A criminal defense attorney in Columbus is the new Bartholomew County Democratic Central Committee chairman.
Ross Thomas, 53, was chosen to succeed Steve Schoettmer during a meeting of about 30 precinct committee members. Schoettmer had been the party’s county chairman since he took the helm from Bob Hyatt in February 2020.
“Bob Hyatt did a really good job organizing and getting us on a very good footing,” said Thomas, who practices law in Indianapolis. “Steve picked it up from there, and was really outstanding. I don’t know anyone who works harder than Steve.”
Schoettmer says the hard work is exactly why he wants to step down at the party’s leader.
“I’m retired, but I haven’t done anything except be Democratic chairman the last two years,” Schoettmer said. “The day-to-day in-depth involvement is what I want to get away from. I’m wore out.”
Thomas is taking over the Bartholomew County Democratic Party as filings are underway for this year’s municipal elections. The city is moving to “second class” status next year and there will be two additional positions on the Columbus City Council as a result of the change.
“This year, you are going to find a strong slate of candidates who are going to defend our majority (on the city council), and we think expand it,” Thomas said. “We may have a contested primary or two. And I think we can anticipate primary and general election ballots that are pretty full.”
But when next year’s presidential election is held, local Democrats will be facing some challenges.
One is that three times as many Republicans vote a straight-party ticket than Democrats during a countywide election, according to county records. They show that 2,512 Bartholomew County residents voted a straight Democratic ticket, compared to 7,349 Republicans last November.
Political tribalism has increased to the point that there is no possible way that voters who strongly identify with one political party will cast their ballot for someone in the other party, Thomas said.
“I don’t think that was always the case,” he said. “In a bygone era, someone would say ‘that guy is a good member of the community, and if he wants to run, that guy could get elected.’ It wasn’t necessarily about what party they were in.”
Another challenge in 2024 will be that so many people will focus almost entirely on national politics because that’s what the television networks cover, Thomas said. The new party chairman also said Hoosier Democrats need to do a better job at attracting young people than they did last November.
Thomas said his candidates need to convince voters that Democrats are hard-working members of the community that want to solve problems.
“We are not Communists,” Thomas said. “When you start using labels like ‘a Democrat is the Devil’…c’mon now. Let’s talk about the issues.”
When members of both major parties do begin to talk about real issues, Republicans and Democrats often discover they can agree, Thomas said.
Thomas, who unsuccessfully ran last year against Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, also fell short of the votes needed in his 2018 attempt to oust Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus.
Name: Ross G. Thomas
Occupation: Criminal defense attorney
Education: Law degree from Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis in 1994; bachelor’s of arts from Tulane University in Louisiana.
Community affiliation: Has served leadership roles with the Columbus Parks and Recreation Youth Baseball board. Member of the local NAACP board of drectors, running their legal redress committee.
Family: Wife Amy, three children.