Hundreds Gather at Statehouse to Honor Birch Bayh

Posted on: May 2, 2019, by :

By Jeff Turner

More than three hundred people, most of them Hoosiers, gathered in the South Atrium of the Indiana Statehouse Wednesday afternoon to attend a memorial service for the late former Senator Birch Bayh. Bayh died on March 14th at the age of ninety-one. He is best known for his role in authoring “Title IX,” the law that banned gender discrimination in education. He was also a key figure in the drafting of the 25th and 26th amendments, the former dealing with allowing the President to nominate a Vice President and stipulations for removing a sitting President from office, the latter lowering the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen.

Born in Terre Haute, Indiana and a graduate of Purdue University, Bayh served for ten years in the Indiana House of Representatives, quickly ascending to the position of House Speaker. He then served three terms in the U.S. Senate from 1962 up until 1980, when he was defeated by future Vice President Dan Quayle.

“I started out as a volunteer for Birch Bayh in Muncie…worked for Larry Conrad, the Secretary of State,” said one man who attended the service, who asked to remain anonymous. “Birch would come into campaign headquarters in Muncie, I knew him and he knew me… In the pantheon of defenders of the Republic, he was right up there.”

A great many people who worked on previous campaigns for the late Senator were in attendance, and were recognized during the service. Also present were several notable Indiana political figures, many of whom delivered remarks.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, called Bayh a “modern day founding father.”

Former Indiana Representative Baron Hill of Indiana’s ninth district, a Democrat, said of Bayh that he “wrote more of the U.S. Constitution than anyone since James Madison.”

His bipartisan nature, his willingness to reach across the aisle, was a common theme present in the remarks of all those who spoke. That same bipartisan spirit has also been used to describe former Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, who died Sunday. The close friendship between the two men of differing political parties was also referenced, a moment of silence even held for Lugar at the beginning of the service.

Bayh was the last living Senator to have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a fact referenced by U.S. Representative Andre Carson of Indiana’s seventh district when he spoke. Carson described Bayh as “a white man from a state that was once the epicenter of the Ku Klux Klan who” fought against discrimination “with every fiber of his being.”

Purdue university President and former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels called Bayh a “person of principle,” whose “empathy was authentic.” Each of Bayh’s three Senate victories were by “razor sharp margins,” Daniels noted, namely because Bayh didn’t tailor himself in the mold of other politicians and was “a doer.”

Bayh’s son Evan also spoke at the service. A former Indiana Attorney General, two term Governor, and two term Senator occupying the same seat his late father once did until stepping down in 2010 (he ran again in 2016, only to be defeated by Republican Todd Young, who also attended the service), he commented on the passing of both his father and of Richard Lugar, calling it “the end of an era,” how both men’s willingness to “work across the aisle to get things done” appeared to be nonexistent today due to a highly polarized electorate and the hyper-partisan makeup of Congress. He went on to call his father “a relic, a man out of his time…not a strident partisan,” though meant this in a way intending to cast him in a more positive light than many of the partisans who dominate Washington today.

The message of the service was clearly not just to honor the memory of Birch Bayh, but to also call attention to advocating for a return to the bipartisan spirit led to him, as well as the late Richard Lugar, being regarded as such a great statesman. But will Hoosier voters take note and elect individuals who embody that bipartisan spirit in future elections? Only time will tell.

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