Rumors are still swirling here in Indiana, but so far, it seems this announcement has caught everyone by surprise. We've been told that the Indiana Democratic Party officials only found out about this retirement an hour before it hit on Twitter and Facebook. We're also being told that Bayh told his senior staff about his decision on Friday, but only called Harry Reid's office after the story broke in the Washington Post.
The interesting part of this whole thing has been the lead-up to Bayh's announcement. Bayh has been raising money like mad, telling everyone he's running for a third term and showing absolutely zero indication he planned to retire. Up until last week, the Indiana Democratic Party and Bayh's local staff were pushing like hell to get a massive number of signatures in Marion county and the few other Democratic strongholds in the state.
So Why the Change of Heart?
At this point, we can only speculate - but I'm guessing that his rising unpopularity within the party's core had a lot to do with it. Some of the party faithful flatly refused to help gather signatures for Bayh and others sent back some very sharp messages about his stances on healthcare and on LGBT rights issues.
Not only has Bayh been a major problem throughout the healthcare debate, but he's also been a holdout on the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Having been supportive of ENDA in the past, Bayh has repeatedly refused to sign on as a co-sponsor of the current legislation and has not indicated how he would vote if it came to the Senate floor.
As a member of the Armed Services committee in the Senate, Bayh is in a very influential position to move forward the repeal of the reprehensible Don't Ask Don't Tell law that unfairly targets gay and lesbian service members. Rather than be an advocate for change, Bayh has sat on his hands and has been non-committal on the repeal of this policy.
Back home in Indiana, Bayh has also shown a severe lack of spine when it comes to LGBT issues. In 2006, he held his first (and only) blogger forum, for which he invited many of the state's political bloggers for a lunch and Q&A. When questioned, he said he opposed a federal marriage amendment, but wouldn't offer a straight opinion about a possible state marriage amendment. He later issued a statement to clarify his position, but it only made him look worse.
Further complicating things for Bayh was the announcement that former US Senator Dan Coats was entering the race against him. Coats, a Republican, was appointed to fill the seat Bayh now hold when Dan Quayle, who defeated Bayh's father Birch Bayh in 1980, was selected as George Bush Sr.'s running mate in 1988.
Coats decided not to challenge Evan Bayh when he decided to take back his father's seat in 1998. Bayh had been a very popular governor in the state and Coats decided to hang up his hat and become a Washington insider lobbyist instead.
Now, after having cashed in, Coats has decided he's a born-again Hoosier and will run for the seat once again. Many are seeing Coats as the carpet-bagging, Washington insider he is - but without a big name and a bigger war chest, the Democrats are going to have a hard time fighting the name ID of a guy like Dan Coats.
So Who's It Gonna Be?
Evan Bayh left a bit of a mess for his party to clean up. The state party will be responsible for filling the vacant seat as no mortal could gather the required signatures in less than 24 hours.
While this ensures that Bayh will essentially choose his successor, it also means that the loss of this seat will be squarely on the shoulders of Bayh's friend and ally IDP Chairman Dan Parker. If the party picks a lackluster candidate, Indiana will send two Republicans to the Senate for the first time in 12 years.
A lot of names are floating around as potential replacements. Baron Hill, an Indiana Congressman, is getting mentioned a lot, but he has some issues of his own - including a rather ugly YouTube moment during a healthcare town hall. Hill is also not known as a strong LGBT ally. He voted in favor of hate crimes, but he has been publicly non-committal on ENDA and other LGBT issues.
Brad Ellsworth, another Congressman, is being mentioned - but he's even more conservative than Evan Bayh and wouldn't play well with the party faithful. He voted against hate crimes and does not support marriage equality. Ellsworth also opposes ENDA and has been non-committal on DADT.
Joe Hogsett, the former Indiana Secretary of State, has been waiting for such an opportunity to arise. Hogsett has won a statewide race before and probably has the best name ID of any of the potential candidates. He's also very LGBT supportive. He recently considered a run for mayor of Indianapolis and he did major outreach to the LGBT community before he withdrew from that race.
Former Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson has also been mentioned. Peterson has good name ID in central Indiana, but not necessarily statewide. He's a moderate, but has a strong record of LGBT support. Peterson's office was instrumental in helping pass the fully LGB&T inclusive human rights ordinance in Indianapolis.
Former Lt. Governor Kathy Davis is also being mentioned. She has statewide name ID, but I don't think she's as well known as Hogsett. She's a brilliant woman and a very good Democrat, but I don't know that she has the gravitas needed to pull off this race. She's very LGBT supportive and would certainly be a good Senator.
My money is on Hogsett. I think he'd make a great choice, he's a loyal Democrat, he's LGBT supportive, and he's got the name ID and stature to run a statewide race and win. We need a strong Democrat to run this race or we will lose. Hogsett is someone the entire party could easily rally behind and pull out a win.
The Democratic party needs to coalesce around someone quickly or this race is all but lost. The Republicans already have some big names on their side (even if those names have their own issues.) With Bayh's announcement today, rumors are already flying that Congressman Mike Pence is reconsidering his bid for the seat too.
Pence or Coats would be formidable opponents for the eventual Democratic candidate. Without the power of the incumbency and basically starting from scratch on the fundraising circuit, the Democratic candidate will need the full backing of the Indiana Democrats to win. It will be awfully hard to find that support if the chosen candidate is another ConservaDem or RepublicanLite.
What Does It All Mean?
Clearly, I'm not an Evan Bayh fan, so I'm very happy to see his retirement from office. I would have held my nose and voted for him once again, but only because of my loyalty to the Democratic Party and a desire to keep our majority in the Senate.
But this is not good news for Indiana Democrats or for our prospects in the US Senate. Bayh wasn't always a loyal Democrat, but he was a vote for Harry Reid as majority leader and he was generally a reliable cloture vote on issues that didn't involve healthcare or LGBT concerns.
Evan Bayh has been very influential in building the Indiana Democratic Party and without his influence, I'm not sure how the party will change. I don't think it is going out on a limb to predict that IDP Chairman Dan Parker won't seek another term as the state party chair, so we will likely see a shuffle at the top of the power structure. We still have a number of anti-LGBT Democrats in the wings, so there is a serious concern that an even less LGBT friendly chair could take control.
The Indiana Stonewall Democrats (full disclosure: I am a member of the leadership of ISD and I am only speaking for myself here) hold a seat on the Indiana Democratic Party State Central Committee, the party's governing body, but the party rules preclude our seat from voting on the party leadership positions. (Other caucuses fall under these rules, so it's not just the LGBT vote that doesn't count.) That means that there will be LGBT representation at the table if and when a new chairperson is chosen, but ultimately we won't get a vote.
The fallout has only begun, so it's hard to predict how this all turns out. No one was expecting this announcement. It has sent major shockwaves throughout the state and I think we need a little more time and space to really get a feel for how this will all shake out.
You know what they say: Be careful what you wish for - you just might get it.
Statement by Senator Evan Bayh regarding his retirement from the US Senate
Thank you all for coming today. I know how busy you are, and I appreciate you taking the time to be with us.
I would like to begin by acknowledging some people to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude.
First, my wife, Susan who for 25 years has stood by my side and without whose love and support so much I have been privileged to do would never have been possible. As my father once told me, I definitely "married up."
Second, my wonderful children, Beau and Nick, who I love so much and of whom I am so proud. Being their father is the most important job I will ever have.
Third, my staff members - past and present - who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much for the people of our state. There is not one that couldn't have made more money and worked fewer hours doing something else, and they have always managed to make me look much better than I deserve.
Most important, the people of Indiana who for almost a quarter century have placed their trust and welfare in my hands. No one can ask for a better boss or a greater honor.
I was raised in a family that believes public service is the highest calling in the church, that what matters is not what you take from life but what you give back. I believe that still. For almost all of my adult life I have been privileged to serve the people of Indiana in elective office.
As Secretary of State I worked to reform our election laws to insure that every vote counts. I cast the deciding vote in the closest Congressional race in the nation for a member of the other political party because I believed he had legitimately won the election.
As Governor, I worked with an outstanding team to balance the budget, cut taxes, leave the largest surplus in state history, create the most new jobs in any eight year period, increase funding for schools every year, make college more affordable, reform welfare to emphasize work, raised water quality standards, created more new state parks than any time since the nineteen thirties, and raised the penalties for violent crime.
In the Senate, I have continued to fight for the best interests of our state. I have worked with Hoosier workers and businesses, large and small, in the defense sector, the life sciences, medical device industry, autos, steel, recreational vehicle manufacturing, and many many more, to save and create jobs.
Since 9/11 I have fought to make our nation safe with a national security approach that is both tough and smart. I have championed the cause of our soldiers to make sure they have the equipment they need in battle and the healthcare they deserve when they get home.
I have often been a lonely voice for balancing the budget and restraining spending, and I work with Democrats, Republicans, Independent's alike to do the nation's business in a way that is civil and constructive.
I am fortunate to have good friends on both sides of the aisle, something that is much too rare in Washington today.
After all these years, my passion for service to my fellow citizens is undiminished, but my desire to do so by serving in Congress has waned. To put it in words most Hoosiers can understand: I love working for the people of Indiana, I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives, but I do not love Congress. I will not, therefore, be a candidate for election to the Senate this November.
My decision should not be interpreted for more than it is, a very difficult, deeply personal one. I am an Executive at heart. I value my independence. I am not motivated by strident partisanship or ideology. These traits may be useful in many walks of life, but they are not highly valued in Congress.
My decision should not reflect adversely upon my colleagues who continue to serve in the Senate. The public would be surprised and pleased to know that those who serve them in the Senate despite their policy and political differences are unfailingly hard working and devoted to the public good as they see it. I will miss them. I particularly value my relationship with Senator Dick Lugar and have often felt that if all Senators could have the cooperative relationship we enjoy the institution would be a better place.
My decision should not reflect adversely upon the President. I look forward to working with him during the next eleven months to get our deficit under control, get the economy moving again, regulate Wall Street to avoid future financial crises and reform education so that all children can fulfill their god given potential. This is the right agenda for America.
My decision was not motivated by political concern. Even in the current challenging environment, I am confident in my prospects for re-election. I have been honored by the people of Indiana to serve in elective office five times during the last twenty four years. It is simply time to contribute to society in another way: creating jobs by helping grow a business, helping guide an institution of higher learning, or helping run a worthy charitable endeavor.
In closing, let me say this: Words cannot convey nor can I adequately express my gratitude to the great people of Indiana. I will never forget those I have been privileged to serve and those who have so kindly supported me. I have always tried to remember that my job is to work for Hoosiers, not the other way around, and I am constantly reminded that if Washington, D.C. could be more like Indiana, Washington would be a better place.
Lastly, let me reiterate my deep and abiding love for our Nation and my optimism for our future. These are difficult times for America. But we have seen difficult days before, and we will see better days again. With all our faults we are an exceptional people.
I look forward to continuing to do my part to meet the challenges we face as a private citizen, patriotic American, and devoted son of Indiana to work for solutions not slogans, progress not politics so that our generation can do what Americans have always done: convey to our children, and our children's children, an America that is stronger, more prosperous, more decent and more just.
Thank you again. May God bless you all.