|Indiana GOP State Chairman Eric Holcomb|
Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb and two other party officers are stepping down as part of several changes announced today to state committee members.With Republican elected officials in virtually every statewide office and GOP supermajorities in both houses of the legislature, Holcomb would appear to leave the State Republican Party in excellent shape. However, there is a growing political crisis developing in Marion County, the state's most populous county. While Republicans in Indianapolis once enjoyed one of the best grass roots county political organization, in the country, that has not been the case the case for more a quarter century. Beginning in the middle 1980s, the power and authority that once energized the grass roots party workers began to be taken away in favor of giving that power to party leaders. The situation in the past decade has grown increasingly worse, with party leaders assuming more and more power. As a result, slating conventions, which used to feature spirited contests with energized precinct committeemen casting votes for their favorites, now involve tiny crowds ratifying the unopposed candidates pre-selected by party bosses.
The departures of Holcomb, Vice Chairwoman Sandi Huddleston and Treasurer Peter Deputy — three of the party’s four officers — will give Gov. Mike Pence a chance to make his mark on the future of the state party by influencing the committee’s leadership selection. Pence took office in January.
Also announcing their departures from leadership posts today were former Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, one of Indiana’s two appointees to the Republican National Committee, and Indiana GOP Executive Director Justin Garrett.
The party’s new chair will be selected officially by the state committee, which includes chairs and vice chairs representing each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts. However, a sitting governor’s choice has never been rejected by either major Indiana political party.
The increasingly autocratic approach of the Marion County GOP leadership has not only drained the grass roots of any incentive to work for Republican candidates, that approach has contributed to a dramatically shrinking GOP electorate in the county. While in 2000, the Republicans had a 50.09% majority baseline in the county, by 2012 it had shrunk to 38.21%. In the last election, Governor Mike Pence lost Marion County to Democrats John Gregg by 80,618 votes. The Marion County GOP deficit for Pence actually exceeded Pence's GOP deficit in Lake County, which was "only" 66,548 in 2012. The days when the GOP vote in Marion County could be counted to offset the Democratic vote in Lake County is long gone.
Naysayers undoubtedly will point to the exceptions such as Governor Daniels performance in Marion County in 2004 and 2008 and Mayor Ballard's win in 2007 and 2011. But those are aberrations that don't disprove the overwhelming evidence that Marion County is rapidly becoming a major drag in statewide races. The next Indiana Republican Chairman should make improving the organization in Marion County a priority. If the GOP numbers in Marion County continue to decline, then Governor Pence and every Republican statewide candidate may pay the price at the polls.