Monday, April 29, 2013

Why Vetoing SB 621 is Good for Marion County Republicans and Good for Governor Pence

This week Senate Bill 621 will land on the desk of Governor Mike Pence.  He will be faced with the decision to sign it, veto it, or let it pass into law without his signature.  While Indiana's Governor has a very weak veto - it takes only a simple majority in both houses to override a gubernatorial veto in Indiana - it is still a veto.   Given the large number of Republican defections (14) on the SB 621 vote in the House, it is doubtful that that the majority that passed the bill would stick together to override the Governor's veto.
Governor Mike Pence

Governor Pence should strongly consider that veto.  Here's why.

The most objectionable part of Senate Bill 621 is that it strips the Indianapolis City-County Council of virtually all authority when it comes to budgetary matters.  Although the Council still passes the budget, the Mayor, acting through his Controller, can change the budget at a whim, increasing or lowering various appropriations.  It is extraordinary sweeping power not given to any other mayor in the State of Indiana.

Why does this hurt the Marion County Republicans?  The Republican baseline numbers have been declining consistently every election for about the last 20 years.  During the last election, the GOP baseline in Marion County was down to 38%.  The days of Republicans' winning countywide races - like Mayor - is virtually gone if not already gone.  It is most likely that the Mayor sworn in in 2016 will be a Democrat even if Ballard were to run for re-election and ran a good race. 

So if the Republicans don't have the Mayor's Office in the future, where might their power lie?  The answer is the Indianapolis City-County Council, the very body being stripped of power.   According to the maps that GOP operative David Brooks drew, 15 of the 25 council districts have Republican majority baselines according to the 2010 election.  While I was not able to duplicate that analysis due to reprecincting after 2010, I doubt the accuracy of Brooks' numbers.  When I ran the 2012 baseline numbers in those districts I found only 8 are Republican majority seats and the vote spread in many of those districts had declined 10 to 20 points off the 2010 numbers Brooks was claiming.  Of course, 2010 was an unusually good Republican year and 2012 had substantiallly higher turnout due to it being a presidential election year.  Neither Brooks' numbers or my analysis necessarily reflects what would happen in a low turnout municipal election, which is usually better for Republicans.  Most certainly the GOP council numbers after the 2015 elections will number between Brooks' 8 and and my 17 of the total 25 districts up for election.

Indianapolis Councilor Christine Scales
Nonetheless, Republicans will have clout on the Council either with a majority or a significant minority.  But the problem is that SB 621 strips the Council of its budgetary power.  Republicans on the council will be powerless to stop an Indianapolis Democratic Mayor come 2016.

The obvious question is why a Republican Mayor would support such a measure which hurts his party long-term?  Reaching an accurate answer to that question requires an understanding of local Marion County GOP politics. While most of the grassroots workers in the local GOP are motivated by fiscal or social conservatism, the leadership of the party has for years been dominated by people who simply do not care about conservative principles.  Instead they are active in the party because it is a way to get their hands on the taxpayers' money, particularly through government contracts and corporate welfare.  The best way to get those government contracts and corporate welfare is to control the Mayor's Office.

The profiteers aren't dumb. They know the Ballard era is coming to an end.  They want him to have as much power as possible for the next 2 1/2 years so that they can make more money.   Short-term SB 621 increases the power of a Mayor Greg Ballard, while long-term Ballard's political party suffers from the Council being stripped of power.

Only one Republican councilor - Christine Scales - had the courage to step up and publicly criticize SB 621. But there were, in fact, several Republican councilors who opposed it but were intimidated from publicly speaking out about it..  Further, fourteen House members voted against SB 621.   I have never seen so many Republicans voting against as a partisan GOP bill.   That's undoubtedly because many of them knew the bill actually hurt the Republicans long-term.

Finally, I would be remiss by not considering the political consequences to Governor Pence for vetoing SB 621.  If he vetoes SB 621, he will make some insiders in the Indianapolis GOP, the aforementioned profiteers, unhappy.  While they are in leadership of the local GOP, they are only a small part of the Marion County Republican Party.  More importantly those insiders have no ability to deliver votes in Marion County to statewide candidate as evidenced the extremely poor job they did delivering votes for Pence in 2012.  Governor Pence would be better off thinking long-term and doing what is in the best interest of the Ballard-less future of the Marion County GOP.  That means vetoing SB 621.

There is an additional benefit of vetoing SB 621 to Governor Pence.  He will make a statement that he will do what is right, regardless of party.  If he vetoes SB 621, his leadership will be praised in newspapers throughout Indiana, including the Indianapolis Star.  It will help start him on a path of developing a reputation as a fair, thoughtful leader who also happens to be a conservative. Vetoing SB 621 certainly doesn't violate Pence's conservative principles.  If anything, the bill is anti-conservative as it seeks to strip a legislative body of power in favor of the executive.

Yes, a veto of SB 621 would be a solid win for the Governor.

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