GREENFIELD — Hancock County’s Republican Party may have a female leader for the first time in its history.
Tara Armstrong and Janice Silvey have both expressed interest in becoming party chairman in a caucus to replace outgoing Chairman Michael Griffin.
No date has been set for the caucus, and so far no other candidates have publicly expressed interest in the seat.
Griffin, a U.S. Army reservist, has been called to active duty in Cuba and will leave in July for eight months. While he plans to remain county prosecutor, he will step down as party chairman.
Armstrong and Silvey are both members of the central committee of the Hancock County GOP. Armstrong is the party’s vice chair and Silvey is treasurer.
Both said they’ve been considering taking on the role for the last few months, since Griffin had announced in November that he would not seek re-election for the party seat in 2013.
“I’ve been in politics here 38 years and I just decided that maybe I wanted to step up,” said Silvey, who is also running for Hancock County Treasurer this year.
Both said several people have approached them about taking the reins. Armstrong said those words of encouragement and a “tremendous love for politics” sparked her interest.
Armstrong said she’d like to see several changes brought to the party.
“I really want this whole idea of ‘We’re a closed party’ to go away,” she said. “I don’t think that’s right. I don’t want that reputation that it’s my way or the highway or that we’re closed. To me, that’s not how you build relationships or how you build strong parties.”
Armstrong would like the party to hold monthly meetings, as opposed to the current strategy of only conducts business at the annual Christmas party. She would also like those meetings to be open to the public, so people can voice their concerns or ideas to the GOP leaders.
Armstrong said she would also like the GOP to work more with members of both of Hancock County’s tea parties.
Silvey expressed similar concerns. She said lately there have been a lot of “negative comments” about the county Republican Party not working with others.
“I’m willing to listen to everybody’s point of view. That would include the tea party or newcomers,” Silvey said. “It just seems like right now we’re not all working on the same page.”
Silvey has served as a vice precinct committeeman about 15 years, and will attend the Indiana Republican Party Convention as a delegate for the first time this weekend.
Armstrong, wife of Hancock County Commissioner Brad Armstrong, has served as vice chair of the GOP under Griffin, but when Griffin ran for prosecutor in 2010 she was acting chairman. Armstrong is also a precinct committeeman and this weekend’s state convention will be her third.
Armstrong also may be chosen this weekend as an alternate delegate to the national Republican Party convention.
Armstrong would also like to get Republicans more involved in general elections. While primary elections are where most of the contested battles are in Hancock County, Armstrong said she would like more people to become active in general elections so the county can help in casting conservative votes for state and federal offices. Having such strong Republican numbers, she said, can help boost figures for higher offices.
Armstrong, as vice chair, will set the caucus time and date for sometime next month. She said she cannot do so until Griffin formally resigns, which may be at the beginning of July.
GOP precinct committeemen and vice committeemen will select the new party leader for the remainder of Griffin’s term through spring of 2013. Another caucus will be held in the spring to determine the following four-year term, during which the winner of next month’s caucus may run again.
Having a woman lead the GOP may be new to Hancock County but it is common across the state, said longtime Republican Tom Haines.
“Many counties have women that are party chairmen and have had for 30 years,” Haines said, adding that he doesn’t recall a female being interested in the position previously. “Usually it’s very difficult to get someone to run as county chairman. Either party does not have people waiting in line. It’s a tough job and takes a lot of time and it’s also difficult to make everyone happy.”
State Sen. Beverly Gard said it’s about time a woman held the leadership role. Gard, who served as vice chair for years, said she was not interested in the seat but is supporting Armstrong for her organization skills and “political instincts.”
Both Haines and Gard questioned whether Silvey should be both county treasurer and party chairman. Silvey is running uncontested for county treasurer this year, and the conflict of interest concerns that arose when Griffin ran for prosecutor are being raised for Silvey.
Gard said Silvey as county treasurer would work with other elected officials on budgeting. Ramifications over work relationships and decisions, she said, could have a direct affect on party relationships.
Silvey said she knew those questions would arise, and addressed the issue in a letter she sent to all precinct committeemen. Silvey said the treasurer’s office does not make policy but rather follows state rules on how to operate, so she doesn’t feel that there is a conflict.
Still, she understands that county council members may view her role as a conflict because they oversee each department’s budget.
“I feel like I can separate the two,” Silvey said.
While most party officials are reluctant to announce which person they are endorsing for party chairman, some are reflecting on the direction they would like to see the party go in the future.
Gard said she would like the next party chairman to engage with precinct officials and improve in the openness of the party.
Robin Lowder, Hancock County auditor and secretary of the GOP, said she would like the party to continue to work together and encourage people to join.
“I would like to see us grow and continue to get new people in and be transparent,” Lowder said. “I think I want the general public to learn what the party is about. Despite what people think, I think we’re a very inclusive party.”