TERRE HAUTE —
To many Hoosiers, Joe Donnelly was an unknown political commodity when he emerged on the scene in the race for U.S. Senate last year.
The South Bend Democrat served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before focusing his energy on the U.S. Senate seat held for 40 years by Richard Lugar. He appeared to be a Democrat in a seemingly hopeless situation.
But he saw an opportunity in pursuing the Senate seat and had a plan. The Republicans had gerrymandered his House seat in 2011 to make it more difficult for him to win a fourth term. But Lugar himself was being targeted from the tea party wing of his own party, with state Treasurer Richard Mourdock challenging him in the Republican primary.
Donnelly knew, as did any astute observer of state and national politics, that if Lugar was defeated in the GOP primary, the race in the general election would be more competitive. And that’s exactly what happened. Mourdock easily won his primary.
While Lugar could probably have dispatched any Democrat opponent with ease, Mourdock would have to face a more moderate electorate in the fall. And Donnelly, renowned from his six years in the House as a conservative “Blue Dog” Democrat, would suddenly be in a position to win huge blocks of votes from Republicans who did not approve of Mourdock’s more extreme positions and affiliation with the tea party.
As Mourdock’s campaign imploded in the final weeks of the campaign, Donnelly remained steady and on message. He ultimately won a solid victory and, in doing so, grabbed a Senate seat for the Democrats that everyone thought was safe and secure for the GOP when the election year began.
With the first six months of a six-year term just completed, Sen. Donnelly has stayed true to his ideals and has not disappointed. At a time when far too many elected reps in Congress stake themselves to one side or the other of the wide partisan divide, Donnelly keeps plugging along, meeting with constituents and reaching across the political aisle to find real solutions to tough problems rather than settling for rabid sound bites that appeal to a targeted ideological base.
A most sparkling example came in the last two weeks when he teamed with Maine’s Republican Sen. Susan Collins to author a bill changing a controversial provision in the Affordable Care Act. The bill proposed to change the ACA’s definition of a full-time worker from 30 hours per week to 40, thereby easing concerns over the impact of the ACA.
The bill made so much sense that the Obama administration stepped in and delayed implementation of that provision for another year while problems are ironed out.
Donnelly was a supporter of the health care law while in the House, but showed political courage by identifying a problem and taking positive steps to resolve it rather than simply complaining about it.
His explanation to CNHI News Service reporter Maureen Hayden in a story published Monday: “You’ve had some folks on one side saying: ‘We don’t like the health care law so we’re not going to do anything to try to improve it.’ And on the Democrat side, you had people say: ‘There are problems with it, but we don’t want to talk about them and we don’t want to fix them, we’ve just got to keep the wagons circled and plow forward.’ And I thought to myself, both of those positions are completely unreflective of reality.”
If Donnelly holds on to that philosophy, Hoosiers will continue to be well-served.