Rep. Julia Carson (D-Ind.) was a force to be reckoned with in her district.
The six-term Congresswoman died Saturday morning in her Indianapolis home just weeks after announcing that she had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. She was 69.
The first black Member of Congress to represent the largest city in the state, Carson’s legacy lives on in her district and in Washington, D.C. And her lingering political power could benefit her grandson should he choose to run for the vacant Congressional seat.
“There are no words eloquent or beautiful enough to describe Julia Carson and her legacy of service to this state and community,” said Indiana State Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker. “Julia fought for those with no voice. She fought for those who had lost hope in the system. She fought for and never lost sight of what she believed in.”
Carson’s death leaves a void to be filled in state Democratic politics and a very large field of candidates seeking to follow in her footsteps. However, a fast-approaching special election could benefit some candidates over others — particularly the late Congresswoman’s grandson, Andre Carson.
According to the Indiana secretary of state’s office, the governor must announce a date for the special election at least 60 days after certification of Carson’s vacancy has been filed with
the state. Within 30 days of this filing, state party chairmen must schedule and hold votes in their respective caucuses to select the nominees for the special election.
Andre Carson is the most often mentioned candidate for the 7th district seat. The late Congresswoman’s protégé, who frequently appeared as a surrogate in the district for his grandmother, recently started his first full term on the Indianapolis City-County Council. However, the junior Carson’s detractors say his lack of political experience makes him underqualified.
At least three Democratic state lawmakers are looking into the race: state Reps. Carolene Mays, Greg Porter and David Orentlicher were all said by Democratic operatives to be looking into running. Former state party Chairman Robin Winston is also looking at the race.
Former state Health Commissioner Woody Myers is interested and is willing to put his own funds into the race.
Outgoing City-County Councilor At Large Ron Gibson (D), who lost re-election in November, is said to be looking at running, along with the only At-Large City-County councilor to win re-election in November, Joanne Sanders. Marion County Treasurer Michael Rodman (D) has been planning his bid since Carson announced her retirement in late November.
Such a crowded field on the Democratic side is only further complicated by the Marion County Democratic Party’s slating convention, the process by which the county backs a candidate for the regular 2008 primary.
The slating convention, scheduled for Feb. 16, brings more than 900 chairmen and vice chairmen from roughly 600 precincts in the district to anonymously vote for their preferred Democratic nominee. The winner gets party support and publicity in the primary and almost always wins the partisan contest.
To further complicate the process, though unlikely, the traditional slating convention could be canceled by the party in lieu of the upcoming precinct caucuses, which will decide the nominee for the special election. Only precinct chairmen vote in these caucuses, which decide a party nominee.
Carson had very good relationships with these caucus chairmen, which could bode well for her grandson’s chances to win the nomination, according to a Democratic source. The same source noted that current state lawmakers Mays, Porter and Orentlicher also have strong relationships with precinct caucus chairmen.
For the Republicans, state Rep. Jon Elrod entered the race before the Congresswoman announced. Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi’s name also has been circulated as a possible Republican candidate.
Although the district typically votes Democratic, the recent defeat of Carson ally and Democratic Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson to a less well-funded, little-known Republican opponent has given Republicans hope of taking the urban district.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Carson’s colleagues mourned her loss in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hailed Carson for her “decades of distinguished service.”
“Congresswoman Carson led the charge to honor Rosa Parks with the Congressional Gold Medal,” Pelosi said in a statement. “It was a fitting cause for her, as Julia Carson and Rosa Parks shared a quiet determination, a fierce sense of purpose, and a total commitment to the ideal equality, which is our nation’s heritage and hope.”
Carson’s funeral is set for Saturday morning at the state Capitol, where Carson served in the Legislature for almost two decades prior to being elected to Congress.