David Hoppe

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:: What local GOP wants from Santa

by David Hoppe

It appears Marion County’s Republican apparatus is hoping against hope that Santa has a mayoral candidate stashed in his bag when he comes down the chimney at party headquarters this Christmas.
Will somebody — anybody! — run against Joe Hogsett in next year’s election?

You’d think the opportunity to govern America’s 12th largest city would appeal to some ambitious Republican. Win or lose, the chance to debate about how best to fight crime, grow the economy and strengthen neighborhoods would be political catnip for some GOP striver.

“We’ll be incredibly competitive in this race,” Marion County GOP Chairman Kyle Walker told the Indianapolis Star. But right now, the only thing that’s incredible about the county’s GOP is the number of qualified candidates that have preemptively taken themselves out of the running.

State Sen. Jim Merritt doesn’t want to do it. Neither does Ryan Vaughn. Murray Clark would rather not. And as for Councilman Ben Hunter, forget it.

Republicans have fallen back on hoping that another Greg Ballard walks through the door. But that’s like hoping for Santa to not just stop by Christmas Eve, but move in on a permanent basis.

The trouble here is that voters hardly ever have a real chance to pick Indy’s mayor. This is done for us by the way local political parties go about their business.

What happens is that one party or the other finds a strong candidate, somebody who’s smart, relatively good-looking and personable. Somebody, in other words, who looks like a Lilly corporate vice-president.

Party affiliation doesn’t matter. Whichever party is first with a candidate that fits the profile wins because the other party will decide it’s just not worth spending the money to have an actual race.

This is why Ballard was such a surprise. Republican bosses and the business tycoons downtown didn’t think anybody could beat Bart Peterson. They took Ballard for a sacrificial lamb. What they failed to see was a taxpayer’s revolt in the wake of property reassessments and an ill-timed Peterson income tax proposal aimed at, of all things, strengthening local policing.

Democrat Joe Hogsett is definitely this year’s mayoral model. But there’s another factor that may be inhibiting Republican appetites for the job — Republicans themselves.

The GOP holds super-majorities in both the Indiana House and Senate. These so-called lawmakers are a decidedly anti-urban lot. Cities, as far as they’re concerned, are on their own. The only favor they did Indy’s Republican mayor was to try and rig the City-County Council by eliminating at-large council seats, thereby attempting to consolidate mayoral power, while kicking any pretense of local control to the curb.

But any Republican with an eye on the mayor’s office can surely see that when it comes to most issues affecting cities, from the provision of necessary social services to infrastructure, they’re bound to be at odds with their own party. Sticks and coal, baby — who wants to preside over that?

Local Republicans can dream of sugar plum candidates all they want; they’ll leave the mayor’s job to Hogsett.