Evan Bayh announced today that he would not run for governor in 2012, adding to the sizeable wake of political devastation he has left for Democrats from his exit out of politics.
With Bayh waving off, Mike Pence's "fork in the road" just turned into a choice between a presidential path covered with savage brush and a road paved with gold leading to the Indiana statehouse.
I previously wrote that no citizen or party loyalist can demand someone's service or soul simply because they have political strength. If Bayh was, as he stated, burned out on the partisanship of D.C., nobody had the right to make him stay. Likewise, nobody had the right to make him campaign again.
Bayh says his decision was based, principally, on the well-being of his sons:
While Susan and I prefer Indiana to Washington, D.C., at this time, a statewide campaign would require relocating our children; it would require a change of schools, separation from their friends and athletic teams—all during a formative time in their lives. In addition, while adults seeking public office knowingly accept the rigor and occasional nastiness of modern campaigns, imposing the process on children—particularly teenagers—would be especially onerous.
Bayh also notes his desire to contribute differently:
. . .there are many honorable ways to contribute to society—creating jobs, growing a business, helping guide an institution of higher learning, or helping run a worthy charitable endeavor. I’ll continue to serve, but my contributions will take a different form and on a different stage. I will reassume the most important role any one can play in a democracy—involved citizen.
Among angry, progressive, Democratic activitists, there was already a developing meme that Bayh runs from a fight, and that he exited from the Senate race for fear he might have either lost or won so narrowly as to tarnish his "untouchable" status. The fact Pence was strongly looking at the gubernatorial race and would be a formidable foe had Bayh chose to run certainly doesn't detract from this narrative.
Accordingly, I would anticipate many people will question if burnout or kids are Bayh's real motivation for leaving. But such speculation, ironically, confirms the very public cynicism that would, standing alone, be sufficient grounds to prompt Bayh to go running screaming into the night.
But Bayh now has ten million dollars in the bank and no campaign. While he had no duty to stay, he arguably has a duty to mitigate the damage of his exit. If he wants to patch over the sore spots with people in his own party, he should cut a check for the whole balance to the Indiana Democratic Party.
After all, if Bayh is now content just to be an "involved citizen" for the rest of his life, why hoard the money? Even a small portion of that ten million could capture a lot of mayor chairs in 2011, which could then be used to help raise money for Democrats in 2012.
But I would anticipate Bayh will instead do what a politician would do - strategically dole out his money while accruing chits nationally, thereby maintaining influence well in excess of those "involved citizens" who find themselves shy of ten million.
Unfortunately, if Bayh chooses the later route, he will continue to be, for many Hoosier Democrats, what Lebron James is to Cleveland - the man who gave us some greatness before guaranteeing we'd be less competitive by moving to a greener pasture and taking his money with him.