Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Mike Schmuhl, center, talks with party faithful after the Steuben County Democratic Party Celebration Dinner at the Selman Timber Frame Pavilion in Commons Park on Sept. 10.

ANGOLA — Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Mike Schmuhl was in Angola on Sept. 10 as part of his approach to strengthen the party with a new strategy for strengthening already blue portions of the state and turning the red more purple.

In a speech at the Selman Timber Frame Pavilion in Commons Park, Schmuhl was ever the partisan but without the fire and brimstone one would expect from a party chair.

Instead, he spoke of strategy in a matter-of-fact fashion and outlined ideas that the man who led the South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg presidential campaign into national prominence hoped might provide a resurgence to Indiana Democrats.

“I wanted to take this year and go on the offense,” Schmuhl said of 2021 being a nonelection year.

He spoke of how the party was receiving a lot of earned media by creating a jobs tour that would promote President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan that made it to 40 of Indiana’s 92 counties, including Steuben and DeKalb.

Schmuhl said there were four keys to the party becoming stronger in Indiana, including:

• Building a year-round organizing effort and energizing the party on the local level

• Creating a war room in party headquarters in Indianapolis in order to hold Republican office holders on the state and federal level accountable on a daily basis

• Employing the best technology available to make the party more competitive

• Improving candidate recruitment

“We have to recruit great candidates at every level,” Schmuhl said. “There just needs to be more competition.”

Schmuhl said he would like to see Republicans return to a point where they were when members of both parties could work together. He said the party has drifted away from where Democrats and Republicans could come together on common goals and shared American values.

As an example, he pointed to the Indiana Legislature where extreme members of the Republican Party were fighting with Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican who once was the party’s state chair.

On a bit more fiery note, Steuben County Democratic Chair Judy Rowe challenged her members to energize for the 2022 elections on the local level. She said she would like to have candidates for every position.

“It’s really important that we compete for these seats,” said Rowe, who returned to the chair after a four-year hiatus. “There’s no accountability without competition. Let’s hold them (Republicans) accountable.”

In what was supposed to be a night focused on the accomplishments of the late Mayor Bill Selman — his family could not attend due to prior commitments — Angola Mayor Dick Hickman led a tribute of the mayor who died while in office in February 2001.

“We should have been talking about Bill Selman much before this,” Hickman admitted. “Bill loved his community and he gave everything that he had.”

Hickman went through a number of anecdotes about Selman hand picking him as his replacement when he knew his days were numbered due to a second battle with cancer. Hickman talked about how Selman had moved weekly department head meetings from City Hall to his home and he would attend.

Hickman recalled how Selman had told him, after he agreed to run to replace him in a caucus after his passing, that if he landed the job, he would probably visit him at Circle Hill Cemetery to yell at him for convincing him to take the job. Hickman said that thought has crossed his mind, but he’s been too busy to do it.

“I did not replace Mayor Selman. You don’t replace Mayor Selman, you just fill his slot,” Hickman said.

Selman was the first Democrat to win election to the mayor’s office since the 1920s, becoming the second Democrat to fill the seat. He was first elected to office in 1991 and served until his death, in the second year of his third term. Hickman has been in the seat for five terms, a record for anyone from either party.

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