(Originally printed in the 4County Mall: http://www.4countymall.com/#!mark-hunter---slightly-off-the-mark/qu1l6)
(And here’s your first look at a chapter from our new book!)
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
In all my years of writing this column, only once was I accused of using it to promote my books. That’s strange, because it happened all the time—apparently I was sneakier than I thought. But it didn’t start until 2011 … because, well, I didn’t have any books published before 2011.
Last month, in my winter-weary state of mind, I was looking forward to spring flowers, so I stole from my next book to write about how the Indiana state flower came to be. So the plan this month was to avoid mentioning the book, and to write about something that fits right in with the times: politics.
If you can’t make fun of politics … well, you’re not paying attention. Especially this year.
Approaching Indiana’s May primary, I found myself full of double negatives: That is to say, I flipped a coin to determine who I least wanted to vote against. Maybe that’s not technically a double negative, but many of the candidates are.
Despite my determination not to steal from my own work, there is indeed something in Hoosier Hysterical that fits the times. In fact, it has at least two sections that cover politics: “Crime and Puns”, and “Primary Colors”.
No, wait … “Crime and Puns” is about famous Indiana criminals. Sorry, I get the crooks and politicians confused.
Anyway, as I wrote this, the 2016 Indiana primary promised to do something most presidential primaries don’t, in the Hoosier state: matter.
While other states have their primaries earlier and earlier, Indiana stubbornly insists on doing what the rest of them should do: keep to a more reasonable date. If every state did that, maybe the election season could have a sane time frame, say less than a few freaking years. Starting the elections in January means starting the fund raising, campaigning and endless speculating around November 10th … November 10th of the previous election year.
The other day I caught an old Tonight Show clip of author Gore Vidal, who suggested elections be legally limited to 6-8 weeks. Even back then, somebody had the right idea.
So Indiana stuck to its guns and did the right thing, and in turn we get to have absolutely no say in who the parties pick as their presidential nominees. Usually. This year we mattered to a degree, as we did in the Clinton-Obama battle. That’s not the norm, but as you’ll see in this section of the book … well, you’ll see.
I’m tempted to make some bombastic boast about this being your first, exclusive look at Hoosier Hysterical, but nah … this is an election year. There’s plenty of bombast as it is.
Hoosiers will be stunned to learn their state used to matter in national elections.
The primary system has morphed in such a way that the nominations for US President have pretty much been settled by the time Indiana has its primary election in May. In addition, the state has become solidly red—Democratic presidential contenders might as well not bother to spend money here, and in the general election the Republican pick usually gets the nod. It’s still up in the air from time to time, such as the Democratic primary fight in 2008, but mostly the national candidates don’t bother. Campaign weary Hoosiers tend to breathe a sigh of relief.
But it wasn’t always that way. Just the opposite: After the Civil War Indiana became a swing state, and often a deciding factor in the general election. The state echoed with rallies, parades, and speeches. Voter turnout?
You might want to sit down for this.
Voter turnout usually reached over 90%, and approached 100% in the elections of 1888 and 1896.
I told you to sit down.
Although outright fraud was surprisingly rare, it was common for party members to pay their supporters to vote, especially in rural areas. It wasn’t unheard of for them to pay supporters of the other side not to vote. Yes, alcohol was also involved.
Indiana became so important that, between 1880 and 1924, a Hoosier was a member of the ticket for one party or another in all but one of the general elections. You might recall Benjamin Harrison, who won in 1888. 300,000 people came to hear him speak from his Indianapolis front porch during the campaign (a very nice front porch, I might add). Five Hoosiers have become Vice-President, although none since 1988.
Now it seems as if Indiana no longer attends Electoral College … or at least, we’re no longer head of the class.
(Author’s note: I’m not suggesting you’ll find Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving at All in a few weeks by going to my website at www.markrhunter.com. But you will.)
Benjamin Harrison's Indianapolis home saw more politicking than a lobbyist's yacht.