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Joseph E. Kernan

Gov. Joseph E. Kernan

  • September 13, 2003 - January 1, 2005
  • Democrat
  • April 8, 1946
  • Illinois
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Married Maggie McCullough
  • Succeeded
  • Navy
  • Navy Commendation Medal, two Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Flying Cross


JOSEPH E. KERNAN was born in Chicago, Illinois, the oldest of nine children. He graduated from St. Joseph’s High School in South Bend. In 1968 he received a degree in government from the University of Notre Dame, where he was a catcher on the baseball team. Kernan entered the U.S. Navy in 1969 and served in Vietnam. In May 1972, he was shot down by the enemy while on a reconnaissance mission and held as a prisoner of war for nearly 11 months. Kernan was repatriated in 1973 and continued on active duty until December 1974. He then worked for Procter and Gamble, the Schwarz Paper Company, and the MacWilliams Corporation. He was South Bend’s city controller from 1980 to 1984, and in 1987 was elected mayor. He was reelected mayor in 1991 and again in 1995 with more than 82 percent of the vote – becoming the longest serving mayor in South Bend’s history. In 1996, Governor Frank O’Bannon and Kernan were elected to the state’s top two positions and were reelected in 2000. As lieutenant governor, Kernan served as the president of the Indiana Senate, the director of the Indiana Department of Commerce, and the commissioner of Agriculture. His accomplishments include developing and chairing a number of state working groups, including the bipartisan Agricultural Crisis Working Group, the 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, and the Insurance Industry Working Group. In 1999 Kernan launched the Veterans Outreach Initiative to encourage veterans to take advantage of the state and federal benefits they have earned by serving our country. During Kernan’s tenure as director of the state’s Department of Commerce, Indiana recorded its second-highest export numbers in history. In October 2001, Kernan unveiled the administration’s comprehensive plan to overhaul the state’s tax system, developed with a group of bi-partisan fiscal and tax experts, and in June 2002 the state assembly passed a tax reform plan based on his work. Following this success, the O’Bannon-Kernan administration proposed a sweeping job creation plan called Energize Indiana to create high-wage, high-skill jobs in the life sciences, advanced manufacturing, information technology, and high-tech distribution sectors through unprecedented investment in research and technology, rural development, workforce development, and intermodal transportation. On September 13, 2003, Kernan assumed the duties of the governorship after Governor O’Bannon died from complications from a stroke. Kernan and his wife, First Lady Maggie Kernan, were married in 1974.

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