Oesterle plans return to politics to fix ‘badly damaged’ Indiana reputation

By Lesley Weidenbener
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Republican Bill Oesterle says he did not step down as CEO of Angie’s List to run for governor – but he’s not ruling it out either.

Bill Oesterle, who ran Mitch Daniels' first campaign for governor, is stepping down as CEO of Angie's List to get involved in politics again. File photo, TheStatehouseFile.com

Bill Oesterle, who ran Mitch Daniels’ first campaign for governor, is stepping down as CEO of Angie’s List to get involved in politics again. File photo, TheStatehouseFile.com

Oesterle, who masterminded Mitch Daniels’ first campaign for governor, said Wednesday that the “state’s reputation has been badly damaged” by fallout from a religious freedom measure the General Assembly passed and Gov. Mike Pence signed into law.

And he said he wants to “begin the long process of repairing that.”

“I haven’t figured out how I’m going to do that,” Oesterle told TheStatehouseFile.com. “That could involve helping somebody else run. That could involve working on legislative races. That could involve becoming a candidate myself.”

Angie’s List announced Wednesday that Oesterle would step down from the consumer ratings company that he co-founded in 1995. The moves comes just weeks after he canceled major expansion plans in Indianapolis in reaction to the religious freedom law.

Oesterle was among a number of business leaders who spoke out against the law, which supporters said was meant to ensure that government doesn’t infringe on individual religious liberties. Critics, including Oesterle, argued it opened the door to discrimination of gays and lesbians. He said then that the law sent a message that Indiana was not a welcoming place.

Many other business leaders eventually signed on to a “fix” the legislature passed that said the religious freedom law can’t be used as justification for discrimination. But Oesterle said it didn’t go far enough. He said the state needs to include sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination laws.

On Wednesday, Oesterle said he did not step down from Angie’s List, a publicly traded company, under pressure.

“I am very fortunate to have had the support of my board and the support of the employees – just absolutely unequivocal support,” he said.

“But I have two passions I’ve worked on throughout my career: Angie’s List and the state of Indiana,” he said. “I can’t do both.”

Oesterle said the RFRA debate “came at a time when I was naturally thinking about what I might do for the rest of the my life.”

“So I came to just the obvious realization that you have to pick,” he said. “You have to be a public company CEO or you can go work on political and social issues. You can’t do both.”

Oesterle said he planed to take some time to think about his best approach to getting involved again in politics before making any decisions or announcements.

Lesley Weidenbener is executive director of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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