Wednesday, May 2, 2018

What is a primary election?

[This is the first in a series of educational articles about elections and local government. It is intended to fill in some knowledge gaps about how elections work in Indiana and the functions of local government. Both research and my personal experience tell me most people don't really understand either. I hope to help with that.]

In Indiana, there are two basic types of elections.  The first, which this article talks about, is in May of each election year and is called a "primary election".  The November election is called a "general election", more about that in a later article.

Unlike a general election, a primary election (usually shortened to just "primary") is not really an "election" because no one is actually winning a public office in a primary.  A primary is actually a nominating contest for the two major parties, Republican and Democratic. In a sense, there are actually two separate primaries run at the same time, for each party.

This process selects the major party candidates for the general election in November, when they face off against each other plus any third party or independent candidates.

Many voters don't understand why they have to choose a Democratic or Republican ballot. Under Indiana law, this is required. A voter, at least in theory, is supposed to choose the primary ballot of the party that they either A) supported a majority of their candidates in the last election, or B) intend to support a majority of that party's candidates in the next general election.  This means that voters pick their own affiliation of political party based on their own preferences.

This system is called a "closed primary" and has been the law in Indiana for decades. Other states have this as well, but some have versions of an "open primary" which allows voters to select from candidates of both parties. A few versions of an open primary even allow the two top candidates of one party to face off in a general election if they have the highest number of votes.

So, if you want to support a majority of Democratic candidates in the fall general election, you should be voting in the Democratic primary, and the same holds true for Republicans. This system allows Democrats to select Democratic candidates and Republicans to select Republican candidates, and are not causing mischief for each other.

There are other legal consequences of primary voting. If you want to be named to an appointed board or commission, most of those require bi-partisan representation. And party affiliation is determined by what party primary you voted for last. So if you voted in the 2016 Democratic Primary, you are a "registered Democrat", or at least that is how it is referred to. Indiana does not register party affiliation when you register to vote, but other states do. If you want to run for office as a Democrat, you must either have voted in the last Democratic primary, or get the permission of your local party chair.

Primary elections are important for a lot of other reasons. It helps a political party identify and organize their supporters, and measure their relative strengths. If you usually vote for Democratic candidates in the general election but vote in the other primary, it is technically illegal, and makes it a lot harder for both parties to know where you stand.

Sometimes no candidate files for a particular office in a primary.  The major parties can fill the empty spots for the November election with a party caucus in June.

If only one candidate files for an office in a primary, that is known as an "uncontested primary" for that office, and that candidate becomes the party nominee for the November election. If more candidates file for the primary than there are available spots (usually one, sometimes 3 or more), that is a "contested primary". The top vote-getter for each office becomes that party's nominee for the November election.

There is more, but those are the basics.  In upcoming articles, I will be giving an overview of the structure of local government, mostly on county offices since those are up for election in 2018. I will briefly explain what the different offices do.  And if you have questions, or suggestions for a later blog post, contact me on Facebook or email me at

Friday, January 6, 2017

Picking Winners and Losers

Conservatives often talk about government not picking winners and losers. By that I suppose it is meant that government should not advantage some citizens over others, at least not unnecessarily. But a quick look around Hamilton County shows that our local governments do exactly what they profess not to support.

When a city offers tax incentives, or even free loans, to a business to move in, they advantage that business against those in the same market space which are already there. Worse, when the incentive is Tax Increment Financing (TIF), the property taxes go to pay the debt for the loan the city took out to provide that incentive, but don't go for core services, police, fire, libraries, roads, and yes, schools. Who picks up the difference?  The people who didn't get the incentives, chiefly homeowners.

At a minimum, this is blatant hypocrisy. It may also be largely unnecessarily, and in the case of Carmel and Fishers, excessive. Further, not all of the projects that at one time or another gain favor and at least the promise of incentives ever work, and many don't get off the ground at all.

Fishers, the city where I live and know the most about, is littered with failed projects backed by town, then city, government and totally failed.  A short list:

  • Riverplace, the proposed multi-use development on the northwest corner of 96th and Allisonville.  
  • The 96th and Allisonville "Michigan Left". Fishers spent $10 million, including cost overruns, for this project, "needed" in part due to the added traffic from Riverplace (see above). You now have to go thru 5 sets of traffic lights to turn left.
  • The water park at SR 37 and 131st.  Some ground work was done, then it failed and the property was foreclosed, then redeveloped. 
  • The auto mall on the west side of SR 37 and north of 131st. An additional turn signal and road was put in for this, and placed in a TIF district. Never got off the ground, and city administration quietly took the property out of TIF. 
  • The Saxony sports complex.  A novel idea with too little financial backing, which caused some concerns about traffic and parking. Eventually their financing failed due to appraisal issues.
  • Bub's Burgers downtown Fishers location. The Carmel burger icon's proposed second location, near both subsidized and non-subsidized eateries, was ballyhooed by city administration, then it quietly dematerialized. 
  • The 2007 proposed redevelopment of downtown. Town Council promised $40 million in incentives, but the developer went broke and filed bankruptcy. Honestly, it was a good thing, the design was ugly and it would have displaced numerous local businesses and a school. 
  • A proposed real estate building on Maple St. just north of 116th. The former building was torn down, then the real estate company had second thoughts. 
  • The strip mall at 116th and Hoosier Rd. Much fought-over for years (it was the crux of the famous "flying gavel" council meeting years ago), it went thru various developers, who have only ever managed a day care and a Fresh Thyme market, the rest is vacant. 
If you have philosophical issues with this, fine. But the party that runs Hamilton County all CLAIM to be "conservative" then do this. On a more practical note, Carmel now has over a BILLION DOLLARS in debt, and rising, and Fishers has at least a quarter of that, all of it incurred since 2007. As I noted before, it is homeowners who primarily shoulder that burden, and it is a partial factor in schools seeking referenda to approve tax hikes. Whatever your party label, this should be in the mind of all residents.  Pay attention people!

Monday, March 28, 2016

The County Commissioner's race

There is currently a contested race in the May GOP primary for Hamilton County Commissioner. The makeup of this county being what it is, that primary will likely select the person who will serve in that office. The three county commissioners are the executive body for the county.

I want to speak about one of the candidates, Fishers businessman Bill Smythe, the owner of the Claude and Annie's bar at 141st St. and State Road 37. I have known Bill for several years, and have had both agreements and disagreements with him.  But Bill and I agree on a lot of things about local government.

The first area of agreement is financial. We both are troubled at some of the spending by local government, some of it seemingly without a need. We are also troubled at how some projects are financed, in particular the overuse of TIF financing, which can act as a form of corporate welfare.

We also agree in the area of government transparency and ethics. In my race for Fishers City Council, I proposed an ethics ordinance to limit the ability of companies who do business with the city from buying influence, perhaps to their profit when more contracts were awarded. At the least, this is unseemly and gives the impression that government is for sale. At the worst, it is "pay to play" politics and actual corruption.

Bill has a slogan of "voters before vendors". Like some presidential candidates, who have called for reform of a system where special interests buy (or appear to buy) influence by large campaign donations, both Bill and I feel that the system itself is corrupted by allowing vendors who profit from government contracts to attempt to buy influence by donating large sums to incumbent candidates in particular.

I am not a Republican. I don't vote in the Republican primary. But if I did, I would vote on May 3rd for Bill Smythe for Hamilton County Commissioner. And if you do vote in the the GOP primary, I urge your consideration of Bill. The voters deserve a voice, not just government vendors.

Bill's website is, and his campaign can be found on Facebook at  I wish him well.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The New Year, and a New City of Fishers

Today is the first day of 2015, and with it, the first day of a brand-new city, Fishers.  This day is something I worked long and hard for, since I made the call for Fishers to drop the "town" form of government in January 2007.  It has been a long, hard road, with little to no support from those on the inside of town government, in fact in most cases, their very active opposition.

As the first chair of bi-partisan group CityYes (followed by David Cox and Doug Allman), we worked for a more responsive form of government that would allow the voices of the people to be heard.  Those in Town Hall (with the exception of Renee Cox) worked hard to prevent that happening.  They delayed and delayed, and obstructed, and delayed some more, and then did their best to spin the arguments against Fishers being a real City with an elected Mayor.

I congratulate Scott Fadness on being elected Fishers' first Mayor.  And I congratulate the nine members of the first City Council, several of them newcomers to local government.  As I have often said, a big part of good government is the form of government, the next is the people who are selected to run our government, and what they do with it.  It remains to be seen what our new City government will do.

But the irony is, none of these people worked to make the change to a City.  Several of them, and their supporters, actively opposed it.  Whether or not that error in judgment, and being out of step with what local residents wanted on the single most important issue to face Fishers in decades, forebodes good or ill for the future only time will tell.

As for me, I am proud for Fishers today.  We have officially "grown up".  Now let us see what we can do with it.  I thank all who worked so hard for today, David and Renee Cox, Doug Allman, Brian Baehl, Walt Bagot, Glenn Brown, Dan Torzewski, Joe Weingarten, Cindy Garzon, Debbie Ramey, and the donors and volunteers for CityYes who worked so hard and long to fulfill a dream of a better, more inclusive, more open government for Fishers.  If I missed anyone, I apologize,

Mistakes were made by town government, and they were heavy-handed at times.  Let us see if that changes now that we are a city, and if not, hold them accountable.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hamilton County Democratic Candidates

Voters complain about there not being choices on Hamilton County ballots in general elections.  But there actually ARE quite a number of Democrats running for office, including two statewide candidates who are running for office.  So here is a list of Democratic candidates who will be on the ballot in Hamilton County in the November election.

Shawn Denney, Congress, Fifth District
Beth White, Secretary of State
Mike Claytor, a Carmel resident, State Auditor
Mike Boland, a Fishers resident, State Treasurer
J.D. Ford, Carmel, State Senate District 29
Joe Marcum, Noblesville, State Representative, District 29
Bob Ashley, State Representative, District 32
David Russ, Carmel, State Representative, District 39
Rosemary Dunkle, Carmel, County Council, District 1
Jim Blessing, Carmel, Clay Township Board
Mike Davis, Noblesville Township Trustee
Margaret (Peggy) Russell, Noblesville Township Board
Sheryl (Sherry) Peters, Sheridan Town Council At Large
Kent Nelson, Fishers City Council, Northwest District
Greg Purvis, Fishers City Council, SouthCentral District
Justin Kilgore, Fishers City Council, Southwest District
Maryellen Bein, Fishers City Council, At Large

While not all ballot slots have a Democratic candidate, this is probably the greatest number of Democrats running on the Hamilton County ballot in many years.  It certainly is the first time two county residents have sought statewide office at the same time.  It is also the largest number of Democrats EVER to run for Fishers office, and this is the first Fishers City election.

Nearly all of these candidates have web pages, Facebook pages, or both.  I urge you to look them up and give them your support.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Renee Cox Resigns

Fishers Town Council member Renee Cox today announced that she will resign her seat on the council, citing her job duties which have been taking her out of state since June.  Cox was an unsuccessful candidate to be the first Mayor of Fishers in the May 2014 GOP primary.  She also was the former President of the Fall Creek Township Board.  During the 2012 referendum to change Fishers into a City, Cox was the only Town Council member to support the change to city status.  Cox also opposed the proposed food and beverage sales tax, and the proposal which led to the recent demolition of the Fishers Train Station, positions which brought her under sharp attack by some other members of the Town Council.

Renee's husband David is a former Fayette County GOP chair, and locally was former chair of CityYes. Their home remains in Fishers.

When asked by Hamilton County politics what her future political plans might be, Renee Cox was noncommittal.  Her resignation was first announced on Facebook by Hamilton County Politics, before any other public announcement was published.

Monday, August 11, 2014

New Purvis for Council Blog

I have decided to "spin off" my posts about my campaign for Fishers City Council to a new blog.  That page will be found here:  I will have my first posts on there very soon, so please follow it.

Unfortunately, I have been concentrating too much on what is happening in Fishers, and not enough on what is happening in the rest of Hamilton County.  So, I am going to separate them, although I may cross-post from time to time.

So there will be more posts here about other races in and involving Hamilton County, including the two statewide races involving Hamilton County residents - Mike Claytor of Carmel for State Auditor and Mike Boland of Fishers for State Treasurer.  I will also post news about State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz (a resident of Carmel), and State Senate candidate J.D. Ford, State Rep. candidates David Russ, Joe Marcum, and Bob Ashley, and others.

Let me know what you think!

Greg Purvis