Tumultuous election got citizens’ attention

By Mark Bennett

Even with our motley class, my high school government teacher managed to pound a lifelong civics lesson into our 1970s teenage brains.

We sat behind four long tables, arranged horizontally in front of his desk. He started a chant, told a kid in the first row to repeat it and then cued the rest of us to join in, one by one, as he walked by.

His chant? “Politics is everything, and everything is politics.” He told us, “If you only remember one thing from this class, remember that.”

Obviously, it worked, at least for me.

Of course, his mantra contained some exaggeration and cynicism. Playing catch with my kids is, thank heavens, not a political exercise. Still, he meant for us to see how our thoughts and actions affect others. He was forewarning us that consequences and ramifications will exist, even though our adolescent minds would only believe that message years later.

In the last three months, Americans have learned the implications of elections, regardless of each person’s political outlook. A real-time civics lesson. It began on election night with a crash course on the Electoral College, which gave Donald Trump the presidency despite his loss in the popular vote by what turned out to be nearly 2.9 million votes. Then came questions about the qualifications of his Cabinet nominees, marches for women’s rights and protests over Trump’s executive order to ban travel into the U.S. by refugees from seven countries with Muslim majorities.

Christina Hale has seen Hoosiers, including women’s groups, paying keen interest in politics since the election. She’d met countless people in all 92 counties while running for Indiana lieutenant governor alongside John Gregg, the Democratic Party’s candidate for governor. The duo lost the race to Republicans Eric Holcomb and Suzanne Crouch. Still, Hale has continued to share thoughts and reflections through columns for Howey Politics Indiana and speaking engagements around the state.

That includes an energetic crowd at an Indianapolis nightspot, where many of the patrons were millennials. Many were nonvoters. Many had no allegiance to a party. Yet, “this election got their attention,” Hale said by telephone last week.

Hale got invited to speak at a gathering of women in Zionsville — “a Republican bastion,” as she put it — to discuss the ramifications of a Trump presidency. The turnout far exceeded the initial expectation of 100 people, overflowing the 500-seat capacity. “Women from all over the state have been reaching out to me to talk to their small groups,” she said.

The engagement in the political process is deepening.

“I think one of the reasons we’ve gotten in this situation is the decline in civics education,” Hale said. Sometimes, Hale had to explain that she was a member of the Indiana House, rather than Congress, for example.

For four years, Hale represented Indiana House District 87 in Indianapolis and earned enough bipartisan respect to get laws enacted addressing crimes against women and children, higher education access and pseudoephedrine, among others, despite Republicans holding a super-majority status. After accepting Gregg’s offer last May to serve as his running mate, Hale traveled to every Hoosier county. With each stop, she made a point to try to meet with the county’s sheriff, regardless of their party background, to learn about the scourge of drug addiction in Indiana.

She discovered “how universal and how destructive drug addiction is in our state.”

As elected officials try to effectively handle that predicament and other issues, they’ll also need to regain public trust. “I think we politicians have disappointed people,” she said.

Hale gave up her House seat to run for lieutenant governor, and hasn’t made any decisions on seeking public office in the future. For now, “I want to continue to do good things for Indiana and I’m exploring what that might be,” she said.

During the campaign, Hale discussed her background, growing up in a middle class family in Michigan City, becoming a single mom at age 19, then graduating from Purdue University, serving as an executive with Kiwanis International and getting elected to the General Assembly. In terms of getting more women and Hoosiers interested in seeking public office, as well, Hale pointed to the Richard Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series, which prepares 20 to 25 Indiana Republican women to serve in elected or appointed governmental positions.

Hale thinks her own party should emulate that program.

“We’ve got to do better,” Hale said. “This is America. This is Indiana. And it’s time to step up our game.”

Mark Bennett is a writer for the (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. Send comments to [email protected].