Periodically, I hear concerns expressed that Hancock County voters don’t have as many choices as they should have when voting because the Republican Party always wins the races on the November ballot. Let’s check our voting history and then see whether that’s a big problem.
When I moved here in 1962, it was Democrats who held all county public offices. Every single one. Republicans had occasionally held county offices before then, but this was primarily a Democrat county. But then things changed and changed very quickly.
For example, Sugar Creek Township, which had been one precinct that voted Democrat, became nine precincts, all voting overwhelmingly Republican. Also on the county’s west side, Buck Creek and Vernon townships experienced a large growth in Republican voters.
Many of these voters had moved out from Marion County or, as I did, moved from farther away to live near, but not in, Marion County. This same movement happened in all of the counties around Marion, and they also are now solidly Republican.
It was 1974 when Democrats last defeated a Republican here for a county office, and that happened then only because it was the election following Watergate.
(Four years ago, a Democrat coroner was elected, but there was no Republican candidate.)
So does the fact that Hancock County is solidly Republican make the lack of competition in November harmful?
At least in the Republican primary, there are choices. This year, 11 Republicans are running for three council seats, five are running for two county commissioner seats and four are running for coroner.
Democrats, however, probably feel shortchanged. My wife, Paulette, grumbles occasionally. Some Democrats have chosen to have their say by voting in the Republican primary, and some have even run for office on the Republican ticket. The latter practice started way back in 1967, when Republicans actually asked a Democrat to run for Greenfield City Council as a Republican.
One advantage of not see-sawing back and forth between political parties is that there’s more stability in local government; less turnover leads to more experience on the job, which means better service for you. We do get changes in officeholders anyway because some are prohibited by the Indiana Constitution from serving more than eight years in a row (auditor, sheriff, treasurer and recorder, but not assessor, surveyor commissioners or council).
When I was in the Legislature, we sent a constitutional amendment to the voters to eliminate that restriction, but it was defeated. I never understood why voters wanted that term limit because if they don’t like the job done by an officeholder, they can oust them on election day. With the artificial eight-year limit, we lose some excellent officeholders.
I maintain that one-party counties are not harmed by lack of choice because the work of local officials is not partisan in nature. There is no Republican or Democrat way to record a deed, assess property, collect taxes, provide police protection or clean regulated drains.
Even in policy-making positions like commissioner or council, if you attended their meetings, you would find that the issues that arise don’t have Republican or Democrat solutions.
I seldom notice conservative or liberal leanings affecting a decision, either. When they occur, they appear as questions of whether to spend more or less money to solve a problem — the fairgrounds issue is a good example of that — but even on spending questions, there are a variety of opinions within the Republican Party.
So, ideally, Hancock County voters would have as many choices as possible, including in November. But at least from what I have observed over many years, our citizens are being well served by those who have been elected.
Ray Richardson is a former state lawmaker who currently serves as Hancock County attorney. Send comments to email@example.com.