Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lugar Legacy Falls to Donnelly

Your Blogger, Sen.-Elect Joe Donnelly, and
City-County Councillor Vop Osili
Indiana and Washington are both preparing to write the final lines in a great legislative career over the next month or so just as new lines are about to be written for another Hoosier lawmaker.

As Richard G. Lugar prepares to leave the U.S. Senate in January, he will take with him a legacy of a statesman.  A man who, despite great differences in policy and philosophy, managed to be respected by most for the majority of his six terms in the Upper House.

It was only in recent times that a picture of a different Lugar emerged, and it was something he could never shake.  The image of an out-of-touch politician who would rather live in Virginia than be in Indiana became a big narrative in the Primary.  As a result, the much more conservative Richard Mourdock gained a foothold and elbowed out the statesman.  Maybe the loss was deserved, and maybe it wasn't.  How ever you feel about Richard Lugar and his votes in the Senate or how often you think he came home or where you believe he should have lived, you cannot deny the way he did his job.  Most would agree that he examined issues deeply and voted with more than just a nod to bipartisanship, and that cost him in 2012's political landscape.  I'm not saying that Lugar wasn't partisan.  He most definitely was a proud Republican.  In the end, though, the Republican Party left him.  In my view, he never left the Republican Party.  It's cliche, but to many hardline Republicans in the 2012 version of the party, Lugar became someone they could not support.

Problem was, they failed to vet Richard Mourdock.  Mourdock was a pure ideologue with very little statesman in him.  He was never able to shake the specter of his own words that have become so well known, "The highlight of politics is frankly to inflict my opinion on others."  He was never able to shake that label he put on himself of the uncompromising Tea Party firebrand conservative.  Then, at the last debate, he inserted his foot so far into his mouth that it choked out his campaign.

From that disastrous implosion of a campaign and the remnants of what should have been a close election, Indiana elected a sitting Congressman that's often labeled as a DINO by the far left of his own party named Joe Donnelly.

Donnelly ran the perfect campaign and used that to destroy the train wrecking Mourdock in November.  We could write volumes about the Senate Election in Indiana in 2012, but you cannot deny the similarities between the man the Republicans deposed in May and the man Indiana elected in November, at least politically.

For Donnelly, it's a more left-leaning ideology than the one the Lugar had, but like Senator Lugar, Senator-Elect Donnelly has built a record of looking at issues rather than partisan factors when he votes.  Like Lugar, Donnelly is, of course, a partisan.  Donnelly is a Democrat, and he's going to be swayed at times by his party's leadership, but he's also going to madden that leadership more often than many Senators would.  That's the way that he conducted business in the House, and I would expect that is what he will do in the Senate.

Senator Richard G. Lugar
Both Lugar and Donnelly both excel at hometown politics.  Having looked him in the eye and asked him about issues important to me, I can say that I felt very comfortable trusting Joe Donnelly with my vote much in the same way as I did when I looked Richard Lugar in the eye.

Is Donnelly as accomplished as Lugar?  No. Does he have the political capital Lugar did?  Not at this point, but with moderates so few in the Senate, he will become a key vote on many issues.  Donnelly wouldn't immediately be qualified to be Secretary of State or to stare down a dictator and get that tyrant to stop the process of getting a nuclear weapon.  Maybe someday he will, though.  What Donnelly does have is the ability to relate to Hoosiers.  Despite the way many portrayed Lugar's final years in the Senate, Lugar has that ability, too.  I'll never forget watching Senator Lugar be the last person to leave a room at an event we both attended.  He shook every hand.  He signed every autograph, and he took every picture.  I've seen Joe Donnelly do it, too.  You might not agree with Joe Donnelly all the time, but you feel like he's one of us.

In 2012, Donnelly excelled by being the opposite of Richard Mourdock.  He excelled by being the kind of politician that Richard Lugar wrote about in his now-famous concession letter.  For Donnelly, it wasn't just about adhering to something to get votes.  He has an authenticity that no other candidate for the Senate in 2012 could match here in Indiana.

After hearing Donnelly so often speak eloquently about Richard Lugar on the campaign trail, you know that he wants to embody the best of what made Richard Lugar someone Indiana will celebrate for years to come.

Indiana, you got this one right.

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