayed calm. A candidate that year, U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, a hero to Pence, John Gregg and Evan Bayh, told an angry crowd in Indianapolis that night, “We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.”
That’s the thought I leave with you on the eve of our great bicentennial election. Go vote. While some of you will be disappointed with the results, think of this great state and nation we have and ponder what we can do to preserve it.