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The Bayh Way

Sen. Evan Bayh on energy independence, the American worker and one of his most interesting issues -- fatherlessness

By JANE AMMESON

Politics

The Bayh Way

Sen. Evan Bayh on energy independence, the American worker and one of his most interesting issues -- fatherlessness

By Jane Ammeson

After eight years as governor of Indiana, Evan Bayh left the state with $1.6 billion surplus and 375,000 new jobs, without once having raised taxes. Bayh, who was elected to his second term as governor with the highest percentage of the vote in a statewide election in Indiana history -- no mean feat for a state that is traditionally red -- had an 80 percent approval rating when he left office. He was then elected twice to the U.S. Senate, the first time with 64 percent of the vote, the highest for any Democrat in state history. Weaned on politics, Bayh is the son of Birch Bayh, a Democrat who served in the Senate for 18 years. Though Bayh?s politics are more centrist than his father?s, he has the same easy affability and intense intelligence. With rumors of a possible 2008 presidential run, Bayh talked to Chicago Life about his stand on some of the issues currently facing this country.

Are there any short-term solutions to our energy crisis?

There?s no quick fix -- it will take a serious commitment from both parties to meet this challenge. Achieving energy independence is one of the greatest challenges of our generation, one that will impact everything from our national security to our economy. I recently introduced bipartisan legislation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by 2.5 million barrels in 10 years, a plan twice as aggressive as the one President Bush proposed in his State of the Union address.

What are some other environmental initiatives that will help achieve energy independence?

My energy plan includes incentives to put more hybrid cars on the road so that more Americans can drive with alternative fuels like ethanol. Indy racecars run on an ethanol blend today -- there?s no reason regular cars can?t, too. With more hybrid cars, we?ll be able to meet more of our energy needs in America?s farm fields instead of foreign oil fields.

Do you think the American worker is being protected?

Our government has just been sitting on its hands while too many workers and businesses have gotten hammered, not because they?re not smart enough or don?t work hard enough or their products aren?t good enough, but because we just turned a blind eye to some of this cheating that goes on. Americans have a right to expect more of their government than that. What we have going on right now is not free trade when other countries illegally subsidize or manipulate the values. I?m not for protectionism -- I?m for everybody playing by the same set of rules and having the rules enforced.

You?ve worked hard to introduce legislation to get armored vehicles and body armor to our forces in Iraq. Why has special legislation been necessary?

This is one of the great tragedies of Iraq. We have had brave soldiers killed and maimed for life because we sent them into battle without the appropriate equipment, and that is unconscionable. Remember the old adage, you plan for the worst and hope for the best. We planned for the best and have gotten the worst. Our government has moral obligations to do whatever it takes when we send people into battle and give them the equipment they need. It?s largely corrected now, but it?s still not what it could be or should be. Our troops have had to go through garbage dumps to find metal to weld to the underside of their vehicles.

You are working at stemming the tide of fatherlessness. What does that really mean?

You can?t legislate good fathers, but you can provide the tools and support needed to help men who want to become better dads. My responsible fatherhood initiatives will give men the job training, counseling and other support they need to support their families and become better fathers. Mothers -- especially single mothers -- have been heroic in their efforts to provide for their children, but fathers need to do their part, too.

You almost lost both your parents in a plane accident when they were accompanying Senator Ted Kennedy on a campaign trip.

The pilot and co-pilot were killed, Senator Kennedy?s back was broken, and both my parents survived. Out of five people, two were killed, and my mother had a broken tailbone. My father was able to help get the three survivors out, and it?s a blessing of God that I wasn?t orphaned that night. You learn to not take life for granted, and you also learn to not fly in small planes that don?t have two pilots and two good engines.

Published: April 01, 2006
Issue: Spring 2006