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Vote for ‘neighborly’ Joe Donnelly

| Friday, November 2, 2018

For more than a decade, I have coached a charity baseball team of which United States Senator Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) has been a starting player. We are close personal friends who share insights, laughter and candor during our baseball workouts. We sheltered in place on the “other” congressional practice baseball field one early morning in 2017 when an assassin attacked our opposing team, seriously wounding GOP Representative Steve Scalise (La.-01).  I know Joe Donnelly. Re-electing Donnelly next Tuesday will not only be best for Hoosiers, it will maintain an already solid building block of bipartisanship Americans are clamoring for in Washington.

After more than 200 hours with him, I can attest that Joe’s neighborly nature and impeccable character have no dark corners. He has a smile on his soul. Donnelly’s work ethic is energetic and focused regardless of whether he is visiting every corner of Indiana for re-election or training for our annual charity Congressional Baseball Game (Democrats against Republicans) that raised $1 million for the Literacy Foundation, Boys and Girls Clubs and the Washington National’s Dream Foundation. Oftentimes throughout the years, he was the only member to ask me to arrive at 6 a.m. to hit fly balls and grounders before practice or to workout after dark to practice under the lights. That dedication carries over into his congressional duties.

While a congressman, other members teased “Radio Joe” for routinely interrupting his practice to stand beyond center field to speak on rural radio programs at 7:15 in the morning. He told me that he viewed his job as serving everyone in his district as best he could while juggling competing interests. But he further insisted that everyone deserved to speak to and hear from him. Donnelly said, “Hoosiers just want you to use commonsense and be honest with them, to just explain the reasons why you voted.”

As a congressman, Donnelly’s district was a microcosm of the state, comprising the greater northeast area of Indiana — a mixture of rural Republican requirements with South Bend urban Democratic demands. Today, Donnelly still has Hoosiers on his mind as he has thus far voted with President Trump 62 percent of the time—with the president when it’s good for Indiana, and against him when it’s not. That fits a long tradition of successfully representing the state. Hoosiers judge with an independent streak, insisting on honesty, common sense and trusting that officials act within Indiana’s best interests. Hoosiers are independent-minded enough to have elected Republican Dick Lugar and Democrat Evan Bayh, both of whom — like Donnelly — were moderate independents within their respective parties.

I know Donnelly firsthand as genuine, unpretentious, down-to-earth and neighborly — a “regular Joe” with whom you could sit and drink a beer. Professionally, he is not risky, radical, irresponsible or too extreme. Nor is he part of any mob as portrayed in opposition commercials. Rather, Donnelly is respectful and independent-minded with Indiana as his political bellwether and brotherhood as his spiritual guide. When Scalise visited our practice this summer, Joe was the first to extend his hand straight out to rest upon Scalise’s shoulder while grinning that typically wide, genuine Donnelly smile which betrays his bipartisanship.

My bond with Joe is such that we can directly share a laugh, tell a story and tease each other. After a State of the Union address when President Obama lingered to greet those in attendance, Donnelly approached and quickly embraced Obama on national television. Afterward, I emailed him noting, “An 8-second hug is too long. After all, you want to carry Terre Haute!” He replied, “You are too much.”

Over time we shared philosophies about representation. Donnelly told me long ago what he proclaimed in his debate this week — he views his job as offering many types of opportunities for others. As fellow Notre Dame alumni, we oftentimes spoke of student internships or entry-level positions. He noted how he routinely seeks out and promotes opportunities for those who face difficulty when embarking on their careers.

He shared how frustrating it becomes when others break deals. After solving a problem for a company that gave assurances the solution would keep it from moving out of Indiana, it departed anyway. Donnelly told of how self-serving the company became when its lobbyist returned the following year to seek his help for them to stay in their new location.

I shared my failure to convince my classmate on the Indiana lakeshore who shares many similarities with Donnelly. Both are of Irish heritage, closely located hometowns, Notre Dame graduates and began as small businessmen. Donnelly happily spoke about their commonality until I mentioned that my classmate thought Donnelly had not rated high enough with the Chamber of Commerce (Issues: 88 percent and Votes: 65 percent). Donnelly sadly said, “That’s unfortunate. He sounds like a great guy. I’d like to meet him someday.”

Before we broke from baseball, I asked Donnelly what to look for on election evening. He answered, “I’ve had a plan in place since day one to reach every voter. If the statewide turnout is 40 percent or higher, I believe that I will win.”

Next Tuesday, when the annoying ads end and we trek to vote, I’m banking on Terre Haute to lead a Donnelly victory. Civility and bipartisan cooperation Americans yearn for from Washington begins in Indiana. Vote Joe Donnelly.

Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. Contact him on Twitter: @GaryJCaruso or email: [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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