Tully was, of course, wrong. The 2007 Republican win was an aberration in the continued decline of the Marion County GOP and the steady erosion of the Republican base vote in the county. Ballard and the Council Republicans won in 2007, because Mayor Peterson shot himself in the foot - repeatedly - the months leading up to the election. Faced with having to defend tax increases and council ethical issues, Marion County Democrats went down to defeat in 2007. There is no evidence that suggests the Republican Party in this county were ever in rebuilding mode. Quite simply the Democrats lost the 2007 election locally; the Republicans did not win it.
While the victory in 2007 was a fortunate case of Mayor Ballard and the Republicans being in the right place when lightning struck, it was also an opportunity to begin the process rebuilding the Marion County GOP. Unfortunately, instead of engaging in that task post-election, the Ballard administration very quickly was overtaken by profiteers more interested in using the Mayor's fortunate victory to line their own pockets with taxpayer cash rather than spend time and resources to rebuild the local GOP. As a result, Mayor Ballard's 2007 victory will prove to be a set-back to rebuilding the Republican Party. After the Ballard administration's insider enrichment and ethical problems are fully exposed in a competitive election, it will be quite some time before Indianapolis voters trust Republicans with the municipal reigns of power again.
With the inevitable thrashing Mayor Ballard will face at the polls in 2011, which will also doom the Republican majority on the Council, will come an opportunity to rethink the Marion County GOP organization and rebuild it to win elections in a less favorable climate than existed 20 years ago. Rebuilding the party won't be a case of winning a particular race or two, but rather working to fix the structure of the party.
Right now most of the troubles of the Marion County GOP center on the fact that party leaders believe in dictatorial approach to the party, an approach which deemphasizes the importance of the local precinct committeeman in favor of decisions handed down from the top with the expectation that the members of the unpaid volunteers who form the heart and soul of the Republican Party will duly carry out those directives. I am constantly running into young Republicans excited about conservative ideas who get involved in the Marion County GOP organization only to leave a couple years later totally discouraged by the party lack of interest in traditional conservative issues and their involvement in the party.
Here are some of my suggestions for rebuilding the party.
- Strengthen the grass roots of the party by giving more power and authority to precinct committeemen.
- Encourage a return to the elected neighborhood precinct committeemen.
- End the use of "mummy-dummy" precinct committeemen to try to influence slatings and other party elections by adopting a rule that only elected PCs or appointed PCs who have worked in two elections, can vote in slatings. (While I'm not convinced that the problems with slating can be fixed, it's such an institution here in Marion County, it might be difficult to eliminate. Done correctly, slating has merit. Unfortunately, it seems to be a system that wil always be open to abuse. My rules would help though.)
- End this "area chairman" nonsense in favor of the old township organizations. The idea of area chairman was done to break the power of the township organizations in favor of the concentration of more power in the hands of the county chairman. But being part of a township organization creates a sense of identity people do not have with an "area."
- Ask precinct committeemen to serve on boards, and give them an absolute right to serve on at least one. That might get rid of the rubber stamp the Mayor likes so much, but it gives PCs a stake in their government and helps energize the party. You have to reward PCs for their hard work. Appointments to boards and commissions help do that.
- Encourage open debate about political issues in Republican party clubs. I remember being part of a blogger panel awhile back at a Washington Township club meeting. It was one of the best attended meetings of the year. People were enthused and excited about the issues that were discussed. Later I heard Marion County Area Chairman and Hamilton County resident David Brooks was outraged we were invited to speak our minds at the meeting. God forbid Republican workers get other ideas than those distributed to people by Chairman John or Brooks. Bottom line is that political issues are what motivates most people to be politically active. Allowing free debate does undermine dictatorial control of the party, but it strengthens the grass roots and encourages involvement.
- Professionalize the party. It may seem like a radical idea, but I think we need to start finding a way to financially compensate PCs for their work. Even if it's only a couple hundred dollars, a financial reward would help give PCs a sense of worth in what they do. I think elected officials would be more than willing to help raise money to pay PCs.
- There should be a rule against lobbyists becoming county chairman. There is an enormous conflict with a Tom John promoting the ACS parking contract when it clearly is something that is going to hurt the Mayor come election time.
- End the secrecy in the GOP. Throughout my tenure in the party, I've seen party leaders use withholding information as a weapon. Very often, county chairman unbelievably will refuse to disclose who actually makes up the organization. The names and contact information of PCs, Ward Chairman, and other party workers should be publicly available, or at least available to any party worker or GOP elected official.
- Pass a rule that to be a member of the Marion County GOP organization and participating in slating, vacancy elections and county conventions, you have to be a resident of Marion County and the township you're working in. In the past we've had people voting at these events who weren't residents of Marion County and in some cases weren't even residents of Indiana. Party rules are really lax when it comes to residency requirements.
Unfortunately the current county chairman doesn't seem to carry much about the opinions of the men and women who make up the Marion County GOP. He believes they exist simply to carry out the dictates of the Republican leadership and the Ballard administration. That organizational structure works for the military, but it doesn't work for a political organization, especially one that in a county in which the party is in the minority and needs to reach beyond the party insiders to succeed.