Legislators vote to ban some officeholders from being Marion County party chair—but not themselves

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A Democrat-authored amendment aimed at ousting Marion County Democratic Party Chair Kate Sweeney Bell made it a step further this week when the Indiana House approved the elections bill it’s tacked onto. And the bill leaves the door open for state legislators to pursue her job. 

Democratic Rep. Cherrish Pryor’s amendment specifically prohibits a county party chair in Indianapolis from also holding local office or being a candidate for a local spot.

Bell is currently county recorder and is running for county clerk. Pryor and several Black Democrats have said that creates conflicts of interest with Bell’s role as county chair and shouldn’t be allowed. Bell is white. 

But Pryor’s amendment doesn’t apply the same standard to non-local elected officeholders. Under the bill, state legislators would be allowed to be Marion County chair. 

“Theoretically, I guess, you know, that that’s a possibility,” said Pryor, who later told IBJ in an email that she has no interest in becoming county chair.

Pryor explained that county-level jobs such as recorder and clerk are full-time jobs that don’t really allow time for other work. State legislators, meanwhile, are part-time, though most hold other jobs as well.

“This just really makes it make sense for the person [who is county chair] to focus on their responsibilities so that people are successful in doing their jobs and to make sure that there’s not a conflict of interest that happens as well,” Pryor said.

She added that district boundaries for some state legislators in Indianapolis extend beyond Marion County border.

Senate Bill 328 passed out of the House on Monday by a vote of 69-26, with Democrats split on the vote. The bill now returns to the Senate for consideration.

The Senate could vote to approve the changes as early as next week. Or it could dissent to send the bill to a conference committee where lawmakers in both chambers would attempt to work on a compromise, meaning Pryor’s amendment could possibly be removed.

Asked who she’d want to replace Bell if the amendment survives the session, Pryor was firm that there are “several weeks left to go” in the legislative session before she’ll know if a vacancy will even be created.

Democratic Rep. Greg Porter, a former National Black Caucus of State Legislators president, also said it was too early to name names, but added, “No one has risen to the top yet. I don’t—there’s discussions. You know, that’s just basically it.”

Bell, meanwhile, has the support of many others in Indianapolis’ Democratic establishment. Loughmiller’s Pub and Eatery, a Statehouse go-to, was packed with state and city Democrat legislators, candidates and members of Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration on Thursday for a Bell fundraiser.

The event included a strong expression of support for Bell by longtime union activist and former Indiana Democratic Party Vice Chair Cordelia Lewis-Burks, who is Black.

“This means a lot to me, to see all of your faces,” Sweeney Bell said in an impromptu address. Later, she added, “All of you make a difference, and I’m grateful for you, and I’m going to serve you well when I’m elected as your clerk!”

IBJ’s Emily Ketterer contributed reporting.

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