Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Experience in the Marion County GOP Organization; The Need for Change

Having worked in the Marion County Republican organization since 1986, I know how the leadership of the organization has historically operated. Republicans who were creative, outspoken, who had a message that could appeal beyond status quo Republicans, were not allowed to rise to the top. Instead the organization has almost always promoted people to elected office who could be controlled.

I for years paid my dues in the Marion County GOP thinking that was the ticket for getting an opportunity. I knocked on thousands of doors in Pike and during the 1990s probably registered more people to vote in that township than anyone. Because of my hard work, in 1994,I thought I had the inside track for the open seat state legislative seat on the northwest side being vacated by Joyce Brinkman, who had been elected State Treasurer. Instead I learned all about how slating works when I lost to Candy Morris, now Candy Marendt. I thought I was better qualified and had done more work for the party. But Candy had been around longer than me so I thought it was best to be patient.

By 1998, Candy had gone down to defeat. The demographics had changed substantially and by 2000 it was difficult for Republicans to find a candidate. I took on the task and got slated, only to find myself faced by Joyce Brinkman's son in the primary. The Brinkman name had a strong and positive association with the district and many thought I would go down to defeat. We worked hard though and scored an impressive victory in the 2000 GOP primary.

Due to the changing demographics, Republicans had written off the district for the general election. We worked our tails off though and during the campaign the enthusiasm caught fire. Republican polling in the district showed I was even with the incumbent Democrat Jeb Bardon, and suddenly my race became targeted. Personally I knew the polling was off. African-American voters, which had come to dominate the district, were polling very independent, when I knew they would probably vote Democrat in the upcoming presidential election. Sure enough, in 2000 my district got swamped by people voting against George Bush and I went down to defeat.

But the important thing, or so I thought, was that I had impressed the Marion County Republican organization with the race I had run. Shortly after the election, I was approached by two Republican legislators who said they were impressed by my campaign and asked to run for Marion County Clerk in 2002. Since I greatly enjoy administration and I knew there were a lot of challenging tasks with that office, I decided to do it.

Over the course of the next year and a half, I attended virtually every Republican meeting in the county and believe me, there are a lot of them. I was warmly received by virtually everyone in the organization, everyone that is but the leadership. In those days it was the triumvirate, John Keeler-Jack Cottey-Tom Schneider controlling the party organization. Up until a few months before slating, I was the only candidate for Marion County Clerk. Then I was told by party leadership that they would not support me because I was too "independent" and could not be "controlled." Yep, those are exactly the words that were used. Another candidate, Doris Anne Sadler, soon thereafter joined the Republican county circuit. Needless to say, with the support of the party leadership, she won slating and went on to serve one term as Clerk.

All along, I thought this was about being patient, paying my dues, and proving my mettle as a candidate which I had done in 2000. But in 2002, the Marion County GOP leadership picked a younger, less qualified candidate, who had not put nearly the time in at the grass roots level as me and who had never run before, someone who apparently the party leadership believed they could "control."

The year 2002 marked the end of Republican domination of Marion County. By 2008, the landscape in Marion County had changed dramatically. This most recent election saw the county GOP baseline races drop to 40%. Yet the majority party mindset continues within the leadership of the Marion County GOP. Leadership still promotes Republican candidates they think they can "control" after the election rather than focus in on whether those candidates can actually run a strong election and might have some appeal to independents and Democrats.

One of the unfortunate byproducts of the 2007 election was to give Marion County Republicans the false sense of security that they do not have to change the way they have historically recruited candidates in Marion County, and that all is well. Rather party leadership needs to be out recruiting people who are strong candidates and who have some independent appeal. Demanding that candidates pledge to support party leadership positions 100% of the time does not do any good if those candidates do not get elected because they only appeal to the Republican base vote, if that.

The next year will bring a new election for Marion County Chairman. Since those elections were dramatically changed in the middle 1980s (a story in and of itself), those elections no longer represent democracy at the grass roots level. Rather, county chairmen are in a position where they can pretty much pick many if not most of the party workers voting at the convention. Even though the re-election of Marion County Republican Chairman Tom John will almost inevitably happen, I hope a message will be sent to him that the status quo is not sufficient. Republicans need to be leading the way for reform of how this City does business rather than ratifying the sins of the past. To fail to latch on to that reform message, is to assure failure for the Marion County GOP for many elections to come.


Diana Vice said...

Thanks for the history lesson. Independence and the fact that you were not a politcal puppet of the party "machine" are qualifications that appeal to most voters. Don't ever compromise your principles or your integrity. It's the only hope for the future of the Republican party, and what you described is exactly what is destroying it. The state Republican conventions have turned into coronation events for the previously chosen candidates. The spirited debates among a wide variety of candidates are a thing of the past. We definitely need new leadership; otherwise, we're going to get more of what we deserve I'm afraid. Keep speaking out. You're making a difference. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Louis Brandeis was right. Sunshine truly is the best disinfectant.

varangianguard said...

It isn't just "how it's played' in political circles. The business world, the military and even academia plays by a very similar set of rules.

"Play along to get along" and "the boss is always right" are two of credos that perpetuate the mediocity of leadership, no matter where one is.

Diana Vice said...

You're right varangianguard, which made me think of another point. We can point fingers at the leadership all day long, but the bigger problem lies in the hearts of the puppets themselves. There are too many in the party who are all too willing to submit to the orders of the leadership. Why do they do this? Because they want to be given a bread crumb, and they certainly don't want to bite the hand that feeds them. It's because they care more about their own political advancement than they do about good government, and it's corrupted the system. Imagine if the sheeple puppets started thinking for themselves and speaking for themselves! The Republican party might actually become strong again. Do you think people like Ronald Reagan advanced through the system because he was someone's puppet? He wasn't the chosen child of the party bosses back in the early days. He spoke his mind, even when speechwriters and advisers told him not to. Remember his famous "Tear down this wall!" speech? He was advised not to say those "inflammatory" words. Because he did, the wall was torn down. We need more Ronald Reagan types in the party and less party bosses. And in our own state, we need more people like Paul Ogden and less like Tom John and the boys.

The same applies to the business world, the military, and academia. We need men to start being men again and stop being wimps. It's destroying our country, and it's not a legacy that I want to leave my children and grandchildren. Independent minds are what forged this nation. If the men of today were what we had back then, we'd be paying homage to the Queen of England.

Paul K. Ogden said...


While you have a point, in areas where a political party that is not dominant, that party's leaders have less power to simply nominate a toady of party leaders as a candidate. The minority party is just trying to win elections, and is more willing to go with a candidate who will not promise to rubberstamp party leadership on every issue.

varangianguard said...

Are you trying to say that the Republicans aren't ascendant in marion this cycle? ;)

Paul K. Ogden said...

Varan, with a lower turnout the Republican numbers should go up a few points, but not much more than that. I doubt Brizzi will run again. I think he'd be foolish to run given the 20 point spread in the 2008 baseline numbers. Why risk a, thus far, successful political career?

Anonymous said...

The problems with the Marion County party (and national) are structural. Reducing county chairman responsibilities to part time patronage (as resume ornament & thereby minimizing its importance when the other team is playing four quarters & Republicans expect to "win" with a single quarter of play?) is not the fault of those in the position, but the party itself; which has ceased to be a dynamic cauldron of activism. By default of effective tactics or adherence to principles, Republicans have been merged into the party of big government; where "activism" is unionized & full time. Somewhere along the line, it's as though a quid pro quo exists where Marion County has been "traded" away or "power" exchanged for places like Hamilton County. A systematic disinterest in independent voices is borne of the INSECURITY & self interests of a few string pullers; making the party irrelevant to working & voting people, who DO UNDERSTAND the abandoned precepts of the Party of Lincoln. It was activists outside the party who elevated & inspired public awareness of local issues that helped to elect Mayor Ballard; not a strong Republican party in Marion County, which does not exist, due to inattention & neglect. The problem with our human perception of "power" is that it's based on an exaggeration that we possess power rather than ability. On our best days, we do well to exhibit self-control (without audience), much less perpetrating a scam that "we" are powerful; an assertion that alienates other people and in the case of the Republicans, membership; which can not be built by a counterfeit culture of self interest & manipulation, but one of sincere interest in principles & PEOPLE. In any organization, the answer to "why I belong," should be an easy, rapid response answer, tied to principle in action, and fostered by a welcoming culture of people who are open, to independent, critical thought. Marion County is entirely available to the Republican Party, but not without the effort. As the Capitol city goes, so goes the sate, and so on...

SW Lane said...

In the 2007 municipal election season, the first of Tom Johns watch, we had strong candidates with outstanding civic resumes and who appealed to demographics outside of the GOP. A few of them, such as Ed Coleman, Michael Hegg (both county-wide elected seats), Gary Whitmore and Bruce Henry were NOT given the support of the party but were left to win or lose on their own. Of those candidates, only Coleman won election and probably due to proximity on the ballot versus any marketing and promotion from Tom John, which was again non-existent. Greg Ballard defeated Bart Peterson largely through hard work and fortunate timing of circumstances and events.

Immediately after the election, both Tom John and his then executive director, Kyle Walker-- both who had openly mocked Ballards chances of winning and in fact were overheard telling potential donors not to waste their money on Ballard --acted as though thru their efforts, the GOP party in Marion County had been resurrected, and to that end, as far as the first sign of character deficiency on Greg Ballards part, awarded Walker a management position in the DPW.

Along comes 2008 and ALL county GOP candidacies suffered defeat. Thus, so much for Tom Johns' resurrection of the party.

If Tom John is re-elected, then the local GOP deserves to wallow in irrelevancy.

Anonymous said...

Indiana Republicans are solipsistic, authoritarian, mean and stupid.

Ballard will get clobbered in 2011, and his staff will be looking for parachutes.

As they did with Peterson, the Republicans will "work with" the Democrats, instead of supporting their own candidates, as they showed when they ran away from Jordan.

In Indiana, Republican means nothing more than "pro-corporation," and such a party, based on that particularly pernicious strain of Leftism, will not long edure.