By Cam Savage
Greg Ballard doesn’t want a third term as Indianapolis Mayor. Apparently no other Republican wants Ballard’s third term either.
And that is a shame and a political folly, because Ballard’s third term is readily available should a competent and qualified Republican step forward to run and govern in Ballard’s mold.
Consider, Ballard is personally popular and has sustained high approval ratings. He leaves the city in a good position both financially and structurally, though challenges – particularly crime-related ones – remain.
Ballard’s policies, too, are well-received.
Ballard expended political capital to secure the new Eskenazi Hospital. He’s moving forward with a new criminal justice center that will both revitalize an underutilized location just across the White River from downtown and get rid of the downtown jail that has blocked, physically and psychologically, redevelopment of the near-Eastside. He’s advocated for mass transit expansion and is developing a countywide pre-kindergarten plan.
It would be hard to argue that the city is not in better shape than when Ballard found it.
But this column isn’t about rehashing the Ballard legacy; it’s about whether or not any Republican will seek to inherit it.
But if you want to be mayor, you must first get yourself elected. This is a particularly arduous and humbling way to land one of the state’s toughest and most scrutinized jobs.
And yes, Democrats out-number Republicans in Marion County. That is not in dispute, but there are still enough Republicans in Marion County to win an off-year mayoral election.
To wit, in the 2011 mayor’s race, Greg Ballard received 92,525 votes to Melina Kennedy’s 84,993. In 2007, Ballard received 83,238 votes to Bart Peterson’s 77,926.
Only 181,000 people voted in the 2011 mayoral election and only 165,000 people voted in the mayoral race in 2007. By comparison, Mitt Romney received 136,509 votes in Marion County in 2012 and Mike Pence received 129,501. Though both Romney and Pence lost Marion County by significant margins, their vote totals prove that there are more than enough Republicans in Indianapolis to win a mayor’s race in 2015. And if you don’t believe me, ask Greg Ballard.
The challenge, of course, is getting enough of those Romney and Pence-voting Republicans to show up.
Of course, Democrats will have much to say about all this. They are eager to regain the mayor’s office and some foothold with which to establish a beachhead in an increasingly Republican-dominated state.
The likely Democrat nominee, Joe Hogsett, is perceived by people in both parties and the media to be a very strong candidate.
Hogsett’s perceived strength may be contributing to the unwillingness of Republicans step forward. Hogsett is clearly a strong fundraiser, having already raised over $1.5 million for his campaign.
But his strength as a candidate is yet unknown, or at the least, debatable.
Hogsett, who until recently was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, was campaign manager for Evan Bayh’s campaigns for secretary of state and governor. Bayh then appointed him Secretary of State. Hogsett was elected secretary of state in his own right in 1990, lost a race for U.S. Senate in 1992, and then lost a race for Congress from an east central Indiana district in 1994. He chaired the Indiana Democratic Party and in 2004 lost a race for attorney general in a landslide.
In that 2004 race Hogsett failed to carry Marion County, making him the only Democrat statewide candidate – save Jill Long Thompson in 2008 – to fail to carry Marion County since 2002.
In between his attempts for elected office, Hogsett has been a corporate attorney at some of the city’s most powerful and influential law and lobbying firms. He’s also pursued a number of academic interests.
With undergrad and law degrees from Indiana University, Hogsett later received master’s degrees from Butler in English (1987), theological studies from Christian Theological Seminary (1999), and history from Indiana University (2007).
All this is achievement is admirable, enviable even, but his reads more like the biography of man in search of himself than that of an electoral juggernaut poised to lead the state’s largest city.
This sort of ambition is hardly unique, there is precedent for it, but what do his constantly evolving interests say about the man who would be mayor?
With Greg Ballard, voters came to know and like a guy who woke up every day to face the city’s challenges with sincerity and humility. Be it sewers, stadiums, parking meters or potholes, Ballard plodded forward actively and methodically without pretension or pomp. A fixer, a problem solver, Ballard leaves a path to follow to his third term – if anybody wants it.
Cam Savage is a principal at Limestone Strategies and a veteran of numerous Republican campaigns and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He is a graduate of Franklin College. He can be reached at Cam@limestone-strategies.com.