Armin Apple, a prominent local Republican said to me some 30 years ago that what this county needs is a competitive Democratic Party, because real competition between two political parties is necessary to ensure a quality government at every level.
I completely agree with him. Why is it important?
Because nowhere in the world has a single-party political system created anything good.
Not in Russia, not in China, not in Cuba, not in South America, not in Africa. And frankly, it’s not produced sterling results locally.
Far too many residents here are dissatisfied with our government.
Those include many besides the Tea Party faction of the GOP. There are very few amongst us satisfied with our local infrastructure or how our taxes are spent.
Many believe our county is at least a decade behind several others in central Indiana in terms of economic development or other areas of progress.
A two-party system leads to competition, which generally leads to more effective governments. It creates greater accountability.
A Democrat in the courthouse for instance, acting as a check and balance, would have made it far more difficult for an auditor to embezzle our funds.
We lack a significant number of choices in terms of who we want to represent us. Despite the protestations of a former GOP county chairman, having competition in the Republican primary alone does not constitute sufficient choices.
Older local residents recall a time past when Hancock County had true competition between the political parties. Democrats held most offices, and then the Republicans swept the courthouse for a time in the 1950s only to lose out again to the local Democrats.
There are several factors that led to the decline of the local Democratic Party and the dominance of the GOP. Most of the New Deal Democrats are dead.
That was a loyal Democratic voting block. While those folks began declining in numbers, Hancock County was greatly impacted by the “white flight” out of Indianapolis.
First, the outer Marion county townships became GOP strongholds, and then they filled up rural townships bordering Marion County. Once sparsely rural western townships of this county filled up and became Republican strongholds.
There was a time when a countywide Democratic candidate here could carry seven of the nine townships and still lose.
The massive predominance of Republican voters in Sugar Creek and Buck Creek overwhelmed the rest of the county. It was not, and still is not, rare to have a Republican candidate in those townships obtain 80 percent of the vote.
Therefore, the so-called white flight into western Hancock County served as a major catalyst, creating a GOP juggernaut in the entire county.
Part of the problem lies with the Democratic Party and its voters. The party all but gave up over time. It became acutely difficult to convince anyone to run on the Democratic ticket, especially when GOP straight-party ballots outnumber straight-party Democrat ballots by a three-to-one ratio.
We have actually had Republicans elected to office with as much as half their total votes being straight-party ballots.
In order to complete its dominance, the local GOP even convinced a number of Democrats over the years to run on the Republican ticket. It became a vicious cycle that diminished the Democratic Party and enhanced the Republicans’ strength.
There is another factor to consider; the phenomenon known as “group think.”
People strive for consensus within a group. In many cases, people will set aside their own personal beliefs and adopt the opinion of the rest of the group. People who are opposed to the decisions or overriding opinion of the group as a whole frequently remain quiet, preferring to keep the peace rather than disrupt the uniformity of the crowd.
This explains, in part, the tendency of county residents to proclaim their conservatism when the majority is actually quite moderate in their political views.
Will Democrats ever find themselves competitive here again? Yes, eventually, but not for quite some time.
The political spectrum tends to swing in one direction and then the other. Typically, these run in 30 to 40 year trends. But it will require a continued increase in urban Democrats moving here along with Democrats being willing to take a beating in order to get their message across.
It will require voters unhappy with the status quo to demand changes and to think beyond their comfort zones. It could happen sooner if the national GOP brand continues its drift further from the political center.
It may not be in my lifetime, but I’ll guarantee you it will most likely come to Hancock County.
Michael Adkins formerly was chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield.