The ReCenter Response

In her blog post of April 20, Sheila Kennedy expresses dismay, if not outright despair, over the current deep polarization in American political life.

We at ReCenter Indiana can relate. In fact, that’s why we formed this non-profit, bipartisan organization.

Our friend Sheila, who once was a proud Republican, likens today’s GOP to a cult. Again, there’s plenty of evidence of that. A group in the thrall of an authoritarian, charismatic leader, abandoning its long-held principles? Check.

Nonetheless, Indiana needs the balance of a healthy two-party system. Our state also needs the ideas of reasonable people across the political spectrum. Fortunately, as Sheila acknowledges, there are still people like that in the Republican Party. One of ReCenter Indiana’s goals is to give them encouragement to stand up to the strident voices of fear and division.

Sheila’s additional concern is that “the contemporary Republican Party is autocratic,” requiring “adherence to extremist and antidemocratic positions.” On the national level, she accurately points out, “Republicans who put people over party and patriotism over politics are promptly ejected from positions of influence.” And she correctly decries the blatant gerrymandering that enables a “radical supermajority” to keep getting elected to state offices here in Indiana.

To be clear, the supermajority is radical because, in so many gerrymandered districts, the only real competition is in the primary, and the only imperative is to avoid being outflanked on the right.

But we still find room for hope. Carmel and Evansville are two of Indiana’s largest cities. Both have successful centrist Republican mayors who are not seeking re-election. Each of those cities this spring has a competitive Republican primary to nominate a potential successor.

In Carmel, two of the three mayoral candidates in the GOP primary impress us with their willingness to listen to and represent all the residents of their community. The third candidate did not respond to our requests for an interview.

In Evansville, both candidates in the Republican mayoral primary talked with us. And one of them clearly appreciates that complex problems don’t have simple solutions. She also understands the importance of building consensus.

Sheila concludes that “the only way America will emerge from our current divisions is a massive electoral defeat of the GOP, and its subsequent dramatic reformation or replacement.”

Our concern with that is what might emerge from the rubble. That outcome is unknown and terribly risky. First, because if just one political party remains standing, it is all but certain to prove the axiom that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Second, because even more antidemocratic and violence-prone forces could well take the GOP’s place.

No one supposes that moving Indiana politics back to the center will be easy or fast. But we think it will be easier, faster and safer to save the Republican Party from its worst instincts than to try to build a viable second party on its ruins. We are heartened that notable Republicans in our state have not given up on their party; we’re not ready to give up, either. (And if Indiana Democrats ever succumb to the siren song of extremism, we’ll try to help them save their party, too.)

We agree with Sheila that the political marketplace is broken. We also agree that a sound electoral defeat of extremism can lead to a more normalized marketplace. Voters in arch-conservative Kansas eased the conversation back to the middle in 2018 and again in 2022.

If Indiana can shake off the stranglehold of supermajority rule, we Hoosiers might even embrace concepts – now gaining traction across the country – that give power back to the voters. Concepts such as ranked choice voting, nonpartisan redistricting, maybe even campaign finance reform.

If ReCenter Indiana is to succeed, it will be because of an enlightened and passionate electorate who are willing to transcend divisive politics. Especially young Hoosiers, who historically have had low political participation but are showing signs of increased participation and engagement, demanding accountability and results.

ReCenter’s goal is to spread awareness of the issues at stake and the choices at hand. And that also means encouraging centrist candidates to enter the fray.

Sheila is right that we may not succeed.  But we are certain to fail if we don’t try.

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