CNHI Statehouse Bureau
If you were standing in the Statehouse Thursday afternoon, you might have felt the earth shift.
The epicenter of the quake was more than the 60 miles away, in a union hall in Lafayette, but some walls came tumbling down inside the state’s grandiose capitol building.
Forgive the jumbled metaphor, but the coup staged Thursday by House Democrats who met in Lafayette to overthrow their longtime leader, State Rep. Patrick Bauer of South Bend, is epic.
For more than a decade, Bauer has reigned as one of the most powerful Democrats in the state, wielding that power in a way that made friends and enemies alike shudder. As the most-veteran Statehouse reporter Mary Beth Schneider of the Indianapolis Star wrote: “Republicans have made Bauer their target for years, viewing him as a caricature of all that they oppose in Democrats.”
He was such an easy target too. There’s a reason, beyond just his short, squat stature, that people took to calling him Boss Hog Bauer behind his back.
After the news broke that Bauer was out, Indiana Republican State Chairman Eric Holcomb issued a brief statement: “If this stands, we’re sorry to see Pat Bauer go.”
Bauer issued his own statement late Thursday, calling the new interim minority leader, Rep. Linda Lawson of Hammond, a “great leader.”
But just the day before, he was spittin’ mad about the dissident Democrats who dared to challenge him, calling their move “illegal” and vowing not to budge from his seat of power.
Democrats have long been unhappy with Bauer and fear they’ll taking a beating in November like the one they took in 2010, when they lost control of the House. Scarier for them this time is the prospect of losing any control, if — as some Republicans predict — the GOP wins 67 of the 100 House seats in the upcoming election. That would give Republicans a super-majority in both the state House and Senate.
Bauer’s critics have long said he’s nothing if not a wily coyote. Here’s a sample of why: As the rebel forces in his own party were gaining strength in recent weeks, Bauer closed the House Democratic campaign account and moved it to a different account. Bauer told reporters he did that at the direction of the bank — a response that set skeptics’ eyes rolling.
But eyes have been rolling for a long time when it came to Bauer.
I remember attending my first Bauer “media availability” when I was assigned to cover the Statehouse. He rambled and joked in a kind of secret code language, making snide remarks and insider comments. I made what I later learned was a mistake by asking him to clarify something he said that sounded incoherent to me.
His response sounded even more incoherent.
Later, some of my fellow reporters advised me it was best to suffer through Bauer’s ramblings and seek out other House Democrats if I needed someone who made sense.
Yet I also remember seeing Bauer bathe himself in applause from devout union members, when he was leading what turned out to be a futile attempt to stop Republicans from pushing through the contentious right-to-work legislation that practically kills labor contracts.
It must have been hard for him to hear the critics if all he wanted to hear were the cheers.
Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at email@example.com.