Wednesday, March 4, 2009

State Democrats Refuse to Monitor Election of Lake County Democratic Chairman

The mayors of several smaller cities in Lake County asked that State Chairman Dan Parker provide monitoring at Saturday's county convention, where the Lake County Democratic chairman and other county party offices will be elected.

Gary Mayor Rudy Clay is seeking a new term as county chairman. He is being challenged by Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. and Lake County Surveyor George Van Til.

According to the Associated Press:

On Friday, the mayors of Hobart, Lake Station, Whiting and other supporters of McDermott sent Parker a letter asking him to step in. They said they had been unable to find out from the county committee or Clay what procedures would be used to select the chairman.

Parker refused, citing state party rules that prohibit involvement before the county convention.

It is not exactly a surprise that Rudy Clay would refuse to provide the rules in advance for selection of the chairman. As you recall during the Democratic presidential primary, Clay appeared on CNN attempting to explain why no results from Lake County had been reported until nearly midnight. His explanation defied any semblance of common sense, yet Clay just kept repeating it. His explanation was roundly criticized by McDermott who was on the same program. McDermott decried the reputation of Lake County being corrupt and said that the withholding of the votes that night played into that perception.

Of course, it's not a perception without a lot of truth to it. Lake County has a history of corrupt politics which is decades old. Marion County, where the leadership of both parties have been captured by corporate interests trying to secure lucrative contracts, is rapidly closing the gap on Lake County when it comes to public corruption. But I digress.

One of the reasons for the decline in the strength of political parties in Indiana is that the parties have gotten away from the idea of elected neighborhood committeemen picking their county chairman and other county-wide offices. Prior to the middle 1980s, the county convention was held after the election of precinct committeemen in May, an election which took place every 2 years. Every few decades, the Marion County GOP leadership would be overthrown by another faction running precinct committeemen throughout the county and then dumping the current chairman. It was a process that brought a freshness, an energy to the grass roots.

That changed after the middle 1980s. The Marion County Republican delegation, at the behest of Marion County GOP Chairman for Life John Sweezy, successfully passed two bills which changed the length of term of the precinct committeemen and county chairman from 2 to 4 years and reset the timing of the election so the county convention where the county chairman is elected was nearly 3 years after the election of the committeemen. The result was that the county chairman could fill numerous vacant precinct committeemen slots for the purpose of ensuring his re-election. The impact of the legislation greatly weakened the elected precinct committeemen system in favor of increasing the power of party leaders. While the law has now been scrapped in favor of party rules, the rules still allow the county chairman to pick many of the very precinct committeemen who will be attending the convention. to vote for the county chairman.

The other day, I was asked why I don't run against Tom John for Marion County Republican chairman. Well, it sure isn't because he's doing a good job. His unwavering support of the elitist, country club direction of the Marion County Republican Party is to ensure the GOP has no future as the majority party in this county. The reason why is that I don't enter into elections where the other candidate gets to pick the voters. Even the best candidate can't win under such circumstances. Rather now changes to the county party leadership in Marion County happen from top down instead of the bottom up. If Republicans continue to lose elections county-wide in Marion County, I expect that Tom John will be asked by very high level Republican officials to quietly step aside after the 2011 election.

The situation is a little better in smaller counties where the county chairman doesn't quite have the pool of vacant committeeman slots as Marion County Chairman does. Still it will be an uphill climb for McDermott to knock off Clay. I wish him well though. Democrats in Lake County deserve better than having Rudy Clay as their leader.

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