Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mayor Ballard's Political Suicide


I have been meaning to write about the political ramifications of the Pacers' deal but got sidetracked. Today's column by Matthew Tully though got me back on track. Unfortunately the Tully column discussing political issues including the Pacers bailout doesn't appear to be on-line.

Remarkably Tully concludes that the Mayor has survived the Pacer deal and suggests there was little public outrage giving the Pacers $33.5 million while libraries are cutting hours, schools are laying off teachers, and the parks budget is slashed. I can only assume Tully lives out of state and emails in his column because he seems completely out of the loop when it comes to public opinion in our City. At the very least he should read the letters to the editors published today and comments to Pacer articles. Every letter and virtually every comment to Pacers articles are filled with utter contempt for the Mayor's deal.

Tully suggests that the Mayor succeeded by putting together a bipartisan coalition of (downtown) business leaders. I'm trying to remember a corporate welfare scheme those leaders have not supported. They don't oppose them because they know doing so might endanger their handout when they ask for one. You see it in the Star today where Simon Crookall, the CEO of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, applauds the Pacers bailout and then asks for a similar public investment by the City in the arts.

Tully also makes reference to the Mayor's promoting the Pacers' deal by going on television and radio shows. (Mayor Ballard also penned a letter in today's Star promoting the deal.) While Tully suggest this media blitz was a good political move, in fact it was one of the dumbest political moves I have ever seen. The deal was going to pass without Mayor Ballard's help. The Mayor's efforts swayed very few people when swaying folks wasn't even necessary. All you do by sending the Mayor out there in the media is to tie the Mayor even more directly to a highly unpopular issue. I used to teach a political strategy class. The Mayor's media blitz would be Exhibit A on what not to do politically.

The political impact of the Pacers' deal will ultimately be judged by what happens at the polls in November 2011, and possibly May if the Mayor runs for re-election and has an opponent. When looking at the impact of a political issue there are certain factors you look at in determining the likely impact of the issue on the election.
  1. Is the issue one that is easy to explain and understand?

  2. Has the issue been well-publicized?

  3. Does the issue involve strongly held opinions?

  4. Is there an intensity of opinion on one side that's not on the other side?

  5. Are there other issues that keep the spotlight on the issue so it will still be in people's minds on Election Day?

  6. Is the issue one that hurts the candidate with his base?

  7. Is the issue one that opponents will actively exploit during the campaign?

Here's the scorecard:

#1 Extremely easy to explain and understand. The Mayor supports giving away tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, in the middle of a recession, to a billionaire sports owner while funding for schools and libraries are being cut. The Mayor's pro-Pacer subsidy side is much harder to explain and takes too long for a conventional soundbite.

#2 The Pacers $33.5 million deal has been extremely well-publicized. You'd be hard pressed to find people in Indianapolis who don't know about the giveaway.

#3 Opinions are extremely strong. People are livid about the deal.

#4 The anti-Pacer bailout side has a much stronger intensity than the pro-Pacer bailout side. Plus, the pro side got what it wanted and will have moved on to other issues. It's going to be a "voting issue" (an issue that affects your vote) on the anti-side but not on the pro-side.

#5 Absolutely. Every time stories are written about the libraries cutting hours, bus routes or the parks' budget being cut, people are going to be reminded of the $33.5 million giveaway to the Pacers.

#6 When a candidate takes a position that is unpopular with his base, the political fallout is far worse than what it would otherwise be. While this issue angers voters across the board, it particularly angers fiscal conservatives who make up the heart of the Republican Party, people who Ballard desperately needs to have any shot at winning at 2011. It also angers populists not all of whom are fiscal conservatives. Populists were the core of Ballard's support in 2007. Their support of Ballard now is virtually gone.

#7 This is the only factor that works in Ballard's favor. Melina Kennedy, the likely Democratic nominee, has made some milquetoast criticism of the Pacer deal but has not attacked it directly. Kennedy has long supported the elitist downtown establishment and will only go so far in taking them on. So she can't fully exploit the huge anti-Pacer deal public sentiment.

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In summary, Factors 1-6 all are against the Mayor and speak to why the Pacers deal will be a horrible thing for him politically. Only Factor 7 works in his favor. But even that factor isn't that good for him. Here's why. Virtually every election involving an incumbent is a referendum on that incumbent. Even if Kennedy doesn't make it an issue, the blame for the Pacers deal will fall on the shoulders of the incumbent, Mayor Ballard. The buck, or actually $33.5 million bucks, stops at the Mayor's desk. It's his responsibility and he will get the blame, no matter what Kennedy does.

While I never thought the Mayor had much of a chance at re-election, the unpopular and unnecessary Pacers deal sealed his fate as a one term politician. Members of the Ballard staff might want to update their resumes. Any hope of a Ballard second term is gone.

9 comments:

Advance Indiana said...

President George H.W. "Read My Lips, No More Taxes" sealed his fate when he supported a tax increase. Nothing would change the minds of the disenchanted enough to bring those voters back. Ballard has not done it once or twice, but on several occasions. Nothing is going to bring those people back who feel betrayed by him. He's toast. I will gladly watch him become the first one term mayor in many decades.

Paul K. Ogden said...

AI, I agree his fate was sealed already. But there were others who were believing he had a shot. This should finish off any belief the Mayor can be re-elected.

Advance Indiana said...

The big difference between Ballard and Peterson is that widespread dissolusionment didn't set in with Peterson until bascially the six-month period leading up to the election. Ballard has been drifting downward in popularity from the beginning, and he never had the kind of approval numbers Peterson once enjoyed. Melina Kennedy would have to screw up really bad to lose. Ballard keeps trying to score points with her political base who will never vote for him, and in doing so he has completely alienated is own base. Frankly, I've concluded he's just too stupid to even know what his political base was in the beginning since he made none of those people a part of his administration. Most of the people Ballard has appointed to high level jobs in his administration either didn't vote for him because they don't live in the city or they voted for Peterson.

Jon said...

So far our mayor has reneged on every promise he has made and become more of a democrat than his democrat predecessor. Ballard was elected by voters who were so disenchanted by the current mayor that anyone else seemed like a better idea.

In the next election our mayor has as much change as a snowstorm in the Sahara; he has no credibility and he won't have any grassroots support.

My concern is what other travesties will be laid on our doorstep before he does exit the building?

Jon E. Easter said...

Solid analysis Paul.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Response to Second AI Comment:

"The big difference between Ballard and Peterson is that widespread dissolusionment didn't set in with Peterson until bascially the six-month period leading up to the election."

True, however, there is even a bigger difference. Peterson started out with a strong Democratic majority in the county and had to lose a lot of voters to lose the election. Ballard starts out with a Republican minority. He has to net add voters.

"Melina Kennedy would have to screw up really bad to lose."

Absolutely.

"Ballard keeps trying to score points with her political base who will never vote for him, and in doing so he has completely alienated is own base."

Exactly on the mark. You make your base happy and then you reach out. You have to be very careful about alienating one's base because doing so is almost always fatal.

"Frankly, I've concluded he's just too stupid to even know what his political base was in the beginning since he made none of those people a part of his administration."

I don't know if it's just maximum political stupidity or whether the people around him don't care one whit about Ballard's political future. He's almost certainly being used by elitist to pad their pockets with taxpayer money.

HOOSIERS FOR FAIR TAX said...

Guys...it's not a tax! It's increased utility rates for our future water used as collateral to the bond banksters.

It's an increased fee, but not a tax.

Jon said...

HFT, I don't care how the government extracts money from myself; taxes, surcharges, fees etc but rather that it isn't my money anymore. I have lost the economic opportunity to use that money for my own purposes. Once my money becomes government money I can't control where, when or how that money is spent.

Citizen Kane said...

HFFT - it is a tax. When a user fee is diverted to pay for something other than its purpose, the portion appropriated is an embedded hidden tax that no amount of water conservation will prevent one from paying.