Hot Air: 34

Thirty four.

That’s how many voters the Republican Party was able to muster in this town yesterday.

Bloomington, natch, is a blue town. It’s a dot of an island in the middle of one of the reddest damned oceans on this planet. But some 80,000 people live here nine months of the year; 40,000 or so the rest of the time. You’d figure one of this holy land’s two major political parties’d be competent enough to attract voters in the hundreds or even thousands in a primary municipal election. Sure, professors and students and social workers and poets and community activists and non-profit workers and all the rest of the types that make up the population of a college town tend to be either Democrats or non-aligned progressives. But how astounding is it that this town’s local GOP can roust only 34 civic-minded souls out of bed on a gorgeous spring morning to exercise their suffrage?

Now, I’m not blaming William Ellis, hard-working chair of the Monroe County Republican Party. He can toil from sunup to sundown and put in overtime at night every day of the year but he’ll still be unable to goose that Republican turnout next time around. Allow me to iterate: I don’t like it one bit.

Not that I like the Republicans — I don’t and I’ve written about the reasons why herein many a time — but I like whatever party’s in charge to be pushed and shoved and cajoled and told off and competed with every time out of the box.

It’s better for us all when the ruling party doesn’t get to thinking its offices and seats are birthrights.

That said, yesterday’s primary results both shocked me and came as no surprise. Everybody who paid the slightest amount of attention could foresee that there was an anti-incumbent mood among the electorate leading up to May 7th. And a few incumbents indeed came a cropper. I mean big time.

First, here’s how I’d doped out the races prior to 7pm yesterday.

I was betting on two At-Large city council members losing their seats. As I saw it, both Susan Sandberg and Jim Sims were going to be looking for new second jobs after the primary. Naturally, Sandberg and Sims garnered the highest and second-highest vote totals among the six candidates for those three seats. Now you know why I don’t run a betting book.

I was dead certain Jean Capler was going to cop one of those At-Large seats with Matt Flaherty, perhaps, taking another. All the while, I had Andy Ruff down as a rock-solid winner. So, you see, even if I was running a book before yesterday, I’d be tapped out of the business today.

Capler looked good because she’s squeaky clean, has done her homework, and she worked her tail off ringing doorbells. Ringing doorbells and meeting voters face to face — and listening — are the most important things a local candidate can do. Still, she came in 4th, although she did reap a nice total. I figure her to be a force in the next municipal or county election.

Flaherty did his homework, too. I just figured people would prefer a more mature, well-established new face. My guess is Flaherty and his sister-in-law, Kate Rosenbarger, double-teamed on certain messages and fed off each other’s work.

Speaking of Kate Rosenbarger, now there’s the big story of the election. She not only defeated longtime incumbent Chris Sturbaum in District 1, she massacred him. She scooped up 66 percent of the district’s votes to Sturbaum’s 28 percent and fellow challenger Denise Valkyrie’s 6 percent. That, my friends, is a landslide. And make no mistake, the charge bandied about throughout the election — that Sturbaum, a home construction contractor, has a conflict of interest whenever he considers zoning, neighborhood development, and residential density — hurt him. Gored him, for pity’s sake.

I wasn’t knocked over by a feather when news that Sue Sgambelluri’d bested Dorothy Granger in District 2. Sgambelluri, a fundraiser for Indiana University, knows people around this town and has a list of relationships with key folks a mile long. And people familiar with her work on the Redevelopment Commission know she studies the matters before that body hard and asks pertinent, cutting questions. She takes her duties seriously. Now she’ll face an equally ambitious and well-prepared opponent in the general election. Republican Andrew Guenther, the individual who gained the aforementioned 34 votes, will be a good debate opponent for her but, if history’s any indication, he’ll be lucky to get within 25 percentage points of her come November.

Then again, you know how dependable my crystal ball has been the last few elections.

And — I’ll be damned — Steve Volan’s opponent in District 6 has yet to phone the victorious incumbent or give a traditional concession speech. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to type those words out and not be a smart-ass.

A nit-pick: Here’s first headline WFIU issued online after the polls closed:

Let’s ignore the tortured English in the hed and simply concentrate on the news value of the piece. Incumbent Mayor Hamilton was running against a ghost. Former Monroe County Commissioner had suspended her campaign weeks ago. Still, some 766 die-hards cast their votes for the scandal-tainted Barge, meaning the mayor walloped her by 84.1-15.9. The shock is Hamilton’s percentage wasn’t over 95 percent. I dunno, weren’t the Ruff and Sturbaum upsets the real headlines yesterday? If I’m the editor, I go with understatement: Hamilton Wins Nomination or some such thing. I’d prefer my news sources reserve dramatic  characterizations for surprise events.

And the biggest surprise this town will have seen in 50-plus years would be something on the order of Hamilton & Republican Opponent In Dead Heat or Sandberg Edges GOP Challenger.

Then again, considering who the national Republican standard-bearer is these days, I might hope we’re not thusly surprised any time soon.

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