To the dog-eat-dog politics of autumn Will the Indiana Senate get new leaders in place of Bob Garton and Larry Borst? Can Rep. B. Patrick Bauer survive an investigation of a mysterious fund-raiser and go on to become speaker of the House of Representatives? Will the gambling bosses be happy with the outcome? Three questions and one answer: Darned if I know.
Speaker John Gregg
About all you can say with certainty is that the Hoosier political scene is hardly as quiet as it appears to be as the dog days of summer head towards the dog-eat-dog politics of autumn. Sen. Murray Clark, R-Indianapolis, has been leading an effort to displace Garton, R-Columbus, the Senate majority leader, and Borst, R-Greenwood, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "I"m kind of trying to press for some changes," Clark confirms. "If the election were held today, I"m not sure I"d have the votes, but of course the election will be in November." While there"s resistance to leadership changes, Clark thinks plenty of senators want the Senate, as the principal Republican voice in state government, "to do things differently. I"m not dying to be pro tem. What I"m dying for is for the Senate to take a real leadership role." Clark"s supporters have been wavering between optimism and pessimism. The optimism is based on the number of senators who remain dismayed or disgusted over the various tax programs the Republicans came up with in the regular and special sessions this year that resulted in a patched-up tax plan sought desperately by the O"Bannon administration. The pessimism is based largely on the fact that Garton and Borst have been in the Statehouse, to use a lobbyist"s metaphor, "longer than most of the statues." Borst counts 35 years, Garton 31. The two are survivors who know how to fend off threats. One means of doing so, of course, is to raise the specter of upheaval in the Senate"s key positions, the coveted chairmanships of the various committees and sub-committees. "Garton"s promising the world," one lobbyist observed. "He"s really working at it." Not surprisingly, the state"s casino owners and investors have a keen interest in the outcome, and their presumed influence is a factor in the legislative jockeying. "Borst is yelling that the gamblers are all for Clark," a Clark supporter says. But, Clark responds with an ironic laugh. "I"m probably the only one in the Senate who"s never voted for gaming expansion." On the House side, the battle among Democrats to succeed Speaker John Gregg, who retired, appears to fall into two camps, Bauer and a faction that might be called Anybody But Bauer. As might be expected, those who don"t care for the Ways and Means chairman are calling him a puppet of the big gambling interests, saying Bauer will jump to please influential gaming lobbyists like Mike Phillips and Phil Bainbridge, both former House speakers themselves. While Bauer has been keeping a low profile because of the controversy over his fund-raiser, one source says, "He"s telling everybody he"s got the job done." As for Bauer"s alleged relationship with lobbyists like Phillips and Bainbridge, a Bauer backer says Bauer is beholden to no one. "I know he does pretty much what he wants to do," the backer claims. Then what about the May 9 fund-raiser where guests were invited to a suite at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and asked to cough up $10,000 each for Bauer"s political war chest? Indiana State Police are investigating because of reports the fund-raiser was arranged by lobbyists with ties to the gaming industry and contributions were made by gaming interests. Such contributions would be illegal. One source maintains Bauer will come up with a surprise explanation. Although the suite was arranged by Kenny Cragen, a lobbyist who represents horse track interests, Bauer might contend the event itself was staged by Troy Liggitt, his former longtime assistant, and Bauer didn"t know the details. Liggitt is the son of Rep. Ron Liggitt, D-Redkey, chairman of the House Labor and Employment Committee, who is supporting Bauer for speaker. Troy Liggitt, who works for an Indianapolis law firm, did not return a telephone message seeking comment.