It had been years since the Democrats from Porter, Lake and LaPorte counties had gathered together for a “solidarity” event.
Porter County Democratic Party Chair Drew Wenger, 31, who has been on the job for a few months, decided it was time to revive an old tradition with a new name: “Solidarity Soiree.” It was dubbed the “first annual” because Wenger said he wants the “Soiree” to be a regular event to strengthen Democratic party ties across the Northwest Indiana region.
About 80 Democrats came to the Portage Pavilion Thursday night to hear Indiana Democratic Party Chair Mike Schmuhl and other local Democratic party leaders, who all called for greater unity and cooperation to overcome Republican Party dominance, especially at the state level offices.
One surprise revealed at the event was the sudden decision of State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, to retire from the 4th District seat which she had held since December 2005. She is stepping back Nov. 1, a year before her term expires, and a caucus will be held to replace her.
Tallian was scheduled to speak Thursday night at the event, but cancelled at the last minute because the State Senate had a vote on redistricting she couldn’t miss. Tallian, 70, was going to be making her last speech Friday in the State Senate.
Schmuhl complimented Tallian and noted that she was known as a “100 percent fighter.”
State Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, read a statement from Tallian which quoted a verse from the Simon and Garfunkel song “The Boxer,” which says: “I am leaving, I am leaving but the fighter still remains.”
Schmuhl took over as Indiana’s Democratic Party chair after being the campaign manager for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential run last year. The former South Bend mayor is now the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
The Buttigieg campaign was the largest political campaign to ever be run from the state of Indiana, Schmuhl said. The campaign brought in more than $100 million and at one time there were 600 workers.
A native of South Bend, Schmuhl said that he can remember growing up when Indiana politics were much more balanced between the two parties.
“There’s been a slippage in my community,” Schmuhl noted. He said there is a need to bring “the blue band back together” that would stretch across the northern part of the state.
“Indiana deserves more fairness in its government,” Schmuhl said.
As the party chairman, Schmuhl said he intends to emphasize a year around organizational planning. He noted that in Georgia, Stacey Abrams through her statewide voter organization efforts has balanced the political scales there.
Schmuhl said he also intends to establish a “War Room” that will go on the offense against Republicans on various issues, rather than just responding. He said the state Democratic Party will also aggressively push back against any efforts to limit access to voting.
The state Democratic Party also needs to improve its use of technology and to recruit good candidates to run at all levels, Schmuhl said.
Schmuhl said in Indiana, the Republican party has too much power at the state level and there is a tendency when a political party has control to become “power hungry”.
“We need to be there to stop them,” he said.