Home > Political Animal > Can Mitch save the local GOP from itself?

Can Mitch save the local GOP from itself?

Part One

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader


The Republicans hold a 7 to 2 advantage on city council, suggesting they should be able to push through any bit of legislation they choose and then override a veto should they have to.


In the matter of limiting the hours of SOBs (sexually oriented businesses, strip joints by any other name), a bill authored by a Republican mayoral candidate, Russ Jehl, heard in a committee headed by Republican Michael Barranda, before a full council chaired by Republican Thomas Didier, and advised by an attorney, Joe Bonahoom, chosen by the Republicans, the Republicans couldn’t make law. In fact, their management of the process looked more like mud-stew than Bismarck’s sausage making with failed amendment upon failed amendment upon failed amendment, sometimes three on the table at the very same moment as if none of the Republicans had ever heard of Robert’s Rules of Order, and thus suggesting the city Republicans are less a political party a more a beach party tanked up on beer and shots. This council frequently bumbles along reminiscent of amateur hour at the local VFW post.

Mr. Jehl certainly won points with the Republican base, the moral majority types who find SOBs tasteless, and with the many economic development types who gnash teeth at the thought that strip joints should tawdry up their rosy-cheeked vision of the new Fort Wayne. But, it should, be noted, his fellow council Republicans left Mr. Jehl twisting in the wind on a bill that could easily have passed.


Typically, the sponsor of a bill makes sure he has the needed votes before bringing the measure to a vote, and nobody likes to lose a vote, especially a budding candidate for mayor. This wrangling of votes is usually done through face-to-face negotiations, or in a party caucus where, after a bit of horse-trading, a compromise is reached. Five votes were needed, seven should have been in hand, but Mr. Jehl won only three thumbs-up from his fellow Republicans. It was akin to the linemen letting the rushers pounce on the aspiring quarterback; it was an embarrassment, and a slap in the face suggesting his fellow Republican councilmen might favor a different quarterback.


First, Mr. Jehl should have found an expedient to withdraw the bill, or should have accepted compromise for that fifth vote. Et tu, Brutus.

The local Republican Party is a fractious bunch ranging from the hair-on-fire dogmatics to those who are Republicans-in-name-only-for-the-sake-of-holding-office. Additionally, there is not much love for the county chairman among the solons, and the city Republicans see themselves a cut above the rustics in the county. It is more like the last act of Hamlet than a team in common harness.

With that in mind, the Republicans have elevated the consummate insider and back-slapper, Mitch Harper, to run their 3rd District machine.

For Mr. Harper, GOP chair for the 3rd Congressional District, the ultimate goal is to win the mayor’s office in Fort Wayne, the one embarrassing inky blue spot in a sea of red that is the 3rd Congressional District of northeastern Indiana.

Unfurl the flags.

Mitch was the most recent Republican who failed to beat Tom Henry who has since become stronger, the community more vibrant and the horizon rosier than a floribunda. The council Republicans even turned down annexation that could have ensured a Republican win. Their problem is simple: no Republican leader has painted a picture of a better, more prosperous, safer, happier Fort Wayne. They have no vision for Fort Wayne.


In fact, the AC GOP has made it a point to stifle the city, both locally and at the legislature.

The next election for the mayor’s office is but two years away, a preciously short time to raise the million dollars that will be needed to challenge Mayor Henry. Tom has nearly all he needs already. Reality is setting in for the Republicans. One of the potential candidates, other than Mr. Jehl, recently lamented that he couldn’t simultaneously hold his day job, be effective on council, build a citywide organization, and raise that kind of money in such a short time without the undivided and full support of the local party, and the big money people go to Tom’s fund raisers, sit on his committees, cut ribbons with him. Mr. Jehl, out there twisting in the wind, should contemplate the same question.

Meanwhile, Mr. Harper’s first test will be whether he can hold the US Congress seat. Don’t be fooled by rhetoric or election night hoopla. Mitch will have failed should the Democratic challenger gets more than 40% of the vote in this heavily Republican district. Mitch should have a cakewalk in the outlying county and counties, but the precinct-by-precinct results from the city will predict the next mayoral outcome.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have also lost an effective tool, the News Sentinel. Since World War I the NS has been the mouthpiece of Republican politics. The announcement that it will soon be but an insert in the Journal-Gazette has to hurt. The best political writer in town, the Pulitzer Prize winning Kevin Leininger, will still be around, but his thoughtful if cranky columns will be buried among the other inserts for Aldi and cheap replacement windows.

Given a respected, beloved incumbent, a rosy, growing local economy, a changing media landscape, and a fractious, leaderless, visionless “team” behind him, Mitch certainly has his work cut out for him. Shoulda, coulda, woulda, won’t.

Hard Times for Rich Men

Take pity. City council just gave a $700,000 tax break to One Summit Square’s owners so they could put up new curtains for an incoming, well-healed tenant. No jobs will be created, but they did promise not to fire anyone if they get the break. Sad that some of the richest, proudest capitalists in Fort Wayne have turned to socialism because they can’t even afford a can of paint without help from we generous taxpayers. They must feel the shame of groveling in public. But, pat yourselves on the back for coming to their rescue…while they dig into your pockets.

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.