Rep. Baron Hill (D)
Indiana 9th District
The southeastern corner of Indiana swelled with new settlers in the early 19th century as Southerners, or “Butternuts,” came across the Ohio River from Kentucky or over the mountains from Virginia. They built the first large Indiana settlements. Today, you can see their work in the marvelous old buildings of Madison, now a quiet hamlet but once one of the busiest ports on the river. Its landmark Broadway Fountain first appeared at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. It arrived in Madison in 1886, thanks to the Independent Order of Oddfellows, which had purchased it after the exposition. Farther down the river is Corydon, which was the state capital from 1816 to 1825. Its early 19th-century buildings are well preserved. These small towns were bypassed first by the railroads, then by U.S. routes and interstate highways, and they are remote from today’s major airports. The river remains an artery of commerce, although utilitarian barges have replaced all of the old steamers, except for riverboat casinos.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Butternut Indiana retained its affection for things Southern into the Civil War and beyond. In 1851, the state denied blacks the right to vote or serve in the militia. In 1862, the U.S. Senate expelled local politician Jesse Bright for “supporting the rebellion.” The people who live in the hills along the Ohio River have typically voted Democratic, but the Clark County suburbs of Louisville have trended Republican. This part of Indiana is now filling up with migrants from Cincinnati, which was a Yankee and German abolitionist bastion in Bright’s time but is an overwhelmingly Republican stronghold in ours.
The 9th Congressional District of Indiana comprises most of the state’s Ohio River counties. It includes tiny Milan, home to the championship high school of Hoosiers movie fame, and Indiana University in Democratic-leaning Bloomington, the largest city in the district. To the east of Milan is Batesville, home of the Batesville Casket Co., which makes the coffins for U.S. military personnel who die in the line of duty. To the west of Batesville is French Lick, a former rural resort town, well known to basketball fans as the hometown of former Boston Celtics star Larry Bird. Most of the district is culturally conservative, but the area is highly competitive politically, both in local and national elections. George W. Bush won this district 59%-40% in 2004, but John McCain won it by the much narrower margin of 50%-48.5%. Barack Obama won Monroe County and Bloomington 66%-33%.
Rep. Baron Hill (D)
Elected: 2006, 5th term.
Born: June 23, 1953, Seymour .
Education: Furman U., B.A. 1975.
Family: Married (Betty); 3 children.
Elected office: IN House of Reps., 1982-90; U.S. House of Reps., 1998-2004.
Professional Career: The Hill Agency (insurance), 1975-90; Exec. dir., IN Student Assistance Comm., 1990-94; Financial analyst, Merrill Lynch, 1994-98; Sr. advisor, mCapitol Management, 2005-06.
The congressman from the 9th District is Baron Hill, a Democrat first elected in 1998. He served three terms before losing the seat in 2004, only to regain it from Republican Mike Sodrel in 2006. Hill is the youngest of seven children. His parents worked in a shoe factory in Seymour. Seymour is the birthplace of John Mellencamp and the subject of his song Small Town. Hill, who was a basketball standout in high school and later at Furman University, was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame alongside Larry Bird in 2000. Hill returned home after college to join his family’s insurance business and eventually served four terms in the state House. In 1990, he ran against U.S. Sen. Dan Coats and, despite a huge money disadvantage, held the Republican incumbent to a 54%-46% win. Then-Democratic Gov. Evan Bayh appointed Hill to head the state student assistance agency. In 1998, he won a competitive contest to replace Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, who had served in the House for 34 years and chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee.
|Baron Hill (D)||181,281||(58%)||($2,185,740)|
|Michael Sodrel (R)||120,529||(38%)||($1,045,379)|
|D. Eric Schansberg (Lib)||11,994||(4%)||($35,565)|
|Baron Hill (D)||99,332||(68%)|
|Gretchen Clearwater (D)||23,157||(16%)|
|John Bottorff (D)||18,963||(13%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (50%), 2002 (51%), 2000 (54%), 1998 (51%)
Hill got off to a strong start. He joined the Blue Dog Coalition of moderate and conservative Democrats, the leadership made him a chief deputy whip, and he won a seat on the Agriculture Committee—an important posting for his district. In 2002, bus-company owner Sodrel spent more than $1 million of his own money to challenge Hill. But Hill won 51%-46%. Two years later, Sodrel returned for a rematch and this time defeated Hill by 1,425 votes in a campaign that centered on social issues such as gay marriage, abortion rights, and flag-burning. The National Republican Congressional Committee spent more than $1 million on ads against Hill, and top GOP leaders visited the district numerous times on Sodrel’s behalf. On the coattails of President Bush, who carried the district with 59% that year, Sodrel won.
In 2006, a strong Democratic year, Sodrel’s party affiliation worked against him. Bush, the Republican-controlled Congress, and Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels were far less popular than they were in 2004, and Democrats portrayed Sodrel as a drone for the Bush administration. Sodrel tried to counter by attacking Hill as a career politician who had become a Washington lobbyist. Hill insisted that he did consulting for local businesses and was not a lobbyist. Illegal immigration loomed large during the campaign, as did social issues such as same-sex marriage, but Hill left little daylight between his and Sodrel’s positions on those matters. In early October, Hill put Sodrel on the defensive by linking him to the House GOP leaders who had failed to act quickly to punish Rep. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican who had sent sexually explicit e-mails to former congressional pages. Hill called himself “a family man with deep religious convictions,” and he ran an ad opposing gay marriage. Hill won his third match with Sodrel, 50%-45%, with a margin of 9,985 votes. His big advantage was in Bloomington-based Monroe County, where he won 63%-32%, with a lead of nearly 8,000 votes.
Since 2007, Hill’s voting record has put him almost precisely at the center of the House ideologically. He became policy co-chairman of the Blue Dog Democrats in 2009. In 2007, he won a seat on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee, where he wanted to target increased use of ethanol and biodiesel fuels and incentives for hybrid vehicles. But automaking is big business in Indiana, and Hill opposed sharply raising fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. Instead, he worked closely with the auto industry to limit the proposal. He and Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., sponsored a bill to set a 35-mile-per-gallon requirement for passenger cars by 2022. The industry and committee Chairman John Dingell, a Detroit-area Democrat, backed their bill. Congress ultimately enacted legislation setting that goal for all vehicles, but moved up the deadline to 2020.
Under pressure from party leaders, Hill voted in October 2007 to override President Bush’s veto of expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program; he initially voted against the bill because it raised cigarette taxes. In June 2008, Hill sponsored a bill to close loopholes in regulations for commodities, including gasoline. He voted against the bailout of the financial industry in the fall of 2008 because, he said, the legislation did not hold accountable the people responsible for the collapse of banks and other financial institutions. He later voted for the bailout of the Big Three automakers because of its impact on jobs in Indiana.
Hill and Sodrel faced each other once again in 2008, but the outcome was not nearly as close this time. Sodrel spent less than half of his 2006 total, and he had little national party help. He sought to hold Hill accountable for his 2006 campaign promises to spur the economy and reduce gas prices. Hill played up his independence in the House. He won 58%-38% and took 18 of the district’s 20 counties.