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State College Dems convene at ND

Robert Singer | Monday, March 30, 2009

Five months after helping to turn Indiana “blue” for the first time in 44 years and with their sights set on further change, College Democrats from across the state met Saturday in DeBartolo Hall for the 2009 Annual College Democrats of Indiana Convention to elect statewide officers and instruct members on fundraising tactics.

Congressman Joe Donnelly, a Democrat who represents Indiana’s 2nd District, opened the convention by crediting campaign volunteers from last fall’s election for helping to shift national electoral trends – and for re-electing him.

“In our congressional district President Obama won by 25,000 votes and his margin in the state was approximately 25,000 votes,” he said. “This district is a Republican-leaning district. All of you worked hard across the state and here in our district in particular.”

“I’m incredibly grateful to you,” Donnelly added.

The conference attendees looked ahead to strategy, as local party leaders kept an eye on the future, emphasizing the importance of revitalizing the economy and the consequences of the 2010 midterm election.

Incoming Notre Dame College Democrats co-president Chris Rhodenbaugh said improved coordination between local politicians and campus groups will be a goal for next year.

Next year the College Democrats will advocate change on issues of education, the environment, health care and labor policy, Rhodenbaugh said.

“I feel that students at Notre Dame don’t have a thorough understanding of the labor community,” he said.

The 2010 elections will have serious implications for health care funding in Indiana, Rhodenbaugh said. Democrats currently control the Indiana House of Representatives with a 52-48 majority. But if that changes, Republicans will likely be able to control legislation.

“A big deal with health care is that state legislators can control how much money is spent,” he said. “If Republicans gain control, they would set income levels lower for the [State Children’s Health Insurance Program].”

Lowering the minimum income for eligibility in this program would deprive children of needed health services, Rhodenbaugh said.

Congressman Ryan Dvorak, who represents Indiana’s 8th District, talked about the challenges of putting federal stimulus money to the best use when leaders at the state and local levels see different priorities.

“A lot of these programs were set up for the first time in this stimulus bill. While we know where the basic transportation dollars are going to go, there are still a lot of multimillion pots of money,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a fight between us and the governor to make sure they don’t blow all the money in stupid places.”

The focus did not stay on state politics.

During the luncheon, Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives Patrick Bauer reminded conference attendees of the implications of the 2010 election for long term Democratic Party success in Indiana.

“The next election is the most important in decades, because if we win, we can redistrict,” he said. “If we don’t, the other party redistricts.”

Bauer stressed that maintaining a strong Democratic presence in the state legislature will be key to meeting education needs, while arguing that the commitment of Indiana Democrats to education funding helped Notre Dame form a partnership with Purdue University for a nanotechnology research center.

“And it’s also important for education in Indiana that we have a Democratic House,” he said. “The budget in Indiana helps every school in Indiana. Notre Dame is beginning to get money and that’s unheard of. We are getting it through the research way by partnering with other universities.”

Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, taped a message for the convention, urging members of the College Democrats to consider running for office.

“We have to be ready in our youth to challenge the underlying assumption about what our capabilities and possibilities are,” he said.