During Tom John's first year in charge, the Marion County GOP scored an upset win in the 2007 Indianapolis mayoral race and reclaimed control of the City-County Council.What is missing from the story is that, until the very end, Tom John actively worked against Ballard's nomination encouraging Republicans in meetings not to contribute money to him. In the at-large 2007 council race, Tom John only supported one GOP candidate Kent Smith. Despite John's lack of support, two other Republican at-large candidates won.
The Republicans won in 2007 because of the support of tea party-type populists, aided by Democrats who shot themselves in the foot a month before the election. The Republicans won in 2007 despite Tom John's efforts, not because of them.
The Star story goes on to quote IUPUI's political science professor Brian Vargus:
"Tom John did as well as he could, and it wasn't spectacular," said Brian Vargus, a political science professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
"I've always had the feeling that instead of being proactive as the chair, Tom John has had to be reactive. That makes it difficult to steer the party in a Democratic county."
Brian Vargus knows as much about running a grass roots political organization as I do about brain surgery. I'm not aware of his ever being involved in a political organization. He's purely an academic and someone who is regularly criticized by politicos for his inaccurate polling. Vargus' comment about steering makes no sense. John's problem was the direction he was steering the party in (away from populism and to more country club, insider politics) and his failure to recognize that the engine of the party - the grass roots - was sputtering.
If the Marion County GOP organization is going to come back, it needs to do so by strengthening the grass roots of the party. It is when the party workers have actual power and authority that people flock to those positions to do the grunt work necessary to win elections.
Tom John ran the Marion County GOP as an autocratic organization. He actively discouraged the election of precinct committeemen by the Republican electorate in favor of hand-picked PCs who ratify the choices he and other insiders made. Decisions regarding nominees and other matters were made by John and his lieutenants. When rank-and-file Republicans wouldn't go along with the hand-picked choices, John and his lieutenants would pressure those party workers or in some cases have them fired.
John didn't do the best he could have. If he did he would have he would have encouraged the election of PCs and been willing to give up some of his power to the grass roots party worker. Instead John centralized power under his watch, and even eliminated the township organization within the party to try to eliminate local fiefdoms so he would have yet more power. He also put in place a Hamilton County Republican, David Brooks, to act as hatchet man in the Marion County GOP organization.
John would surely had been challenged at the county convention in 2009 had he not so rigged the system. Instead of PCs elected by the voters, many, most of the PCs eligible to vote at the convention were Tom John appointments, many of them "mummy-dummies," non-grass roots working party people John appointed just to vote a certain way at a slating or the county convention. In short, Tom John got to pick his own voters and control the system.
Over at another blog, Tom John and Carl Brizzi pal, Abdul, is playing one of the oldest and most intellectually dishonest games out there. You rig the system...then decry the critics for not wanting to "step up" and participate in the rigged system. Of course no reformer could ever win that game. At the upcoming county convention, Tom John will have appointed most of the people participating. The person selected will certainly be someone handpicked by Tom John and other insiders...not the will of the Marion County GOP electorate as represented by elected neighborhood PCs. In fact, it appears that the insiders already have their candidate - Kyle Walker, who run Mark Massa's failed campaign for Marion County Prosecutor. Gary Welsh of Advance Indiana, who knows his background better than I do, says Walker is just another insider looking to cash in.
In the "old days," by Indiana law PCs and county chairmen were on two year cycles. PCs would get elected at the May primary then a few days later vote for the county chairman. The only people participating at that convention were elected PCs. It was a system that resulted in the grass roots party workers occasionally rising up and throwing out the county chairman.
Now the county chairman gets to appoint most of the PCs attending the convention. The revision has made it virtually impossible for grass roots party workers to dislodge a county chairman, in particular in a large county where there are always a large number of vacant PC slots.
John used his position not to help the GOP organization get stronger, but to cash in personally. With the GOP chairmanship, Tom John landed a job at politically-influential Ice Miller. Despite an obvious conflict, John used his position to lobby the Mayor's Office for Buckingham Companies, which has received a pledge of $98 million in support of a project deemed too risky by every lender who looked at it, and the towing company, Zore's, which is angling to get the City's monopoly towing contract it has decided to create. Zore's also has hired political insider Lesa Deitrick to lobby the Mayor's office.
Tom John could have used his position to strengthen the grass roots of the party. He instead chose more power for himself. He could have helped a politically-naive Mayor steer a political path that would have greatly improved his chances of re-election in 2011. Instead, John and other political insiders chose to cash in personally sacrificing the Mayor's re-election shot in 2011 as well as the Republican Council Majority by duping the Mayor into pursuing highly unpopular policies that will leave him and the Council Republican Majority DOA come election time. It will take 20 years to overcome the thrashing the voters rightfully give Marion County Republicans in the 2011 election. That will be Tom John's legacy.