- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Frank O’Bannon, who parlayed down-home southern Indiana charm and a consensus-building ability into mixed success as governor since 1997, died yesterday, five days after suffering a stroke. He was 73.

Mr. O’Bannon fell ill Monday while attending a conference in Chicago. He died at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, press secretary Mary Dieter said.

Mr. O’Bannon died at 11:33 a.m. yesterday, a statement from his press office said.

“The governor experienced a drop in both blood pressure and heart rate. Based on the governor’s living will, first lady Judy O’Bannon and the family decided to use no further means of support and care and the governor died naturally,” the statement said.

Although he suffered a genetic condition that gave him tremors, Mr. O’Bannon’s most recent physical had not turned up any medical concerns, Miss Dieter said.

Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan has been serving as acting governor since Wednesday.

The last governor to die in office was Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, who was killed in a plane crash in October 2000 while campaigning for the U.S. Senate.

Mr. O’Bannon’s tenure began brightly with the economic boom of the late 1990s. Indiana built a record $2 billion surplus, and Mr. O’Bannon cut taxes by $1.5 billion, put 500 more police officers on the streets, and won increasing funding for schools and universities. The moderate Democrat coasted to re-election in 2000 over former U.S. Rep. David McIntosh.

Shortly into his second term, the economic good times soured into a recession. Indiana lost 120,000 jobs, and tax revenues flowing into state coffers slowed to a trickle, forcing tax increases and cuts in social services and other agencies while largely sparing education.

Republicans blamed Mr. O’Bannon for only recently focusing on economic development.

Sen. Evan Bayh, who was governor when Mr. O’Bannon was lieutenant governor, hailed him after he fell ill Monday as “a good man and one of the most decent public servants I’ve ever had the honor of working with.”

Mr. O’Bannon won his first term as governor in 1996, narrowly defeating Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith.

Indiana residents traditionally have embraced change only when it honors the past, historian James Madison has written. “When forced to change, they were always able to blend the old with the new.”

“I think O’Bannon is a wonderful combination of past, present and future,” Mr. Madison, a historian at Indiana University, said in 1996.

Mr. O’Bannon took positions that many of his Democratic counterparts in other states might deem too conservative. He wanted to place a 7-foot stone monument with the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state Capitol until the courts said no.

While a legislator, he had been the prime sponsor of legislation that reimposed Indiana’s death penalty in the 1970s. As governor, Mr. O’Bannon allowed seven executions to occur without delay, but recently granted a 60-day reprieve in one case to allow for DNA testing.

Mr. O’Bannon received a bachelor’s degree in government from Indiana University in 1952. He served two years in the Air Force and then earned his law degree from IU in 1957.

That same year he married Judy Asmus, whom he had met on a blind date in college. They returned to Corydon, where he started a law practice and spent time at the family-owned newspaper, the Corydon Democrat. Even as governor, he remained chairman of O’Bannon Publishing Co., which publishes weekly newspapers in Harrison and Crawford counties.

The O’Bannons had three children, Polly, Jennifer and Jonathon, and five grandchildren.

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