Orentlicher runs in the 86th When asked what motivated him to run for the state House District 86 seat, Democrat David Orentlicher offers a practical answer. "What I do in my teaching and writing is try to develop public interest policy. I feel motivated to be a part of implementing some of those policies." He hesitates, takes a breath and looks about his living room at a fireplace mantel crowded with family photos, including his wife Judy and their young son, before answering from a less analytical and more heartfelt angle. "And marriage and family building gets you thinking about the future of your community."
Orentlicher is reserved and thoughtful. As we talk he relaxes in the living room of his early 20th century home on the city"s near-Northside. He seems as comfortable listening as talking. His comments are not blustering or impassioned, instead he speaks with the gentle precision of one who has spent a lifetime carefully examining issues. Raised in Bethesda, Md,. Orentlicher first earned a degree in economics from Brandeis University. He went on to Harvard Medical School, earning a doctorate in internal medicine and then earned another degree from Harvard"s law school. That rare pairing of medicine and law has defined Orentlicher"s career. Most significantly, he worked for the American Medical Association, leading the AMA"s ethics division, writing policy setting ethics for the nation"s doctors. For the past eight years he has taught at both Indiana University"s School of Law in Indianapolis and IU"s School of Medicine. Orentlicher wants to bring his focus on ethics to Indiana"s ethically challenged statehouse. "Doctors are charged with putting the patient"s interests above their own." He recounts ethical policies he researched and wrote for the AMA dealing with such instances as doctors earning points with drug makers for writing prescriptions and others who sent patients to get X-rays at labs they owned. "When physicians are motivated by personal interests, their patients lose trust. "The Legislature is the same way. Leaders have to overcome the reluctance to hold themselves to a higher standard, otherwise the public begins to lose trust in their leaders." The need for renewed ethics in state government is evidenced in the fact that Indiana"s districts have been so gerrymandered that 73 of the 100 races are uncontested. Most are carefully drawn to be a homogeneous reflection of the incumbent"s political stripes. Not so in the newly redrawn 86th. According to Orentlicher, "Some of the wealthiest people in the state live in this district, along with some of the state"s most economically challenged neighborhoods. It"s almost reverse gerrymandering, which is better for the public. It"s more representative of the state." The 86th resembles a map of Florida with 116th Street on its northern boundary, Michigan Road defining it southwestern edge and 26th Street at its narrow southern boundary. Orentlicher and his opponent, Republican incumbent Jim Atterholt, provide voters with a choice as diverse as the district itself. While Orentlicher describes himself as a moderate, Atterholt is a conservative protÈgÈ of Dan Burton. When asked to define some of the differences between his views and that of Atterholt, Orentlicher, in his measured, soft-spoken manner, runs down a list of timely issues. "Indiana"s drug benefits don"t cover those who make more than $12,000 a year. We have some seniors spending half their income on medications. The state should negotiate discounts with manufacturers for seniors. Atterholt has voted against such measures." And he feels Indiana should be proactive in its medical care. "It"s important that we cover screening for diseases such as breast cancer and colon cancer," he says, pointing out that it saves money in the long run to find and treat these diseases sooner instead of later. Atterholt has voted against such measures as well. And Orentlicher describes himself as a moderate on gun control issues, pointing out that Atterholt has gotten an "A" rating from the NRA. Lastly, Orentlicher questions Atterholt"s leadership during the recent special session to settle budget issues. "The budget bill had broad support, yet Atterholt voted against it. His Republicans in the house wanted to solve the budget shortfalls through cuts alone. "I routinely meet people who complain about understaffing and poor service in state agencies. We"re already one of the lowest spending states in the nation. It"s hard to imagine we could fix the budget by just cutting." Win or lose, Orentlicher says he"s learned a lot about himself while campaigning. "I knew I wanted to serve, but thought I wouldn"t enjoy running. The people part has been especially rewarding." So far Orentlicher and his supporters have knocked on doors in an impressive 60 percent of the district and he expects by election day that figure will be more like 75 percent. He has also been a successful fund-raiser, nearly matching what his incumbent opponent has raised. Quite a feat considering the fund-raising advantages of incumbency. "Atterholt has had access to PAC money," Orentlicher says. "PACs tend not to give money to challengers. Therefore, my money has come more from individuals." Like Atterholt, Orentlicher has raised more than a quarter of a million dollars. Still, his dining room is campaign headquarters, the table stacked high with campaign literature and a wall plastered with a color-coded map of the 86th District, highlighting neighborhoods as diverse as northern West Clay and southern Meridian Kessler and Rocky Ripple. Being one of the handful of races that will decide which party controls Indiana"s House of Representatives, those disparate neighborhoods will have more voice in the balance of power than most locales across the state.