Friday, May 30, 2008

I Put the Whine in Weinzapfel

Crap! Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jill Long-Thompson’s best running mate just went out the window. Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel says he will not accept the number two slot.

This is a blow to the JLT campaign. You could not have designed a better complement to a JLT candidacy. Weinzapfel is a young, attractive, bright, Southern executive in a large city he dominated in November with a staggering 85% of the vote. Moreover, job creation is a key issue in this campaign, and one of Weinzapfel’s primary duties is to “bring jobs” to Evansville.

In Weinzapfel’s statement, he noted the unfinished tasks facing Evansville, but you have to believe his decision included some handicapping.

I’ve never subscribed to the belief that you’re “finished in politics” if you lose in a supporting role. However, in this case, while all might have been forgiven had he ran and won, he'd have irritated a LOT of people who put faith in him six months ago if he ran and lost. He’d be your typical “office jumper.”

The smart play was to wait, so JW's decision shouldn't surprise anybody. After all, if JLT loses, Mayor Weinzapfel is looking at an open field in 2012. And make no mistake, Jonathan Weinzapfel IS the presumptive nominee. For what office? Anyone he wants. Any statewide office, any year. The Mayor IS the golden child of an IDP that doesn’t have many obvious superstars on its bench. JW isn't going to jump into a potential bowl of tarnish after he spent so much time building a profile statewide speaking at JJ dinners.

In addition, there is still a lingering sentiment that JLT’s campaign is an “anti-establishment” insurgency. (Of course, this sentiment is mostly shared by “the establishment”). Regardless of whether the perception is real or just…uh…a perception, Weinzapfel was, no doubt, reluctant to hitch his sail to a boat that many of the IDP brass have put out to harbor.

So who’s left? The other names most bandied about are State Representative and former prosecutor Trent Van Haaften from Mount Vernon, Representative Dennis Oxley from English, Former Speaker of the House John Gregg, and Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez.

Roy Dominguez would be a mistake, as would anybody from Lake County this year. The county is more fractured than ever, which is REALLY saying something about a place that made Bob Pastrick a legend. Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott was once talked about as a potential running mate, but that probably went out the window when he made Rudy Clay, the Mayor of Gary, look like an idiot on CNN over the handling of primary night election returns. McDermott will NOT be getting a Christmas card from Clay this year.

But as bad as the Clay/McDermott row was, Dominguez’s blood feud with former Lake County Sheriff John Buncich makes it look like child’s play. Buncich’s ill will toward Dominguez was most evident when Buncich orchestrated Dominguez’s ouster from the Fraternal Order of Police. I swear to God, the Lake County Sheriff got voted out of his own FOP lodge.

Here’s why that’s bad. Governor Daniels received the Firefighters endorsement earlier this week, meaning JLT badly needs the FOP on board to avoid the “public safety sweep.” But given Lake County’s juice with the state FOP, how likely is Buncich to push for the endorsement if Dominguez, his sworn enemy, is on the ticket?

Moreover, Dominguez has quite a few lawsuits pending against him for his management of the Lake County Jail. Most of them are “prisoner lawsuits,” and these tend to be inmates complaining about not having enough crunchy peanut butter and the like, but JLT needs somebody squeaky clean who isn’t embroiled in any local political flaps. For people outside of Lake County, though, there IS no squeaky clean in Lake County. Any allegation sticks.

But more importantly, JLT performed poorly in the southern part of the state. If she picks a northern running mate, it would be horrible tactically.

Indiana House Speaker John Gregg fits the bill. He’s charismatic, “Southern,” and loyal as a party solider. He’s carried more water for “up ticket” candidates than Gunga Din, and nobody pumps up a room better than the party’s de facto cheerleader-in-chief. The only downside, which, depending on his specific clients might be not all that significant, is that some of his Southern gentleman air wore off when he left the Indiana General Assembly to join the Bingham McHale's Indianapolis lobby shop. Daniels could pitch him as arguably part of the “Indianapolis power elite." That would certainly make it harder for JLT to attack the "status quo" and the "Indianapolis power brokers." And then, there's the question of whether JLT would forgive and forget, since Gregg spoke highly of Schellinger on his website.

State Representative Dennis Oxley is an intriguing pick. He has an adorable family, he’s in the leadership at the House, but his background is in education, which has not been high on the radar during this campaign. Moreover, Oxley left his job as an education administrator near his home to become a “project manager” at Beam, Longest, and Neff, LLC, an engineering firm out of Indianapolis. (As an aside, how do all these representatives who allegedly live in Southern Indiana hold these Indianapolis jobs?)

If JLT is looking at Oxley, she’ll need to do a real study of BLN projects to see whether Oxley can get “Schellingered” by Daniels in November. As you may recall, JLT attacked Jim Schellinger for allegedly “lobbying” for school projects that raised property taxes while making money for his architecture firm. If Oxley’s fingerprints can be found on any similar project, Daniels will eat him for lunch by using JLT’s own add and superimposing Oxley’s face.

This leaves Trent Van Haften. He has no obvious downsides (except for being a lawyer), but like Oxley, he is not generally known out of his house district. Moreover, his background in law enforcement won’t be a big bonus in a year when crime isn't a major issue.

In conclusion, the best running mate for JLT is a young, southern white man with a thriving business who treats his employees well and who has the independent wealth to overcome JLT's fundraising deficit.

Can anybody get Bill Cook to a time machine?



artfuggins said...

i understand totally Weinzapfel's lack of desire to be a part of this ticket. He has work to do in Evansville and if he can continue the good work there that he has started, he will be a top tier candidate statewide in the future. Too early and too chancy and what is probably a losing effort.
I would love to see her win but dont see it in the cards.

Anonymous said...

This is just like why McCain probably can't get people to return his calls. Nobody wants to be the secon in command on a sinking ship.

Anonymous said...

The primary vote in May was primarily a guessing game for many voters and they chose the weaker of the candidates in terms of unifying the party, raising money against Daniels and having broader support throughout the state.

That being said, I think most IN Dems that voted for JLT expected something in return, whether it be a shake-up in party control and/or constant shots on Guv Mitch for the next 5 months.