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Congressional rematch

Dr. Tom Hayhurst launches his bid for Indiana’s third district seat in 2010

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2009-10-20


For a U.S. Congressional campaign, there’s really no such thing as too soon.

This past August, Dr. Tom Hayhurst, a former member of Fort Wayne’s city council, announced that he would once again seek the Democratic ticket to challenge Mark Souder for Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District in 2010, giving those who follow Indiana politics something to chew on during the non-election year of 2009.

Hayhurst first ran for the seat back in 2006. In a year where a Democratic shakeup of the House and Senate was predicted (and actually happened), the race attracted a little bit of national attention as “one to watch.” Of course, the end results weren’t quite the nailbiter many politicos had looked for — Representative Souder won by a close though substantial margin — but Souder himself acknowledged that it was his most challenging campaign.

Not that there have been a lot of challenging races to compare it to. The 2004 campaign to unseat Souder attracted national attention of a different kind, when the Democratic candidate abruptly left at the beginning of a televised debate, claiming an attack of nerves.

Mark Souder has seemed more or less a permanent fixture in Congress since he was elected to represent what was then Indiana’s fourth district in 1994 (it’s now the third district, after redistricting in 2002), part of a Republican sweep that gave the party a majority in Congress for the first time in 40 years. During his campaign, Souder famously pledged that he would serve no more than two additional terms as Congressman. Though to be fair, all the Republicans were saying that back in 1994 (it was part of the “Contract with America”), about a half-dozen extra terms later, Souder shows no signs of giving up his seat or campaigning for another office.

And there are no signs that unseating Souder will be particularly easy, either. He handily beat Democrat Mike Montagano in 2008, capturing well over 50% of the vote, and though even some conservatives might express frustration about Souder reneging on his pledge to follow term limits, most grumbles of dissatisfaction remain purely anecdotal. Our current representative seems to be a popular guy.

Like we said, it was Hayhurst who probably gave Souder the biggest run for his money back in 2006, when the Democrat got some 46% of the vote, winning in Fort Wayne and nearly tying in Allen County. “I think I was able to get the message out to many of the voters who weren’t regular Democrat or Republican voters, the independent voters who believed I would do a good job, listen to constituents, that I would take a reasoned approach,” Hayhurst says. “They supported me because they felt it was a time for change.”

Indeed, to many people who follow area politics, what makes the prospect of this race so interesting is the idea of Congressman Souder matched up against a worthy opponent. But Hayhurst is quick to point out that the campaign for Indiana’s third congressional district is not “about him.” He considered running in ’08, but decided not to challenge attorney Mike Montagano for the Democratic ticket. “There was a young man coming along, energetic, I figured he believes — like I do — in affordable health care for all Americans and doing some things that we need to do to get better jobs in Northeast Indiana,” Hayhurst says. “So fine, he can take the flag and run with it. But it just didn’t work out, I’ll put it that way.”

But with no other Democratic contenders emerging to challenge in next year’s elections, Hayhurst — a physician and Fort Wayne native who represented the 4th district on city council from 1996 through 2008 — says he felt it was his job and his obligation to step forward. “I’m still driven by issues and problems I see with our current representation, and I think right now I’m an individual who could make a positive difference.”

Obviously, launching a political campaign, especially a national one, is no small operation, and for a U.S. Congressional race, there’s really no such thing as too soon. One of the things Hayhurst says presented a particular challenge during the 2006 campaign was simply being able to get his message out to such a large area — the 3rd district encompasses Allen, Whitley, DeKalb, Kosiusko, Noble, Elkhart, LaGrange, and Steuben counties. The one-on-one contact that he said served him so well when he was running for Fort Wayne city council just isn’t realistic when you’re talking about several hundred thousand voters across eight counties. “There’s a lot of building that has to be done over a long period of time,” he says. “I think campaigns probably get started earlier now than they did 15-20 years ago.”

Then there’s the other issue that any candidate for political office has to deal with: money. Hayhurst says he believes that too many candidates are forced to spend too much on their time fundraising when they could be out talking to voters. That said, he understands what’s required in a Congressional campaign. “There are some pretty consistent estimates out there, running in a district like this as a non-incumbent. I accept all of that, and I accept the opinion of folks who are more knowledgeable than I am with regard to national campaigns. On the other hand, I would say there are a lot of times when I would rather be going door-to-door, or sitting down in a living room with 20 people, and talking and listening to people, rather than sitting in a room by myself making phone calls. I know the latter is necessary, but I just believe that that direct contact has to be there, and candidates should not spend as much time as they raising money.”

As Hayhurst sees it, the most pressing issue facing Northeast Indiana is jobs. He points out that last year, unemployment rates in LaGrange and Elkhart counties climbed to levels not seen since the Depression, and they’ve remained high. But Hayhurst says that job loss in this area has been a major problem for years. “We’ve been on a downhill trend with regard to quality of jobs and the number of jobs in Northeast Indiana for 15 – 20 years,” he says. “Our current representative once said he was not the economic development director for Northeast Indiana. But I think the US Representative for this area needs to be actively involved in searching for real solutions to our jobs challenge here, or at least stabilizing the situation to keep it from continuing to go downhill.”
“I’m going to round out some figures, but basically all of Northeast Indiana has gone from 95% to 75% of the average national income,” he continues. “That means there are some areas out there that are winning in this process, but we certainly aren’t. If you go to Noble country, LaGrange, DeKalb and see the number of people who are struggling just to get food on the table and a roof over their heads, I think it’s a tragedy, and it’s continuing to get worse.”

Loss of jobs in the area, Hayhurst explains, is directly tied in with international trade agreements. Other nations aren’t required to comply with many of the same environmental and “humanitarian” standards that U.S. industries are often faced with, and that has clobbered industry in Northeast Indiana. “It’s a facet of ‘fair’ trade, not ‘free’ trade,” he says. “(another country) can produce goods and ship them to the US, but we want them to show us they’re protecting the environment at a truck plant in, for example, Bejing in the same way that the GM plant in Fort Wayne is required under US law to protect the environment, rather than our workers having to compete with industries that are dumping pollution into the water and the soil.”

“Worker protection is also a very strong, bedrock facet of the concept of fair trade with other countries,” he adds, “There’s a lot of worker abuse that goes on around the world, and our workers are having to compete with that kind of situation.”

As a physician, Hayhurst has been doing his part to contribute to the current national debate on health care, appearing on television programs and giving presentations to different groups, though he says he’d love to have a vote. “I think the private sector in our economic system has brought a lot of good things to Northeast Indiana and our country,” he explains. “I wish that the private sector would have already done something constructive to stabilize and improve the situation when it comes to 40 million people — 15% of the population — not having affordable healthcare. If the private sector would come forward — if they would have in the past, and there’s been no real inkling of this — if they would have come forward and said ‘we realize it’s a problem. You can’t have over 18,000 deaths a year and a million bankruptcies, half the bankruptcies in Indiana, and a 50% increase in the mortality rate from breast cancer and colon cancer, all because you don’t have health insurance…’ All those things are documented. That’s not acceptable in the United States.”

Hayhurst says that right now, he’s in the “listening” stage of his campaign, and indeed, jobs and health care are the most common, recurring topics he hears about. In 2006, there was a lot of concern about energy; though lower gas prices may have taken some of the sting out of the issue, Hayhurst believes it’s only a matter of time before those prices start creeping up again. “My attitude is, don’t just focus on the hot issues,” he says. “Have a long term approach on the direction our country and region is headed.”

But one larger theme that Hayhurst returns to again and again is the idea of “duty” or “obligation.” He deflects many questions that seem to touch on personality or political strategy. I ask, for instance, what he hears from Republicans; Allen County is ripe with Republicans, but nevertheless Hayhurst was able to garner a great deal of support in the county and the city for his Congressional campaign in 2006. Sure, Hayhurst seems to be very well-liked and respected — he co-founded the Wolf Lake Free Health Clinic, served in the Air Force, was on city council for 12 years, serves on many civic boards, etc. — but there has to be more to it than just being a popular guy. What does he hear from typically Republican voters about our current representative…?

“Look, you keep asking me about other candidates…” he says. “Frankly, I believe — and I’ve had various people say this to me, too — that this is all much bigger than me. These are issues and matters that effect the future of the United States, and I look at this entire process as being much more important than me as an individual. I feel it’s my obligation to my country to run.”

It’s only about the 3rd district’s current representation in that it’s about lack of realistic, working solutions to Northeast Indiana’s drastic economic situation. “I don’t see, currently, anything being done about very worrisome downhill trends in the number and quality of jobs in Northeast Indiana,” Hayhurst says. “I’m an optimist. I’m not making these comments in a negative framework, I’m trying to outline the problem and I’m saying we need a more aggressive approach to turning this around.”

Dr. Hayhurst’s campaign website is at: www.tomhayhurstforcongress.com

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