Brian Howey: Hoosier Democrats turn to a farmer for lieutenant governor

The last time Indiana Democrats found themselves in a hole this deep, they turned to the young son of a former liberal senator. Evan Bayh was a moderate conservative. He aligned himself with President Bill Clinton’s centrist Democratic Leadership Council and in that era, Democrats in Washington and Indianapolis steered a moderate course that included welfare reform and balanced federal budgets.

Hoosier Democrats are in a historically deep trough, holding no Statehouse constitutional offices. Republicans have had Indiana General Assembly supermajorities since 2014, hold 90% of all county offices, and nine of 11 congressional seats. If Mike Braun wins the governor’s office in November, it will extend the GOP dynasty to a record 24 years.

After traditional Democrats passed on the party’s nomination for governor, former Republican superintendent of public instruction Jennifer McCormick won the primary, essentially becoming the first “swing voter” to win a nod that high up the political food chain. She is from Henry County and served as a local school superintendent in Yorktown.

Last month, McCormick announced she wants former legislator Terry Goodin to be her running mate.

Goodin is a Hoosier cattleman from Austin. He’s also a former school superintendent in Crothersville. He served 20 years in the Indiana House representing a good portion of Jackson County for a number of those years. And he’s a Democrat, a vanishing rural breed.

“If you plucked somebody out of Indiana at random and said, ‘Here’s what a Hoosier is,’ you’d pluck Terry Goodin,” he said about why he joined the McCormick gubernatorial ticket.

Goodin had a 100% rating from the National Rifle Association in 2020 and received an A+ grade from the NRA PAC in 2010. He received a 20% rating in 2013 from the American Conservative Union-Indiana and a 100% rating from the AFL-CIO in 2014. He briefly served as House minority leader in 2017. His Indiana House career came to an end when Republican Zach Payne defeated him 56% to 44% in 2020.

He’s also taken some arrows from more progressive to liberal Democrats for voting against a 2011 same-sex marriage bill.

Over the next five months, Goodin will be compared to Republican lieutenant governor nominee Micah Beckwith, a Noblesville pastor with virtually no agriculture or General Assembly experience. He won a dramatic convention floor fight earlier this month and describes himself as a “Christian nationalist.”

Goodin, who resigned last week after serving more than two years as state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development, also calls himself a “man of faith,” but he remembers what his preacher grandfather used to tell him: “He says, ‘Terry, when you go through life, one thing you want to be aware of is beware of those folks who wear their religion on their sleeve rather than in their heart.’”

Goodin continues, “There is no similarity between Micah Beckwith and Terry Goodin when it comes to the lieutenant governor position. Terry Goodin checks all of the boxes ….”

Which are?

“Agriculture, jobs, education, human rights, individual rights and personal freedom,” he said. “Terry Goodin says every person in this world is worthy and has the same respect and the same rights as everybody else. I looked the whole world in the eye on Thursday and told them: ‘I made a mistake. I was wrong. I voted the wrong way and I want to make it right.’”

That was in reference to his introductory press conference and his acknowledgement of the same-sex marriage bill vote, where in 2011 he was aligned on that issue more with President Obama than Vice President Joe Biden.

“Micah Beckwith still thinks he’s right,” Goodin said. “People in Indiana, we’re pragmatic. Farmers are known to be practical and pragmatic. That’s Indiana. Micah Beckwith is not pragmatic. He’s a radical.”

Goodin plans to differentiate himself from Beckwith on rural policy issues.

“If we’re going to look at qualifications, I’m going to hand you my resume,” he said. “I’m the only person in this race that has experience in the rural area. I’m a farmer, I grew up on a farm, I know farmers. I know what it takes to succeed on a farm. I’m also an individual who has worked two years at USDA and my main task in that role was rural development and rural housing.”

I asked him why rural Democrats have been in such a historic retreat.

“Somehow, some way the Republican Party has hijacked farmers and rural America,” the 57-year-old Goodin said. “We’ve got to let them know that it’s the Democratic Party that stands behind farmers. We’re the ones who think you should be able to earn a living wage. We’re the ones who think we should do away with personal property taxes you have to pay on your 20-year-old tractor every year. I don’t think anyone can argue that under this current legislative control — that’s gone on for two decades — that property taxes are the highest they’ve ever been. All you gotta do is take a look at your tax bill.”

And he points to the state’s billion-dollar rural broadband expansion that comes from funding from … the Biden administration. “It’s a complete failure in our state to say that there are still places in our great state that still have dial-up internet,” Goodin said. “That’s uncalled for. It’s 2024.”

Brian Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs, where this column was previously published. Find Howey on Facebook and X @hwypol. Send comments to [email protected].

Brian Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs, where this column was previously published. Find Howey on Facebook and X @hwypol. Send comments to [email protected].