INDIANAPOLIS - New Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said Friday that he plans to work on building better relationships with local-level officials as the party seeks to improve its positioning in a state now dominated by Republicans.
It was the first time Zody, who previously worked as former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill's chief of staff and on President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, spoke with the media in his new capacity.
"I became a Democrat because I felt included," he said. "We've got to make people feel included in this party, and in order to do that we've got to focus on outreach. We've got to look at our young folk. Are we building a bench? Are we building the next generation of political volunteers and candidates and officeholders?"
The Indiana Democratic Party's state central committee last weekend elected Zody – the only declared candidate under consideration – to replace Dan Parker, who had been the party's chairman for eight years.
Parker was a long-time ally of Evan Bayh, the former governor and senator who had played the most dominant role in Indiana Democratic politics for a quarter-century.
Zody, though, was the choice of newly elected U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, who Zody identified as the "titular head" of the state party now. Still, he said Bayh's voice would be an important one to Democratic leaders.
Zody's task will include trying to help Democrats gain seats in the Indiana General Assembly, where Republicans currently control 37 of 50 Senate seats and 69 of 100 House seats.
He deflected questions about infighting between Republican Gov. Mike Pence and the GOP-dominated state legislature, saying he would leave it to Democratic leaders inside the Statehouse to comment on those issues.
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said Friday that Zody is doing well by focusing on the party's long-range future.
"You can never stray from the message," Pelath said. "It's about empowering the middle class, and I think the chairman understands that."
Zody said he recently ran into his counterpart, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb, who was asked by Pence to stay on the job that former Gov. Mitch Daniels had chosen him for and was himself re-elected this month.
Holcomb released a statement welcoming Zody to the job and wishing him well.
"These are important times in the state of Indiana," Holcomb said. "Times that require a real substantive debate about how we continue the progress we have made toward more jobs, less debt and lower taxes. I look forward to engaging in that debate with my new counterpart Chairman Zody."