Another Troubling Data Point

The Kinder Institute at Rice University recently completed a study of mayoral elections in Indiana. (The reason for the focus on the Hoosier State was the partisan nature of our mayoral elections; elsewhere, evidently, elections for municipal offices tend to be nonpartisan.)

The report, Mayoral Elections in Indiana 2003-2015 examined a variety of facets of mayoral elections in the Hoosier State, analyzing mayoral races in 474 general elections and 706 primary elections in more than 120 Indiana cities. (To be candid, I didn’t think Indiana had 120 cities….)

The Institute documented a swing toward the GOP over the time period studied. That didn’t come as a big surprise; the small cities and towns that dot the Hoosier state tend to be more rural in nature, and to reflect the more conservative politics of rural Indiana.

What did surprise (and depress) me was the following “data point”:

In addition to the partisan shift, the report also found that more than 20 percent of all mayoral elections in Indiana go uncontested. This issue is especially acute in the state’s smallest cities. For example, in cities with less than 5,000 residents, nearly 29 percent of mayoral elections were uncontested, compared with 13 percent in the state’s largest cities.

Evidently, citizens in Indiana–and especially in our state’s smaller communities– are uninterested in the management of those communities. That seems counter-intuitive for a whole lot of reasons.

It’s understandable that the prospect of a partisan rough-and-tumble would turn off potential candidates for office, especially in this age of nasty politicking. But the hardball politics of larger communities are rarely on exhibit in small towns where everyone knows everyone else.

Furthermore, the public management issues in small towns tend to be very practical: policing and fire protection (the latter often handled by a volunteer brigade), collecting trash, paving streets, retaining the merchants on Main Street. These are issues far removed from the ideological wars that characterize campaigns for state and federal offices, but their proper oversight directly and substantially affects community residents.

Tending one’s own garden only takes you so far. Like it or not, we live with other people, and the rules and processes we put in place to regulate our interactions with our fellow-citizens affect our daily lives.

So why is it that, in one-fifth of Indiana’s cities and towns, no one cares enough to take on the responsibility for managing those processes and providing essential services? And why is the problem more acute in the smaller communities that we think of as more “neighborly” and interdependent?

Any theories?


  1. Consider Carmel (not the small city being discussed, but illustrative). The mayoral election is often uncontested but the primary is often hotly contested. I wonder whether in these smaller communities being discussed the “real” election is the primary.

  2. In Hendricks County where I live, if there are no statewide offices on the ballot we often don’t even have an election because everyone running is Republican with not Democratic challengers. I suspect this is true in many rural settings, and I’m sure is quite discouraging.

  3. In a nutshell, I think Anthony Hinrichs has nailed it. Why bother? Is that totally and horribly sad or what and it has to be changed.

  4. I believe that this is another reflection of voter apathy; possibly the result of the cat fighting and bitch slapping that goes on at the “higher” levels of politics. This year’s campaign is certain to numb additional voters and sustain those one party elections.

  5. In my county the democratic party leaders were within one well-to-do family. Over time they passed away. Two sons continued to lead it, but finally gave up within the past year. They gave up and switched to the Republican party. One is a judge. I wonder if his job was in jeapordy if he didn’t switch.

  6. Aside from the political dynamics, property tax caps have made it dificult for mayors and school boards to be successful. Expenses for street maintenance, police cars, fire trucks, school buses, insurance, maintenance and repair and operation of school and city buildings, equipment, supplies, etc. are going up, but particularly in more rural communities and inner cities, tax revenues are declining as populations and the tax base decline. The suburbs with new businesses and residents moving in have funds for the basics and frills too. But it’s little surprise that few want to confront the increasingly impossible situation of communities which are losing their commercial and residential tax base.

  7. How much of this is connected to gerrymandering? I do know that District 88 straddles the county line in the upper northeast corner of Marion County. Brian Bosma has been sitting in the House for 30 years; not bothering at this time to actively campaign even though he has his first Democratic opponent, Dana Black who is campaigning hard, knocking on doors and attending meetings of local Democratic organizations. Has Bosma even had Republican opposition during his 30 year reign? Straddling the county lines takes in other cities/towns, court systems, separate laws and ordinances, public safety forces, infrastructure needs, rural and urban residents who have not had an option or support.

    How much does gerrymandering cause this one-party-fits-all system in Indiana? And other red states? Where are Indiana Democrats and why are they making no attempt to bring progress to their own areas, rural or urban? The continuing problems regarding the “Daniels Highway”, otherwise known as I-69, needed strong bipartisan representation and protection before it took control of so many residential and business residents and uprooted so many lives between Indianapolis and Evansville.

    I-69 is only one issue; Dana Black want to take LGTB issues directly inside the Indiana Legislature along with racial issues…ALL racial issues. As she has pointed out; they pay the same taxes but have little or no representation inside local government. There have been complaints posted on Facebook complaining about her “Black Party” title for campaigning and meetings – that is her NAME. Today’s GOP here and in other red states are not supportive of LGBTQs or dark-skinned, tax paying residents due to lack of representation inside state legislatures. It is long past time to change that; District 88 would be a good place to start – how many Republican small town mayors are there in that area?

  8. I think this is by design. Part of an effort to dissuade citizens from being involved in politics so the corrupt can play unencumbered.

  9. I wonder also if people look at the mudslinging and nastiness that goes on at higher levels of government and think, ugh, if this is what politics is like, I don’t want to get involved in that and risk the relationships I have with my neighbors. I live in a small town myself (7000 people), and, although I thought about getting involved in the school committee (where I actually have interest and expertise that would be relevant), but want nothing to do with campaigning and food-fighting and politics. Bleah.

  10. It is rather inevitable that smaller communities are more homogeneous than larger communities and to presume that they are governed poorly, simply because the only contestants for the mayors office all had R’a or D’s after their name is unfair. I have no familiarity with the particulars of such small city operation, but if the whole town is republican and they get a republican mayor, what is the problem? Likewise for those towns with only democrats. An enthusiastic primary battle gets the issues on the table, probably better than the partisan bickering in contested races. Take this little group as an example. If the only choice we had for President was between Clinton and Sanders, both candidates’ plans would be carefully scrutinized. As it is all we get here is demonizing of one candidate and glazing over of the foibles of the other.

  11. As for Bosma’s 30 year reign, I would point out that with a two-year exception (Hudnut) Andre Carson’s seat has been held by Andy Jacobs, his hand-picked successor, and her grandson since 1965. No press conferences or debates during election season in forever.

  12. Ken; the law of averages would preclude your argument of any city or town where all residents are one party or the other. The lack of opposition; however low in number or weakness of representation, should be addressed by residents. This is why Dana Black, a Black, married lesbian, Democrat is doing it – win or lose – she has the strength and determination to buck the current Republican-ownership system. I am sorry I can’t vote for her because I support her issues; which support representation of all issues for all residents…including those who are Republican dark-skinned and LGBTQs living in her district.

  13. I think Ken is correct. I grew up in a town of 1,000 people. The only Democrats I knew were also Catholic. Also, most small towns have Town Managers, not Mayors.

  14. One party seems to want to pay for everything today with yesterday’s tax rate (NOT adjusted for inflation) and tomorrow be damned. People are desperate to believe this is possible. They do not understand municipal finance, they do not want to honor yesterday’s commitments, and they do not want to invest in tomorrow. So we end up with exactly the system of government we deserve. I really think high school government class should not be based on things like “how dos a bill becomes a law in congress?” but rather, “how do you build a house or a business in your community?” or even, “how do we educate a kid?”. THAT would teach everyone government.

  15. Ken; check your 7:56 a.m. comments. Andy Jacobs was Indiana U.S. Representative from 1965 to 1997 with that two year period (1972-1974) he lost to Bill Hudnut. He had also been Indiana Representative from 1959-1960. JULIA Carson was elected Indiana U.S. Representative from 1997 till her death in 2007. Her grandson Andre Carson WAS appointed to replace her but since that time he has been duly elected on his own merit. Indianapolis/Marion County is Republican owned and operated so Democratic representation was due to support from the constituents the Democratic party supported; many if not most are and have always been low to middle income urbanites and racially mixed with increasing numbers of immigrants. The very groups Republicans are doing their best to “keep us in our place”.

  16. I would like to suggest a less sinister reason for the low level of real contests in small cities with less than 5,000 residents (which we would call “towns”): in many small towns, elections are a formality because the mayor (and often the town/city council, etc.) is more like a volunteer than a politician. The positions are often paid only a small stipend for what is essentially a part-time job, and those elected are focused on the day-to-day practical matters that need to be attended to: which sidewalks need to be repaired, where to get the best price for salt/sand for snow removal, and what to do about Mr. Smith’s or Mrs. Jones’ overgrown lawns. They may be loyal members of a political party, but they often are not overtly partisan in office.

    Most often these folks have real “day jobs” or are retired, and serve for 8 or 12 or 16 years until they retire to Florida or the cabin in the woods, and the townspeople are often happy enough to let them do so.

  17. Well now that the folks at Rice have tallied all there is to tally in mayoral elections, they can go back and do another study of the causes. Numbers are nice, but they really don’t tell us anything.

  18. Michael may have nailed it. The real election for mayor is in the primary in many of these cities.

  19. I have been urged by some to run for office as a Democrat in my (rather small) town. But given the overwhelming majority of Rs, what’s the point? We are all so busy these days scratching for a living, who has time for a Quixotic political campaign? But why the overwhelming majority of Rs? The youth brain drain, failing underfunded education systems, people not tied to the land (often the most capable among us) leaving for the cities — all leaving a more ignorant, religious, older population in our rural areas.

  20. Over it; if you don’t take that first step, WHO WILL?

    Ginny F; your “less sinister reason” sounds like excuses to me. I do understand the situation you described but…whichever party those “officials” are called by, are they meeting all those basic rural needs of their entire community? Is there a faction; racial, religious, LGBTQ, who are not getting their fair share of services for their tax dollar? RFRA isn’t represented in small towns and rural areas in Indiana.

  21. While most conservative conspiracies are facts, there are natural forces at work too.

    Humans love fashion, to be the same, to not be different, to not stand out.

    Many Hoosiers are Republican because most Hoosiers are Republican. No thought required.

  22. Pete; your last paragraph, especially the last three words, is all the explanation we need for our on-going current political disaster nation-wide!

    Thank you!

  23. One more thought, the Indiana Democrats are experts at slating unknown and unqualified candidates for many offices, who subsequently go on to lose in the general election. What the democrats need is new thinking and a strategy for winning at least a few contested elections. That might catch the attention of enough to gather some momentum.

  24. It’s a testament to human habituation that despite undeniable poor results once a Republican always a Republican.

  25. I cannot speak to the political leanings of small-town Indiana; however, I will speak to the political leanings of small-town Kentucky as I’m a product of the Commonwealth and have a vested interest in KY politics by virtue of farmland that provides for my livelihood in retirement.

    Over a period of time, I’ve read comments from folks on this forum stating something to the effect that they became mid-life Democrats because the Republican party left them. Consider the opposite to be a truth for many in Kentucky who gradually are recognizing the Democrat party has left them, no longer is the ‘party of the people’. In local elections, Kentucky remains steadfast in electing Democrats who continue to represent their local needs.

    It’s not too late for the Democrat party to salvage Kentucky from becoming a red state. At present, KY’s state house has a majority composition of Democrats, but that will not continue unless the DNC remembers its slogan of being ‘the party of the people’.

    I make these observations after sharing long conversations with a first cousin who’s the County Attorney (Democrat) in a small rural KY country and is a former Chair of the KY Democrat Party.

  26. BSH I think that what several states suffer from including Kentucky are fossil fuels, once a no brainier gift from the way past now an obsolete drag on the economy. One of the consequences of anthropogenic climate change is retraining and repurposing millions of now obsolete workers into fields with a future. While states with fossil fuels could once count on that as an advantage now the playing field is level.

  27. I’ve known fundamentalist Christians who could not have a two-sentence conversation about anything without putting in a good word for the Lord as the answer for unasked questions. Now, I’m thinking having a conversation with some folks is impossible without their inserting climate change as the answer to questions not asked.

    Such is the fervor of those people with a religious dedication.

  28. JoAnn! Nothing you posted in your response to me in any way contradicted what I wrote. The Jacobs/Carson stranglehold on the center township Congressional district continues without campaigning, without debating, without conversation, and without opposition. It seems to me that is as big (or bigger) problem than any Bosma’s has created.

  29. By the way, Bosma represents about 66,000 people in his lesgislative seat while Carson represents 3/4 of a million. I wonder how the 300,000 who did not support him feel about their representation in Congress.

  30. Ken; Bosma is a STATE Representative in a smaller, higher median income area, partially rural, with a much smaller population who has had virtually no challengers from the Republican party or opposition from the Democratic party.

    Andy Jacobs; Julia Carson and Andre Carson are UNITED STATES Representatives from a large metropolitan area with a much lower median income and many thousands more constituents to answer to and work for. They have all faced challengers from within the Democratic party and opposition from the Republican party and been duly elected; except for Andy Jacob’s one two-year loss to Republican Bill Hudnut as you reminded us. Some stranglehold! You are comparing apples to cucumbers as well as comparing one unopposed elected official for 30 years vs. three officials elected against opposition covering a 51 year period.

  31. Although highly respected by Texans, Rice University personnel are not qualified to award any kind of licenses to students even in journalism and mass communications, or any of the undergraduate moral sciences (law). Indiana University first-year students all are required to complete on-site requirements in any studies at all — even as psychology professors’ subjects in tests. This does not even meet an Introduction to Education multicultural pass/fail paper standard.
    Meanwhile, Houston is a major industrial center, a forerunner in the 1960s medications for Stage 4 casualties of radiation sickness. Now it is headline maker for sex trafficking, as Indiana has become recently for puppy mills and animal cruelty tests. It’s always safe to use library resources, but says more about the qualities and quantities of studies available to whoever(s) copyighted the study — also unopposed as well as unsupported by any peer reviewers.

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