INDIANAPOLIS — The general election of 1984 wasn’t a good year for Democrats, as Republicans in Indiana and across the nation rode in on the coattails of President Ronald Reagan’s landslide re-election.
But Vi Simpson was one of the exceptions: The Democrat from Ellettsville beat the Republican incumbent to win a seat in the Indiana Senate.
She’d been recruited by Frank O’Bannon, a longtime Democratic legislator who would later go on to beat the GOP favorite in the 1996 race for governor.
“I’ve often thought what a huge, idiotic move that was,” said Simpson, recalling her decision to take a run at Republican-held seat. “But I just didn’t think about it. I just did it. And I’ve been the Senate ever since.”
In May, Simpson, 66, decided to give up the Democratic nomination she won in the primary for her current seat – and with it, her position as Senate Minority Leader -- to join Democrat John Gregg in his quest to become governor.
It wasn’t an easy decision; she’d considered running for governor in 2004, and again last year. Her husband, former state senator Bill McCarty, and her two adult children and four grandchildren, encouraged her. “We decided to go for it,” she said.
When Gregg announced Simpson as his running mate, he said he “didn’t have to look long, didn’t have to look hard,” because she was “just a shining star.”
Simpson and Gregg share the same party, but not all the same views. Gregg calls himself a moderate-conservative Democrat; Simpson calls herself a progressive Democrat.
She’s pro-choice; he’s pro-life. Simpson led Senate Democrats in the failed fight to stop the “right to work” law that bans contracts that compel employees to join a union. Gregg has said he doesn’t like the law, but won’t lead a fight to repeal it if elected.