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Column: Making party grow challenges GOP leaders


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In the next few days, the Indiana Republican State Central Committee members will, as tradition dictates, ratify Gov. Mike Pence’s choice of Tim Berry to be the party’s next state chairman.

It’s a big job, and a mostly thankless one. The perks aren’t nearly as good as you’d imagine. And unless you are the rare person who actually likes asking other people for money, the work can be kind of a grind.

But the biggest challenge Berry will face (aside from the fundraising) will be making sure the party continues to grow.

I don’t just mean win elections, although that’s the primary function of political parties. Let’s face it, there’s not much left for Republicans to win. Republicans control all but one statewide office, seven of nine U.S. House seats, supermajorities in both legislative chambers, a majority of the state’s mayor’s offices and a U.S. Senate seat.

Democrats, well, they have Joe Donnelly.

In a time of waning influence of political parties, with super PACs suddenly en vogue, positioning a party for the future won’t be easy.

I worry a lot about the relevance of the Republican Party to people my age (30s) and what that means for the future of the party, despite our current successes. You don’t have to be an expert in polling to know Republicans have a problem with younger voters.

In last year’s Indiana Senate race, Donnelly won 18 to 29 year olds by 8 percentage points and 30 to 44 year olds by 15 points. These groups made up half the electorate.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney won these groups in Indiana by 3 points and 1 point, respectively. Nationally, President Barack Obama won them by a staggering 23 points and 7 points.

So as we think about positioning our party for the future, here’s an idea:

Let’s disband the Young Republicans and encourage county party affiliates around the state to do the same. Did you know the age cut-off for Young Republicans is 40 years old? No wonder our party membership skews old; we tell people we don’t need them at the grown-ups table until they’re in their fifth decade. This is just unhelpful, it’s insane.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We’ve got state legislators in their twenties. You don’t have to wait around to make a difference in politics or government. Welcoming these folks into the Grand Old Party might, on average, make us the Grand Middle-Age Party – and that would be a step in the right direction.

In days of yore, when parties were machines, it made sense to have auxiliary organizations like the Young Republicans to serve as proving grounds for future leadership. But that isn’t the case today, there’s plenty of work for eager 20 and 30-somethings in the Republican Party right now.

The only time you hear about Young Republicans these days is when one of them gets a DUI.

I hope my Young Republican friends understand that I mean no offense to their group. Quite the contrary: I’m suggesting that you can play a meaningful role in the party at large. The man has been keeping you down, but you don’t have to stand for it. If you want to get involved, you shouldn’t wait for an invitation, because you’ll be waiting a long time. To use a phrase of our generation: Just do it.

And it’s certainly not my place to say, but if our party wants to attract more and better female candidates, perhaps segregating women into Republican Women’s Clubs as auxiliaries of the party is not the best approach either. Just a thought.

Party politics has been, in our state, a great testing ground for all sorts of civic engagement and activity. Many of the movers and shakers who built Indiana, and particularly Indianapolis, received their early years training in politics and government.

My friend Luke Messer often says that Indianapolis was India-no-place until a small group of people got together and decided they wanted a world-class hospital, a thriving state university and a professional football franchise downtown. Then, over the course of several decades, they made it happen, and much more. We think of these people now as our city’s fathers, and we all know who they are.

But the city’s fathers who made Indianapolis what it is today are starting to disappear. Those who remain seem to be sharing a disproportionate share of the load.

I ask in all sincerity, must the same three older white guys organize every major initiative in our state? How many boards can Jim Morris serve on, anyway?

A better question might be, who is the next Jim Morris? Let’s find her and invite her into the fold.

Cam Savage is a principal at Limestone Strategies and a veteran of numerous Republican campaigns and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He also worked at the Department of Education for former Superintendent Tony Bennett. He is a graduate of Franklin College. He can be reached at cam@limestone-strategies.com.

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