Indiana Remembers Late Gov. O'Bannon

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Newly sworn-in Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan (search) declared Sunday a statewide day of remembrance in honor of his friend and political partner, the late Gov. Frank O'Bannon (search), who died after suffering a stroke.

The state Supreme Court (search) formally transferred power to Kernan on Wednesday, two days after O'Bannon, 73, was found unconscious in his hotel room while attending a trade conference. O'Bannon died Saturday morning at a Chicago hospital. Kernan was sworn in as governor about six hours later.

Kernan asked that the day be one "of reflection, sorrow and joy for a life that was lived to the fullest in the service of the people of Indiana."

About 100 people attended Kernan's swearing in ceremony, including O'Bannon's wife, Judy, who had been at her husband's bedside since Monday.

As Judy O'Bannon looked on, Kernan swore to uphold the office that earlier this year he said he would not seek.

"Today, without reservation, Maggie and I accept these new responsibilities that we have with humility, understanding of the challenges that lie ahead, but also with resolve," Kernan said.

After his brief statement in the Supreme Court chambers, Kernan gave Judy O'Bannon a hug.

Kernan was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for 11 months and mayor of South Bend (search) from 1987 to 1995 before O'Bannon picked him as his running mate in 1996.

He rarely talks publicly about his time as a POW, from May 1972 to March 1973, but says it has helped him keep things in perspective.

"I don't have many bad days," he said in an interview last year.

Kernan helped O'Bannon push a tax-restructuring package last year and played a similar role in the economic development initiatives enacted this year.

In December, Kernan surprised Indiana's political establishment when he said he would not pursue the 2004 Democratic nomination for governor. Kernan said then that he and his wife, Maggie, had decided it was time for him to step aside after what would have been 17 years in elected office.

Kernan, 57, must now choose a lieutenant governor, but he is under no deadline. His choice must be ratified by a majority vote in the Legislature.

Senate President Pro Tem Robert Garton, a Republican who began his Statehouse career with O'Bannon in 1970, said he expected a smooth transition for Kernan.

"I have full confidence in him," Garton said.

Garton said he did not expect ratification of a lieutenant governor to be a problem.

Mourners began leaving flowers outside the governor's office late Saturday as state police stood guard. Flags were lowered to half-staff at the Statehouse and at other locations in downtown Indianapolis.

The last governor to die in office was Missouri's Gov. Mel Carnahan, who was killed in a plane crash in October 2000 while campaigning for the U.S. Senate. The last time an Indiana governor died in office was in 1891.