By J SWYGART
Mike Snyder may have been a last-minute filer as a candidate for Indiana’s 79th House district seat, but the decision to make his first foray into the world of elected politics was not a rush to judgement. In fact, it was a decision that was some 25 years in the making.
Snyder, a Democrat, filed the necessary paperwork with the Indiana Secretary of State’s office on Feb. 9 to launch his candidacy for the House seat currently held by Berne Republican Matt Lehman.
The two have crossed paths more than occasionally over the past several months, most notably at a pair of town hall meetings hosted in Decatur by Lehman and State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle. The primary subject matter during each of those meetings was Right-To-Work legislation pending at the time — and since approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels — that prevents companies and labor unions from including in their contracts any provision which requires non-union members to pay fees or dues.
Indiana Republicans, including Lehman and Holdman, took the view that legislation to make Indiana the 23rd state in the union to embrace Right-To-Work laws would promote job growth. Representatives of organized labor, including Snyder, saw the measure as little more than an attempt to weaken labor unions across the state.
Snyder, a lifelong resident of Decatur, knows a thing or two about labor unions. He’s worked at the Bunge North American soybean processing plant here (formerly Central Soya) for 35 years. And for the past 18 years — interrupted only by a brief stint when he returned to college to earn a bachelor’s degree in labor studies — he has served as president of United Steelworkers Local 15173, which represents Bunge employees.
He has also worked behind the scenes on various political campaigns, from presidential to local races, for the past two decades, and spent a three-month internship in Washington, D.C. with the United Steelworkers to learn the ins and outs of how the political process works.
While the recent Right-To-Work debate may have provided the impetus for Snyder to launch his campaign, it was hardly the only reason for his candidacy.
“No, I’m not a single-issue candidate,” Snyder said earlier this week. “To get all worked up over just one issue is not the right way to go about things.”
Instead, said Snyder, “It’s just the right time for me. My kids are grown, I have six grandkids, and my decision came about over the past five or six months. I talked to a lot of people in and around politics, and discussed this (campaign) with my family. They’ve given me a great deal of support.”
Snyder does have a goal as he embarks on his first campaign for public office, and it has only tenuous roots in the Right-To-Work debate.
“We need to bring the Statehouse back to the people,” Snyder said. “Right now it’s a circus in Indianapolis; the Statehouse is beginning to remind you of Washington, D.C. I know this is a heavily Republican area, but a lot of people — Republicans included — are not happy with what’s going on down there. People are fed up. I just want to bring some civility and common sense to Indianapolis.”
While he believes Hoosiers largely were denied an important voice during the Right-To-Work debate, Snyder has yet to take an official stand on other issues facing Indiana lawmakers.
“I’m just starting to break down the issues,” he said. “I will take my time, do the research and form an opinion and speak my mind when the time comes.”
Would the Decatur union leader make an effective lawmaker? It’s far to early to tell. Only when the details of his candidacy emerge will that answer come more into focus.
Can Snyder overcome an overwhelming Republican majority in the 79th House district to win this election? Under normal circumstances, probably not. But the Right-To-Work legislation, and the manner in which it was handled, did indeed hit a nerve with a lot of Hoosiers. If there is a negative carry-over effect to the RTW controversy — as has been witnessed in Wisconsin and Ohio, two states where attempts to weaken organized labor riled the populace — Snyder could wind up being in the right place at the right time. He’s waited years for this opportunity. He’s done his due diligence. But still, there’s much that remains to be done between now and November.
The writer is the opinion page editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat.