News and Tribune

December 9, 2013

Lugar: Politics too divisive, not inviting

Former senator is saddened by young people’s lack of interest in seeking public office

(Bloomington) Herald-Times

— Richard Lugar may have spent more than three decades representing Indiana in the U.S. Senate, but his first forays into politics during high school were much less successful.

Lugar was passed over for class representative his junior and senior years of high school, and although he was a member of the debate team, someone else was eventually chosen to give the senior speech.

“O for three,” he said, describing his early student campaigns.

Lugar reminisced about his political life at a dinner hosted by the Monroe County Republicans in his honor Saturday at the Boys and Girls Club. He represented Indiana in the U.S. Senate from 1977 to 2013. He lost in the 2012 primary to Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

Politics always seemed to be in the plans for Lugar, who recalled being allowed to stay up late to listen to the Republican National Convention in 1940.

“Listening to those conventions on the radio, I could imagine traipsing across the stage, speaking to all the delegates,” he said. “Lo and behold, that happened.”

For a lifelong lover of politics, Lugar is disheartened by the lack of younger people who want to get involved in politics today.

He pointed to a recent poll by the Wall Street Journal that said only 10 percent of young people would like to be mayor, while 13 percent would like to be a member of Congress.

“This is not untypical of young people who I have visited,” Lugar said. “Government doesn’t work very well, Congress in particular is full of deficiencies; this is not something that they want to be involved in.”

The challenge for political parties today is how to draw different groups together. Looking back at his time as Indianapolis mayor, Lugar said the concept of “Unigov,” or the consolidation of city and county government, brought him the support of many different groups in the community, something that is presently lacking for many Republican candidates.

Reaching out to various groups and creating a feeling of unity instead of coming up with “schemes” on particular issues should be the focus of both candidates and the Republican Party, he said. “These are concepts that we need to somehow reinvigorate to young people.”

For Lugar’s part, his concepts have already inspired some to step into the political ring.

“For many people in this room and particularly for my family, politics began by making phone calls for Dick Lugar,” said Monroe County Republican Party Chairman Steve Hogan.

Ninth District Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind., who introduced Lugar’s speech, started his political career working in the senator’s staff. For Young, Lugar’s most important work was spending time talking with his staff and constituents, though he also pointed to the Nunn-Lugar Act, which has disarmed about 7,500 nuclear warheads, as a great achievement by the senator.

“All the accolades aside ... Sen. Lugar is a Hoosier through and through,” Young said. “I’m proud of you, Senator.”