By Brian Howey
INDIANAPOLIS – You remember Napoleon? The tyrant who invaded nations, installed relatives as kings, marched a million men into Russia, and came back with a few thousand. He was exiled to an island, made his escape, raised an army and returned to power, only to be routed at Waterloo.
Last week, Democratic House Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer was toppled after a decade at the helm. He went from 52 seats in 2010 to just 40 that November, setting the stage for injurious assaults by the Republican majority on key Democratic constituencies in education, abortion rights and labor.
It took three coup d’etat attempts, and finally on July 26, rattled Democrats who tired of Bauer’s paranoid, autocratic ways mustered a quorum in Lafayette and tossed him out. State Rep. Linda Lawson, the former Hammond cop, became the first female to head a House caucus after 196 years of male domination.
So Bauer is relegated to the dustbin of history, right?
Not. So. Fast. First of all, legislative coups are rare. Vi Simpson pulled one off with Indiana Senate Democrats, but caucus leader Richard Young barely put up a fight. And it is such a tiny caucus with so little power that it hardly mattered. Murray Clark and Luke Kenley tried one a decade ago against Senate President Garton and failed. Democrats Stan Jones and Marilyn Schultz tried to dethrone Speaker Michael K. Phillips a quarter century ago and failed by a vote.
The fact that the challenging House Democrats had the guts to try a third time is nothing short of amazing (and charming).
The identities of the insurgents are fascinating. They include State Reps. Craig Fry, David Niezgodski and Ryan Dvorak from neighboring House districts to Bauer’s in St. Joseph County.
But this challenger group may be fleeting. Of the 22 who lined up against Bauer, nine – Fry, Mary Ann Sulliivan, Jeb Bardon, Nancy Dembowski, Mike White, John Day, Dale Grubb, Chet Dobis and Scott Reske – are lame ducks and won’t be there when the caucus next meets on Nov. 7. Rep. Peggy Welch is in a tossup reelection battle in a new Republican-oriented district.
Other than Rep. Charlie Brown, the House Black Caucus, which has been a long-time underpinning to Bauer’s power base, stayed loyal. Reps. John Bartlett, Bill Crawford, Earl Harris, Greg Porter, Cherrish Pryor, Vernon Smith and Vanessa Summers were not part of the rebellion. Crawford is retiring and will not be present at the next caucus.
The Region and Indy delegations were divided. Bauer held on to the two Fort Wayne Democrats and most from the shrinking Southern Indiana flank.
So if you factor in the retirements, only 13 of the anti-Bauer forces will be present on Nov. 7. That could be reduced to 12 if Welch loses.
Many observers believe that Trent Van Haaften is in a decent position to regain HD76 from Rep. Wendy McNamara and they also believe that the HD74 seat of Republican lieutenant governor nominee Sue Ellspermann will come back into the fold with Democrat Mike Schiefer. If those two pickups occur – neither a sure thing – the anti- Bauer forces could number as high as 15.
Of 18 Bauer loyalists, there is the potential of 16 remaining after factoring in the retirements of Rep. Dan Stevenson and Crawford, though this group could be pared down to as few as 14 depending on the reelections of Reps. Kreg Battles and Terry Goodin, both in tough races.
If you’re the Bauersaurus, you’re looking at an almost even slate, with potential incoming freshmen Thomas O’Donnell), Jerod Warnock, Katie Morgan, Sue Errington, Jim McCormick, Mike Schriefer, Christina Hale, Karlee Macer, Justin Moed, Robin Shacklelford and Dan becoming the incoming “deciders.” Of this group, Bauer can count on Moed (a House aide), possibly Crawford successor Shackleford and potentially others he helped recruit.
However, the new Lawson campaign team that features Reps. Fry, Matt Pierce and Scott Pelath will be in a position to make the case for a continued new era on behalf of Lawson or one them.
For the sake of handicapping, let’s say that 14 Bauer loyalists return, and he can count on Moed and Shackleford to back his return to power. This puts Bauer in the 16 vote range.
Bauersaurus has $180,000 in his own campaign account and can shower some of these challengers with cash and brontosaurus burgers. Bauer may also be able to tap into some union funds, like the Teamsters.
The other interesting dynamic is that for the first time in memory, Lake County Democrats have a caucus leader. They have seen the party’s South Bend power center – which provided important under pinnings for the Bayh and O’Bannon organizations - decimated with the defeat of Gov. Joe Kernan, the indictment of Chairman Butch Morgan, Bauer’s demotion and Joe Donnelly’s tough Senate campaign against Richard Mourdock.
But there is a rising star on the river in rookie South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg.
So Region Democrats will be protective of Lawson. In the mean time, she has to produce. Keeping the current 40 seats would be a victory. Going down to 33 seats and a GOP House super majority would find Napoleon – er, Bauer, - with almost half the caucus votes.
Excuse me, will State Road 6 take me to Waterloo?