- December 31, 1926 - January 4, 1999
of Keith's Passing
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L. KEITH BULEN, 72, L. Keith Bulen, the political power broker known both as the godfather of Indiana Republican politics and the father of the consolidated city-county government dubbed Uni-Gov, died Monday.
Services for Mr. Bulen, who turned 72 on New Year's Eve, will be at 10 a.m. Saturday in Flanner & Buchanan Broad Ripple Mortuary. Calling will be from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday.
Today, Mr. Bulen's name may be a vague memory outside political circles. When Gordon Durnil, a former Indiana GOP chairman, sought a publisher for the book he is compiling on Mr. Bulen, he was told no one would know this political wizard.
Yet from the 1960s through the 1980s, Mr. Bulen dominated Indiana politics in a way few have.
'There was an aura around him that has never been matched by anybody in Indiana politics that I've seen,' said Indiana GOP Chairman Mike McDaniel.
In his heyday, Mr. Bulen crafted a powerful political machine and dispensed political advice to Republican candidates from state representative to the White House.
His legacy, friends and political associates said Monday, is in the careers he launched-including that of Sen. Richard Lugar. And his monument, they said, is the combined city-county government that has given the Republican Party control of the Mayor's office and the council for two decades and counting.
For a man to whom party loyalty was so important, Mr. Bulen burst onto the political scene-by leading a political insurrection against the longtime GOP Marion County leader, H.Dale Brown.
In 1960, Mr. Bulen, an up-and-coming attorney, ran for the Indiana House against the candidate Brown backed in the primary-and won. He was re-elected in 1962. He left office, though in 1990 he returned for one last term.
Mr. Bulen's political fame lay not in seeking office but in laying the groundwork for others. After the GOP suffered devastating losses in 1964, Mr. Bulen organized the 'Republican Action Committee.'
In May 1966, every candidate the action committee backed beat Brown's slated candidates. The following Saturday, Mr. Bulen became County Chairman Bulen, a post he held until 1972.
His biggest fight, though, may have come in 1967, when he tapped a young school board member named Richard Lugar to run for mayor against Democratic incumbent John Barton. He successfully shephereded Lugar through the GOP's site selection committee and announced his choice as the party's slated candidate to shocked ward chairmen.
Mr. Bulen's later description of that episode inspired the title for Durnil's book: Throwing Chairs and Raising Hell.
Some Republicans coalesced around a former Republican mayor, Alex Clark, instead of Lugar, leading to a tough and expensive primary election fight.
Former Indiana GOP Chairman Rex Early was on the Clark side in that fight, just as he'd been on the Brown side in Mr. Bulen's earlier battle. Lugar's victory, Early said, was due to Keith Bulen.
'He could have gotten anybody elected, he had that much of a following and he was that good,' Early said. 'He was the best.'
Lugar also credits Mr. Bulen.
'I could not have been nominated without him,' he said.
Lugar, who went on to win two terms as mayor and is now serving his fourth term in the U.S. Senate, said that campaign began a close association with Mr. Bulen. After the election, when he and his wife went to Hilton Head, S.C. for vacation, Mr. Bulen showed up.
'He played a round of golf with us to indulge us,' Lugar recalled, 'and then it was down to work. He had a briefcase full of lists, things to do. He had a suggestion for almost every appointment, reasonable ones.'
And during the tumultuous year of 1968, filled with assassinations and civil rights protests and birth of metropolitan government linking Indianapolis and Marion County, Mr. Bulen stayed at Lugar's side.
'Marion County (GOP) headquarters and our office worked hand-in-glove,' Lugar recalled.
Political comrades are consistent in their descriptions of Mr. Bulen as a top motivator who would dedicate himself totally to whatever goal he set and who prized loyalty, giving it and expecting it.
He may have been the consummate back-room politician.
'Keith appreciated that that was his reputation,' Lugar said.
But, Lugar and others said, there was more to the man.
State Sen. Larry Borst, R-Indianapolis, said his longtime friend was 'a pretty insecure guy' who nonetheless could be 'very, very loud, very emphatic. He liked to be the center of attention, and he dressed for it.'
He loved the battle of politics, Borst said, but worried whether the goals he set were the right ones and whether the people he helped elect were up to the job.
And if he loved the horse race of politics, he also love the horse races as a breeder and owner.
He was especially proud of a horse named Abercrombie he bought for a bargain basement $9,500 and who became Harness Horse of the Year in 1978 and the world's leading money-raising sire since 1984.
Foremer Lt. Gov. John Mutz recalled Mr. Bulen as a man who 'had leadership written all over him. He was a take-charge kind of guy, no question about it. Keith was not a lukewarm personality. He was a zealot.'
He showed that zealotry in local politics and at the national level, especially in his backing of Ronald Reagan.
Mr. Bulen, a national GOP committeeman from 1968 to 1974, was Midwest coordinator of Reagan's presidential campaigns in 1976 and 1980. Again in 1980, he was deputy chairman of Reagan's national campaign committee and was East Coast political director. Topping it off, he was Reagan's national convention director that year.
His hard-nosed attitudes won a back-handed compliment from Reagan's campaign staff who held up this banner at Reagan's 1980 victory rally: 'Will Rogers never met Keith Bulen.'
But Monday, Mr. Bulen's old political comrades-in-arms described him as someone Rogers would have included in his famous statement that he never met a man he didn't like.
'He made politics exciting,' Early said. 'It was fun. It was a hoot. There wasn't anybody better in the world, and there probably never will be.'
Mr. Bulen, a World War II veteran of the Army Air Corps and a graduate of Indianacontinued...