Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Upcoming Marion County GOP Convention; How Party Leaders Rigged the Rules and Destroyed the Power of the Grass Roots

In March of this year, the parties will be meeting to elect a county chairman and other county officials. Current Marion County Chairman Tom John will be running for re-election, possibly against a former Indiana University law school professor, Henry Karlson. As this event is only a few months away, it's a good time to review the changes that have dramatically weakened the power of the grass roots organization in favor of party leaders.

Over the years what made the Marion County Republican Party strong was that it was built on democratic principles - precinct committeemen were elected every two years and they immediately turned around and picked the leadership. If you wanted to dump a county chairman, you ran a slate of committeemen in the election. Although the battles were sometimes contentious and brutal, it was at the core a healthy process that created a very strong, active grass roots organziation. Every few decades the Marion County GOP would go into decline, and be reborn by a change in regime made possible by the democratic process of electing new committeemen to vote out those who had been in power.

During the mid-1980s the legislature changed that process. In a couple bills they changed the terms so they both served four year terms and adjusted the timing of the county chairman election so it would be nearly 3 years after the election for committeemen. The result was that instead of having a county convention attended only by precinct committeemen elected a few weeks earlier, you have a convention filled with appointees of the county chairman. In short, the county chairman gets to pick his own voters at the convention, filling numerous vacancies with mummy-dummies whose only purpose is to attend the convention and vote for the current chairman. While I greatly appreciate and admire Professor Karlson for wanting to stick out his neck and go against the status quo, Ronald Reagan could not beat Tom John in the upcoming county convention which will be as fair of an election as those held in the old Soviet Union.

As a result of the change, the Marion County GOP went from having a strong grass roots organization where precinct committeemen had actual power, to one where the precinct committeemen have been stripped of power in favor of a few party leaders. Party leaders continue to try to spin the notion that committeemen exercise real power in slating contests and at the county convention, and point to their vote in such contests. What they don’t tell those committeemen is that for every elected or actual working precinct committeemen voting in those contests, party leaders have appointed two “mummy-dummy” committeemen for the sole purpose of attending those slatings or party conventions and voting for whoever the party leaders have deemed to be the chosen one.

It is no accident that the power of the Marion County GOP grass roots organization has been in a steady decline since the changes made in the middle 1980s that worked to strip elected committeemen of their power in favor of party leaders. If Tom John wants to strengthen the grass roots organization, he can advocate reversing the change in the rules that stripped committeemen of their power in favor of the party bosses. Restoring democracy to the grass roots organization by giving committeemen back their power is the only way of reversing the continued decline of the Marion County GOP organization.

It is a shame the legislature decided to fiddle with the rules in the middle 1980s, thus depriving the chance for party organizations to be reenergized and reborn when they go into decline. But now that the process for electing county chairman is set by party rules, those rules can more easily be changed than state statutes. All it requires is for party leaders who write the rules willingly giving up their power. I'm not going to hold my breath on that one.


Anonymous said...

I would not normally respond to your antics. However, in this case it is important for the record to be correct. You once again are long on hyperbole and short on facts. In 2005, Republican State Committee rules were changed to provide for that which you are requesting. Namely, the Precinct Electors positions that will vote in the March County Convention, were on the primary ballot last spring. This is the same timing as occurred in the time of RAC and the Bulen revolution. You have a right to your opinions, but don't mislead people in the process. The State Party rules that control the election of County Chairmen are on the ISRCC website at I suggest you read them.

Tom John

Diana Vice said...

I'm glad you raised this issue, Paul, because it's a real problem throughout the state. About a decade ago, conservatives in Tippecanoe County worked diligently to recruit precinct committeemen who had the values of Ronald Reagan. Many of us were tired of the party being run by ineffective moderates and liberals who wanted to exclude conservatives from the GOP big tent, so we decided to do something about it. It was a brutal fight, and we were successful in gaining a majority of precinct committee members. We held a slight advantage for a while, but because of the rule change that you mentioned, the local chairman was able to replace vacancies for the following three years with her friends and political cronies, which made it too late for us to oust her from power. Those political cronies were responsible for electing the ineffective leader due to the timing of the election.

The result in Tippecanoe County became much the same as it did in Marion County. We had ineffective leadership for many years while many active conservatives gave up and stopped working for the party altogether. Democrats have taken over in a once-Republican stronghold because of it.

I don't understand why Tom John is criticizing you. Apparently, he can't take constructive criticism, which makes him a weak leader. I don't know the man personally, but I've read much criticism of his leadership style on several blogs. One sign of good leadership is the courage to know when it's time to step down from a position of power. Sounds like that's overdue in Marion County.

Paul K. Ogden said...


You are obviously not very aware of the history of the Marion County Republican Party. Several years ago I extensively researched the issue and wrote up the history of how it was changed. You could not be more wrong regarding the timing of the election being as it was during RAC and the Bulen years.

Originally the entire county party convention process, including who could vote at those conventions and when they would be held was controlled by Indiana state law, not party rules.

During the middle 1980s, at the behest of John Sweezy, the Marion County delegation pushed through changes to state law that changed the terms of precinct committeement from 2 years to 4 years and then county chairman from 2 years to 4 years. The county convention was moved from after the primary where committeemen were elected to March in an off year, nearly three years after the precinct committeemen's election. That gave the county chairman nearly a three year window to appoint mummy dummies to vacancies, and not coicidentally, made it virtually impossible to dislodge Sweezy.

In the days of RAC, Bulen, Brown, and the early days of Sweezy, it was only elected committeemen who were voting at the convention. That is because it was controlled by Indiana law, not party rules, law that was changed in the middle 1980s.

You are right that the process is now controlled by party rules and not state law. And the process has changed again. But you could not be any less right when saying that the system hasn't changed from the days of the RAC and Bulen.

I suggest you learn more history about the Marion County Republican Party and not suggest to people that the election process that elects you is as fair and democratic as those that elected the great county GOP chairman of the 20th Century. Those county chairman, pre-Sweezy, all had conventions attended solely by elected committeemen and could be held accountable when they screwed up simply by running a slate of committeemen against them. Your convention will be stacked with committeemen appointed by you. That's a huge difference.

Sean Shepard said...

It has been my opinion, based on what I hear from many of the more Reagan/Goldwater styled precinct committeemen that they are incensed at what appear, to them anyway, to be appointments intended to maintain a status quo in the power structure.

I also got the impression that the party changed or violated it's own rules at some event this past year and that there were silly "loyalty oaths" and other signs of a fearful establishment because of concern that the small government / low tax Republicans might not vote the way leadership wanted them to at slating or convention? I don't know the details but the impression it left with some was as proof to many that their party doesn't really stand for the things they thought it did.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Tom John giving lectures on facts and hyperbole? What's next the evils of lap dances and strip bars?

Now that you have herr chairman's attention why not ask him if Beth White ever figure out who planted spyware on her system and copied her emails to and from the Peterson administration during the 07 primary.There are still some people out there who continue to brag about their cunning. This how they operate.