Political world turns to ‘boring’ Indiana

They’re calling us boring. I’m not sure if we Hoosiers can take such an assault sitting down, unless it involves eating a bag of chips while reclining in a lounge chair at the mall.

Seriously, as Indiana vaulted into the center of the political universe, wisecracks about the state’s fly-over reputation accompanied the news reports. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump picked Indiana’s governor, Mike Pence, to be his running mate.

While Trump flew to Indianapolis to audition Pence, and a handful of others, as potential vice presidential choices, former Indiana governor and senator Evan Bayh decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat he vacated six years ago. Bayh departed in 2010 in exasperation from Congress’s upper chamber, which has become as flexible as a sack of freezer-burned chicken wings. As Democratic candidate Baron Hill abandoned his race against Republican Todd Young for Indiana’s open Senate seat, speculation quickly flew about Bayh stepping in.

The news website Politico reported that high-ranking Democrats in the Senate, primarily Chuck Shumer of New York, had for months been urging Bayh to run for his old seat. Bayh, the son of former Sen. Birch Bayh, became America’s youngest governor in 1989, and then won re-election for that job and two Senate races handily, before bypassing a third term.

With that electoral success, his family legacy and a favorable track record as governor and senator, national Democrats see the 60-year-old Bayh as a solid bet to win again in November and possibly help the party regain the Senate majority it lost in 2014.

When Trump needs a calming force for his erratic, verbally volcanic campaign, he turns to a Hoosier, Pence.

When the balance of power in the dysfunctional, divided Congress is at stake, the Democratic Party turns to a Hoosier, the steady Bayh.

Both men have been described repeatedly as unflappable, and occasionally as boring. The state gets similar treatment.

Apparently, America can turn to Indiana for placidity. As a headline in The Atlantic declared, “Boring has never looked so good.”

The stereotype is unfair. Indiana is more than yard sales, corn fields and dollar stores, usually. Hoosiers and life here can be cool, even hip. The state produced consummate political maverick Eugene Debs, the lightning-fast Indianapolis 500, “Prince of Pop” Michael Jackson, outspoken rocker and Seymour native John Mellencamp and satirical novelist Kurt Vonnegut. We hosted a Super Bowl.

The author of the definitive vice presidential book sees Pence as an ideal pick, in terms of counter-balancing the unpredictable Trump on the GOP ticket.

“A calm, Midwestern, Hoosier outlook is always a benefit to a ticket,” said Steve Tally, an Indiana State University grad who wrote the 1992 book, “Bland Ambition: From Adams to Quayle — The Cranks, Criminals, Tax Cheats, and Golfers Who Made It to Vice President.”

“Although, some people,” he added, “may see that as boring.”

In fact, Indiana is the go-to state for vice presidents, at least proportionally. Five of the second-in-command officials were Hoosiers. Only one other state, New York — with a population more than three times larger than Indiana’s — has produced more VPs, with 11.

One of those Hoosiers, Thomas Marshall of North Manchester — the nation’s 28th vice president who served under Woodrow Wilson — once said, “Indiana is home to more second-class men than any other state.” Marshall is also the guy who said during a Senate debate, “What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar.”

Pence would probably never utter either comment. He does, though, seem to fit the profile of most vice presidents of the past half-century, in Tally’s view. “Vice presidents tend to be people who want to be something, not necessarily who want to do something,” he said. Pence served a dozen years in the U.S. House, but introduced no significant legislation that wound up passing. He left Congress to run for governor in 2012, narrowly defeating Democrat John Gregg. Shortly afterward, Pence’s presidential aspirations became clear.

In political terms, Tally sees Pence as “a perfect pick” for Trump. “I think he helps Trump in a lot of ways,” he said. Pence is viewed as a staunch social and fiscal conservative, two characteristics that remain questionable about Trump, and could help the Republicans win Indiana, which now looks like a swing state.

Then again, Pence has a low approval rating among Hoosiers after his handling of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an attempt at an ill-fated state-run news agency, and his politically driven decision to turn down a potential $80 million in federal funding to provide prekindergarten for needy kids. Thus, a Trump-Pence ticket might struggle to win, or even lose, Indiana, which has gone Republican in every presidential election, except one, since 1964.

Boring? Let’s revisit that thought in November.

Mark Bennett is a writer for the (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.