Becky Skillman is not known outside of her home state, but is destined to be one of the high profile 2012 candidates when Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) retires because of term limits. As his running mate in 2004, Skillman became the state’s first elected female Lieutenant Governor. Skillman previously served in the State Senate for 12 years where she was Chairman of the Republican Caucus.
Skillman is expected to have Daniels’ endorsement, but is certain to have a difficult battle in the general election with former Governor and retiring U.S. Senator Evan Bayh (D). Bayh occupied the Governor’s Mansion from 1988 to 1996, and was easily elected to the Senate in 1998. He was Chairman of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council for four years. Bayh says he prefers an executive job to being a lawmaker. The departing Senator may announce his gubernatorial candidacy as early as January, and Congressman Baron Hill and Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel are not expected to challenge him in a primary. Bayh has transferred over $1 million to efforts to assist the 2010 Democratic Senatorial campaign, and already has a huge cash advantage for the next gubernatorial contest.
Her biggest asset is the record of the Daniels/Skillman administration. They led the state to its first balanced budget in eight years and, without a tax increase, turned the $600 million deficit they inherited into a $300 million surplus in a single year. They used this surplus to repay hundreds of millions of dollars the state had borrowed from Indiana’s public schools during the 16 years Democrats held the Governor’s office. They can claim success in moving people from welfare to work, achieving high academic standards, creating jobs, being tough on crime, and improving environmental quality.
Senators Bayh and Obama campaigned together in 2008, and the Hoosier was a top finalist in the vice presidential selection. Indiana is crucial to 2012 GOP hopes, and a Republican will not be elected president without carrying the state. In 2008, Obama won all the Big 10 Midwest states. He carried Indiana and North Carolina by one percent, and the GOP lost both states because of the Libertarian Party. 2008 was the first time since 1964 that a Democratic presidential candidate carried Indiana.
The Skillman – Bayh gubernatorial race will bring national media attention to Indiana, and at the same time Senator Richard Lugar (R) will be seeking his 7th term. Skillman has an excellent working relationship with Daniels, who often places his deputy in the limelight. At numerous high profile events the Governor has let her have the staring role and TV exposure.
Skillman is by far the nation’s most powerful Lt. Governor, and manages five state agencies which administer nearly $1 billion in programs. She is also President of the Indiana State Senate and the Governor gives her credit for successfully orchestrating passage of his top priorities such as the property tax cap and the Healthy Indiana Plan.The dozen years she spent in the State Senate have helped her advocacy of the Daniels agenda. Another key to Skillman’s success is that her best friend is Connie Lawson, 61. They were both county clerks and served together for eight years in the Senate. For the past four years Lawson has been the Majority Leader, and is the first women to hold that position.
While Skillman and Lawson are obviously serious professionals, neither of them has a college degree. Skillman turns 60 this month and on Monday announced she had just received a two year Associates Degree from Indiana Wesleyan University. She is taking the fall semester off in order to campaign for other candidates, but will be returning to school in the Spring semester to work on her bachelor’s degree. She says “The world has changed since I was a young woman. Back then a high school diploma was enough for a good job. That is no longer true, and I am emphasizing that in speaking to all student groups.”
Similar to the rest of the nation, 2010 appears to be an excellent year for Indiana Republicans. Former Senator Dan Coats (R) is trying to reclaim his old job and has a significant lead over Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D). The GOP is also mounting serious challenges to Democratic Congressmen Baron Hill and Joe Donnelly, and for the seat Ellsworth is vacating. Skillman’s special focus is on the General Assembly where Democrats have a 52 to 48 majority, and the Lt. Governor believes the GOP will take back control in November. She now has far more speaking invitations than she could possibly accept, and Indiana Republicans realize she is the heir apparent. They are determined to stop the return of what they call “the deficit spending Democrats.” As one pundit noted, “Republicans must keep Indiana, and Becky Skillman is next.”