Editorial: Parties should encourage, not discourage, candidates

The (Columbus) Republic

Politics — and by that we mean the Democratic and Republican parties — have their issues. We are being charitable.

The Indiana General Assembly didn’t do the parties or the public any favors by passing a law that bars plenty of would-be candidates from seeking party nominations to run for office.

That’s what happened to John Rust, the Seymour egg magnate and former Rose Acre Farms board chairman who is running for the Republican nomination for US Senate. Rust is seeking to replace Republican Sen. Mike Braun, who is leaving the Senate after one term to run for Indiana governor. Rust felt plucky, so he challenged GOP Rep. Jim Banks, ruffling his feathers as he waited in the wings as heir-apparent.

But before Rust’s campaign could even hatch, his plans got scrambled. That’s because the legislature had cooked up a law requiring someone running for a party nomination for public office to have voted in that party’s prior two primary elections. If you know anything about primary turnout, that law on its face excludes probably 80% or more of Hoosiers from even running.

The law makes a would-be candidate who does not meet that requirement kiss the ring of the county party chief to secure their blessing, but Jackson County Republican Party Chairwoman Amanda Lowery said no to Rust. So he sued. And he won.

The case is being appealed, but this law seems to clearly run afoul of the constitution, aside from simply being terrible public policy.

When a Republican judge in Marion County, Patrick J. Dietrick, ruled the law passed by supermajority Republicans in the Statehouse was unconstitutional, he quoted Republican standard-bearer Abraham Lincoln: “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision.”

Besides the members of the Indiana General Assembly and political party bosses, who could possibly argue with that? Not us. We’re with Lincoln. And furthermore, as long as we the people are paying for party primary elections with our tax dollars, anyone who otherwise meets the legal criteria to run and serve must be allowed. And furthermore than that, shouldn’t we be encouraging people who want to serve rather than discouraging them?

This law that was written by party insiders for party insiders is even leading to absurd circumstances in local races.

The Republic’s Andy East reported that in Hope, Jerry Bragg, a former town council president who “has a long history as a Democrat in Bartholomew County,” was told he could not run in the Republican Party primary when he attempted to do so on account of this law.

“Jerry and I had a very nice conversation, and I told him that he did not qualify due to his voting record,” Bartholomew County Republican Party Chair Luann Welmer said, explaining her decision not to allow Bragg to appear on the GOP ballot this year.

So, Bragg put his name forward as a Democratic candidate, even though he told East, “I agree more with the Republican Party.” Bartholomew County Democratic Party Chair Ross Thomas apparently isn’t standing in Bragg’s way, though he told East the party may nominate another candidate.

“Just because somebody runs doesn’t mean they have our endorsement,” Thomas said.

That’s reasonable. Like Honest Abe said, voters should decide, not party bosses.

The (Columbus) Republic is a sister newspaper to the Daily Journal. Send comments to [email protected].