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Election fallout: With GOP control comes two big issues

When the GOP takes control of Harrison County’s political process come Jan. 1, what might that mean?
At the very least, some believe the shoe might not feel so good on the other foot. The Republicans, instead of the Democrats, will now get the blame when something doesn’t go according to Hoyle.
“There will be some problems start showing up in the Republican Party that the Democrats have been plagued with for years,” said Democrat Carl (Buck) Mathes, a councilman from Corydon.
“If anybody has anything to say about ‘them’ not working together anymore, it’s going to be the Republicans not working together,” said Democratic party chair Steve Haggard of Corydon. “A new daytime program is on – a new ‘soap’.”
He added: “Now they can worry about the animal shelter, the hospital, the annex, the old jail, the courthouse … ”
Council chair Gary Davis, a Republican, said two main issues must be resolved: the long-debated animal control center, and the hospital’s plans for a new facility.
“I would say this is the second election where advocates of building a $500,000 animal shelter have gone down the drain,” Davis said, “so I would hope we can get together and figure out how to build a shelter that will accomplish the job for $300,000 or less.”
The other issue is the hospital’s plans for a $30 million, county-owned facility in a new location, which the current board of commissioners has backed.
“I think the hospital overplayed its hand by trying to make a political issue out of what is basically a financial decision,” Davis said. “I think now we need to go back to square one and look at all the options for financing a new hospital, not just having the county pay for it.
“I think we need to affiliate with a Louisville hospital, and I think now is the time to start thinking about negotiating with anyone interested in participating in this project.”
Those two issues aside, some believe the effects of the Republican takeover may not be felt until board appointments become open and are filled by Republicans or Democrats whose thinking is more in line with the Republican majority.
“It’s not so much Republicans or Democrats,” Mathes said. “It’s their ideas. Their appointees could help guide our county for 20 years.”
Those boards include unpaid volunteers, who, either all or in part, serve at the pleasure of the council and/or the commissioners. The boards help guide planning and zoning, the hospital, health department, county parks, library, alcohol beverage commission, and tourism.
“If people on these boards would just make decisions with the county’s best interest at heart, it wouldn’t make any difference,” Mathes said.
But Haggard doesn’t believe the commissioners or the council always have the luxury of picking board appointees based on their “thinking.”
For instance, he said, “You have a hard time getting anybody to sit on planning and zoning. I sat on it, and it’s a terrible place to be. You can’t make anybody happy.”
Davis also believes filling those positions is not always easy; sometimes it falls to the person who volunteers to serve. But Davis sees the issue as one that requires a “common sense” approach, not Republican versus Democrat.
“I think county government as a whole can do a better job of appointing people to boards than they have in the past,” Davis said, “notwithstanding the fact it’s difficult to get people to serve on those boards.
“I don’t know that we’ve actually spent enough time looking for well- qualified candidates; I hope that is something we can devote more time to in the future.”
The only commissioner to serve four consecutive terms, former Commissioner Edward B. Sieg, D-Depauw, said prior to the Nov. 5 election that he could not remember a time when the Republicans controlled the board of commissioners.
“From what I’ve been told, it’s never happened,” he said.
On Jan. 1, the make-up of the board will include Republican J.R. Eckart, Democrat James Goldman and newly-elected Republican James Heitkemper. The Republican majority on the seven-member council will remain, because the Republicans up for election – Davis, Ralph Sherman and Kenneth Saulman – all kept their seats. The fourth Republican, Rhonda Rhoads, was elected in 2000, and has two more years in her term.
Sieg doesn’t expect much change locally, because the differences between the two parties show up more at the national level. In that case, he said the Republicans seem to have different priorities than the Democrats.
“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” he said. “In my opinion, the Democrats are for the blue-collar worker.”
Sieg added: “Locally, it’s probably not that much different, but I let my national thinking ramble into the local part.”
Terry Miller, the current chair of the commissioners, and others don’t expect the Republican majority to make much difference. Although he doesn’t know how Heitkemper will act as a commissioner, he has served with Eckart for two years and believes he is an independent thinker.
“J.R.’s not a political-type person,” Miller opined. “A person doesn’t change his spots.”
Others agree, in part for different reasons.
“You can expect the same as when the Democrats were in control,” said retired banker and community leader J. Gordon Pendleton of Corydon.
“I think there are probably hard-core people on either side who might be out to change everything, but in the end, most of the time, cooler heads preside.”
Regardless of who is in office locally, said former banker Mark Wiseman of Corydon, president of Kintner House Inc., the future holds great challenges. “I think it remains to be seen how they handle things down the road.
“I hope they do well,” Wiseman said. “They have more responsibility than ever before. They have very, very serious, responsible decisions that need to be made.
“I look forward to the actions of these elected officials. I hope they are up to the task at hand.”
Davis said he doesn’t believe there are Republican or Democratic solutions to local government problems. “I think what we need are common-sense solutions.
“I think, by and large, in the past, the council and commissioners have worked together fairly well, with the principal contention being on the animal shelter.
“However, I think there has been some contention as to who should act on an issue first, the council or commissioners,” Davis said. “The current council has clearly felt its proper function is to act on the issues that need to be acted on, not just be a rubber stamp for the commissioners.
“Having said that, hopefully, the public can expect with a Republican majority on both boards, we can see more opportunities to work together on these issues.”
Davis said he hopes the new Republican majority is based on performance, not on the public’s desire to end squabbling among the two parties. “If that had been the case, they could have elected Democrats to both boards and it would have gone the other way,” he said.
“Hopefully, they re-elected the Republicans on the council because they are happy with what we’re doing.”