November 2d was difficult for Republicans who came of age politically under L. Keith Bulen. I still remember a speech he made to our fledgling Neighborhood Finance Committee, where he thundered that we must never forget a cardinal rule: "Good government is good politics."…
November 2d was difficult for Republicans who came of age politically under L. Keith Bulen. I still remember a speech he made to our fledgling Neighborhood Finance Committee, where he thundered that we must never forget a cardinal rule: "Good government is good politics." I was to hear that mantra repeated often by Dick Lugar, Bill Hudnut, and John Sweezy. I still believe that the renowned Marion County organization succeeded because it stood for good government.
What happened? The Star has reported extensively on the political bickering that has followed Gilroy’s defeat. I agree with Pat Miller’s reported statement that finger-pointing is unproductive and must give way to rebuilding, but it is also important that we learn from this experience. (Wasn’t it Santayana who said "He who will not learn from history is doomed to repeat it"?)
Lesson One: Factionalism hurts. There has been much national attention paid to the fault-line between the religious right and the traditional, libertarian wing of the Republican party. While the local GOP has not been immune from those divisions, we have suffered far more from the Goldsmith vendetta against "Hudnut Republicans," and more recently from the Cottey/Sweezy schism.
Lesson Two: The past is prologue. In a post-election interview, John Mutz talked about the decades of good government provided by the party. But voters react to now, not then. I’m not a big fan of polls, but the polls make a pretty convincing case that John Sweezy is right about Steve Goldsmith’s "negative coattails." Goldsmith (whose own election as Mayor owed much to the coattails of Bill Hudnut) was a profound negative in the recent race. The Howey Political Report, wondering why Gilroy had "turned the campaign into a referendum on Steve Goldsmith," and "the last eight years," reported that "after the Goldsmith ads hit the airwaves, independent voters headed in droves to Peterson."
Lesson Three: Ugliness backfires. By far the most painful experience of this campaign for many Marion County Republicans was the barrage of nasty, negative and racist appeals when the race became close. Those of us who worked with Lugar, Hudnut and many others to build an inclusive and integrated city could only wonder where our party had gone. African-American Republicans who have worked for the party for years feel betrayed and abandoned, and they are not the only ones. People in Indianapolis used to trust Marion County Republicans not to stoop to tactics of division and race-baiting. That trust was earned, and it served us well. It will take a long time to regain.
Before we can rebuild the fabled Marion County Republican machine, we need to remember who we used to be. We need to reflect on what we have become, and —most important of all–what kind of party we want to be. The answer will determine whether Republicans continue to play a dominant role in this city, or whether the last 32 years will be merely an interesting footnote in urban political history books.