Thursday, March 11, 2010

The role of Democrats in Hamilton County

I have long-standing roots in Hamilton County, my great-great grandfather moved to the little crossroads of Baker's Corner in 1866. I know that Hamilton County is Republican territory, at least it always has been, and yet, I am an active Democrat. What does that mean for someone who lives in a traditionally Republican area?

I have met so many people, who said "I thought I was the only Democrat here!" And for a very long time, there has indeed been a sense of isolation for Democrats in Hamilton County, and a struggle for identity and acceptance, that yes, we too have something valuable to contribute to public life and public issues.

There are those of the "other" party who look in horror at us, as if we were men and women from Mars. Fortunately, those are few and far between. But they exist. They are shocked if a Democrat knocks on their door, or tries to offer them literature at the polls, or has the audacity to speak at a public meeting. To these folks, we Democrats are vermin, not quite human, not really fellow citizens who look at political questions a little differently.

Democrats and Republicans need to learn how to talk to each other for the public good.  This can be a problem when majority Republicans refuse to listen, simply because they are the majority and they think they don't have to listen.  Democrats then get angry, and sometimes say things they should not. 

To be sure, both parties can also have their little internal feuds.  The "famous" flying gavel incident in the Fishers Town Council a couple of years ago is one (link from YouTube available upon request) and some of the internal Republican feuds in Carmel are likewise entertaining.   Democrats sometimes have their little turf wars as well, especially when people forget that a minority party has to stick together to even try to accomplish anything. 

One of the few bi-partisan efforts in Hamilton County is CityYes, the movement to move Fishers (population approx. 75,000 and the largest municipality in Hamilton County) from a "town" form of government to a "city".  Yours truely is the chair of that committee, website found at  Other officers of the committee range from quite conservative to moderate Republicans to independent.  All of us agree that becoming a City would benefit Fishers, especially in the area of planning and business development.  But this irks supporters of the current town structure, some of whom can be quite unpleasant.  There are even some prominent Republicans who would publically support this movement, but for the venom and bile which would be heaped on them by some of their fellow Republicans (not a majority), so they remain largely in the background for the moment. 

CityYes is an excellent example of how Democrats and Republicans can work together in common cause for the public good.  But that very bi-partisanship makes some people a little crazy.  "Don't tell people you are a Democrat, or they won't support you!" a few say, fearing the reaction of the mean people, and ignoring that many of the supporters of CityYes are Republicans.  Frankly, Democrats could not get this passed on their own, even if all Democrats were behind it, which they are not, any more than all Republicans are opposed to it. 

Some Democrats are so afraid of even admitting that they are Democrats in Hamilton County that they vote Republican, giving a new meaning to the old term "RINO" - Republican in Name Only.   Other Democrats react with anger and bitterness at everything Republican, making them the counterparts of the Republicans who are the "venom and bile" people I referred to.  That is unacceptable in either party. 

President Obama in his campaign spoke often of the "politics of personal destruction", and lamented the same, stating correctly that we need to get away from those practices for the good of all.   He is totally correct.  But, the politics of personal destruction is alive and well in Hamilton County. 

That must change, for the good of the whole community. 

The author is the President of the Hamilton County Democratic Club and chair of CityYes PAC.  The opinions expressed are solely that of the author, and not those of those organizations, nor any other person, group, or political party.