January 22, 2014

KITCHELL: Logansport's political past revealed on WFYI


---- — Jim Shella’s long-running show “Indiana Week in Review” indirectly paid some homage to the significance of Logansport politically.

Shella, who covers the Indiana Statehouse for WISH, included a segment with former State Treasurer Julian Ridlen and the political campaign memorabilia museum they have opened here. Julian and his wife, Sue, have more background than just eight years in office in Indianapolis when it comes to politics. Sue’s father, the late Logansport attorney Leland Smith, was Indiana Secretary of State. The Ridlens spent time in Washington as college students and were on hand in 1963 to hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

Shella and panelists also mentioned another Logansport political name from the past in Tom Huston, who also has a political memorabilia collection. Huston, whose family donated land for Huston Park on the north bank of the Eel River, worked in the Nixon administration.

Finally, the “Indiana Week” group discussed the three potential candidates running for state treasurer on the Republican ticket. Among that trio is Kelly Thompson Mitchell, the first female to be elected county commissioner in Cass County. Mitchell has worked for former State Treasurer Richard Mourdock. Although she is running third in fund-raising currently, Mitchell has experience working in the office on her side.

The three references for politicians from Cass may be a record for the show, but it also points to the long-running history of Logansport as a pivotal place for candidates to campaign. Logansport is situated in a county named for a Democratic presidential candidate, but it has the longest running Republican Lincoln Day Dinner in the state. It has been home to U.S. senators and congressional candidates, not to mention the Landis family which produced not only a federal judge who was baseball’s first commissioner, but a state supreme court justice and federal appointees.

At some point, the question becomes whether the glory days of Logansport’s political sons and daughters is really in the past or if it’s in the future. If the next generation of leaders from both parties or independents is to leave the marks many of their predecessors have, there are some barriers to overcome. One is the lack of a major media market. Indianapolis is a rapidly growing market in addition to being a state capital, but Logansport is on the outer fringe of that market and receives little attention for much of anything that goes on here.

Another barrier is population shift. Logansport and Cass County have been fairly consistent in population for almost a century. But other counties, particularly the doughnut counties surrounding Indianapolis, have grown markedly. Additionally, other urban counties in Indiana such as Tippecanoe have grown significantly, producing more candidates and earning more media attention in their own urban markets.

What candidates from either major party have on their side in this county is that they are not from Indianapolis, in the same sense that candidates who go to Washington from outside the Beltway go there to “clean up the mess in Washington”. Electing people from places like Cass County to statewide offices is like pushing a reset button and starting anew.

There are few examples of small-town politicians hitting it big in Washington today. Maybe the best is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who hails from the small town of Searchlight, Nevada. In past years in Indiana politics, Republicans produced governors from Seymour in Ed Whitcomb and Bremen in Otis Bowen. Evan Bayh came from the community of Shirkieville.

In a perfect world, candidates from any party who are effective in government at the local level ought to aspire to higher levels of government, but what we haven’t yet learned in the 21st century is if the Twitter/Facebook generation of the electorate can level the playing field for these candidates. For that matter, it’s unclear if party organizations from the county level, to the district level to the state level can provide equal opportunity for the best qualified candidates regardless of where they reside or well known they are.

The irony of this is that in a state which produced the Milan Miracle that was the inspiration for the movie “Hoosiers”, we Hoosiers believe we are all like the Hickory Huskers with an equal chance to reach the pinnacles of public offices. If that’s still the case, then maybe there is hope for an equality that Dr. King spoke of on those limestone steps representing a former Hoosier a half century ago.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at