It's three days until the 2008 primary election, an election that promises to be one of the more exciting ones we've had here in Indiana, since at least 1968 for us Democrats, when Robert Kennedy came here to square off against Eugene McCarthy.
But that was a different kind of primary from the one we're seeing here today. It was a primary that started in the fall of 1967 with the incumbent Lyndon Johnson intending to run for re-election. But McCarthy soon thereafter launched a primary challenge to Johnson, entering the race as an anti-war dark horse in November 1967.
Kennedy waited until March 1968 to enter the primary, in a move that enraged McCarthy's supporters while simultaneously creating the spectacle of not one, but two high-profile Democrats challenging an incumbent Democratic president. It proved too much for Johnson who, seeing the writing on the wall, exited his bid for re-election just two weeks after Kennedy announced his bid for the ticket.
And so they came, Kennedy and McCarthy to Indiana where, on April 4, Kennedy delivered his famous speech in Indianapolis, at what was to be a bread-and-butter campaign stop, and which turned instead into one of the most famous extemporaneous eulogistical evocations in history.
For Democrats, Indiana still mattered in 1968, because the critical California primary then took place not in February, as it does now, but in June. But also because the "concept" of a presidential primary was a relatively new one at the time -- only 13 states (Indiana was one) even held them (the rest of the states simply waited until the Democratic National Convention to vote for their nominees).
So, yes, an exciting time for us voters here in the Hoosier state as a protracted battle between the once-presumptive nominee for the presidency wages on against another dark horse, the Senator from Illinois. And while it's not exactly the same as if he had taken on the party's sitting incumbent, sometimes it sure feels like it.
A couple of other quick fun facts about Indiana's primary process. In 1916, Indiana's then March presidential primary was the first in the nation. Today, of course, we're bringing up the rear. Oh, and scraps between party incumbents and upstart insurgents are not only the province of the Democratic party. In 1976, Ronald Reagan challenged then-incumbent president Gerald Ford in the Republican primary here.
Speaking of winning, two-term Monroe County Councilman Scott Wells finally prevailed in his defamation lawsuit against Kevin Shiflet, yesterday. For those of you who've been living in a cave for the past half-decade, in 2002 Shiflet showed up at a Council meeting and, in the best rendition of Joe McCarthy this decade, waved around a piece of paper claiming it was a "notarized" statement by Shiflet attesting to the fact that Shiflet had been told, by Wells, that Wells knew about the controversial Pedigo Bay fire and knew it was "going down."
In other words, your basic slanderous accusation of a crime, against Wells.
Shiflet, a member of what some have come to call a right-wing "cabal" consisting of ex-Monroe County Republican Party chairman Franklin Andrew, real-estate greaseball and GOP bagman Herman "Bud" Bernitt, and others had been set up by the cabal as its frontspiece, presumably because Shiflet had the least to lose were the wheels to come off.
Which they did, although it took nearly seven years for it to happen. Seven years during which Wells was fired from his job as a school teacher (the controversy was just too much for poor Owen Valley Schools) and had to eat deeply into his savings.
It's notoriously difficult for a public figure, like Wells, to successfully sue for defamation. One of the protections that ordinary individuals have, namely the protection against false statements made against, and about them, evaporates once an individual decides to put himself, or herself, in the public spotlight.
But Wells, often called "The Bulldog" by both supporters and detractors, clung to his guns. And yesterday, a jury awarded him nearly a half million dollars in punitive and compensatory damages while also clearing the way for another lawsuit, pending against the rest of the dirty cabal.
A victory for Wells, certainly. And a symbolic victory for all of us who value Monroe County, who don't want to see it bulldozed over for the enrichment of a select few.
And a victory for decency.
Early last month, I wrote a column on the seldom-practiced but suddenly newsworthy practice of "crossover voting" where someone who is nominally, say, a Republican suddenly decides to vote in a Democratic party primary (or vice-versa).
The practice is normally limited to between 0.5 percent and 1 percent of the total number of votes cast but this year, thanks to subterfuge being urged by Rush Limbaugh, it could go much higher.
Which led to my observation that, not only is crossover voting, for the purpose of subverting or perverting the election process, morally reprehensible. It's also illegal. In support of that position, I cited the relevant portions of the Indiana Code.
I got some reaction from the legal side of things, particularly from a few of the Democratic candidates for judgeship in this upcoming primary election. One of them, I won't say who, had been urging Republicans to "cross over" and vote for him in the Democratic primary. When another judicial candidate pointed my column out to him, he insisted that I was wrong in my conclusion. Yet another judicial candidate informed him I was not.
It was therefore immensely pleasing to me when I read of IU law professor Patrick Baude's determination in the issue. A news release put out by the university declared: "Pat Baude says it is a Class D felony in Indiana for voters to participate in deceptive crossover voting."
I'm not a lawyer, but Baude is. And not just any lawyer, but the Ralph Fuchs Professor of Law and Public Service at IU.
I wrote Baude, thanking him for getting his opinion out. He wrote me back, and said he liked my column. Now I'm star-struck. Flattery gets one everywhere.
Gregory Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.