Returning to Governor Handley. After serving a term as lieutenant governor to the less conservative Governor Craig, Handley sought nomination as the Republican candidate for governor in 1956. In an effort to undermine Governor Craig’s influence in the party, he blasted Craig for the scandal in the highway department (which Craig ultimately had no part in). Handley had the backing of Jenner and had Craig on his heels. So, Craig’s efforts to block Handley’s nomination were unsuccessful. The general election was fairly easy in that Republican year, riding on the coat-tails of President Eisenhower’s re-election. Handley beat the Democratic nominee, Terre Haute mayor, Ralph Tucker with 55.6% of the vote, compared to Tucker’s 44%.
Because the General Assembly had spent the state’s surplus on a bonus for Korean War enlistments, in 1957 and 1958, the state was looking at a budget deficit. In order to deal with that problem, Handley advocated a 50% increase in the gasoline tax which was passed — earning him the nickname “High Tax Harold.” He also advocated a law that would allow employers to withhold the state income tax from an employee’s paycheck. This turned up a large number of tax cheats, and produced an unexpected windfall for the state. In response Handley and the General Assembly repealed most of the state real estate taxes (the local ones remained in place.)
During his term, the General Assembly also passed a “right-to-work” law (later repealed) and also outlawed union shops which contributed to the decline of union influence in Indiana. The right-to-work legislation in 1957 made it through the Indiana General Assembly on the strength of lieutenant governor, Crawford Parker’s “fast gavel” in the Senate. Since the Labor Committee chairman was almost certain to kill the right-to-work bill, the anti-labor forces engaged in a bit of procedural chicanery and sent it straight to the Senate floor where it passed 27 to 23.
The bill’s passage prompted a protest that drew 7,500 labor supporters to the Statehouse. One of their supporters from the corporate level was J. Irwin Miller, then the 47-year-old chairman of Cummins.
“The classic argument against the union shop,” he said, “is the right-to-work argument. The average American manager feels that there is a character known as the ‘loyal employee,’ and this is a fellow who is supposed to figure that joining the union is a fate worse than death.
“Well, this man is in the same category, in my opinion, as the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. I’ve never found him.”
. . .
[T]he new law was so unpopular that many Republicans were turned out at the polls in 1958. By the 1960s, Democrats controlled both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s office. And in 1965, they repealed the right-to-work law.
Construction of the Interstate Highway System also began. Accepting federal money for its construction was contrary to Handley’s position against federal involvement with the state, but Handley was willing to make an exception, given the amount of federal funding and the economic impact of Interstates. There was some debate over how the State would prefer that the federal government treat Indiana’s Toll Road. The federal Highway Act passed in 1956. Construction of the Toll Road in northern Indiana began in 1954 and was underway in earnest by 1955. When plans were being made for the national Interstate and Defense Highway network, Governor Handley opposed inclusion of the Toll Road in that network because he feared that, if the federal government bought the Toll Road, it would use up money that could be used for the construction of highways that were free to the public elsewhere.
In 1957, after William Jenner surprised the political establishment by announcing that he would not seek re-election to Congress, Governor Handley — only two years into his term — threw his hat into the ring, partly at Jenner’s urging. Initially, he and Jenners looked into a scheme whereby Jenners would resign early in 1958, and Lt. Governor Parker would appoint Handley to complete Jenner’s term in the Senate which expired in January 1959. Ultimately that did not happen. And, in fact, Handley’s decision to campaign for the Senate before he was even halfway through his term of governor was regarded as inappropriate. He was defeated in that campaign by the Democratic mayor of Evansville, Vance Hartke. Hartke also hit Handley with charges concerning his tax increase, the right-to-work legislation, and unemployment in the state. Those issues combined with a national resurgence for the Democrats resulted in a defeat for Handley and a victory for Hartke.
After his term ended, Handley opened a public relations firm in Indianapolis. He also became an advocate for the intellectually disabled. In 1969 he served on the Constitutional Revision Commission where he was, among other contributions, in favor of repealing the constitutional provision that limited Indiana’s governors to one term. Governor Handley passed away on August 30, 1972, of a heart attack when he was on vacation in Rawlins, Wyoming.
That brings Indiana Bicentennial 10 to a close. Next time, in Indiana Bicentennial 11, we’ll head into the 1960s.