News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 13, 2011

MAUREEN HAYDEN: Be wary of reading too much into election results

Maureen Hayden
Tribune-Star Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — Last week’s mayoral elections prompted some victory crowing from Indiana Republicans and rightly so.

As noted in a morning-after email sent to Statehouse reporters by GOP party spokesman Pete Seat, Republicans now hold a majority of mayoral offices in Indiana.

The scorecard — subject to some revision since two races have been contested — is now 61 Republican mayors versus 54 Democrats and 2 Independents.

That marks a big shift from the past. After the 2007 general election, Democrats claimed 68 of the top spots in city and town halls across Indiana; 48 mayoral races went to Republicans and three went to Independents.

Those 2007 results were considered a harbinger of things to come. A “throw the bums out” mentality among voters resulted in 44 incumbents losing their seats in the 2007 primary and general elections.

So you’d think an election that tipped the balance of mayoral power to Republicans this time around would be filled with tea leaves that could be read to divine the future.

But one of the best observers of Indiana politics cautions against reading too much into last Tuesday’s elections.

Ed Feigenbaum, the well-seasoned publisher of Indiana Legislative Insight, says the mayoral power flip may have less to do with partisanship and more to do with personalities, local-issue platforms, and a populace that wants more public servants and less aspirational politicians.

“They weren’t looking for people with vision,” Feigenbaum said of the voters who cast their ballots last Tuesday. “They were looking for people who could keep the streets paved, plowed, and cleaned.”

Feigenbaum, a lawyer by training, offers ample evidence to make his case in the latest issue (dated Nov. 14) of his weekly political newsletter. He credits Republicans for some big pick-up wins, including those in Anderson, Jeffersonville, Logansport, Rushville and Washington.

But he also notes that the GOP victories in three big cities with a lot of Democrat voters — Evansville, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis — were claimed by candidates “more concerned about managing government than advancing any new visions.”

And he argues that Democrat incumbents that were ousted in such hotly contested races as those that took place in Anderson, Jeffersonville and Logansport, were done in by their own management and style issues.

He also cites Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, a Democrat who won an unprecedented fourth term, and Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett, a Republican who won a second term in a city that hasn’t re-elected a mayor since 1991, as guys who bridged the partisan divide by neutralizing party labels.

Feigenbaum — whose keen recall and acerbic humor act as their own neutralizing agents on political bluster — says the lesson to be learned from Tuesday’s election may be a little too humbling for some aspirants in next year’s county and state elections to grasp.

That lesson, Feigenbaum argues, “might be that voters are more interested in governments being run for their benefit than by politicians running for other offices.”

Maureen Hayden is Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI Indiana newspapers. She can be reached at