The County Line: Political reorganization scheduled for March 4

Hamilton County’s political parties will elect their leadership for the next four years when they gather for their reorganization meetings two weeks from Saturday. The general public may have little interest in this process, passing it off as “just politics,” but political life matters to our community.

The reorganizations will be major gatherings, more than 400 precinct committeemen and vice committeemen for the Republicans, probably substantially fewer for Democrats. The GOP meeting will be held at the Ritz Charles in Carmel. Democrats who have fewer committeemen, have not announced their location.

A year ago it looked like the major contest would develop for the GOP chairmanship. Now it looks more likely that the Democrats could have a contest for the top spot. Republican chairwoman Laura Campbell is believed to be in a strong position for re-election. Her past rival, Pete Peterson, has indicated to some folks that he probably will not try again.

Democratic chairman Keith Clock has decided against running for re-election. Reports indicate Joe Weingarten, a leading party activist, and perhaps others, may run to succeed Clock. Usually it is not a job that attracts great interest in Hamilton County. There is only one elected Democrat among the 125 officeholders in county, city and township government.

Why is a party chairmanship important to the county? For several reasons. An effective GOP chairman can mobilize an organization that can potentially turn out a huge vote for not only local office seekers, but for candidates statewide. In 2018, for example, Republicans will be trying to recapture the U.S. Senate seat now held by Joe Donnelly. Hamilton County with its normally big vote could make the difference and make a new senator very grateful. Various kinds of help might come to the county. For example, a deserving young man or woman might get some needed help with a military academy appointment.

It is also true that when the county is seeking a major public works project, state money is often needed and a word from the chairman of the governor’s party can help. Similarly, if a local county resident is trying to get a state position or wants to fill a vacancy on a local court, a confidential note from the chairman to the governor can often turn the trick.

For the Democrats, there is virtually no clout at the Statehouse and very little locally. But, a strong county organization will be needed if the party is ever to make inroads here. Several years ago when county Democrats had a heated contest for chairman, a local newsman played on a famous Winston Churchill quote to describe the pending reorganization. He wrote: ‘Never have so few worked so hard for so little.’

In an interview a few years ago Clock said serving as chairman of the minority party was a labor of love, and certainly not profit. His organization never made a breakthrough in local elections, but last year it did fill the party’s ticket for the first time in many years.

In party reorganization there will also be a vice chairman, secretary and treasurer elected. Republicans need a male, assuming Mrs. Campbell remains as chairwoman. Terry Anker has been considered for the post, and Mario Massillamany has indicated interest. The party treasurer is currently Pete Peterson. Whether he wants to continue or whether he has the support to win re-election remains to be seen.

Among Democrats it seems uncertain who is interested, let alone who is favored, for the vice chair, secretary and treasurer all of which are jobs with substantially less influence than the chairmanship.