Indiana Upset: Taxes, Crime Still Pack Political Punch

Ten days after the voting in Indianapolis, Indiana, pundits and pols are still shaking their heads over the results of the mayoral race.  Two-term Mayor Bart Peterson, named by Indianapolis Magazine as the Democrat to watch for the future, on just about every Democrat’s “wish-list” as a potential governor or U.S. Senator before long, was supposed to waltz to re-election this fall.  Republican heavyweights such as State Party Chairman Murray Clark and Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi passed on a race against him, and left the nomination to former Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Greg Ballard who had never held or sought office before.

But a funny thing happened to Peterson on the way to a rendezvous with destiny:  he lost.  And, as veteran Indianpolis GOP consultant Chris Faulkner put it, “The next day in Indianapolis, with very few exceptions, there were two types of people in political and media circles. Those who admit they were shocked by Ballard’s win…and liars."

In what could easily be dubbed the biggest upset of ’07, Republicans won the mayoralty of the largest city in the Hoosier State with a political newcomer.  To make the results even sweeter, a 15-to-14 Democratic edge on the City Council was turned into a Republican advantage of 16 seats to 13.

By virtually all accounts, the two issues that made this stunning upset possible were higher taxes and a rising crime rate. 

Within the past year, Peterson and the City Council presided over a 65% increase in the city income tax,on top of skyrocketing property taxes.  The case for higher taxes was to fund public safety. In addition, a food and beverage tax increase had been enacted for the construction of the new Lucas Oil Colts Stadium.  This prompted protests from taxpayers, with one group dumping teabags in the White River to show their contempt for taxation.

Ballard hit this hard, calling for lower taxes and cutting the city budget by ten per cent to balance the books.  In addition, crime had risen dramatically over the past eighteen months and, when Democratic City Council President Monroe Gray had come under fire for charges of corruption in office, Mayor Peterson and other Democratic party powers defended him.  The identification of the Democratic Party with corruption in office underscored Ballard’s theme that it was time to clean out City Hall.

Lessons learned from the Indianapolis upset are that 1) as it was a generation ago, taxes and crime are the gold standard of citywide races and 2) issues can sometimes still pack more of a punch than money; Peterson spent $2.5 million on his losing re-election bid and Ballard spent less than $300,000 to defeat him.