Madison County Republican Chairman and licensed mortician Russ Willis notified local media Monday that the local Republican Party had slated candidates to support for the May 6 primary election. It is unclear, though, by what authority he is making the endorsements. He didn’t bother to solicit the input or obtain the approval of the county party’s precinct committeemen. Willis claimed to have the support of the township and ward chairmen. Those positions, however, are non-voting positions and are appointed by him. From the incendiary language in his press release, it is clear that he desires to bury
the conservative candidates in his party.
Russ Willis, Madison County Chairman
Slating is the process of publicly supporting a group of candidates within the same political party over other candidates in that same party during a primary election. While slating is common in Marion County, it happens only after a caucus of all precinct committeemen in which a vote is taken to determine which candidates are supported by the majority of the committeemen. (Note: That is not entirely true. In Marion County slating is not confined to precinct committeemen (PCs) and even among the PCs who do participate, most are county chair appointees whose sole job is to attend slating and vote the way the county chair wants.) The ALERT interviewed several current and former Republican precinct committeemen, who were surprised and shocked by Willis’ actions, since no caucus was held.There are seven contested races for county offices in the Republican Party this year. Six of those are held by incumbent Republicans and one is an open seat. The slate announced by Willis endorses three incumbents and opposes three others. Incumbents supported by Willis are south district commissioner, Steffanie Owens; county recorder, Linda Smith; and county clerk, Darlene Likens. Willis is opposing incumbent county councilmen Rick Gardner and David McCartney, as well as current county treasurer Kelly Gaskill. In the open seat for county council district 2, Willis is supporting Steve Sumner over Mike Phipps....It appears that Willis is on a mission to purge the local Republican party of anything conservative and to paint conservative members of the party as extremist. At the annual Lincoln Club dinner in March, Willis went on a tirade in front of 200 people, including Secretary of State Connie Lawson, about throwing Kelly Gaskill and her husband Mike out of the party.Tom Morgan, who is both a Republican precinct committeeman and a member of the Madison County Reagan Club, blasted Willis publicly calling his leadership of the Republican party a “failure.” Morgan has also been highly critical of Willis, who is also an Anderson city councilman, for casting the deciding vote in a 47% increase in the city of Anderson’s water rates earlier this year at the same time that the State Board of Accounts had identified 13 separate examples of the city government costs being inappropriately charged to the utility customers rather than to city taxpayers. One example was that 64% of Willis’ salary as a city councilman is paid for by utility customers, many of whom live outside of the city limits of Anderson.Another Republican committeeman, who wished to remain anonymous, said that he believes Willis is also angry about conservative members of the party opposing the annexation attempted by Anderson mayor Kevin Smith and heavily supported by Willis. The annexation would have grabbed land near Lapel, Pendleton, Edgewood, and Chesterfield. That effort received a widespread backlash from citizens in areas that are in the council districts of Rick Gardner and David McCartney, both of whom opposed the annexation.