News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Stephanie Salter

May 5, 2010

STEPHANIE SALTER: Hush, little baby, don’t you cry; someone’s gonna claim you, by and by

TERRE HAUTE — Now that the primary election is over, won’t someone please claim the poor, little orphan that’s shown up all over the 46th district, begging for attention?

Perhaps the homely, stapled, 11-page tyke made it to your house last week, wrapped only in an envelope and suffering from bad printing and even worse composition. The unclaimed child can do nothing but cry out about Democratic state representative candidate Bionca Gambill — except when it switches to crying about Congress being “bribed” and intimidated into passing a health care reform bill.

In 42 brief articles with 27 “datelines” — including the Sonka Tavern — this nameless issue of a secret mama and papa wails on about a variety of alleged transgressions by Gambill, who handily won Tuesday’s primary. Several of the deeds date to the late 1980s and the pitched battle over a BASF factory in Vigo County.

Seven of the articles are datelined “Tribune Star,” but contain only fragments of spoken quotations or of a reporter’s sentences. One “Dateline: Tribune Star” piece has no quotes at all from the Feb. 19 newspaper story from which it purports to be. But that did not stop the anonymous creator of “Political Pet …” from citing the Trib-Star to declare, “In choosing to run for District 46 Representative, Bionca Gambill demonstrated a lack of independence and insider connections.”

(Did she have insider connections or lack them? The mystery is typical of the orphan’s syntax affliction.)

The rest of that “Dateline: Tribune Star” article charges Gambill with the abominable action of choosing to consult two sitting members of the Indiana House while deciding to run for state rep, rather than “talk to the people of the District …”

Imagine. A person, contemplating a run for office, seeks advice from the Speaker of the House and a local district representative instead of — what? — taking a poll of thousands of voters and asking them if she should run? What was she thinking?

Worse, though, by far, are the boutique peppers.

They are the proverbial smoking gun in one of the orphan’s rants about the Gambill family’s farming activities. In yet another reference to the Trib-Star (but not datelined), “Bionca’s ‘Hoosier Rural Values’” offers “boutique peppers” grown on the Gambills’ land as proof that she is “[h]ardly a small town Hoosier farm girl.”

Instead, as the article insinuates, those peppers align Gambill with politicians who are “phoney [sic] as $3 dollar [sic] bills, and say anything to blend in with the voters they are conning.”

As someone who has bought tomatoes, corn, green beans and basil from the Gambills at the weekly Downtown Farmers Market — not the Terre Haute Street Fair, as reported by the orphan — I can say only that I’ve always had to wash real dirt off their produce just as I do from the other vendors’ wares. Then again, anyone who would consult with two elected lawmakers about running for office probably would not be above sprinkling somebody else’s dirt on her beans.

But to return to my original question: Who will claim this miserable, misbegotten orphan? It cries on, but, to date, all we have are denials of parentage.

Gambill accused her main Democratic opponent, Kal Ellis, of spawning the poor, photocopied thing, but he roundly discounted any connection. Despite similarly criticizing Gambill for taking (legal) PAC money, and for her opposition to the BASF plant and to constitutionally mandated property tax caps, Ellis has displayed no link to the orphan.

Dr. Joseph Selliken, one of the few people ever to take partial responsibility for previous byline-challenged, pre-election, hit-piece publications, also disavows patrimony.

Indeed, while the tone of the 42 bleats sounds eerily like that of past Selliken endeavors, the format seems well below his production standards. He tends to work with broadsheets, color, big headlines and numerous illustrations (albeit goofy illustrations) that originate in his Ohio Street graphics company. This most recent roundup features but one illustration and not a smidge of color.

Checking the various “datelines” for clues has been useless. The piece from the Sonka, for example, bemoans a Gambill fundraiser at that pub — an “exclusive ‘attorney only’ event” that was “reported” by an unnamed source to have drawn “a total of 10 people … hardly a raging show of wide spread support.” The item ends: “It is unknown whether the other attorney’s were scarred off by Bionca’s politics, or the ‘cash bar.’”

It is also unknown whether the author of this piece was in a hurry or really doesn’t know how to spell “widespread,” “scared” or the plural of “attorney,” which does not take an apostrophe.

“Dateline: Vigo County 4-H Grounds” reveals little more. Reaching, again, back to the BASF fight more than two decades ago, the article pillories Gambill for “putting her activist message in kids’ faces,” including “in a center isle booth” at the fairgrounds.

I did not live in Terre Haute during that time, but I’ve been assured that no sort of island, center or otherwise, has ever graced the fairgrounds. Aisles, yes, isles, no.

Enough, heartless parents of this woeful offspring. You conceived it, bore it, then stationed it on the figurative doorsteps of the people of District 46 to do your dirty work. It didn’t defeat Gambill, but it has served its purpose: To give voice to your political anger, your bottomless hatred of attorney Bob Wright and your prejudice against boutique peppers.

Come claim your child, Mother and Father. Are you not proud of your handiwork?

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or

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