Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Gov. O'Bannon's legacy 10 years later

Posted By on Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge lesley_stedman_weidenbener_-_mug_-_the_statehouse_file.jpg
It's fairly easy for politicians once they've left office - especially the ones who don't erupt with dynamic personalities or leave their jobs in scandal - to slip from the public's consciousness.

The officials who quietly go about the business of government - for better or worse - are quickly overshadowed by the ones who come after.

So is the case in large part for Democrat Frank O'Bannon, who died 10 years ago this week. He was in the third year of his second term as governor and attending the U.S. Midwest-Japan Conference when he suffered a massive stroke that would - a week later - claim his life.

O'Bannon's lieutenant governor, Democrat Joe Kernan, finished the term and then lost a bid for his own to Republican Mitch Daniels, a big personality who spent much of his campaign and his first couple years in office criticizing his predecessors and blaming them for what wasn't going well in Indiana.

But as time marches on, it's worth looking around to see what of the O'Bannon years has survived his Republican successors. Essentially, it's time to start thinking about O'Bannon's legacy - and the top of the list must be the Ivy Tech Community College.

For years, Ivy Tech had been a technical school, a place simply for trades. It had virtually no real relationship with the rest of the states higher education system and Indiana lacked a destination for students interested in an academic degree but without the credentials - or in many cases, the money - to go to a four-year school.

O'Bannon changed that. Working with then-Higher Education Commissioner Stan Jones and around skeptical university leaders, O'Bannon announced a new deal that would partner Vincennes University, then the state's only two-year school, with Ivy Tech.

The goal was to put academic degree options in communities across the state without creating a new institution. After a few years, Ivy Tech ended the deal with VU and created its own academic curriculum. In the time since, the college has inked deals with the state's universities to help students move seamlessly - or mostly - into four-year degrees.

Today, Ivy Tech is the state's largest post-secondary institution, serving more than 200,000 students annually. And it remains the cheapest option for higher education in Indiana.

Later governors have only acted to strengthened Ivy Tech's role in the state, a trend likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

Of course, Frank O'Bannon was not a one-issue governor. He masterminded a legislative deal that built what is now Bankers Life Fieldhouse and expanded the RCA Dome (which was subsequently replaced by Lucas Oil Stadium), moves credited with keeping the Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Colts from leaving the state. O'Bannon and his wife, Judy, helped spearhead construction of a new Indiana State Museum. He launched the Indiana Education Roundtable, which is co-chaired by the state superintendent of public instruction and remains a fixture of education politics today. He signed the state's first college savings program into law.

There were, of course, those things that O'Bannon tried but didn't accomplish. He pushed for full-day kindergarten, starting a conversation that essentially culminated years later when the state gave money for all-day classes to all districts. He pushed for property tax restructuring - only after the Indiana Supreme Court forced the issue - although it was redone under the Daniels administration.

And he helped create a prescription drug plan for older Hoosiers, although it was essentially usurped by a Medicare program later implemented by Congress.

For those who knew O'Bannon, his legacy will be about more than policy.

He's remembered as a respectful, friendly politician for whom dealing with everyday Hoosiers seemed more energizing than dealing with his fellow public officials. O'Bannon represented Democratic constituencies - labor and teachers - but he also worked with the opposite party to get things done. And he was just well liked and respected by almost everyone who worked with him, even those with whom he disagreed.

That's a legacy he'd be proud of.

Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

Tags: , , ,

Speaking of Frank O'Bannon, Indiana Governors

Around the Web

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

This Week's Flyers

Today's Best Bets | All of today's events

Keep in-the-know
on-the-fly

Sign up for Nuvo
E-Newsletters:

Around the Web

All contents copyright © 2016 NUVO Inc.
3951 N. Meridian St., Suite 200, Indianapolis, IN 46208
Website powered by Foundation