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48th Governor of Indiana

APRIL 8, 1946 TO JULY 29, 2020

Joseph Eugene Kernan III (born April 8, 1946) was an American businessman and politician who served as the 48th Governor of Indiana from 2003 to 2005. Prior to serving as Governor, Kernan served as Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and then as the 47th Lieutenant Governor of Indiana from 1997 to 2003.


​He became governor on September 13, 2003, upon the death of Governor Frank O'Bannon. Upon the election of former Indiana Governor, Mitch Daniels, Kernan returned to South Bend and retired from politics.

Early Life

Joe Eugene Kernan III was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 8, 1946. He was the eldest of nine children.

​Kernan's father, Joseph E. Kernan Jr., was a naval aviator during World War II and would go on to have a career in government service. His mother, Marian Powers Kernan, held a variety of jobs, including a tenure with C&P Telephone, where she worked her way up to a communications representative. As a communications representative she handled The Pentagon's account, and held security clearance.

​Kernan's family moved to South Bend when he was ten years of age.

​Kernan graduated from St. Joseph's High School in South Bend in 1964.

​He graduated in 1968 with a degree in Government from the University of Notre Dame, where he was a resident of Stanford Hall. Kernan played on the university's baseball team as a walk-on for the freshman team. He played for the varsity team his sophomore and junior years in 1967 and 1968. He was initially an infielder, later switching to catcher in his junior year.

Military Service

Kernan entered the United States Navy in 1969, and served as a Naval Flight Officer aboard the carrier USS Kitty Hawk. After he completed Naval Flight Officer training, reconnaissance training, & RA-5C Vigilante Replacement Air Group training, he served with RVAH-7 at Naval Air Station Albany, Georgia, until deploying to Southeast Asia aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk from February 1972 until he was shot down by enemy forces while on a reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on May 7, 1972. He was held as a prisoner of war for 11 months. For part of his time as a prisoner of war, Kernan was imprisoned at Hỏa Lò Prison, also known by American prisoners as the ‘Hanoi Hilton.’ Kernan also spent time at a nearby prison referred to as 'The Zoo' by American prisoners. 'The Zoo' was located in a suburb of Hanoi. Kernan was repatriated in 1973 and continued on active duty with the Navy until December 1974. Kernan received the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Purple Hearts and the Navy Commendation Medal.

Business Career

After completing his Naval service, Kernan worked for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati in 1975. He then returned to South Bend, where he worked for South Bend Community Schools and later for the Schwarz Paper Company and the MacWilliams Corporation.

​Kernan served as a business manager and executive at several companies.

​Following his tenure from 1980 to 1984 as South Bend City Comptroller, he returned to business, serving as vice president and treasurer of MacWilliams Corp until he ran for mayor in 1987.


Political Career

City of South Bend Comptroller

Kernan served the City of South Bend, Indiana as Comptroller from 1980 to 1984. He was appointed to the position by mayor Roger Parent, and served a full term.

​South Bend Mayor

Kernan was elected mayor of South Bend in 1987, 1991 and again in 1995. In 1995, he won with a record 82% of the vote — a feat which remains to this day, an historical record for the City of South Bend.

​Kernan was the longest-serving mayor of South Bend, until his tenure was surpassed in length by that of his immediate successor Steve Luecke.

​As mayor, Kernan worked on long-term job creation efforts, made efforts to improve public safety, and strengthened the finances of the city.

​Kernan came to office shortly after a number of companies had left the city or closed, including South Bend Toy in 1985 and Wheelbrater-Frye.

​As mayor, Kernan worked to foster a better working relationship between South Bend and the nearby University of Notre Dame.

​At the time he was mayor, Kernan was praised for his ability to attract economic development to the community.

​In 1988, taking advantage of a decline in interest rates, Kernan refinanced Coveleski Stadium (today referred to as Four Winds Field), through the newly-created South Bend Redevelopment Authority.

​In December 1988, a fire that destroyed the Morningside Club Residence, an apartment hotel, displaced more than a hundred residents. Kernan was able to persuade the then-unopened Center for the Homeless to rush its opening in order to accommodate some of these displaced residents.

​In 1990, Kernan joined then-lieutenant governor Frank O'Bannon and other Indiana mayors on a trade mission which traveled to Poland, Soviet Union, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia. It was during this trip that Kernan and O'Bannon would develop a camaraderie which would later lead to O'Bannon asking Kernan to be his running mate in the gubernatorial election six years later.

​The loss of $20 million annually in federal funds which the city had received prior to congressional budget cuts to urban programs had taken its toll on South Bend's infrastructure. In 1992, Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton proposed a $200 billion ($20 billion annually) plan for infrastructure. Mayor Kernan declared to the media that under Clinton's plan, in which a city of South Bend's size would have received at least $5 million annually, South Bend would have been able to complete critical road construction and complete reclamation on hundreds of acres of former industrial property.

​Among the infrastructure projects that took place during Kernan's tenure as mayor was the shifting of South Bend's South Shore Line station from a facility shared with Amtrak to a new location at the city's airport, which opened at in 1992. In 1993, Kernan testified before congress that this move had been partially responsible for a 73% increase in ridership from South Bend, attributing this to the fact that the previous location of the station was in an area, "isolated and very difficult and perceived to be unsafe." Plans to move the South Shore Line station to the airport, creating an air, bus, and rail intermodal terminal, had dated back to the 1970s.

​Kernan and others would work to see a new intermodal transit center built in Downtown South Bend, which would feature a new station for Amtrak and transit center for South Bend TRANSPO. Efforts planning this station date back to 1992. It ultimately opened in 1998, after Kernan's mayoralty had ended, as the South Street Station, but only as a bus center without an Amtrak component.

​During Kernan's tenure many improvements were made to South Bend's parks. Several new facilities opened, including Blackthorn Golf Course in 1994. In 1993, for the first time, non-reverting funds were established to create money for capital improvements to the parks. Additionally, a City-County parks merger was studied in 1993, but ultimately was not implemented. In 1995, South Bend's recreation commission was dissolved, and the Department of Parks took over management of recreation programs and was renamed the Department of Parks and Recreation.

​Kernan instituted a mayor's night out/mayor's night in to provide an opportunity for his constituents to better meet with him and share their concerns about the city. The mayor’s night out tradition continues to this day.

​After being reelected to his third term, Kernan stated his priorities were public safety, economic development, and neighborhoods. The reelection positioned Kernan to break the record, at the time, for longest-serving mayor in the history of South Bend.

​Kernan was involved in the creation of Indiana's Vietnam and Korean War memorials.

​Kernan was credited for helping to prevent companies like Allied Products' South Bend Stamping from leaving the city.  He is also credited for attracting other jobs to the city, arguing that as mayor he had been able to create or retain 4,000 manufacturing jobs.

​Whilst campaigning for Lieutenant Governor in 1996, Kernan continued to fulfill his duties. In part to facilitate this, Kernan operated his end of the campaign out of a separate campaign office from O'Bannon, located in South Bend.

​Upon being elected Lieutenant Governor, Kernan was involved in the process of helping guide the Common Council in selecting a successor for mayor. He ultimately endorsed Steve Luecke to be his successor, and Luecke was thereafter voted unanimously by the Common Council to serve the rest of Kernan's term. Other candidates that had been reportedly considered included Mike Barnes, John Voorde, Joe Nagy, Sean Coleman, John Hosinski, Carter Wolf, and Kevin Horton.

​Lieutenant Governor


In 1996, Kernan was elected as Indiana's Lieutenant Governor on a joint ticket with Frank O'Bannon for Governor. Kernan had been reluctant to accept the offer to run for lieutenant governor, desiring to continue to serve as mayor. Others who had been rumored to have under consideration by O'Bannon for a running mate included Tom DiGuillio, Mike Gery, Baron Hill, John Walda, and Jill Long Thompson (Pamela Carter had ruled herself out of consideration). Despite starting the general election as underdogs, O'Bannon and Kernan's ticket overcame a deficit to defeat the Republican ticket of Steve Goldsmith and George Witwer.

​Kernan was sworn-in as Lieutenant Governor by his own father.

​As Lieutenant Governor, Kernan served as the President of the Indiana Senate, the Director of the Indiana Department of Commerce, and as the Commissioner of Agriculture.

​In 1998, Kernan headed the Insurance Industry Working Group, a group aiming to boost the economic fortunes of the state's insurance industry. The group succeeded in getting a reduction to the insurance premium tax rate, securing the passage of a new demutualization law, and getting Ivy Tech to create a new associate degree focusing on the insurance industry.

​In 1998, Kernan was involved in the formation of the Pork Crisis Working Group, which later became Agricultural Crisis Working Group. Kernan chaired this group.

​In 1998, Kernan was made chair of the new Hoosier Farmland Preservation Task Force. It presented recommendations for farmland preservation and additional land use issues to O'Bannon and members of the Indiana General Assembly, and Laos provided information and advice to communities dealing with problems regarding these issues.

​During Kernan's tenure at the helm of the state's Department of Commerce, the state recorded what were the second-highest export numbers in its history in the second-quarter of 1998.

​In 1999, Kernan launched the Veterans Outreach Initiative, which was an effort to urge veterans to capitalize upon state and federal benefits available to them.

​Kernan was the chairman of the Indiana 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, which was formed in 1999.

​As lieutenant governor, Kernan built a reputation as a skilled orator.


O'Bannon and Kernan were re-elected in 2000, defeating the ticket of David M. McIntosh and J. Murray Clark.

​In October 2001, Kernan unveiled the O'Bannon administration's plan for a comprehensive overhaul to the state of Indiana's tax system. The plan was entitled the 21st Century Tax Plan. Kernan had developed this plan alongside a bipartisan group of tax experts. A tax reform plan based upon this proposal was passed in the Indiana General Assembly in June 2002.

​In 2002, O'Bannon and Kernan proposed a broad job-creation plan entitled "Energize Indiana".


Kernan assumed the governorship in September 2003 following the death of Frank O'Bannon.

​For his lieutenant governor, Kernan appointed Kathy Davis, making her the first female lieutenant governor in Indiana's history.

Kernan was credited with strengthening the cabinet style of government of Indiana's executive branch, which had dissipated in its functionality in the later years of O'Bannon's tenure.

​In November 2003, Kernan and Davis unveiled the Opportunity Indiana initiative, which would aim to optimize how the state conducts business and would aim to increase opportunities for Indiana companies. Under this program, they created a working group to review how the state of Indiana deals with purchasing goods and services, and to provide recommendations to adjustments.

​Early into his governorship, Kernan made some key hires and appointments. This included hiring Marshall Michael Carrington to conduct a thorough probe of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and appointing Cheryl Sullivan to head the Family and Social Services Administration.

​In January 2004, Kernan announced the Early Learning Trust, which was an initiative with the goal of providing every child in Indiana with access to voluntary full-day kindergarten by the year 2007. It would also create pilot programs for early learning opportunities for at-risk children.

​In his 2004 State of the State address, Kernan announced several programs. One was the Peak Performance Project, in which he delegated lieutenant governor Davis with overseeing a review of state government performance. The Peak Performance Project would ultimately result in the creation of a broad plan for overhauling the state's government. Another program outlined in his State of the State address was Indiana@Work, an expansion of the state's new jobs initiative. By the end of 2004, 30,000 Hoosiers would receive skills assessments through this program.

​On March 17, 2004, Kernan signed House Bill 1349, which provided protections for gun owners whose firearms were stolen from being sued for injuries or deaths resulting from misuse of those stolen firearms.

​Kernan supported extending Interstate 69 from Indianapolis to Evansville, which had earlier received O'Bannon's support. As of 2020, the extension is nearly complete.

​As governor, Kernan took actions regarding education. In March 2004, Kernan requested to the state's public colleges and universities that they cap tuition and fee increases at 4% for the 2004-05 academic year. In October 2004 he unveiled plans to expand the state's community college system from having ten campuses to having 23 in time for the fall of 2005, which would mean that every state resident would live within a 30-mile radius of a community college's campus. Through executive order, Kernan created the Early Learning and School Readiness Commission. As co-chair of the Indiana Education Roundtable, Kernan took charge in work to adopt the P-16 Plan for Improving Student Achievement.

​Kernan took actions as governor to address rising healthcare costs. Changes were made to HoosierRx to allow senior citizens twice the discount when it was utilized in conjunction with the new federal Medicare prescription drug benefit. Kernan signed legislation which created the state's prescription drug purchasing pool. Kernan pushed forward with the Hoosier Health Plan. On December 1, 2004, Kernan convened a prescription drug summit aiming to develop an "Indiana solution" to drug affordability concerns.


Originally, whilst lieutenant governor, Kernan had declined to seek the governorship during the 2004 election. However, two months after assuming the governorship, he reversed this decision. In their bid for a first full term as governor and lieutenant governor, Kernan and Davis outlined their vision for what he would seek to accomplish in their prospective continued tenure in the state's top two offices in a plan entitled "Action Indiana". Kernan and Davis were ultimately defeated by the Republican ticket of Mitch Daniels and Becky Skillman.

Post-Gubernatorial Career

Kernan returned to private life in January 2005. He moved back to South Bend in 2006.

​Kernan served as a volunteer acting director for the St. Joseph County Red Cross.

​Kernan worked at the University of Notre Dame as an adjunct professor.

​Kernan has served on the Indiana University South Bend Chancellor's Advisory Board, and is a member of the Chancellor's 100 of Indiana University.

​Partnering with his gubernatorial successor, Kernan did some work with the Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation.

​Kernan was the president and owner of the community and business development consulting firm South Bend Enterprises, Inc.

​South Bend Silver Hawks

In 2005 Kernan became president and managing investor of the South Bend Silver Hawks baseball club, after convincing approximately 50 others to invest in the team. This stopped the Silver Hawks from being purchased and moved out of South Bend to another city.

​Kernan's tenure with the professional baseball ended in 2011 when he and his partners agreed to sell the team to Andrew Berlin, of Berlin Packaging. The sale to Berlin was contingent upon an agreement to keep the team in the City of South Bend. Berlin agreed and even signed a twenty-year contract to make it happen. The team has subsequently been the renamed the South Bend Cubs.

​Continued political involvement

Despite no longer being an active politician himself, Kernan remained involved in political activities. This included local South Bend politics, Indiana state politics, and national politics.

​In July 2007, Kernan and Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard were appointed by then Governor Mitch Daniels to co-chair the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform. The commission among other things, recommended a streamlining of local governments across the state, including selective adoption of the uni-government models that had reduced costs and improved services in other parts of the country.  Their report was published in December 2007.

​In 2008, Kernan and his wife Maggie were Indiana co-chairs of Hillary Clinton's campaign and actively campaigned for Clinton leading up to the state's May primary.

​In April 2008, Kernan endorsed Jim Schellinger's candidacy for Governor of Indiana.

​Kernan lent his endorsement to Pete Buttigieg in the 2011 South Bend mayoral election.

​In 2014, joined by several other city leaders, such as former South Bend fire chief Luther Taylor and Republican CEO of the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce Jeff Rea, Kernan held a press conference in which complained about visible infighting on the South Bend Common Council.  Kernan also cited lewd social media posts by then-5th district council member Henry Davis, Jr. to have been an embarrassment to the city. At the press conference, Kernan levied the possibility that he would work to help remove problematic members of the council from office in the 2015 election. Immediately after, in comments to the South Bend Tribune, Kernan criticized Common Council Vice President Derek Dieter as being "poison in the well", alleging that he had been "behaving like a bully". Kernan criticized the leadership of Common Council President Oliver Davis, arguing that he believed Davis was a, "good guy," who was, "reluctant to make decisions". Kernan's harsh rebuke of the council earned support from council member Fred Ferlic.

​In 2015, Kernan served as campaign manager and treasurer for Kareemah Fowler's campaign for South Bend City Clerk. Fowler had a landslide victory in capturing Democratic nomination in a competitive primary, defeating veteran Common Council member Derek Dieter, and was elected clerk in the general election.

Honors and Awards

For his military service, Kernan was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Purple Hearts and the Navy Commendation Medal.

​In 1998, Kernan was awarded an honorary doctorate by his alma mater the University of Notre Dame when he served as the university's commencement speaker.

​In 2012 the Notre Dame Monogram Club awarded Kernan the Edward “Moose” Krause Distinguished Service Award.

​In 2015, Kernan was among the second-ever class of inductees into the Indiana Military Veterans Hall of Fame.

​In 2017, a park in South Bend has been named for Kernan. The park, located along the St. Joseph River, had previously been named Viewing Park.

​In 2017, Kernan received an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters from Indiana University.

​In 2018, the University of Notre Dame Alumni Association presented Kernan with the Rev. Edward Frederick Sorin, C.S.C., Award, regarded to be one of the university's highest honors.

Personal Life

Kernan was the eldest of nine children, with one brother and seven sisters. His death was preceded by both his parents and a younger sister.

​In April 1974 he married his wife, Maggie. Maggie is a Purdue University graduate and served professionally as a marketing executive and active community volunteer for over thirty years.

​Kernan was Irish Catholic.

Political Positions

As governor, Kernan was not opposed to providing special subsidies for large employers to move jobs to the state. He responded to criticisms of this feeding into a race to the bottom by declaring, "I understand the argument that taking jobs away from Boston and putting them here is nationally a zero-sum game. But Indiana, like virtually every other state, is not going to unilaterally disarm".

​In 2017, along with Republican former Ohio Governor Bob Taft, Kernan co-authored an op-ed arguing in favor of abolishing the death penalty for mentally ill criminals.

Early Life
Military Service
Business Career
Political Career
Post-Gubernatorial Career
Honors and Awards
Personal Life
Political Positions
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