As you remember from the legend, Rip Van Winkle wandered off one day into the Catskill Mountains and ended up sleeping under a tree for 20 years. When he wandered back into his village, unaware that he’d slept so long, Van Winkle found
things back home had changed in dramatic ways.
You might have forgotten this detail from the story: Rip reappeared in his New England town on Election Day, shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War. When he left, all the townspeople had been loyal subjects of George-King George, that is. But on his return, the villagers now denounced that king and cheered a different George-Gen. Washington, to be exact. Poor Van Winkle’s political world had turned topsy-turvy.
I think I know how old Rip must have felt.
In December, I came back to Indianapolis after being away about 15 years. The local political world had changed a bit since I left. Marion County used to be a Republican stronghold; now the Democrats control the Mayor’s Office and the majority on the City-County Council.
But that difference wasn’t the primary thing that made the world seem topsyturvy to me. No, that came when I learned
that some Marion County Republican officeholders were opposed to Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson’s Indianapolis Works proposal. A proposal, I learned, that would further consolidate and streamline local government and make it more efficient. A proposal that would eliminate needless layers of bureaucracy. A proposal that sounded a lot like Mayor Richard Lugar’s Unigov plan.
And the Republicans were opposed to it?
Like ol’ Rip, I’ve been having a hard time getting my head around that one. When Lugar proposed Unigov, many Democrats opposed the concept-some have said mainly for political reasons. There were those who argued that Unigov was simply an attempt to dilute the Democrats’ political strength in Marion County. But despite those arguments, the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed the original Unigov legislation-and is there anyone who can reasonably argue that our community isn’t better off as a result?
Granted, I’m a newcomer to the Indy Works issue. But I’m dumbfounded to hear that some Republican local elected officials have used the same kinds of arguments against Peterson’s plan that the Democrats used against Lugar’s more than three decades ago.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who finds this philosophical reversal baffling. At a recent press conference, Gov. Mitch Daniels was asked if he supported Peterson’s efforts. According to media reports, Daniels replied, “It’s ironic that the party
I adhere to-the party thought of as smaller government, local government-should stand in the way of changes that would give the mayors and local officials more flexibility … . Some things really should be beyond partisanship and that includes the form of restructuring local government, the kind of thing Mayor Peterson and others are bravely endeavoring to do right now.”
Now, reasonable people might have good-faith objections to some of the details of Indy Works, just as they did with Unigov. Peterson has already amended his original plan to address some of these concerns. But many groups-from the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the firefighters’ union, neighborhood associations and local business leaders-have analyzed the mayor’s plan and embraced it.
Now is the time to finish the work begun by Republican leaders years ago. It’s time for today’s Republicans to negotiate with the mayor and pass a plan that provides for streamlined local government.
I’ve worked on several political campaigns, and I certainly understand that politics plays a role in government. But committed leaders should never let politics stand in the way of good government. Maybe like Rip Van Winkle, it’s time for some of our local officials to wake up and realize the world has become a much different place.
Miles is president and CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership.