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A year after local Democrats fielded no candidates in the general election, the keynote speaker at their annual dinner challenged party members to reverse fortunes quickly.
“When I come back to Columbus, I want to meet the next Democrat running for City Council. I want to meet the Democrat who will be the next mayor of Columbus,” U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., who represents the state’s 7th District, said during Wednesday night’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner at Donner Center, which drew more than 90 people.
During his address, Carson also advocated for raising the national minimum wage to $10 an hour, for Democrats to become a party of action and solution, and to always strive to become servant leaders for constituents.
While five Republicans already have announced their candidacies for the GOP nomination for Bartholomew County sheriff, no Democrats have yet thrown their hat in the ring. The primary is next spring.
However, Bartholomew County Democratic chairwoman Priscilla Scalf promises that Democrats will have quality local candidates next year — in due time.
“We’re out there working hard, attracting new people, getting folks involved, building up the base and creating excitement,” Scalf said. “I think that’s what it takes. Then, when we start getting candidates in place, we’ll have a base to back them.”
Scalf and party member Rose Johnson, who lost her bid to become county recorder in 2010, both said the turnout at Wednesday’s dinner during an off-election year shows Democrats are gaining strength for a political comeback.
“In every election, we see swings,” Scalf said. “In recent elections, we saw the tea party swoop in across the country. I think you are going to see that pendulum move back. You’re going to see Democrats in office here. We had it here before. I have no doubt we’ll have it again.”
The re-emergence of Democrats will be fueled by issues and concerns on the national, state and local levels, said party vice chairman Zach Ellison.
He contends that local voters are frustrated that Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown is not advocating the same type of brick-and-mortar projects that were made during the previous administrations of both Democrat Fred Armstrong and Republican Robert Stewart, Ellison said.
“What I’ve seen and heard is a lot of dissatisfaction and a lack of dedication from the governance of the city to continue that growth, and make things better in the community for the next generation,” Ellison said.
He also said that political bickering between Brown and GOP city council members seems to reflect a growing distrust between lifelong residents and those who have moved to Bartholomew County from other communities.
A concern frequently expressed by local Democrats on Wednesday was about state legislatures that have enacted stricter voting regulations, such as requiring specific forms of identification at the polls, or tightening rules on voter-registration efforts and absentee and early voting.
Some people at Wednesday’s dinner said they see those efforts as intended to discourage minorities, low-income residents and other likely Democrats from casting their ballots.
“If this were Democrats discriminating against white, conservative, rural voters, would I be OK with their tactics just because they are on my side? No. I’d be disgusted,” Isaac Marr Wilkins said.
Wilkins said Republicans of good faith should join Democrats in opposing any effort that discourages voting.
On the national front, Ellison said there is a growing anger among voters over a lack of action in Washington, and a sense that federal lawmakers are looking out for the interests of corporations and wealthy contributors, instead of their constituents.
“We’re representing the middle-class working families of Bartholomew County, and that is what’s important to bring the party back into power,” Ellison said.
Democrats also anticipate that attacks by conservatives on Planned Parenthood, entitlement programs and gay rights will create a political backlash against the Republicans in 2014, Scalf said.
However, Indiana Democrats also have to accept responsibility for allowing themselves to be intimidated by angry GOP voters and leaders in a predominately Republican state, Carson said.
“Our environment is not a good space to be a Democrat. We’ve lost our fire. But we can’t keep apologizing for speaking the truth to those in power. We have to be a voice in a world that asks for our silence,” Carson said.
Johnson agreed with Carson.
“Being a Democrat in this town can definitely do you in. But if you just keep a positive attitude and keep moving toward the positive, you’ll eventually get there,” she said.
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