Commentary: Don’t underestimate that guy named Joe

By Abdul Hakim-Shabazz
IndyPoltics.Org

Although it might seem a little early to start talking about the 2018 elections, I think it’s only fair to point out that Joe Donnelly won’t be a pushover come next year. And even though Republicans in Indiana walked away with just about everything but the kitchen sink last year, anyone who has studied politics knows that each cycle is unique unto itself and past is only so much prolog.  So why would I say Donnelly will be tough to beat next year? Allow me to elaborate.

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org.

Opioid abuse and veterans suicide. We all know that no part of Indiana has been spared the impact of heroin, opioid, and prescription drug abuse. In fact, I would argue they’ve had even more of devastating effect in the rural and suburban areas than in the “big city.” Donnelly authored several measures that were part of the bi-partisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act to help communities hit hard by the heroin and opioid epidemic the help they need. He did the same for veterans impacted by post-traumatic stress disorder. Donnelly has worked to improve access and the quality of mental health for veterans and has done it in a bipartisan way.

Trump appointments. Donnelly hasn’t been an automatic no vote. In fact, a check of the record shows he voted for more Trump nominees than he voted against. He voted for Trump’s nominees for Transportation, UN Ambassador, Homeland Security, Small Business Administration, CIA, Defense, Commerce and Veterans Affairs. Donnelly voted against Trump’s nominees for Education, Treasury, Management and Budget, Health & Human Services, Attorney General and State. It would have been a 50-50 split had Donnelly been present for a vote on Trump’s EPA pick, Scott Pruit, but he was in East Chicago with Gov. Eric Holcomb for an emergency meeting on the lead contamination crisis hitting the city.

Now, of course, there are the calls for Donnelly to come out and say whether he supports an up-or-down vote for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. I haven’t seen anything by the senator to say that he would support a filibuster of Gorsuch. In fact, some of the same people who were in full support of the U.S. Senate not taking up the nomination of Obama nominee Merrill Garland are some of the same individuals who say Donnelly should make his position known on Gorsuch even though the Judiciary Committee won’t even have its first hearing until March 20. I can’t blame a guy for actually wanting to have a formal hearing on a nominee before making a decision.

Constituent Service. This is an area that can make or break an elected official. And while Republicans may not be crazy about Donnelly, they all respect his office’s constituent service operations. They hit all 92 counties in 2016, either hosting or participating in more than 550 events in 122 cities over 223 days.  They also resolved more than 2,065 cases for Hoosiers that were having issues with the federal government and got more than $2.5 million in benefits to the people who needed them.

Donnelly also stood by the workers at Carrier and was extremely vocal about jobs sent overseas. And while we would disagree over the economics of such decisions, you can’t damn him for standing up for what he sees as the little guy getting squeezed out by a corporation. 

Now, while all this help Donnelly, he is by no chance a shoe-in in 2018 as demonstrated by the 2016 results. However, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton will be on the ballot to either help or hurt the down the ballot races.  And mid-term elections tend to benefit the party out of power. But if the Republican nominee is Rep. Luke Messer, whom I expect to hear announce in a couple of months, he isn’t likely to have a “Mourdock” moment during a debate if the question of rape and abortion pop up. I expect the race to be extremely competitive. My Republican friends should be well aware of that. I can assure you Donnelly is.

Abdul is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org. He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. He can be reached at abdul@indypolitics.org.

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