Hamilton County Republicans might look at the matchups, or lack thereof, in this fall’s mayoral contests as a dream come true. We see it as bad for democracy.
In a country whose politics have long been anchored by a two-party system, Hamilton County is a one-party enclave where the Republican mayoral candidates in Carmel, Fishers and Noblesville—its three largest cities—will run unopposed in the general election. Democrats won’t field candidates in those races. Only Westfield, where a Libertarian candidate is on the ballot, offers a choice this year. Democrats said they’d field a candidate to run against Republican Jim Brainard this fall, but the candidate, whose name was never made public, decided not to run.
The Hamilton County Democratic Party chalked up its absence in the mayoral races to a decision to focus instead on picking up council seats in the various municipalities this year, but there are only a handful of Democrats running for council seats in Carmel, Noblesville and Fishers and none in the county’s other municipalities.
A few days shy of the filing deadline for general election candidates, only 10 offices across the four cities and three towns had Democratic candidates.
While it’s tempting to blame Republicans for their dominance, it’s Democrats, of course, who must reinvent themselves to reintroduce two-party politics in the prosperous, fast-growing county.
The party did show signs of life in last year’s midterm elections when Democrat J.D. Ford defeated Republican Mike Delph in a high-profile state Senate race. And while Joe Donnelly fell short in his bid to keep his U.S. Senate seat, Democrats point out that he won among voters in the 5th Congressional District, which includes all of Hamilton County. Now that 5th District Republican Rep. Susan Brooks has announced she won’t run for re-election next year, Democrats think they have a shot at picking up the seat in 2020.
“Congresswoman Brooks’ decision to step aside reaffirms just how quickly the political landscape is shifting toward Hoosier Democrats in places like the Indianapolis suburbs,” Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said in a written statement when Brooks announced she wouldn’t run.
Zody’s suggestion that Brooks based her decision on a changing political landscape in the Indianapolis suburbs is suspect, especially where Hamilton County is concerned, but the county’s population growth (it’s projected to be the state’s second-most-populous county by 2040) suggests a party resurgence isn’t impossible.
It starts with fielding credible candidates for local offices, something the party continues to struggle with.
In the meantime, the Republican Party in the county—and apparently the county’s voters—will remain content with an occasional hot primary battle, few real choices and anemic voter turnout in municipal general elections. In the last municipal election in 2015, turnout in Hamilton County was 8.7 percent. Turnout in Marion County, meanwhile, was 22.7 percent.
We don’t expect Hamilton County to become a hotbed of liberalism. Nothing in the county’s past or present suggests that could or should happen. But Democrats should be able to offer legitimate alternatives to the dominant party.•
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