News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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June 20, 2011

MAUREEN HAYDEN: Gregg slims down, beefs up his run for governor

INDIANAPOLIS — If you see John Gregg at the county fair this summer, don’t be offended if he turns down your offer to buy him a corn dog or takes a pass on the prize-winning pie.

Gregg isn’t the man he used to be.

The former Speaker of the Indiana House has slimmed down considerably since his self-admitted days as a 295-pound specimen of ill health.

He has the online version of Weight Watchers for Men to thank for getting down to fighting weight. While he’s not officially declared himself a Democratic candidate in the 2012 governor’s race, he knows what will play well on the campaign trail.

He asked me to make sure that when I wrote about his weight loss, that I let people know he followed the online plan, rather than attending the group meetings that are a Weight Watchers hallmark.

“I don’t want people thinking I’m sitting around confessing that I ate a brownie,” Gregg said.Gregg’s self-deprecating humor is a staple of his personality. A lawyer by trade, his charm is that he’s both articulate and folksy.

It’s a charm that worked well before and during his 16 years in office as a state legislator. When he made his first run for Statehouse in 1986, the conservative Democrat beat a 12-year incumbent by a two-to-one margin in the party primary. His Republican opponent dropped out before the general election.

Four years later, his Democratic colleagues in the Statehouse chose him to be the Majority Leader. In 1996, he ascended to the position of Speaker, presiding over an evenly divided House, split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.

When Democrats took control of the House following the 1998 elections, and kept the House following the 2000 elections, Gregg became the longest-serving Democratic Speaker in the state’s history.

He stepped away from it all in 2002, when he declared he was ready to return home to spend time with his family on their farm in Sandborn, Ind. Three years later, he was diagnosed with cancer of the prostate. Now 56, he’s been cancer-free for seven years. He talks about that experience with the same kind of candor as he does when he talks about counting Weight Watcher points.

Given all of that, you can see why Democratic stalwarts are hopeful that Gregg can take on the presumptive GOP nominee and presumed frontrunner, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, in the race to replace Gov. Mitch Daniels. As Gregg likes to say, he thinks Hoosiers want their public servants to put people before party politics.

At this point, the race is a marathon. It’s almost 18 months till the general election. While some big-name Democrats have declared their disinterest in the race, Gregg still has a lot of mile markers to pass — and millions of dollars to raise to finance the run — and he’s doing it with a hip that was replaced a few months ago.

His assessment of what lies ahead? “I’m ready,” he declared, after pushing away a plate of potato chips that came with his egg salad sandwich. “This is going to be fun.”

Maureen Hayden is Statehouse bureau chief for the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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