The Indianapolis City-County Council will face some new political tension when it meets Monday.
Earlier this week, Councilor Ethan Evans announced that he was leaving the Democratic Party to become an independent and wouldn’t seek reelection in 2023.
In a statement, Evans described a growing frustration, writing that he’d felt “shut out” in trying to “come up with solutions from inside the party.”
At least one Democratic leader on the council is pushing back on that characterization, suggesting that the freshman councilor simply wasn’t able to effectively build coalitions of support around his ideas.
“You have to temper your priorities, how you’re going to package these objectives for people … because we all have constituents that we answer to,” said Vice President Zach Adamson.
Adamson, a Democrat, recalled Evans’ work on potential legislation that would have barred city-county government from constructing any additional jails. Adamson said he and other councilors supported it “in theory,” but that they didn’t want to “hamstring the city—needlessly—without knowing what the current circumstances may be in the future.”
Evans himself declined to comment, as did Majority Leader Maggie Lewis and Council President Vop Osili, both Democrats.
Republican leadership, meanwhile, identified with the split.
“It’s going happen to every party at some point, where there’s going to be disagreements and, you know, you just hope that they can come out of this as civil as possible,” said Minority Leader Brian Mowery.
Mowery recalled 2017, when former Councilor Christine Scales left the Republican Party to join Democrats.
“There was a lot of confusion around that. I had talked to her, I believe, even the day she announced, and she didn’t give me any idea she had any inkling to do that,” Mowery said. “So, sometimes these things just happen.”
Will Evans be allowed to caucus privately with Democrats to discuss strategy and priorities?
The numbers lean toward a no, according to Adamson. He noted that Democrats still hold 19 of the council’s 25 seats, a supermajority that can easily round up the 13 votes needed to pass any proposal and the 17 votes needed to overturn any veto.
There’s also some emotional fallout among Democrats.
“Most of us felt what seemed to me to be a degree of betrayal in leaving the family, so to speak,” Adamson said.
Mowery, meanwhile, said that Evans and the council’s five Republicans were likely too far apart ideologically to caucus together, given Evans’ support for reducing and reallocating law enforcement funding.
“I don’t know that he would want to be labeled as a conservative either,” Mowery added.
That doesn’t necessarily mean total isolation for Evans, though.
“If we can [work] with Republicans, we’ll obviously work with somebody who at least shares our values, even if not to the same degree,” Adamson said. “You’ll have people working with him and talking with him, but it won’t be the same kind of conversation you’d have if you were in a position of trust within the family.”
For Republicans, Mowery acknowledged, Evans’ decision to become a caucus of one comes with a wisp of opportunity.
“Jokingly, the only opportunity I really have said is that now we’re no longer the minority caucus,” Mowery said. “… But for anything we want to try to get done, we still have an uphill battle … But, you know, maybe this gives us an in, to have somebody to work with that has still has connections in the Democratic caucus itself that maybe we didn’t have.”
Politically, the future is likely to be a challenge for Evans.
Not only has he altered his relationships with his Democratic colleagues by striking out on his own, but he’s also become a lame duck, a term for outgoing politicians. They’re typically perceived as having less influence because of their limited time left in office.
In his statement, Evans didn’t indicate exactly what’s next, but wrote, “I remain committed to representing the constituents of District 4 and working on the issues important to the community. I appreciate the support I’ve been given and have not made this decision lightly.”
Evans represents District 4, which includes a large portion of Lawrence Township, mostly east of Interstate 69 and west of Geist Reservoir.