Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Can a Republican Win the Indianapolis Mayor's Race in 2023?

Highly unlikely.

Last week political commentator Abudl-Hakim Shabazz announced that he was running for mayor in the state's largest city.  Shabazz will be opposed for the GOP nomination by pastor James Jackson and John Couch.  On the Democratic side, two term Mayor Joe Hogsett is facing off against state Rep. Robin
Shackleford.  Four other Democratic mayoral candidates have also announced.

Increasing crime in Indianapolis has made Hogsett vulnerable but does that open the door to a Republican challenger?  Shabazz certainly believes it does.  But Shabazz also has other issues he'd like to address.  The Indianapolis Star reports:
According to his campaign website, his policy agenda includes tougher penalties for crimes committed in low-income areas or "economically challenged zones," increasing school choice, and working with state lawmakers to protect long-time homeowners from increases in property tax assessments.

Shabazz also suggested that the city should work with the state to capture a portion of the gas tax collected in certain economically challenged areas that would be dedicated to roads, streets and sidewalk repair.

"We’ve had eight years of Democratic policies running the city of Indianapolis and I ask people, are we better off than eight years ago?" Shabazz said. "If you think we are, then the incumbent is your guy. If you don’t, maybe you'll give my work a second look."
It seems Shabazz believes that a Republican can win the mayor's office by promising to do a better job than the Democrats.  While many of the issues Shabazz has put forth have serious merit, they won't cause more than a small fraction of Democratic leaning voters to cast a ballot for a Republican mayoral candidate.   Shabazz needs a lot more crossover votes than that to win the election.

A Republican hasn't won an Indianapolis mayor's race Greg Ballard was narrowly re-elected in 2011.  While Ballard originally won in 2007 promising to bring an end to country club politics in Indianapolis, Ballard immediately pivoted to eschew taxpayers in favor of the corporate welfare that dominates the city's politics.   During Ballard's tenure in office, he supported more than 40 tax and fee increases, many of which became law.  While the money supposedly for the purpose of economic development, the money represented a transfer from Indianapolis taxpayers to developers and contractors who were, not coincidentally, traditional contributors to both Republican and Democratic local politicians.

Indianapolis politics, however, has changed dramatically from the last time Ballard was elected.  In 2011, Republican Ballard received 92,525 votes, or 51.3% of the votes cast.  In 2015, Republican nominee Chuck Brewer received 56,661 or 37.8%  In 2019, GOP candidate James Merritt received 40,906 votes or 26.9%.  

While the Republican vote in Indianapolis fell by an astonishing 56% in just 8 years, the Democratic vote rose from 84,993 to 109,087, or 28%.  In the last few elections, Marion County (Indianapolis) has emerged as one of the most Democratic counties in the state.  In the 2022 mid-terms elections, only Monroe County had higher Democratic turnout (as a percentage) than Marion County.

The trend of Marion County becoming more Democratic has spanned at least three decades.  But while that evolution was initially slow, the GOP numbers in Marion County have fallen dramatically during the Trump era.  While that might be a temporary phenomenon, it is not likely to reverse direction with Trump once again running for President.

Can a Republican be elected Mayor of Indianapolis this year?  I repeat my previous answer of "highly unlikely."  If it has any chance of happening, the candidate would have to be someone willing to attack the tradition of bipartisan support for corporate welfare, a decades long practice of taking tax dollars and handing the money over to developers, contractors, billionaire sports team owners and well-connected law firms.  The practice, which has been embraced by both Republican and Democratic politicians, has given Marion County residents the highest taxes in the state all while draining resources from local services like education, streets, and sidewalks.

You don't have to go back far in time to find examples of corporate welfare gone amuck. On Monday, the Indianapolis City-County Council voted UNANIMOUSLY to hand over $18.8 million in taxpayer dollars and other taxpayer-funded incentives to re-develop the Gold Building, a iconic structure located at the southeast corner of Ohio and Delaware Streets.  No Indianapolis politician, Democrat or Republican, ever questions why we continually need to give away taxpayer dollars to develop prime downtown real estate.  But if a Republican wants to be elected Mayor that is a possible road to success - standing up strongly for Indianapolis taxpayers by taking on the corporate welfare that has dominated city politics for decades.  Republican mayoral candidates just saying they'll do things a bit differently than Democrats is not going to move the large swath of voters needed to win county-wide.

The poet Robert Frost wrote : "I took the [road] less traveled...and that has made all the difference."  That would be good advice for Indianapolis GOP mayoral candidates going into the 2023 elections.  

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