Change in the air for Marion County Democrats as mayor calls for end to slating

The Marion County Democratic Party appears headed for significant change, with Mayor Joe Hogsett advocating for an end to pre-primary endorsements and some Black Democrats separately demanding the county party chair resign immediately.

Hogsett’s call came after several candidates endorsed by the party in pre-primary slating lost in Tuesday’s primary election. However, some say Hogsett and other proteges of former Democratic Gov. Evan Bayh have long opposed slating.

“While there are historic reasons for its existence, it has become clear in recent years that the decades-old convention endorsement process no longer serves such a purpose,” Hogsett said in a statement released by his campaign committee. “As a result, I am calling on the Marion County Democratic Party to commit itself to an open primary process in next year’s municipal elections and to strongly consider abandoning the practice altogether moving forward.”

“In so doing, I am confident the Marion County Democratic Party of today will find strength in ensuring that every voter has an equal voice in determining our future,” Hogsett added.

The statement, released Wednesday and first reported by journalist Adam Wren, had been planned for months, said a source close to Hogett’s campaign who was not authorized to speak on the record. The statement was released post-election because renewed criticism of slating emerged so shortly before the primary slate was officially adopted, the source said.

Still, Hogsett was featured prominently in Democrat mailings endorsing the slated candidates.

Democratic county chair and county recorder Kate Sweeney Bell was one party-endorsed candidate who beat an un-slated opponent in Tuesday’s election. She defeated state Sen. Billie Breaux to become the Democratic nominee for county clerk, setting up a major transition for the party since Bell promised to step down as chair if elected clerk.

In the general election in November, Bell will face Republican Andrew Harrison. But Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis and the Baptist Minister’s Alliance on Wednesday called for her “immediate” resignation.

“Marion County should reform and move to a more equitable process,” the groups said in a joint statement.

Both entities, alongside the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus and the Marion County Black Elected Officials, have been at the forefront of the movement against Bell since before the primary, calling for more equity and criticizing her handling of slating and precinct committee people appointments.

Asked if she wanted slating out or just reformed, state Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, said it was up to Bell’s successor.

“We’ll see what happens with the new chair,” said Pryor, who recently led an attempt to limit county elected officials like Bell from also serving as party chair. “It’s what the precinct committee people and the [party] leadership want, whether it’s a complete elimination [of slating], or whether it is a total revamp of the system from the bottom up.”

In one of Election Day’s highest profile victories, un-slated school principal Andrea Hunley claimed an overwhelming 43.8% of votes in the five-way Democratic primary for Indiana Senate District 46, easily topping endorsed candidate and city-county Councilor Kristen Jones at 26%.

Hunley said the day following the election that her win, and others’ as non-slated candidates, indicates that Indianapolis Democrats “have some work to do with the party to come together” That is a task Hunley is willing to tackle, she said.

“I am confident in my ability to work with party leadership to do that and to bring everyone together … We are all Democrats,” Hunley said.

She also said the value of the slating process should be examined.

“Whenever there’s a system or a structure in place, that creates barriers for people of color, for young people, for women, and we have to take a good look at those systems and how we can dismantle them,” Hunley said.

On the county level, faith-based technology sales leader Faith James Kimbrough won the Democratic nomination for county recorder over endorsed candidate and Deputy Recorder Chris Becker. She didn’t respond to IBJ requests for comment.

Other un-slated candidates for smaller roles also emerged victorious.

But Bell’s victory in the race against Breaux, as well as the victories of other slated candidates, could indicate candidates’ individual campaigns won voters, rather than demonstrating wide-scale rejection of the party’s slate.

Still, the fact that some non-slated candidates were successful in this election reaffirms some criticisms made about slating by frustrated Democrats, said Laura Wilson, associate professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis.

“The old justification or explanation of slating was that these are the preferred tenants. These are the candidates that uphold the party’s values, and if you support the party, you would want these candidates,” she said.  “But when you see these kinds of election results, I think it does bring it into question.”

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