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May 13, 2013

HOWEY: The shrewd Doc Bowen and the issue of our time

INDIANAPOLIS —

Perhaps the most inspiring part of Doc Bowen’s legacy is that between 1946 and 1972 he delivered 3,000 Hoosier babies when he was the small-town family physician in Bremen. The future Indiana governor would say that having his hands on so many emerging lives taught him “how to approach emergencies and problems with a certain amount of calmness and common sense.”

Bowen’s political career as Marshall County coroner, state representative, Speaker of the House, Indiana governor and then U.S. Health and Human Services secretary gave an array of portals for him to impact these lives, from the delivery room to the morgue. His political and subsequent policy reach, however, brought tax relief to 6 million Hoosiers, and as the capstone of his career, what he believed would be catastrophic health insurance for millions of Americans.

It was, as Doc Bowen put it, his “greatest accomplishment” and worth pondering one more time in the wake of his passing at age 95 on May 4.

Bowen was no stranger to political adversity. First elected to the Indiana House in 1956, he was defeated for re-election by four votes, and refused a recount because he trusted local officials and didn’t want to be seen as a “crybaby.” A 92-year-old supporter died the day before and her large family didn’t make it to the polls. Bowen regained his seat in 1960, became minority floor leader in 1964 after the LBJ Democratic landslide, shepherding a caucus of just 22 Republicans. 

In the political fallout of Vietnam, House Republicans ended up with 66 seats in 1966, setting up the Nov. 28 showdown at the Claypool Hotel between Bowen and State Rep. Bill Howard of Noblesville, who was backed by Marion County Republican Chairman L. Keith Bulen. On the first ballot, the two men were tied at 33 apiece. 

On the second ballot, Bowen won, with speculation that Reps. Ray Crowe and Charles Bosma were the ones to shift votes. Current House Speaker Brian Bosma confirmed that his father broke the tie.  “Doc and Charlie spoke of that vote on many occasions, with my Dad saying it was one of the hardest and best votes he ever cast,” Bosma said. His father would later cast a crucial vote as a senator for the property tax reforms.

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