George Craig is another past Indiana governor whose rise was helped considerably by his involvement in the American Legion. Born in 1909, he was the first governor born in the 20th century. He was raised in Brazil, Indiana; the son of an attorney and a product of the public schools. He went to undergrad at the University of Arizona but, apparently, spent more time drinking than studying. He returned to Indiana to enroll in law school in Bloomington. While there, he was questioned by Dean (and future governor) Paul McNutt about his poor grades at Arizona. Craig promised to do better and was allowed to enroll. He was a classmate of William Jenner who would later come to be a prominent rival of his within the Republican party.
Craig got his law degree and went home to practice in his father’s firm. Business was light during the Depression, and Craig got involved in politics. He became the chairman of the Clay County Republicans in 1938. During World War II, Craig enlisted with the infantry and commanded a platoon, storming the beach at the Invasion of Normandy. Ultimately, Gray was discharged in 1946 with the final rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
When he returned home, he became involved with the American Legion. (The Legion had become a perpetual organization. Rather than being specific to one war like the Grand Army of the Republic, it was an organization devoted to veterans more generally). Craig became the Clay County Commander in 1947 and, in 1949, he became the national commander of the organization. In that capacity, he continued the acquaintance he had made with Dwight Eisenhower during World War II and gave speeches opposing communism. While Craig denied gubernatorial ambitions, he worked behind the scenes to further them.
He was an outsider to the established Republican leadership in the state and was considerably less conservative than William Jenner who ran the state Republican party. Working under the assumption that party delegates from the previous convention would likely be elected to the next convention, Craig met with hundreds of those people, trying to build support. At the 1951 Republican convention, he was able to beat out the more conservative candidates by the third ballot. One of those conservatives — future governor Harold Handley — was selected as the lieutenant governor candidate.
Craig and Eisenhower were both opposed to the spread of communism, but from the perspective of zealots like Jenner, they were not sufficiently anti-communist enough. Their preference for a measured approach to the problem caused guys like Jenner and McCarthy to label Eisenhower and General Marshall as soft on communism. Jenner also disapproved of Craig’s proposals to spend more state money and initiate more government programs. Eisenhower was very popular, however, and his coattails in the election of 1952 helped propel Craig to a comfortable general election win over his opponent, John Watkins who had been the lieutenant governor in the previous Schricker administration.
Craig had an ambitious agenda but was unable to pass most of it due to his conflicts with Republican Party leaders. At the State House, it was apparently a battle between the pro-Craig faction, the anti-Craig faction, and the Democrats. Craig wanted to consolidate government agencies into fewer departments — this was rejected out of hand as a return to the battle between executive and legislative that had raged for decades but had simmered down in recent years. He was mostly unsuccessful in lobbying for the creation of major new highways because the General Assembly did not want to pay for them, but despite some reluctance, the General Assembly did authorize the creation of the Toll Road in northern Indiana. Toll roads had been abolished decades earlier, and the legislature was concerned about adding new patronage positions controlled by the governor that would accompany toll roads. So, the legislature did not authorize any other toll roads. The General Assembly rejected Craig’s proposals for a new state government office building, new prisons, the expansion of Purdue, and creation of a new harbor on Lake Michigan. However, he did have some successes:
Craig was successful in having the Department of Corrections created, which he used to implement most of his penal reform. The Uniform Traffic Code was also established, which standardized road signs, speed limits, and traffic rules across the state. Funding was also granted to improve safety by installing signage and signal lights around the state. The police academy was expanded and the first narcotics group. The state police force was expanded to add fifty new officers, making it the largest in the nation at the time. The state’s Mental Health Division was also established to reform the state’s mental hospitals.
The General Assembly spent most of its surplus on a measure not favored by Craig: a bonus for people who enlisted to serve in the Korean War. Craig thought such a bonus was misguided, stating, “you can’t put a bonus on patriotism any more than you can on motherhood.”
As governor Craig’s term proceeded, he had some national popularity – being featured in Time Magazine for some of his reforms and being considered as a potential Secretary of the Army by President Eisenhower. However, he continued to battle with his fellow Republicans in Indiana. At one point, he proposed ending the death penalty. Senator Jenner and his faction pointed to this as proof that Craig was no true conservative. Near the end of Craig’s term, it was discovered that three highway commissioners had accepted bribes to influence their decision to accept highway contracts. Lieutenant Governor Handley used this incident to accuse Craig of being culpable in the scandal.
Craig himself was not found to be personally involved in the plot, but was required to testify before a grand jury in 1957, after he left office. When he left the court building, he gave an interview to the press in which he attacked William Jenner and a number of other party leaders for having a political vendetta against him. The scandal and his interview were published around the state and significantly hurt his popularity. In his later years he said that he forgave Jenner for his actions while Craig was governor, and that the two never agreed on anything except the weather.
After his term of office, frustrated with the local Republican Party, Craig left the state. He practiced law and ran an automotive company in Virginia, then moved to Los Angeles and practiced law there for awhile. He returned to Brazil, Indiana in 1967 and finally retired in 1986. Governor Craig passed away in 1992 at the age of 83.
Next time: The Milan Miracle