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September 16, 2013

HOWEY: Atop the dome with Frank O’Bannon

INDIANAPOLIS — May 27, 1997. It seems like an innocuous date today, but in reality it was the high point in the executive career of Gov. Frank O'Bannon.

This was the day the Indiana General Assembly reconvened in a special session, the fifth of the previous decade. It found the two 1996 gubernatorial opponents — O'Bannon and Republican Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith — tag teaming and speaking to House and Senate caucuses of the other party to forge an epic deal.

When the dust settled, the package had been hammered out on the new NBA arena for the Indiana Pacers and $30 million in extensive renovations for the Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome. Both teams were threatening to leave the state, and within days of the final gavel there was an announcement that the NCAA was moving its national headquarters to the White River State Park, that there would be an 18 percent increase in worker’s compensation benefits, and a cut in the inheritance tax.

Frank O'Bannon has been gone for a decade now, stricken by a stroke at a Midwest-Japan trade meeting in Chicago and passing away on Sept. 13, 2003. Ten years passing is a good time to reassess the legacy of a governor and several things stand out when it comes to this gentleman from Corydon.

Scan the Indianapolis skyline and there stands Banker's Life Fieldhouse, home of the Pacers, and the NCAA Headquarters at White River State Park, which enhanced the sports-oriented economy of our capital city. A few blocks away is the Indiana State Museum, an interactive venue that celebrates each of our 92 counties and the legions of Hoosiers who emancipated slavery, helped invent the automobile, television, 2 percent milk and the Bloody Mary (yes, a Hoosier figured out tomato juice).

Even more important is Ivy Tech, which Gov. O'Bannon fashioned from an educational backwater and transformed it into the state's community college system, with more than two dozen campuses bringing higher education at low cost to some 130,000 students.

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