Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why "Wild Card" Brian Mahern May Still Win the Political Card Game

While embroiled in a couple bitter grandparent custody trials this week, I missed the opportunity to write about recent local political developments. Two bloggers - ironically Democrats from Marion County's least populated township, Decatur- penned excellent columns on the attempt of Democrat Councilor's Brian Mahern's attempt to oust fellow Democrat Maggie Lewis from her job as President of the Indianapolis City-County Council.  Jon Easter of Indy Democrat leads off the discussion:
Councilor Brian Mahern
Brian Mahern’s once bright political light didn't just short circuited on Monday

Mahern tried to unseat Maggie Lewis as President of the City-County Council at Monday's Council meeting.  He failed.  Spectacularly.  Didn't he count votes or something?
Mahern fell short of the necessary votes to toss out Lewis.  Four Republicans (Jose Evans, Christine Scales, Will Gooden, and Jeff Miller) joined with the 13 Democrats present to punt Mahern's poorly conceived proposal out of consideration, 17-11.

What surprises me is that Mahern's plot to overthrow his own Council leader was so poorly conceived.  One thing a Mahern, of all people, should know is when you're trying to take out the City-County Council President that you should make sure you have the votes.  Now, he's finished.  His ability to push any agenda is through.  Now, he is a party of one.  Where he goes from here is anyone's guess.
Pat Andrews of Had Enough Indy takes note of the current 15-14 split on the council and comes to a different conclusion regarding Mahern's future influence:
The Council leadership and their power brokers didn't like all that talk about being sensible with TIFs - nor, for completeness sake, do the Council minority leadership and their power brokers.
The Ds stripped Mahern of his Chairmanship, of his VP position - and just last week they stripped him of even serving on the coveted Rules committee. 
But, the Ds should worry about continuing their harsh ways.  Mahern could do an Evans and switch party allegiance to the Rs.  What would he lose?

That one seat would swing the Council to an R majority.

They could cut millions from all Democrat-elected County office budgets - with abandon.

They could re-re-redistrict the Council seats and end the chance that the State Supreme Court would redraw the maps as they did a decade ago.

They could eliminate the homestead credit.  They could redraw the old IPD tax district.  They could increase the COIT and PST income tax rates to max.

They could reassign all members of standing committees of the Council, and taking the D lead, assign a lone D to each one.  Just for fun, they could assign Mahern to all the really nifty committees.

They could create as many new TIF districts in Republican held Council districts as they wanted.  They could continue to snub D Councillors and still not invite them to ribbon cutting ceremonies when key projects are commenced in a Democrat held Council district.

The Mayor's office could go back to ignoring them.

My god, they could even switch the side of the room they sit in.

Clearly, Maggie Lewis would not remain Council President if the Rs gained the majority.

Yup.  A little strategy might be a good thing here. 
Pat's analysis is dead on, except in one respect. She has Mahern switching to the Republican Party.  It is unlikely that Mahern, from a well-known and long-time Indianapolis Democratic family, would do that. Mahern though does not have to switch parties  All he has to do is vote with the Republicans on organizational votes and the Democrats, although a majority in number, are reduced to being in the minority.

Jon makes the point that Brian Mahern screwed up by not counting votes beforehand.  Perhaps. But here is another possibility - Mahern's maneuver to try to oust Lewis caught councilors by surprise or they only received very short notice.  Undoubtedly Republican minority leadership would want to have extensive and lengthy negotiations with Mahern about switching his organizational votes to the Republican side. What would Mahern want and what could the Republicans stomach?  Obviously Mahern will want his favored committee assignments back and probably will want to chair one of them, quite possibly the coveted Rules Committee.  It is on the non-organizational issues where the negotiations with Mahern get more difficult.  Republicans (and Democrats) are unlikely to stop handing out corporate welfare any time soon. The apparent (at least) $10 million annual stipend to the Pacers is unlikely to stop.  Payoffs to developers are likely to continue.  But while Mahern may not be able to stop corporate welfare of that sort, he might be able to stem the tide by getting the Republicans to put a hold on the creation of new TIF districts and demanding other changes.

Could Republicans behind the scenes be negotiating an alliance with Mahern on reorganization?  Well the first sign would be that longtime establishment Republican critics of Mahern cease their criticism of the councilor.  Probably the biggest critic of Mahern has been Abdul Hakim-Shabbazz who regularly trumpets the establishment Republican line on his blogs.  Mahern's loss Monday night was a perfect opportunity for Abdul to lash out at Mahern, to ridicule him as he does on a regular basis.  Instead Abdul matter-of-factly reported the coup attempt on his IndyPolitics blog without editorial comment.  On Twitter, where Abdul has regularly directs invective at Mahern, he simply described Mahern as a "wild card" and perhaps presciently referred to the successful 2005 coup attempt when Democrat Steve Talley took out Democrat Council President Roselle Boyd.    That year, Talley voted with the Republican council minority, while remaining a Democrat, to elevate himself to the role of President. While I don't believe Mahern's goal is to be Council President, he has a number of organizational and policy goals that could be achieved by switching his organizational vote as did Talley in 2005..

People may well assume that Abdul's description of Mahern as being a "wild card" meant he was saying Mahern is "unpredictable," which is the ordinary definition of the term when the term is applied to a person.  But there is a second definition of "wild card," i.e."a playing card that can have any value, suit, color, or other property in a game at the discretion of the player holding it."  In the card game known as politics being the wild card in a council split 14-14 gives you a whole lot of power.  What happened Monday may have only been the first hand in a card game that continues.

Note:  While writing this, Matt Stone of Indy Student also wrote on the Mahern coup attempt.


Pete Boggs said...

That's some fine analysis Mr. Ogden.

Had Enough Indy? said...

I like that definition of wild card. Excellent fit with the situation.

Jon said...

I like the wild card analogy but another gambling adage may be more applicable, it's a crap shoot. Mahern's is signalling the D's that he doesn't have to be nice and play fair while at at same time notifying the R's he may be amenable to wooing. As a possible swing vote in a 14-14 council he may wield more power than the chair. said...

crabs fighting at the bottom of a heating up wok.

Flogger said...

I do not know Brian Mahern. Perhaps he just has principles, some thing sorely lacking in the Republicrat Party in Marion County. There is no shame in challenging the Republicrat Establishment and losing. Shame is not even trying.

The last Mayoral Election was truly a choice between Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle Dee. We had two people running who were on the Big Issues of Hand Outs to the CIB, and other forms of Corporate Welfare mirror images of each other.

It was to be expected that the defenders of the Republicrat Party, Crony-Capitalism and their fellow travelers would unleash an attack on Mahern.