O'Bannon recommends former secretary of state to lead state Democratic Party

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Indianapolis, Feb. 18 (AP) - Gov. Frank O'Bannon recommended Monday that former Secretary of State Joe Hogsett be named the new chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party.

The governor consulted with party leaders, including high-ranking party officials and contributors, before offering his recommendation.

"Joe Hogsett is a driven and capable leader who has generously agreed to lead our party," O'Bannon said. "I am confident that Joe has the combination of talent, intelligence and savvy to lead our party to success in the important elections this year and next."

Hogsett said he was honored to receive the recommendation. His immediate priority will be to recruit and support candidates for city offices throughout the state. Then, he said, his efforts will turn to the 2004 governor's race.

O'Bannon has said he wanted any new chairman to remain neutral on the party's nomination for governor next year. State Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, and former state and national Democratic Chairman Joe Andrew are seeking the nomination.

Hogsett said he will honor the governor's wishes and avoid supporting one candidate over another. While he would prefer the party avoid a contested primary, he said, "Primaries are an important part of the process. Ultimately, and fundamentally, that's why we have elections, to give voters choices."

The search for a new chairman began after Peter Manous resigned last week amid reports of a federal investigation into a northwestern Indiana land deal in which he was involved. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Hogsett, 46, is an attorney at the Indianapolis law firm of Bingham McHale.

Committee members will vote Thursday to confirm O'Bannon's selection during a caucus at party headquarters in Indianapolis.

"We're in the middle of a very important legislative session, as well as gearing up for municipal elections across the state, so we thought it was important to move quickly, but decisively," said Mary Lou Terrell, acting chairwoman and vice chairwoman of the party.

Hogsett succeeded Evan Bayh as secretary of state in 1989 after Bayh was elected governor. Hogsett won a political upset in 1990 when he defeated Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut to win a full four-year term.

Hogsett's later runs for office were not successful, losing a race for U.S. senate in 1992 to Dan Coats and a 1994 congressional campaign to David McIntosh.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)