TERRE HAUTE —
A governor’s race that is lively, yet not bitter. Perhaps even civil.
Is that possible in Indiana? Or anywhere in America? John Gregg thinks so.
Though neither Gregg (a Democrat) nor Mike Pence (a Republican) have decided whether to run for governor of the Hoosier state in 2012, both seem interested. Gregg — who retired as speaker of the Indiana House in 2002 — said in a telephone interview Monday, “I haven’t said ‘yes’ yet, but I am giving it real serious consideration.” Pence, an Indiana congressman who passed on a run for president in ’12, told the Anderson Herald Bulletin on Friday that he was “open to a run for governor.”
Gregg and Pence were law school classmates at Indiana University. Pence, a former radio talk show host, got Gregg his own weekly show at WIBC-AM 1070 in Indianapolis. “Mike Pence and I are friends,” Gregg said Monday. “Mike Pence wants a better Indiana, just as I do. We just go at it in different ways.”
So, if both say “yes,” what kind of political atmosphere would a Pence-vs.-Gregg campaign generate? “We need to return to civility,” Gregg said.
“We [he and Pence] could look each other in the eye on election night or the next day and not be a bit embarrassed about what was said,” he speculated.
If they decide to run, that is.
Gregg stepped out of politics nearly nine years ago to spend more time with his family. The same priority still weighs heavily with him concerning the race for governor. One son, John, is a freshman at Butler University. The other, Hunter, is a high school junior. Last summer, Gregg and his older son spent a 12-day vacation together, and the dad got to see all of his son’s high school sports events. “And if I do this,” Gregg said of the run for governor, “I’d miss [Hunter’s] senior year, and I don’t know if I want to do that. Because, I had a ball with the other one during his senior year.”
Those are not small considerations.
“Those are major factors,” Gregg said. “That’s why I left in the first place.”
Since deciding not to seek re-election as representative of the 45th District — which then included parts of Vigo, Sullivan, Greene, Knox and Daviess counties — Gregg has stayed busy. In addition to his WIBC gig, he’s worked as an attorney and lobbyist, operating a law practice in Vincennes with the Indianapolis-based Bingham McHale firm.
He wrote a book about his political career, “From Sandborn to the Statehouse,” which was published in 2008. And he maintains his farm in Sandborn.
Gregg faced prostate cancer in 2004, but said he’ll celebrate seven years of being “cancer free” this August. After recent hip-replacement surgery, and shedding 60 pounds gradually on a Weight Watchers diet, the 56-year-old said he feels good.
Still, the heat of political races has intensified since 2002. (The tea party is attacking Richard Lugar for being too liberal.) Even if Gregg and Pence stay above the fray, things can get brutal from outside-in. As soon as Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel announced he wouldn’t run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Gregg’s name popped up, along with reminders of the controversial lifetime health-care benefit for state legislators that passed during Gregg’s time as House speaker.
After serving in the House from 1986 to 2002 — including stints as speaker, minority leader and majority leader — Gregg’s record is long enough for opposition to find vulnerable spots.
“The great thing is, those are all going to be pointed out to me, probably in the next 24 to 36 hours,” Gregg quipped.
He also seems unfazed by the state Democrats’ current lack of muscle, and doesn’t see his party as the unfocused, demoralized lot often characterized. Nationally, President Obama “probably hit his low point in the 2010 election,” Gregg said, but has recently seen his approval ratings rise to 51 percent this month. Indiana Democrats took a similar shellacking, as Obama put it, in the Statehouse races. As a result, the GOP now holds dominant majorities in the House and Senate, as well as the governorship.
“I’ve been around politics long enough that for every great defeat, there’s a great victory,” Gregg said. “It’s cyclical.
“There’s enthusiasm among the Democrats,” Gregg insisted, “and I really think my Republican friends in the Legislature are over-reaching, and that’s how I became speaker [in 1996].” In the current session of the General Assembly, Republicans have successfully moved forward not only education reform and budgetary changes, but also some parts of a conservative social agenda — a diversion from Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’ plans.
The possibility of Gregg trying to replace Daniels dates back to 2008. Gregg toured the state with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, “and I enjoyed it.” Three years later, Gregg wanted to see if Weinzapfel would seek the governorship. “I felt like, if he wouldn’t, I’d probably consider it,” Gregg said.
And that’s what he’s doing now. Gregg isn’t sure how long he has to decide. He knows other Democrats also may want to run. (Congressman Joe Donnelly is a possibility, and former 8th District Rep. Brad Ellsworth has been mentioned.) Gregg is thinking about his kids, about the demands of running a campaign and of holding a public office.
“So those are just a couple of the issues,” Gregg said. “And there’s some issues I’ve checked off, saying, ‘Yeah, you could run.’ But I’ve still got a bunch of others to decide, and I want people to realize that I’m not to that point yet. And the kids are going to be the final decision as I’m continuing trying to work through some issues and come to a conclusion as to what I’m going to do.”
Nobody should fault him for taking time to ponder all of that.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.