Thursday, May 4, 2023

Indianapolis City Election Shows the Marion County GOP is in Desperate Need of Better Leadership, Rebuilding

Prior to the Indianapolis municipal elections this Tuesday, I did a precinct analysis of the newly drawn Council District #2 which stretches from Broad Ripple to Hamilton County and takes in some of the wealthiest northside neighborhoods including Meridian-Kessler and Williams Creek.  I thought the Democrats, who were in charge of redistricting, had possibly drawn at least a somewhat competitive general election district.  Nope.  That wealthy Indianapolis district was about 33% Republican in the 2019 municipal election. 

District 2 though at least attracted a Republican - two of them in fact - to run in the primary.  

Jefferson Shreve
In 11 council races, the Republicans had no candidate whatsoever running in the primary.  That means voters in 44% of the county had no Republican to cast a ballot for.  While the Marion County GOP chairman has a period of time to fill open candidate slots, the fact none could be recruited to run before the primary is a sign of extraordinary party weakness.

In a post-election piece authored by Robert Vane, former chief of staff and communications director for Greg Ballard, the last Indianapolis Republican Mayor, he says that the Marion County Republican Party has been "renewed and [is] vigorous" under the leadership of Joe Elsener.  Chairman Elsener's record suggests otherwise.  The No. 1 job of a county chairman is to recruit candidates.  Elsener's failure in candidate recruitment leaves the voters of Indianapolis with no Republican choice in 11 of 25 council districts, or 44% of the county.  The Marion County GOP has all but conceded the Democrats will continue with its majority on the Indianapolis City-County Council come 2025.

What has helped kill the Marion County GOP is the use and misuse of the slating endorsement process.  Republicans who want to run for office in Marion County have to pay a hefty sum if they want to be endorsed heading into the primary.  That endorsement comes with desperately needed money and organizational support.  As a result, most non-slated candidates usually drop out.   Although slating is billed as a process which puts power in the hands of low-level party workers, Marion County party bosses long ago figured out how to manipulate the process so that they and not those party workers, and certainly not the GOP primary voters, decide who will be party's candidates going into the fall election.  The lack of competitive primaries, thanks to slating, has resulted in much less participation by party voters in primary elections. That lack of participation spills over into the general election, hurting the party in numerous areas including candidate recruitment and turnout.

The Marion County Democrats did away with slating this year and fielded candidates in all 25 council races, including several multi-candidate primaries.

In the GOP mayoral primary, former Indianapolis City-County councilor Jefferson Shreve prevailed over his chief opponent, political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz 66% to 26%.  The win was personally costly for Shreve though.  He put over $2 million of his own money into the race, an expenditure which netted him 19,152 votes.  That's $104.42 per vote.  Shabazz ran a spirited election, but there was no competing against that kind of money.

Shreve appears to have little chance of winning the general election.  There are only a handful of Republican precincts left in the six northern townships in Marion County.  Only the three southern townships, (which are also the three least populated townships) remain in Republican control.

Shreve apparently thinks his relentless attacks on Mayor Hogsett on crime will earn him the top job.  Maybe he should talk to fellow Republican Cyndi Carrasco who took that same approach running for Marion County Prosecutor and ended up losing to the incumbent Ryan Mears 59% to 41%.  While Shreve's personal fortune and willingness to self-fund means he will have more resources than Carrasco, money is not everything in politics.  The crime issue and money will get him maybe to 43% or 44%, numbers which are far below the 50% he needs to win the race.

Shreve does have an issue he could use to start moving substantially more Democratic-leaning voters to his side - opposing corporate welfare and the high taxes and fees that support it.  Taxpayers in Marion County face a higher tax burden than residents of any other county in the State of Indiana. That isn't because we fund our roads, schools, libraries, etc., better than other communities.  It's because that taxpayer money routinely ends up in the pockets of Indianapolis developers, contractors and big law firms.   If Indy politicians would stop rubber stamping corporate welfare schemes and instead listen to their voters, they'd learn how angry they are that their hard-earned money is being used to make multi-millionaires richer. 

Shreve might not be the right person to deliver that message though.  He not only is a multi-millionaire himself, but he was also an enthusiastic supporter of Mayor Greg Ballard's numerous corporate welfare schemes when he was on the council.  During Ballard's tenure, I catalogued the tax and fee increases he had proposed.  I got tired of counting when the number hit 40.  I am not aware of Councilman Shreve opposing any Ballard tax or fee increase.  Like the other councilors, Shreve was a rubber stamp.

The Marion County GOP may someday return to being competitive in Indianapolis elections.  But leadership of the party needs to change before that begins to happen.  

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