Bil Browning

Lessons learned from the campaign trail

Filed By Bil Browning | November 08, 2007 3:45 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Brian Mahern, election 2007, Indiana, Indianapolis, political campaigns, Republicans, Scott Keller, taxes

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I stepped away from the blog for a few weeks since I was a campaign manager for an Indianapolis City-County Council race. Election Day was Tuesday and I’m sad to report we lost the race. Republican Scott Keller, one of the best friends Indiana’s LGBT community has ever known, lost his race.

man-orating.jpgAnti-incumbency fever swept through Indiana this week after taxes shot up dramatically throughout the state. Voters were angry and they responded accordingly. Indianapolis was one of the hardest areas hit by the tax increases and just as property tax bills were hitting mailboxes, the City-County Council raised the county income tax to pay for public safety. (Crime has skyrocketed as high as the taxes.)

And Scott got caught in the crossfire. A Republican in a heavily Democratic district, Scott only won by 3 votes in the last election. (Interestingly enough, he gained the seat from former Bilerico contributor Karen Celestino-Horseman.) While we knew Scott had an uphill fight, the opponent pulled out several dirty tricks to ensure he won the election. Scott, however, kept to his word to run a clean campaign.

It was my first time running a campaign. I learned a lot from it about human nature and the political process. Follow after the jump to find out what lessons hit home.

Voters tend to react more than research

votesmart1.jpgThe problem of property tax rates wasn’t truly an issue the City-County Council and mayor were responsible for so much as a beef with the state legislature and Governor. The antics of the council president and negative attack ads from the mayor also left a bad taste in the public’s mouth for politicians this season. Combined with a severe crime problem in the city it was the perfect storm of voter unrest.

Scott was endorsed by several leading community organizations, the Indianapolis Star, and the leaders of all 15 neighborhood associations. The Star called him “one of the more astute members of the council, and easily the most independent." Voters didn’t care. Their wallets were either lighter due to taxes or being stolen by a pickpocket. The LGBT community was one of the groups who provided the most support to Scott’s campaign although even Indianapolis’s most prominent gay Republican blogger didn’t pump Keller’s campaign over his vote in favor of the income tax increase.

Political parties don’t matter as much as results

Twenty-two incumbent mayors from around the state were voted out of office on Tuesday so it wasn’t just a local phenomenon. While several of the Democrat councilors and the Democrat mayor were fired, Scott is a Republican. Voters didn’t care what party they were from – Republicans and Democrats both were shown the door.

One of Scott’s biggest donors was the founder of Stonewall Democrats. The other was a prominent Republican king maker. Especially in the LGBT community, I found that we don’t always support the Democrat with promises over the Republican who’s accomplished something. (For that matter, I had no idea there were so many darn gay Republicans! Geez!) Results are what matter to us. Who will protect our families? Who will advocate on our behalf? Who has a proven record of taking on our issues? Scott does, so I supported him right beside several other members of our community.

Sometimes the guy in the black hat wins

Scott’s opponent finished him off by using just about every dirty trick known to a politician. Whether it was stealing yard signs, running loudspeaker trucks in front of polling places blaring “Vote for Democrat Brian Mahern!” or distributing mailings filled with lies and empty promises, if it twisted a knife the opponent didn’t hesitate to use it. Hell, his mother stood outside one polling place screaming repeatedly that Scott was financed by a drug dealer! Scott asked him to pledge a clean campaign and Brian refused. Scott, however, wouldn’t even hear of using any of Brian’s well-known negatives against him.

When I told Scott I was writing this post, he asked me to include this quote from him. “If he had attacked me on my stances on issues, I wouldn’t have minded. If he’d come up with better ideas to improve the city, I’d have voted for him. Instead, he took the low road of personal attacks and spreading lies. I am very proud of the campaign that we ran; I hope he can say the same.” I’m proud of what we did too. Scott’s opponent was the guy who brings a gun to a knife fight; they win but no one respects them for it.

LGBT issues aren’t an electoral worry

Many folks thought that Scott’s unwavering support of LGBT issues would come back to bite him in the ass. Instead, it found him support in the unlikeliest places. As he walked the district, speaking to thousands of voters, only six castigated him for co-sponsoring and stewarding the human rights ordinance. Instead, he got more grief over taxes, the police merger and his vote in favor of a smoking ban. The HRO just didn’t matter to most voters.

Lots of politicians are afraid that they’ll lose elections if they support LGBT rights – especially in the old guard Republican Party. They’ll try to use Scott’s loss as a bellwether to hold on to their own discriminatory viewpoints. But as with most things, if they scratch below the surface they’ll find that things might not be so clear cut and shallow.

Even thought we lost the election, I’m ecstatic to have been a part of Scott’s campaign. We fought the good fight. He’s a gentleman and scholar. He is my friend. He was fortunate to have won the first time and we’re stuck with the choices the masses have made. Brian Mahern has awfully big shoes to fill; I hope he can put them on the right feet.

So as I leave now to go pick up and recycle the yard signs I put out a while back, at least I can say with certainty now that I know the music has stopped.

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Eventually politics breaks your heart. The good guy didn't win this one, but he can be damned proud that he maintained his integrity not just through the campaign, but every day of his four years on the council.

Well done, Scott!!

Tracy Elliott