By Russ Pulliam
John Dickerson is a non-traditional U.S. Senate candidate.
Dickerson, a career advocate for the disabled, calls himself a George McGovern Democrat and talks about the joy of running for office.
In another challenge to conventional wisdom, he thinks a contest for the Democratic nomination is good for the party.
Having recently taken early retirement, Dickerson is known as the long-time executive director of the Arc of Indiana, which lobbies for people with disabilities.
Yet he’s never run for office and has low statewide name recognition. His opponent in next spring’s primary, former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill, has run for office many times and ran statewide in 1990 against then-Sen. Dan Coats, who is not seeking re-election next year.
Although on the left side of the political spectrum, Dickerson longs for the days when Democrats and Republicans had friendships across party lines. He doesn’t like the negative tone of national politics or the constant fund-raising.
He knows how to talk to conservatives without a condescending tone of moral superiority. He pays attention to fiscal limits. He wants to spend less money and spend it smartly on Medicaid. “We need to find less expensive, more flexible approaches, to make it more person-centered,” he says. “We’re locked into all these bureaucracies.”
He thinks his background in talking with so many Indiana conservatives will make him suited for a Senate nomination, in a time of deep division in Washington.
“I learn more from talking to people who disagree with me than I learn from people who agree with me,” he said. “It tests my ideas and my premises and you usually come up with a better answer.”
Most candidates first run for local office, or the state legislature, before a statewide campaign. He acknowledges that he’s jumped into deep end of the pool. Yet he won’t be in despair if he loses.
“If you only played the games you would win, life would be pretty boring,” he said.
(Pulliam is associate editor of The Star. E-mail him at Russell.Pulliam@indystar.com. Follow him on twitter at RBPulliam@twitter.com.)