Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Impact of Senate Bill 621 on Indianapolis-Marion County Politics

Today, Governor Mike Pence signed Senate Bill 621, the bill that significantly increases the Mayor's power over spending, including over separately elected county officials, eliminates the four at-large seats on the Indianapolis County-Council, eliminates the requirement for annual approval of the Mayor's appointments to director and deputy position,  increases the Mayor's appointments to the Metropolitan Development Commission and provides for central counting of absentee ballots in Marion and Lake Counties.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard

In short, the bill substantially increases the power of the Mayor while decreasing the power of the elected City-County Council.  By eliminating the four at-large seats, it also improves the odds the Republicans can win the Council back in 2015 despite the increasingly Democratic numbers in the county.

It appears from his veto message that Governor Pence was most supportive of the provision giving the Mayor more power over spending.  While it's true that the Indianapolis Mayor would be given power comparable to mayors in other cities, the problem with that argument is that Indianapolis is not like the government in other cities in that we have consolidated city-county government.  Now separately elected county officials in Marion County, all Democrats will be at the mercy of the Republican Mayor when it comes to their spending.

It appears that Governor Pence was most bothered by the provision eliminating the four at-large seats, which, while it was presented as a cost-saving measure, is most certainly also aimed at giving the Republicans help in Democratic Marion County.

Brian Vargas, who is identified by the Indianapolis Star as a political consultant and former political science professor, is quoted as saying that Governor Pence had to sign the legislation to appease the GOP establishment which has never been enamored with Pence.  I'm not sure if that is a reference to state Republican leaders or local Marion County GOP leaders.  If the former is the case, the only provision that actually helps Republicans is the elimination of the at-large seats.  More than likely the political pressure came from the GOP Marion County leadership which seems more focused on giving Mayor Ballard more power while reducing the council's authority  As I've noted in these pages before, that's a shortsighted approach.  Long term, the Democrats are set to control every office in the county, including the Mayor's Office, and the only significant power Republicans will have is on the Council, either with a majority or, more likely, a significant minority.

What is not well understood by those not enmeshed in Marion County GOP politics is that a small cadre of Republicans control the power in the county.  They could not care less about conservative political ideas, like cutting taxes and reducing spending, and instead view government mostly as an avenue of making money.  That small group of leaders do not reflect the views of the GOP grass roots workers, or what's left of them, or the Republican electorate in Marion County.  Indeed that small group of leaders after 2007 chose to utilize their power that came with the Mayor's Office to enrich themselves and their friends rather than do the hard work necessary to rebuild the Marion County GOP into an organization that could win elections in an increasingly Democratic county.

Let's take a look now at the political impact of SB 621 in light of the approaching 2015 municipal elections.

SB 621 AS POLITICAL ISSUE:  Several Marion County Democrats have expressed the opinion thatmayorship and they've failed to exploit those issues. Whether it is giving the Pacers $33.5 million while libraries are closed and public safety is cut, whether it is entering into a 50 year parking meter contract that is worth  over a billion dollars to a company the Mayor's attorney and President of the Council lobby for, whether it is using the public's money to build a parking garage in Broad Ripple that a political contributor will own and collect all the revenue from, the Democrats have repeatedly dropped the ball on making a distinction between what they do and Mayor Ballard has done.   The most recent example of Democrats fumbling an issue was the proposed 50% increase in local car rental tax and 67% increase in admissions tax, 75% of which money that is raised goes to the CIB, which then of course gave Irsay $2 million to add two new suites to Lucas Oil Stadium.  Instead of making the Republicans own those tax increases by making them vote as a bloc, Democratic leadership on the council agreed to share blame providing an equal amount of votes to those provided by Republicans.
Indianapolis At-Large Councilor Zach Adamson
"power grab" in SB 621 will give them a winning issue in the 2015 municipal campaign.    First, I would point out that the Democrats have been repeatedly handed issues by Mayor Ballard throughout his

I don't buy that SB 621 is a good issue that will resonate with public.  I think the voters will view it as "inside baseball," with the possible exception of the loss of the at-large seats.  But even that can be quickly defended in a 30 second spot as a cost cutting measure.

Still SB 621 can be a winning political issue, but in another way.  It can be leveraged for the Marion County Democratic Party to raise funds and rally its base in Marion County.  The Democrats appeared to suffer from lethargy in the 2011 municipal campaign.  Well that's over with SB 621.  Expect local Democrats, unlike last election cycle, to go full bore attacking Ballard for everything.  And that's where the mistake was made before the 2011 election.  The book on political strategy is that you have surrogates (such as Democratic members of council and the Democratic county chairman) attack and define the incumbent mayor well before the election so that when a eventual challenger is nominated, he or she doesn't have to take the inevitable flack running hard negative ads against the incumbent.

BIPARTISANSHIP ON THE COUNCIL IS DEAD:   Local Democrats are angry that SB 621 was sprung on them without input and they were not made partners with the development of the changes contained in the bill.  They appear hurt and betrayed by Mayor Ballard pushing the changes, apparently without even notifying the council majority.  Expect that the Democrats support of Ballard's proposals to end.  Expect the rhetoric and challenges to Ballard's pro corporate welfare agenda to increase.

MAYOR'S RACE:   On a recent Sunday morning TV show, Mayor Ballard's political consultant Jen Hallowell commented that the Mayor would be running for a third term.  I don't buy it.  Greg Ballard has beaten the odds twice in Marion County, due almost completely to Democrats shooting themselves in the foot in 2007 and 2011.  The smart money is that Ballard doesn't risk a third attempt at challenging fate and accepts some sort of appointment or perhaps a position such as head of the American Legion.  On the Democratic side, they are almost certain to put up a heavy hitter and put everything behind that candidate due to the increased importance now of the Mayors office.  Democrats cannot afford to have a Republican Mayor unilaterally reducing the budgets of Democratic countywide officials.  Expect the Democrats to easily win the Mayor's race in 2015.

COUNCIL RACES:  Currently the council map draw Republican operative David Brooks on behalf of the lame duck Republican majority following the 2011 election is being challenged in court.  The challenge centers on statutory language that the council maps be redrawn by the council in the second year after the census, i.e. 2012.  Republicans claim to have satisfied that requirement by the council passing it in 2011 and the Mayor signing it in 2012.

I doubt the Indiana Supreme Court, where this case is eventually headed, will uphold the Republican lame duck map.  Most likely the Supreme Court will, once again, redraw the districts in a fashion similar to the way it was the Court ended up drawing the maps after the last census, i.e. with 25 compact districts with no regard to partisanship of those districts.

I think there is an outside shot that the 2011 Brooks map will be upheld by the Court.  That map was drawn using 2010 baseline numbers, to produce a 15-10 Republican majority, a narrow margin for Republicans as it was expected the at-large council seats would be won by Democrats.  I don't buy those numbers.  Because of reprecincting I was not able to check the 2010 baseline numbers compared to the district.  But I looked at the 2012 baseline, admittedly a bigger turnout that is better for Democrats.  Still the huge swings in the districts to the Democrats in those districts, often by double figures, suggest that perhaps the 2010 numbers are off:

District 2010 R Baseline 2012 R Baseline
1 41.8 35.31
2 51.98 48.85
3 55.12 50.38
4 57.37 51.47
5 55.57 50.71
6 52.38 43.37
7 20.91 19.45
8 23.98 19.53
9 16.45 14.78
10 22.35 17.75
11 15.48 15.36
12 42.42 33.96
13 17.96 13.12
14 23.25 16.29
15 55.85 45.3
16 51.55 41.2
17 18.08 15.39
18 60.82 52.36
19 52.09 43.61
20 65.79 59.12
21 50.43 42.48
22 55.69 44.75
23 65.65 60.13
24 64.18 58.87
25 70.28 66.18
Total 44.53 38.26
Result 15 R 10 D; 17 D 8 R

It appears that Brooks, charged with the task of getting 15 Republican districts in order to offset the inevitable 4 at-large Democrats on the 29 person council, had to cut the margins too closely on the Republican seats.  If he would have known that the 4 at-large seats were being eliminated, he could have drawn 13 more solid Republican districts and possibly assured the majority.

The Brooks map is not as bad for Democrats as Democrats seem to think it is.  There simply isn't enough Republican vote, in particular on the north side of Indianapolis, to create as many Republican districts there as Brooks did.  The numbers are sliced razor thin and the Republican majorities don't hold up when you look at the election results.   I think it almost certain that the Council majority will go to the Democrats in 2015.  But even if the Republicans somehow prevail or have a significant minority on the council, SB 621 will have significantly cut the council's power in dealing with a Democratic Mayor.

Bottom line, the political impact of SB 621, beyond 2015, is that the Republicans in Marion County lose while the Democratic Mayor elected in 2015 wins.

1 comment:

Flogger said...

The Democrats will try to find some safe Retread to run for Mayor. We have a RepubliCrat Party in Marion County. As a Party the Democrats never opposed the Corporate-Welfare-Crony Capitalism State that allows the Professional Sports establishment to skim profits off the top, and leave the tax payers with the Bill. The Democrat Mayoral Retread will simply continue the spirit of Cronyism, rather than Reform.

Streets and roads are crumbling all over except down town. You hardly ever see a Police Car on patrol. The City is like a Hollywood set a facade of prosperity down town, supported by all sorts gimmicks.