Saturday, September 4, 2010

Rebuilding the Marion County Republican Organization

I remember reading a Matthew Tully column quite awhile back in which the columnist referred to a revitalized Marion County GOP under Marion County Chairman Tom John. Tully's evidence was based on the 2007 mayoral win of Republican Greg Ballard and Republicans regaining control of the Council that same year. Tully too chalked the supposed revitalization of the party up to John adopting less conservative positions.

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.


Cato said...

Why don't you first start by laying down a set of philosophical principles?

If Ballard had such principles, everything else would from from these.

As it stands, the Republicans merely look like a club established for obtaining and exercising power.

There's not much to motivate me to help make other guys rich and powerful.

dcrutch said...

I think philosophical principals stated from both parties would be a welcome advance. However, it seems politics has become so corrupt on about any level that considerations like definitive stances that are upheld regardless of influence or councilmen recusing themselves from votes are now antiquities of a bygone era.

I've regretted not attending a local Township GOP gathering. However, if free exchange of ideas is not encouraged by party leadership, it appears I'd be wasting my time. "Carry out the dictates of the Republican leadership and Ballard administration"? Has the local GOP heard of a little thing called the Tea Party? The reason we're in the mess we're in is as much the corruption and spending of Republicans as Democrats. They really intend to stifle debate and ask everyone to march in lockstep? What's good for the law firm of the incumbent is good for the city? Period.

I don't think the people are buying decision-making that corrupted. While, as I understand it, power is not exclusive to one law firm because of a particular incumbency, I don't think it's a sizable stretch to believe we're welcoming Mayor Baker & Daniels to office in November.

Is "meet the new boss- same as the old boss" the way it's always been?

Indy Student said...

dcrutch, unfortunately, the Tea Party movement seems to barely register on the local level. I don't know if it's because they don't know about what's going on, or are willfully ignoring what's happening, or actually believe the county GOP are doing an a-okay job.

The LPIN and county Libertarians at least try to take positions on local and state issues and send representatives to meetings when they can. But I don't think I've ever seen a Tea Party representative at a single council meeting.

dcrutch said...

I think the local Tea Party folk got somewhat discouraged with the Indiana Senate Republican primary results. That being said, I think their political fire is still burning and share an outlook on a lot of issues with Libertarians, Independents, and some Republicans & Democrats. I think any party ignores contemporary polling and electoral results in Virginia, New Jersy, Massachusetts, Utah, Alaska, Kentucky, and other locations at their own risk.

Cato said...

The Tea Party seems to be a more energetic version of the Republicans. The Tea Partiers love all forms of big government: big war, big police, big social conservatism, big border patrol, big prisons.

It's difficult to find much attractive about the Tea Partiers, and their candidates will only be successful in states that are already very red.

One of those "we need to put God back into America" Tea Partiers will only be seen as a joke in a statewide California or New York race.

Tam said...


This must be a special Tea Party that's occurring only in your head.

When constructing a straw man against which to argue, one should at least make the attempt to give it the same general shape as your actual opponent.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Cato, you have a good point. A platform would be nice.

Unfortunately the GOP has been more about handing out favors than ideas.

Paul K. Ogden said...

One thing I would like is a free exchange of ideas at GOP meetings. You don't have that at all now. It would really energize the party if people were free to talk about issues. Instead meetings are more like pep rallies.

Cato said...

O.K., Tam, have it your way.

Show me the Tea Party platform that is anti-war, pro-establishment clause, and down on cops.

Show me the Tea Party rally that advocated ending war and reducing the size and reach of police.

So far, all I'm seeing is a lot of flag- and government-worship from the Tea Partiers.

Tam said...

"Show me the Tea Party platform that..."

Show me the "Tea Party platform", period.


People have been playing on Astroturf for so long that they don't recognize grassroots even when fed a mouthful of divot.

Show me the "Liberal platform".

Cato said...

I don't know where the Liberals keep their platform, O' false dichotomous one.

If the Tea Party is just nebulous grassroots angst, it can mean precisely anything, at any moment, depending upon local irritation.

Against just what, specifically, are you Tea Partiers grassrooting? For what do you stand?

I'll tell ya', I was on board with the Tea Partiers back when they were all Ron Paul activists. Those people have all been kicked out, and the only common thread I can now find in the Tea Partiers is that they don't like a Black man being President.

Bush and Obama run the country quite similarly, really. The Tea Partiers weren't enraged by Bush, but they're apoplectic over Obama.

Tam said...

"Those people have all been kicked out..."

Kicked out? Kicked out by whom? Who has the authority to kick people out?

"...the only common thread I can now find in the Tea Partiers is that they don't like a Black man being President..."


From someone who just accused me of "False Dichotomy", this is effin' delicious!

The race card, like patriotism, is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Cato said...

So, Tam, do you have an argument, or just a string of ad hominems?

Just what do you Tea Partiers stand for?

Where were you when Bush was President?

What happened between 2008 and 2009 to make all of you appear en masse and proclaim your dissatisfaction (though no proclamation ever issues with any specificity)?

You talk and talk but never get 'round to answering the question.

Marycatherine Barton said...

I so agree with dcruth's comment.

dcrutch said...


Having made an attempt at being participative, I attended protests on Meridian and in City-Council, emailed my elected representatives, and called talk shows- all pre-President Obama. I respectfully disagree on the racial angle. I think racism "detection" is usually a subjective matter, maybe better gauged by a 1-100 scale than an on-off switch. I'd guess there's less racism in a batch of Tea Partiers than the 90% who voted for our President who had roughly the same skin pigment. However, until I can magically discern the true motivation of every voter (or protester), I really don't know- do I?

I think we're stuck debating the issues. Hopefully, moreso on facts than speculation.