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Vote totals — "Surprise, Surprise" division
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
The big surprise of election night in Fort Wayne was the loss by Tom Smith, the long serving councilman for Fort Wayne’s suburban-northeast, First District. He lost big to a neophyte, but one with a powerful friend.
In an district where being the Republican nominee is tantamount to election, Paul Ensley (who?) won 50% of the vote to Smith’s 19%. That, folks, is not a loss, it is a slaughter.
But was Smith really held in such disregard after all of his achievements?
It turns out that his defeat was a palace coup, not a referendum on his service. Insiders say the Republican zealots in the person of Bob Morris, the sponsor and boss of the 25-year old Ensley, engineered the coup for his own personal gain.
Morris is the Indiana State Representative who charged that the Girl Scouts were undermining family values. Girl Scouts. Apparently, that applies to Brownies, too, those little subversives.
There was no clamor to oust Smith; his record was clearly Republican. He was neither a black sheep nor the prodigal son.
Ensley, on the other hand, has no experience or history in office. Think hiring a plumber who can’t tell copper from PVC. Think Morris with a proxy on city council.
So, Morris strongly supported his employee, an accountant, Ensley, in his effort to unseat the popular Smith. The incumbent admitted he was out-hustled. Given that fewer than 3,000 votes were cast, shame on Smith for resting on his laurels.
As oft with upstarts, Ensley campaigned on platitudes, styling himself as the protector of the Legacy Fund from the spendthrift likes of Russ Jehl, Tom Didier and John Crawford. With a 6-to-3 Republican super majority, the Legacy Fund is more than amply protected from that stretch of a fanciful imagination, but Ensley’s rhetoric strikes a cord with the paranoid right that sees every government initiative as vehicle for graft or road to leviathan government. The Legacy process is already layered with citizen review and council oversight.
With Smith goes decades of constructive experience, and a Republican who forged progress out of division. As is said, when a person dies a library is lost, and so it is in politics when a capable incumbent is cast out.
On the other hand, the Democrats now have a golden opportunity to challenge in the First with no incumbent. You have to wonder who they will pick to fill the ballot. Smith would be an interesting choice, given his moderate views, and given that Democrats in Allen County are mostly conservatives, any way.
Yet, another upset was suffered by veteran Republican Derek Pillie to yet another newcomer, Lana Keesling, the manager of a storage company. Interestingly, Keesling was endorsed by both Liz Brown, the most divisive politicians of this generation, and Linda Buskirk, among the most constructive Republicans since Harold Zeis. Pillie himself had long labored in local Republican office, most notably as a right hand of former Congressman, Mark Souder. Pillie was endorsed as best prepared to serve by both papers, by Councilmen Russ Jehl and Tom Didier, by County Commissioner Nelson Peters, Cathy Hawks, and former mayoral candidate Paula Hughes. He was also endorsed by the local anti-abortion group. En toto it is an all-star list spanning the local Republican establishment.
So, what happened? Certainly, the Brown endorsement counts, it seems, for a lot. Brown has a committed following, a mission and a way with words. And, she is also not afraid to smear her targets, regardless of the facts. In her endorsement she pandered to the fear and prejudice by clearly suggesting that the City Clerk’s office is stealing parking meter money, certainly the fuel of rabble-rousing polemics. Is there truth behind the innuendo? Highly doubtful. But that doesn’t stop Brown who has a record of personal attacks, cruelty, and innuendo.
Pillie said he just didn’t work hard enough.
What sank both Smith and Pillie was the politics of self-interested zealots amplified through our broken primary system.
You may know that Indiana has one of the lowest primary election turnout rates in the country. (And, thirty-nine countries have higher turnouts than the US!) That stat implies wholesale frustration, resignation, and indifference. Look at the Smith-Ensley race. There are 31,000 potential voters in the district and fewer than 3,000, less than one in ten, bothered to cast a ballot.
Our primary system shifts power from the average voter to party insiders, crusaders, zealots and extremists. That factor increases polarization as the two parties drift to their extremes, resultant polarization contributes to gridlock, gridlock contributes to frustration, that leads to more indifference, which in turn helps concentrate power in the hands of a few ideologues. It is a death spiral.
In fact, this is one in a series of elections where knowledge has been sacrificed for dogma and experience for training wheels.
You may remember two years ago when long time public servant Win Moses was redistricted into oblivion in favor of another neophyte.
So it happens again with Smith and Pillie. Again, it is the Morris-Brown faction that is dragging the party of Eisenhower, Goldwater and Reagan to the right of Jerry Fallwell, employing the dysfunctional primary system as their tool.