This morning the Marion County Republican Party met in convention to elect a new chair. The event is significant for the glbt community in Indianapolis, as well as for all moderates. Below I discuss the election, some background relevant to the glbt community, and ramifications.
The Marion County Republican convention was chaired by Representative Jon Elrod, in itself a significant selection for the gay community. Elrod has been forthright in his opposition to SJR-7, the measure voiding the equal protection clause of the State Constitution as it applies to gays. It is Elrod's public position that marriage is a matter for churches, not government.
Four Candidates were nominated for the position of Chair. Sally Spiers, a progressive of the Keith Bulen school, was nominated by Greg Jordan, former Marion County Treasurer and mayoral candidate. Bob Croddy, a conservative, was nominated by his wife. (William?) Foreman, whose politics were not well-defined, was nominated by City County Councilor Earl Salisbury. Tom John was nominated by Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi.
The meeting held some drama, especially for those of us in attendance from the glbt community. Sally Spiers spoke well of Party building in offering herself as a sporting alternative to John. Croddy, on the other hand, attacked John head-on as a liberal attorney, apparently giving voice to the conservative depression that followed last November. Calling himself a traditional Republican, Croddy's main line of attack was upon any Marion County Republican that he classified as different from himself. He reserved his venom especially for people like Scott Keller who were "promoting the homosexual agenda." He reported Keller's statement that Tom John and Scott Keller were on the same page on social issues.
On the first ballot, Tom John received better than 50% of the votes, which when combined with votes for Sally Spiers, indicates that the vast majority of Marion County precinct committee people voted overwhelmingly against the conservative position.
I was among those who, while harboring affection for Sally Spiers, endorsed Tom John in his successful bid for Marion County Republican Chair. I think it's important for the glbt community to understand the significance and ramifications of his success.
Tom John was campaign manager for Todd Rokita in Rokita's 2002 run for Secretary of State. In that capacity, on behalf of Rokita, he issued that Campaign's nondiscrimination policy, a policy that appeared years before Democrat Mayor Peterson, for instance, took that step. That policy was ground-breaking also in being the first nondiscrimination policy in Indiana in which the words "gender identity" were included.
It is now also possible, I think, to shed light on the candidacy and subsequent withdraw from public office of Isaac Randolph. Tom John was serving as campaign advisor for Isaac Randolph and coordinated Randolph's meeting with glbt Republicans. From that campaign too issued a comprehensive nondiscrimination policy, as well as an understanding from Randolph that he would back the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the Human Rights Ordinance. In betraying that understanding, Randolph not only betrayed the glbt community from which he derived funds and votes enough to earn him the small margin of victory for his seat, but he betrayed John's good word upon which some in the community had relied. In his betrayal, Randolph made future moderate support for his candidacies impossible. As Republican consensus built around Tom John for Marion County Chair, whom he had embarrassed and betrayed, Randolph could not but understand that any future bid for Republican office in Marion County would be difficult.
Tom John, in my estimation, is a significant step forward for the Republican Party as a competitive force in Marion County. The changes in the Marion County Republican Party portend an eventual healthy challenge to Democratic Party rule, which will ultimately succeed. As politics are cyclical, we will see paths to power under Democratic rule become clogged for talented people as interests entrench and corruption sets in. (These are not Democratic qualities, but the qualities of every unified government under the rule of either party, witness Republican corruption in Washington, D.C.)
Though Republican conservatives in Marion County will continue to vie for office, they will meet with decreasing success, and ultimately, defeat. In the next cycle, provided that Tom John and his team work effectively, the moderate wing of the Republican Party in Marion County will prove an important avenue for talent and innovative thinking about government. Democratic States have elected Republican Governors (Massachusetts and New Jersey, for example) and Democratic cities have elected Republican mayors (New York City's Guiliani and Bloomberg and Los Angeles's Riordan, and even Indianapolis's Lugar, for example). Remember that Bloomberg had to leave the Democratic Party in order to get to the top in a Democratic city. Indianapolis will elect successful moderate Republicans who are bound neither by GOP conservative thinking nor by Democratic Party power dynamics.
Like the Democratic Party, the GOP will always have our losers... I saw some today... but in today's action lies an exciting future for politics in Marion County.