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home : columnists : columnists July 22, 2014


6/2/2014 2:00:00 AM
Definition of 'Republican' was disturbing

By Tom Utley
Montgomery County Councilman


Last week, Republican Party President John Pickerill informed the County's party faithful that unless you think exactly as he does-we no longer have the right to call ourselves Republicans. I'm curious how you feel about that kind of divisiveness, but having been a fiscally conservative, small government Republican for more than four decades-I find that sanctimonious drivel disturbing.

Assuming traditional voting patterns prevail in November, the general election may be a done deal. John Frey's primary loss of his Council seat by only 27 votes potentially tipped the County Council's political balance from traditional conservative Republican to a Tea Party far-right majority. If the Council's future marching orders are scripted by a 4-3 majority favoring Mr. Pickerill's with-us-or-against-us attitude, what does it mean to you?

Despite failing to achieve majority control of the County Commissioners, the Tea Party's potential Council majority could conceivably control who spends the taxpayer's money wherein lies the true power driving the County's political agenda. If Mr. Pickerill's hyper-negative lockstep thinking requires Tea Party candidates to tow his ideological line, "progressive" will not be an intuitive label describing our County's future.

Obviously, planned growth and proactive job creation would not be funding priorities because the County's "new" Republican philosophy means embracing unemployment, dwindling property values and shrinking public services because, yes-each challenge takes prudently spent tax dollars to endorse modest efforts.

Tea Party candidates have repeatedly claimed that local government's sole economic development obligation is to "get out of the way". You'll remember during the debate there wasn't a single Tea Party response to that public question inquiring what specific obstacle they intended to remove from the path of local enterprise, so that part is a little iffy.

Local Tea Party economic theory sank its roots back when a politically divided community had experienced some pretty epic failures. Thanks to current County and Crawfordsville leadership, the only thing the new MCED shares with the old is the name. But unfortunately, this baby could be thrown out with the bathwater simply because Mr. Pickerill's economic strategy is "risk averse". Presumably, that means if new jobs actually do show up, we're just naturally lucky.

What about keeping our existing employers stocked with skilled local employees? Workforce development is now handled by high level MCED volunteers. To fill MCED's underfunded resources, one Tea Party candidate's best suggestion was that the County Auditor assumes marketing responsibility for all the County's job creation resources. Really?

You've probably noticed during the last couple of years there's been newfound political harmony in the Crawfordsville/County relationship. Somebody said during the campaign that there's been more accomplished lately than in the last 20 years combined. Maybe. But now, because of Mr. Pickerill's inflammatory rhetoric a philosophical chasm looms in that City/County relationship that threatens to load us all into the WayBack machine. If frail economic nonsense is the culprit, shame. The biggest question now hinges on how the incumbent Council integrates with new-comers. Based on running Tea Party statements, it may take some compromise to squelch that problem before it develops. I'm optimistic. Mr. Pickerill was the Tea Party's standard bearer. He remains their loudest and most compelling voice. He lost. Convincingly. And in that fact I find a seed of hope for party reunification, healing, and most of all: progress.

In the meantime, I'll continually oppose encouraging "good" party members marching in lockstep and will not be bound by any individual's lame political dogma. My allegiance is to the majority and I will consistently seek the greater good with logic, compromise, and fiscal prudence.

Sure, there's cynicism in my translation of Mr. Pickerill's public letters that tar the County's Republican leadership with a broad brush. Perhaps the rhetoric simply fueled his failed opportunism by painting a false portrait of our "liberal" decline for right wing advantage. I believe our County's most effective leaders prefer realistic optimism for their appeal. But I too have conservative convictions. Residents can remain confident that I and other Councilmen will continue to be pragmatic in our governance, civil in our points of view, and realistic in our political rationales while continually striving for their advantage.

Despite the challenges, the primary election was neither about me nor the oppressively dogmatic John Pickerill. It's about you. Keep watching. As the ancient Chinese proverb promised, "we live in interesting times."



Tom Utley is an at-large Montgomery County Councilman.







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