Monday, August 24, 2009

The Need for Bipartisanship And Independent Thinking On The Council

While watching the Indianapolis City-County Council over the past year, one thing that strikes me is how poisoned the atmosphere has become with partisan politics. Partisan politics is certainly not unusual in a legislative body, nor is it always a bad thing. But despite the tensions in Washington, D.C., very few votes in Congress actually come down to party line votes where the parties line up on opposite sides. It's the same with the Indiana General Assembly. Despite the fact that the Indiana House is very competitive, few actual votes come down to party line events.

When I view the Council, I see a completely different situation. Virtually every contested vote (those where significant number of members are on both sides of the issue) comes down to Republicans lining up against Democrats. Indianapolis' government is certainly the exception when it comes to the partisan divides which dominate ordinary legislation. In Congress and at the General Assembly you see a lot of "mixed votes," votes where significant numbers of Republicans and Democrats are on both sides of the issues.

Certainly things like redistricting and the budget understandably are resolved on party line votes. But there is no reason for an issue like the panhandling ordinance, which is to be heard in committee tonight, to be subject of a party line vote. Undoubtedly there are Democrats who are concerned about the solicitations and public safety. Republicans on the other hand should be concerned about the constitutionality of the ordinance and the likelihood the City will shell out tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees (most likely to a well-connected law firm) to defend the ordinance.

Recently the Republican council members voted almost unanimously to pass the first Capital Improvement Board tax increase, a 1% increase in the hotel tax to give Indianapolis the highest hotel tax in the country. You cannot tell me that if a Mayor Peterson had proposed the tax increase, Republican Council members would have been screaming at the top of thier lungs as Democrats lined up for the tax increase. Either the hotel tax increase is right or it is wrong. The fact that it is proposed by a Democrat or Republican Mayor, doesn't change that fact.

The lack of independent thinking is also a problem on the council. Republicans on the council went along with the tax increase without even asking for the first reform from the CIB. The CIB has been running deficits for a decade and yet no Republican who voted for the tax increase even bothered to make as a condition of his or her vote that the CIB be reformed...rather they just gave it more taxpayer money to continue its mismanagement. Why? It is an "us v. them" attitude. If a Republican Council member asked for reform, that person would immediately become a target and labeled as an opponent of the Mayor's position on the issue.

The Council majority needs to operate as a separate entity, not an extension of the Mayor's Office. People from the Mayor's Office have no business regularly being allowed in the Council Majority Caucus meetings. That doesn't happen in the Indiana General Assembly or the U.S. Congress. The reason why is that a legislative body needs to act as an independent body. It is the same with the Council. The Council can't act as an independent body if people from the Mary's Office are allowed in Council strategy meetings. Their presence alone is intimidating, even before getting into strong-arm tactics when councilors suggest they might want to take a different position than the Mayor.

While the Council's actions demonstrate a bitter partisan divide, the fact is Republican and Democratic voters in Marion County don't have such stark divisions. Council members from both parties would be wise to start representing their constituents more and their party leadership less.

1 comment:

M Theory said...

Paul, there's not even bi-partisan independent thinking among the activists. Why should the councilors be better than the activists who are trying to direct them to make better choices for Indy?

Liberty and The People should always come first. Recently I learned that to some of the activists what a republican party member might or might not think is more important than Liberty.

I quit all activist work because of it. I also made the decision to cut off all future financial donations because of it.

My trust was violated by the very people I thought I could trust the most.

You cannot build a foundation for anything worthwhile without trust.