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Former Sen. Birch Bayh calls young people to service
Featured speaker at second annual O'Bannon Institute examines politics old and new
by Steve Hinnefeld, Herald-Times Staff Writer
April 30, 2005

Former Sen. Birch Bayh recalled old political battles with relish and commented on current ones Friday in front of about 200 people at Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington.

He encouraged students and young people to put their abilities to use in politics and civic life, a theme of Ivy Tech's O'Bannon Institute for Community Service.

"I think young people want to believe they can make a difference," he said. "God help us if a generation of young people come along that don't think they can make a difference."

Bayh, a Democrat who represented Indiana in the U.S. Senate from 1963 to 1981, was the featured speaker for the second annual O'Bannon Institute.

Named for former Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon, it included two days of panel discussions on student activism, volunteerism and leadership and a "community connections" fair.

Bayh, in a conversation with newsman and professor Ken Bode, told folksy tales about growing up in Shirkieville, serving in the state Legislature and the Senate and running for the Democratic nomination for president in 1976. Asked about the presidential prospects of his son, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, he recalled his own motivation for mounting what he thought would be a campaign against Richard Nixon during the Vietnam War.

"I thought I could speak to the young people who were concerned about Vietnam and the hard hats who were concerned about making a living," he said.

Joking that his son is more serious and more conservative than he is, Bayh said he's sure Evan is weighing the pros and cons of running. "I think he's giving that serious consideration," he said.

Bayh lamented the partisanship he sees in present-day politics and took a swipe at the billboard campaign that helped oust former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., from office last fall. Hill was in the audience.

"I've seen a lot of campaigns, and I've never seen one more irresponsible, more negative and more flat-out immoral," he said.

He said Senate Republicans will be making a mistake if they change the rules to prevent Democratic filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees. The Constitution gives the Senate the role of slowing legislation and appointments to prevent mistakes, he said.

Bayh shed his jacket during the talk, and he rose to his feet when of the Ivy Tech College Democrats president Megan Trusnik asked him for advice on getting involved in politics.

"I'm going to get very emotional now," he said.

He told how, as a 30-year-old speaker of the Indiana House, he and fellow Democrats got a Republican governor and Senate to agree to landmark school-reform legislation. Then he recalled the Senate battle that he helped lead against confirming Nixon appointee Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court.

He said seven Yale law students studied every decision Carswell wrote and found mediocre reasoning and a pattern of racial bias.

"We got 51 members of the United States Senate to stand up and say, 'No sir, Mr. President, send us another justice,'" he said.

Reporter Steve Hinnefeld can be reached at 331-4374 or by e-mail at shinnefeld@heraldt.com.


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