Politics in Hamilton County took a personal and divisive turn when Republican Party officials attempted a new chairman on Saturday.
Fishers City Council President Pete Peterson and Carmel City Councilor Laura Campbell vie for the position that is vital to organizing the party during the elections. The party’s 400 or so district officials will vote for the new chairman.
The position comes after Pete Emigh unexpectedly resigned on December 31, after having served approximately five years in the position. Emigh was criticized during his tenure for assisting some Republicans in primary races over others. Before he resigned, he quietly filled 71 vacancies in the district.
Political insiders say the eleventh hour appointments are largely among those likely to support Peterson, a political ally of Emigh. Appointments include Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, Fishers City officials, Fishers businesspeople, and Peterson’s daughter.
In Hamilton County, GOP party leaders are accused of playing favorites
The situation becomes more fascinating. Campbell, the county party’s vice chairman, assumed the office of incumbent party chairman on December 31. She said she was surprised at this point to discover the late appointments had been made. She said Emigh failed to follow proper notification procedures to appoint county officials, a claim he denied. She dismissed these 71 appointments.
But that decision didn’t last long.
Fadness appealed his dismissal to the Indiana Republican Party, which this week decided to reinstate all of Emigh’s appointments.
But there is a catch. If Peterson wins the 71 appointments, Campbell can appeal the decision to the Republican Party.
In order to ensure that everything went smoothly, the State party decided to hold the elections, an unusual step.
Kristen Williams, director of communications for the GOP, believes the situation will be resolved without long-term harm to the county party.
“We are very confident that all members can come back together and gather support,” she said, “and that we can all grow from this experience.”
Some within the county party are not so sure. The campaign for the chair has become personal.
An anonymous letter was sent to county Party officials this week detailing the arrests and convictions of Peterson for fictitious information, resisting law enforcement, writing bad checks, and driving with a license in North Carolina. There were also allegations of its bankruptcy, which was filed in 2011.
Peterson feels that he is being wrongly targeted on past mistakes. He sent a letter to the county party members that he is in his 24th year of sobriety and made bad decisions as a younger man that he regrets. He blamed the recent bankruptcy on family medicine issues. More than $ 50,000 of the $ 167,086 listed on his bankruptcy filing is directly related to medical expenses. The rest are borrowing costs.
He was surprised and disappointed with the letter.
“That was an absolutely 100 percent success for me,” he said. “Why I’m not sure. Because this is bigger than a person at the end of the day. I do this because I care and I think I can do better. Those obvious attacks and hits are what I find that Worst thing about politics. “
Peterson is among the party leaders who have drawn the wrath of some fiscal conservative politicians within the party. Emigh, Peterson and former Executive Director Andrew Greider have formed political action committees to raise significant funds for their preferred candidates in the primaries.
Emigh-founded Shamrock PAC made a lump sum payment of more than $ 99,000 to Westfield Mayor Andy Cook in the final week of a hot main race last year. The Royal-Tiger PAC, headed by Greider and Peterson, has directed money to preferred candidates in Fishers and Hamilton County Council for the past several years.
Challenger certifies a donation of $ 99,000 to the Mayor of Westfield
Peterson compared that to a plan in a bipartisan district where strong candidates are needed for the general election. However, party officials from other countries where a party dominates have told IndyStar that they are staying out of the primary and allowing candidates to do their own job at the rate of the general election.
Peterson said he wasn’t sure, as the district chairman, would continue to support political action committees that direct money to Republican candidates in the primaries. But he believes he can work to unite the party, especially at the grassroots.
He and Campbell agree that grassroots support will be vital to scoring big Republican margins in Hamilton County’s November gubernatorial and presidential races.
“I will work tirelessly to bring more Hamilton County Republicans together to focus on getting the message across and increasing our turnout for the upcoming election,” Peterson said in a letter to supporters.
Peterson has widespread support among elected leaders. These include Fadness, Cook, the Mayor of Noblesville, John Ditslear, Hamilton County’s commissioners Mark Heirbrandt and Christine Altman, and Sheriff Mark Bowen.
“I think the way Peterson behaved in this race for chairman has been admirable and gives me optimism about the future of our party in this county,” said Fadness.
Campbell, the wife of Hamilton Supreme Court Justice Richard Campbell, said she was not seeking assistance. But some elected officials have still expressed their support.
Hamilton City Councilor Fred Glynn Jr. defeated a candidate backed by Peterson’s Royal-Tiger PAC in 2014. He said Campbell would better unite the party.
He said he could have put aside his differences with party officials after winning the primary, but didn’t feel ready.
“I think Laura is the better person to bring people together,” said Glynn Jr .. “I don’t think she has that much conflict. We need someone who is able to communicate with the people she is with disagree instead of trying to suppress them. I don’t see any past changes under him at all. “
Campbell said tensions are rising over the race for the chairman, but problems have been going on for years. She said the party leaders’ decision to raise money in political action committees was particularly controversial. Some candidates, she said, don’t feel like they’re getting a fair shock in elementary school. Other potential candidates, she said, are scared of running because they feel like the deck is stacked against them.
She said she would put an end to this practice.
“I chose to run because the party broke,” she said. “I’ve spoken to committee members and volunteers and they don’t like the way this party is going. They sense that our grassroots and our grassroots are not valued.”
The vote will take place on Saturday at 10 a. M.
Call IndyStar reporter Chris Sikich at (317) 444-6036. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisSikich and on Facebook / chris.sikich.