It’s a paradox.
Two years after records were set in voter turnout in the 2008 May primary and school board elections, our precincts will be ghost towns this Tuesday. There’s a severe lack of enthusiasm on the part of the African-American community and an equally uninspiring enthusiasm among the candidates running to get our vote.
First off, let’s be fair. The energy and excitement is among Republicans, starting with their Senate primary.
I made history by being the first African-American to moderate a major statewide political debate shepherding the five Republicans running for United States senator.
Moderating a statewide debate was a daunting and humbling experience. I was so focused on my moderating, that I never really heard what the candidates were saying.
Until I watched the replay on C-Span last Friday. I was struck by how rigid and doctrinaire the candidates were. All five seemed to be using talking points written by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich. The rigidity of thought and the “my way or the highway” attitude from the candidates was disturbing.
It really came out when the candidates – Dan Coats, Marlin Stutzman, Richard Behney, Don Bates Jr. and John Hostettler were asked their views on the recently announced nuclear arms reduction treaty between America and Russia.
All five, including Coats, who knows better, attacked the treaty as a weakening of America and emboldening our enemies, especially Iran.
Except it was rock ribbed Republican President Ronald Reagan who first reduced nuclear arms with the then Soviets. It’s been Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, who’s actively worked to monitor the terms of that agreement, which hasn’t been broken.
Now, President Barack Obama is following in Reagan and Lugar’s footsteps while these five doctrinaire Tea Party chasing Republicans believe what Reagan started is dangerous for America.
Now, except for the parts of Indianapolis/Marion County in the Fifth Congressional District, where Dan Burton’s trying to buy a 15th term and the Fourth District, where Todd Rokita is trying to buy his first term, the enthusiasm for this election in the rest of the city/county is underwhelming.
One reason is the sheriff’s race, where four good men are running for their respective party’s nomination. John Layton and Mark Brown are seeking the Democratic nomination, while Dennis Fishburn and Bart McAtee are going for GOP nod. The major problem is that the main issue of past sheriff races, direct law enforcement in the townships, has been taken away with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department merger.
The issues of running a jail, a sex offender registry and nabbing those wanted on warrants don’t excite the populace.
And when homicides are seemingly running out of control, the four sheriff candidates are powerless to run on an issue that’s starting to seep into the community’s consciousness.
Layton should win the Democratic contest, but Mark Brown is running a somewhat unconventional campaign and it’s hard to gauge his impact at the polls. People seemed intrigued by his campaign. And as the only Black candidate running, to succeed a Black icon, Frank Anderson, Brown could surprise on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in the GOP contest, the surprise has been the virtual campaign invisibility of Republican endorsed candidate Dennis Fishburn, the father of grievously wounded policeman Jason Fishburn.
Bart McAtee, the outsider, has money for ads and a seemingly solid campaign. The question is whether a divided local Republican Party can bring Fishburn home and defeat McAtee’s strong challenge.
The Prosecutor’s race has been on autopilot. Republican Mark Massa stirred the pot when he called for Prosecutor Carl Brizzi’s resignation. Yet, Massa, who’s unopposed in the primary, has been eerily quiet in his campaign.
Meanwhile among the Democrats Terry Curry, the endorsed candidate, is out campaigning, though his efforts have been lower key than I expected. His opponent Greg Bowes acted like he’d mount a serious challenge to Curry. But Bowes has been the most underfunded major countywide candidate in recent elections. It’s hard to see how he can succeed against Curry Tuesday.
Two years ago, hordes of voters, fueled by the Obama/Clinton race, voted in the school board races. They’ll be lucky if five percent of voters vote this time.
And with such a light turnout, I don’t have a clue who wins in the Indianapolis Public Schools races. One concern is IPS candidates who pointedly ignore the Black community.
The most egregious example is at-large candidate Justin Forkner, profiled two weeks ago by Indianapolis Star columnist Matt Tully. The column was a virtual endorsement. Nothing wrong with that, but Forkner was a no-show when invited by a personal mailed invitation to appear with the other IPS candidates on WTLC-AM1310’s Afternoons with Amos.
Ignoring an opportunity to speak to voters from the largest ethnic group in the IPS district is a major affront. If Forkner wins Tuesday, he’ll have already sent a signal that our community isn’t important.
The fight for the IPS District 3 and at-large seats are wide-open contests. The IPS elections two years ago produced surprises and I expect some more this Tuesday.
The other major battleground is in Pike Township where 13 candidates, including at least five Blacks, are running for three spots in a winner take all at-large battle.
Eight of the 10 candidates interviewed on Afternoons with Amos (John Brown, George Crooks, Yvette White, Tammy Moon, Rev. Carl Liggins, David Copher, Eric Huffine, and Regina Randolph) support the Pike referendum to build a new Guion Creek Elementary School.
Tax advocates Allison McGuire and Paul Ogden oppose the referendum.
But all 10, in some form, support Pike changing its at-large school board’s election system to a combination of at-large and district seats to better reflect Pike’s racial diversity on the school board.
Our community is rusty after the historic election of 2008. Rusty and dispirited after months of relentless attacks against President Obama. Tired after seeing Indianapolis seemingly deteriorate right before our eyes – libraries closing, murders up, a sense of community drift.
But, the time to be tired is over. It’s time to dust ourselves off, rise up and get back in the game. It’s time to re-engage. And you can start by voting this Tuesday!
See ‘ya at the polls and here next week!