Friday, August 18, 2006

Interview with Governor Book Editors

Linda C. Gugin and James E. St. Clair, editors of the new IHS Press book Governors of Indiana, took some time recently to answer some questions about the publication, which features detailed biographies and official portraits of the fifty men who have served as the Hoosier State’s chief executive. Gugin is a professor of political science at Indiana University Southeast and St. Clair is a professor of journalism at IU Southeast.

What prompted you two to do a book on Indiana Governors?

We saw a book on Georgia governors and liked the idea of such a book. We checked and found that there was no comparable publication for Indiana governors. There were briefer versions and dated versions, but nothing with in-depth information and nothing current. We thought the subject was interesting and that the book would be of interest to a wide range of people. We also thought that this project was a natural for us given our background in biographical research and writing. We have co-authored two biographical works, one on Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton and the other on Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson.

How did you go about recruiting contributors for the project?

We started by contacting colleagues who we knew had the research background and writing skills that were essential to producing a top quality publication. We also consulted with staff at the Indiana Historical Society who suggested people who had previously written about a specific governor, and we got leads for possible authors from historians at Indiana University in Bloomington and at IUPUI. We were fortunate that virtually everyone we contacted agreed to write an essay, and some even volunteered to do additional ones. We think we have a pretty impressive list of contributors, including the Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.

You two have collaborated before on book projects. How did you divide the work on this book?

We divided the work by century.

Jim: I was interested in working on Ashbel P. Willard, who was living in New Albany when he was elected governor, so I chose to edit the essays on nineteenth-century governors.

Linda: I had done a lot of research on Paul McNutt for the biography of Sherman Minton and wanted to write on McNutt. So I was happy to edit the essays on twentieth-century governors.

It turned out that there were about an equal number of governors in each century, and working on governors for each century was beneficial in other ways. For one, it allowed us to check the essays for continuity and possible discrepancies for succeeding governors. Plus we became knowledgeable with the recurring issues of specific eras.

In doing the book, what surprised you most about the state’s governors?

Working on the book reaffirmed for us the importance of the office of governor. We discovered that the office of governor was a wonderful lens for viewing the political, economic and social history of the state. We became aware of how central Indiana was to the fortunes of both national political parties. Indiana governors were often sought by the national parties for balancing considerations, and several governors went on to important national offices including territorial governor William Henry Harrison who became president, Thomas Hendricks who served as vice president under Grover Cleveland, Thomas Marshall who became Woodrow Wilson’s vice president, and Otis Bowen who served at Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Ronald Reagan.

Do each of you have a "favorite" governor?

It is hard to pick because there have been many able governors who have served the state well. Many were interesting characters, and it was fascinating to learn about them.

Jim: If I had to pick one it would be James Mount, a heroic figure during the Civil War, who was governor from 1897-1901. He was a reluctant politician but once he was elected he was conscientious and progressive. His term came when there was a lot of reform legislation at the national level, and at the state level he was able to push through laws to regulate business, improve worker health and safety and ensure the quality of food and drugs. He was an honest, decent, hardworking public servant who achieved quite a bit in his one term in office.

Linda: My pick is Paul McNutt. I became familiar with him while working on the Minton biography and was impressed with his understanding of how to accumulate power and use it to pursue his policy goals. McNutt, who was governor from 1933-1937, was without question one of the two most powerful governors in the state’s history. Historically, the office of governor has been a weak office, in terms of the formal powers available to the governor. Although McNutt was limited to only one term, he found ways, with the blessing of the legislature controlled by his party, to centralize authority in governor’s office. Serving during the height of the Great Depression he was able to establish many progressive programs including tax reform, socioeconomic legislation, and regulation of utilities.

Any advice for those who might want to tackle this sort of project in other states?

Before undertaking this kind of project it is essential to seek out potential publishers. We were fortunate that the Indiana Historical Society was receptive to our proposal from the beginning, and their staff were immensely helpful throughout the process. For people who plan to edit a work on governors, the most important thing is to select good writers and provide them at the outset with as much guidance and assistance as possible in terms of the format for the essay and suggestions for sources of information. Our most important advice to our authors was to write an engaging essay, to begin the essay with an overall theme, and to develop that theme throughout the essay. We also gave them specifics about what information was essential in the essay and what kind of information was not appropriate. Editing is hard work, and occasionally you will ruffle the feathers of some of the authors, and you need to learn diplomatic ways to deal with that. It is a very satisfying project. It provides a valuable resource for citizens of the state and future generations.

No comments: