Terre Haute and Vigo County were long considered strongholds of Democratic Party politics. In the last decade or so, that has changed. While Democrats once controlled almost all major local offices and state legislative seats, that is no longer the case. Republicans now hold the offices of Terre Haute mayor and Vigo County prosecutor, and all but one of the local legislative seats are held by the GOP.
Much the same can be said of other Hoosier districts, including Evansville and Vanderburgh County.
Hoosier Democrats have seen their influence shrink statewide and beyond. The governor’s office has been held by a Republican for the past 12-plus years. GOP super majorities control both chambers of the legislature. Only two of nine congressional seats are held by Democrats. The one lone Democratic bright spot is Joe Donnelly, who holds one of two Indiana seats in the U.S. Senate.
Even when the GOP is doing a good job, having one political party with an iron grip on state government is not a good recipe for a successful representative democracy in the long term.
Part of the Democratic Party’s problem has been the lack of a cohesive message and strong candidates to deliver them. Democrats can blame gerrymandering all they want, but until they can recruit appealing candidates and put forth a compelling alternative message, they are destined to remain in a weak position in the statehouse.
One of the few Democrats generating enthusiasm is Pete Buttigieg, the 35-year-old mayor of South Bend. In addition to being popular in his community, he drew attention nationwide earlier this year with his candidacy for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. While he didn’t win that post, he most certainly won many fans across the country.
Buttegieg has encouraged Indiana Democrats to do more than just criticize Republicans in power. Democrats, he said, “need to show a better way” and provide a constructive contrast. “It’s one thing to point out flaws of the Trump administration and there are a great many, but that’s not enough,” he said. “That’s not a message. We have to say what we would do that’s gonna be different.”
Whether you are a Republican, Democrat or politically independent, you have a stake in a viable two-party system that provides checks and balances, as well as ideological alternatives to solving problems. We hope those who call themselves Democrats will heed Mayor Buttegieg’s advice and find a way to make their party more relevant as an effective force for good government.
A version of this editorial first appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star.