News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 7, 2008

MAX JONES: Readers speak: Tell us about political factions

By Max Jones

TERRE HAUTE — Last week, I wrote about the fractured Democratic Party in Vigo County, the players behind the factions, and how the divisions were posing new challenges in covering this upcoming primary season.

I asked this key question: “… Do you as readers and potential voters want to know the faction with which a candidate is aligned, if any? Or does any of this ‘political insider’ stuff really matter to you?”

The column brought some very interesting responses. Here’s a sampling:

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“Very much enjoyed at last an accurate look at Vigo County politics. I don’t really care who is supported by whom, but the bottom line is we have all paid the price for control squabbles for years in Terre Haute.

“The folks that are involved in all of this are not interested in the welfare and progress of Terre Haute, but are more caring about having their hand on the master switch. I heard once that Pete Chalos didn’t make a phone call unless he called Mr. Anderson first. I had really hoped that when Kevin Burke was elected that maybe the ‘good old boy’ network might finally be broken, but alas, it doesn’t seem so.

“If the real reasons industry doesn’t come here, that progress is so painfully slow, could be reported, that would be more helpful to me. Thank you for a very insightful piece, good luck.” — Jim Moles

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“I think there should be an open forum where all of the primary candidates are required to answer the question, ‘Which faction of the Democratic Party do you support’. Then the TribStar could publish these results before the primary voting. I realize they could say neither, but in my opinion, they would be evading the question because they have to be aligned to one or the other for financial support. … Just my perception.” — Bill Carter

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“Absolutely! I want to know who is aligned with whom. If that is not the ‘stuff’ of politics, then what is? Political connections are where deals are made and broken that affect the spending of our tax dollars. These deals result in endorsements from one player to another along the lines of ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.’

“Would I love to live in the ideal world where the candidate’s stance on a particular issue was all that mattered? You betcha. Unfortunately, we all know that ain’t the real world.

“Even more importantly, I want to know who’s behind the money. Had the [Tribune-Star’s] in-depth article about Joseph Selliken been printed earlier, I think a lot of people could have made some pretty quick deductions about the political scene this past year. That kind of sway scares me the most. We also know that bull--- walks and money talks.

“I don’t claim an affiliation with any party. If anything, I’m a left-leaning idealist who really, really wants the issues to matter. And I seek out those candidates who seem to be least concerned with connections and most concerned with getting stuff done in the most expedient and efficient manner. Unfortunately, the political machine in this town drums those people out of office pretty fast, if they ever make it in the first place. — Jo Dee Biddle

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“Your March 1 column identifying the factions is just the kind of thing we need your paper to do. As a citizen, I want to know who the leaders are, what their goals are, who they are associated with. I think investigative reporting of politics is one of the primary justifications for the very idea of newspapers. By the nature of their jobs, reporters have to pick and push and turn over rocks and, hopefully, sometimes discover gems. Editors must encourage them.

“Would more of this sort of reporting early on have changed the recent mayoral election? Did former Mayor Anderson play a part in Mayor Burke’s defeat. How petty and how noble are our local politicians? We people on the pavement need information to help us make these judgments.” — John Seifert

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There are a few more responses that I will share next week. And Mike Ellis, founder of the new FDR Democrat Club, has written an essay on the topic. Because of its length, a publication date has not been set. I’ll try to get it in the paper in the next week or so.

Meanwhile, keep those messages coming in.