Campaign costs skyrocket with growth of population

My previous column discussed Hancock County’s change from a slightly Democrat county to an overwhelmingly Republican county in the past 50 years. However, that’s not all good news for Republicans.

As Republicans have moved into the county, our population has grown to 70,000 from 26,000 in 1960. While this has been a blessing for Republicans when facing Democrats in November, it has caused logistical problems in primary elections.

Fifty years ago, everyone in this county knew each other. You could not gossip about someone because it was probable that the person you were talking to was either related to or a friend of the person about whom you were talking. So when people voted, they either personally knew the candidates or could ask a friend who knew them well and would be able to reveal their strengths and weaknesses.

No more.

The problem with voters not knowing candidates, and vice versa, started on the west side of the county with new subdivisions filled with many people who mostly were connected to Indianapolis and who had only minor links to Hancock County.

For a time, the increased numbers were manageable, as candidates and precinct workers canvassed them to introduce themselves and get them registered to vote.

However, in the last couple decades, the growth has been so pronounced that personal contact has significantly decreased. Many fewer voters now know candidates and officeholders. Just drive around the outer ring of Greenfield and look at the large numbers of subdivisions. You might know one or two families in some of them.

How do candidates reach the voters, and how do voters get the information they need to cast a knowledgeable vote?

Primaries end up with yard signs, newspaper ads and a torrent of “mailers” — essentially large postcards. That gives voters some help but seldom provides enough information about the candidates on issues and qualifications to help them decide how to vote.

So what is the result? Not many voters participate in primaries — as few as 10 percent participate except in rare years such as this one, where Indiana was still relevant to the race for president.

This lack of connection between voters and the candidates has led to the defeat of some incumbent officeholders because it’s like starting over with name recognition in every primary. Large numbers of voters have no knowledge of county officeholders and little idea of whether they are doing a good job running their office.

Also, paying the cost of running in our now larger county has greatly increased. Those mailers you receive cost between $3,000 and $5,000, and as much as $30,000 total was spent on some local races this primary. Back in my years as state representative, the entire cost of running my complete campaign was usually not much more than $3,000, and my district was in two counties.

And the costs will only get higher as our population continues to increase. I learned from a former state representative that the cost of running in an Indianapolis district now can be as much as $500,000.

Want to run for Congress? In the 1960s, I asked Ralph Harvey, our congressman at the time, how much it cost him, and he told me $10,000. The son of former Congressman Bill Bray confirmed to me that he spent the same amount back then. Today, the average cost of winning a seat in the Congress is $1.6 million for the House of Representatives and $10 million for the Senate.

So even though Hancock County Republicans no longer have to spend much to prevail over Democrats in November, overall, the cost of campaigning has actually skyrocketed because of the very population growth that made this county overwhelmingly Republican.

Ray Richardson is a former state lawmaker who currently serves as Hancock County attorney. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfield