(SOUTH BEND, Ind.) — Friends and rivals of former Governor Joe Kernan are remembering the “exuberant joy” with which he approached two decades of public service.
Purdue president Mitch Daniels, who unseated Kernan in the 2004 election, calls the former Vietnam POW “a true leader” who “embodied patriotism and the goodwill toward all we associate with the word ‘Hoosier.'”
Daniels tapped his predecessor to co-chair a blue-ribbon commission to recommend reforms to local
government. He says Kernan was an ally, an opponent and an advisor at different times, but always a friend to him and everyone else he met.
Former House Speaker Patrick Bauer went to high school with Kernan in South Bend. He says Kernan’s relentlessly positive approach was all the more remarkable given his Vietnam experience. Bauer says Kernan’s constant smile and ability to win people over carried over to politics, especially as Frank O’Bannon’s lieutenant governor. He says it made him an effective salesman for O’Bannon’s policies in the legislature.
Kathy Davis served in the O’Bannon administration with Kernan. When O’Bannon’s death made Kernan governor in 2003, he picked Davis as his lieutenant governor — at the time, the first woman to hold the job. In the 17 years since, a woman has held the post for all but 10 months, when Eric Holcomb was appointed to the job before winning the governorship. Davis says Kernan’s “boundless energy” allowed him to bring out the best in people, whether members of his administration or his fellow prisoners in Vietnam, where Kernan invented games to keep their minds off their situation.
Holcomb says Kernan was “a bona fide American hero” who “devoted every ounce of his life, time and again, to upholding the oath he took, and serving the country and state he loved.”
Former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who became mayor of South Bend 16 years after Kernan held the job, says Kernan’s friends will always remember his “exuberant joy (and) his compassion for the vulnerable.” Vice President and former Governor Mike Pence says Kernan provided “a steady hand of leadership at a difficult time for our state,” and was always ready to work together to make the state better.
Daniels adds Kernan represents a cautionary counterexample in a polarized time, writing, “Those among us so ready to bear malice against those with whom they differ,and either so ignorant or so ungrateful that they disdain those whose sacrifices gave them the freedom to express their views, should pause and consider the life and character of Joe Kernan.”