Indiana Democrats hold hope for the party’s future

By Shelby Mullis
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — When Elizabeth Hyde departed from Indianapolis for Philadelphia in late July, she headed to the Democratic National Convention with a mission.

The 26-year-old Bernie Sanders supporter represented Indiana as a delegate at the convention. With tensions high between Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters, Hyde wanted to do what she could to ensure Sanders would win the nomination.

But when the outcome differed from her hopes, Clinton’s acceptance speech gave Hyde a reason to throw her support behind her.

Now, nearly a month since Donald Trump’s victory and Indiana Republican candidates won all of the statewide offices, Hyde is working with fellow Hoosier Democrats to guarantee a comeback for the party in future elections.

“What the Indiana Democrats need to do is focus less on fundraising and more on the community and the grassroots,” she said. “Regardless of whether you’re going to win or lose, you should be active in every area of the state and you should be trying to help people in every area of the state.”

Community engagement extends further than election time. Hyde encourages her fellow party members to engage in local initiatives in the community at any time.

“What matters is being in the community and doing some good because the point of politics is often seen as winning, but that’s not the point,” Hyde said. “The point is helping people.”

Paul Helmke, professor with the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, agreed, naming three areas of improvement for the Democratic Party.

Along with grassroots campaigning, he said it’s important to look at the party’s mayors across the state, such as in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Gary, and bring in “young blood” to volunteer, work and ultimately run for office.

Helmke, who served as a Republican mayor of Fort Wayne from 1988 to 2000 when the Democrats held the governor’s office, said that while Indiana and the nation currently lean red, the “out-party” has opportunities to gain a role again.

“If the jobs aren’t coming back or the economy isn’t bouncing or President Trump’s not able to deliver everything he said he was going to or Gov. Holcomb doesn’t deliver what he said he was going to, those are opportunities for the Democrats to say, ‘Give us another look. Listen to us,’” he said.

But this isn’t the first time a party has swept all major offices. Helmke referred to 1964 when the Democrats took control, and 1966 when the Republicans stepped into the game again. Now, in 2016, it’s happening again.

“[The Democrats] got beat bad,” Helmke said. “They need to come back. The party will come back.”

Ann DeLaney, a former chair of the Indiana Democratic Party, said is also preparing for the party’s the next generation of leadership to come from current mayors. In four years, she said Democrats will be ready to take over the governor’s seat.

“It’ll be time, as Mitch Daniels said, ‘to weed the garden,’ after 16 years of Republicans holding control. That will generate a whole plethora of young people to be involved in the future,” DeLaney said.

As for Hyde, who is a member of the Indiana Young Democrats, she is ready to recruit that plethora and get them involved in the party’s mission while remaining active in organizations and initiatives that stand for her beliefs.

“I’m hoping the party will go in the direction I said earlier, which is going for volunteers and going for persistent engagement and focusing on tapping in on the grassroots,” she said.

Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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