Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

July 9, 2013

MAUREEN HAYDEN: Despite 6-year term, Donnelly travels Ind.

Senator won't make mistake Lugar did

On a recent night, I was with two of my favorite family members in a hospitality suite at the sold-out Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., enjoying the Rolling Stones in their final concert of their 50 & Counting North American tour.

What was Joe Donnelly, the junior senator from Indiana, doing that evening? Calling it an early night after microwaving himself a frozen Lean Cuisine dinner. He’d flown in from Indiana that morning, after his routine weekly trip to his home state.

The night before that, Donnelly was in the small Indiana town of La Paz, population of 561, greeting about 75 people as they worked their way through the buffet line at the annual Marshall County Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. As he shook hands with Democratic loyalists, they bended his ear about Obamacare, the stalled farm bill and immigration reform.

Earlier last week, Donnelly launched his fifth state tour since taking office in January. Typical of his other tours, he crisscrossed the state, hosting meetings at a bakery, a bar and grill, an elementary school, and the office of an IHOP restaurant’s franchise owner.

Those are the kinds of places where Donnelly spends a lot of time on his frequent trips back home. His staff has come to expect a flood of phone calls and emails when they come to work on Monday mornings; that’s because their boss often tells people he meets: If you need something, call my office.

Those calls, emails and letters come in the “tens of thousands,” according to his press staff. That doesn’t include the constituent services caseload, which are specific requests from people back home who need help resolving a problem with a federal agency. His staff has about 900 cases they’ve closed or are working on.

Donnelly is not up for re-election until 2018, so you’d think he could take a bit of a break. But he’s also a Democrat in a Republican state who wasn’t supposed to win, which is why if you Google his name, you may see the words “accidental senator” in news stories about him.

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