Saturday, May 06, 2006

What Happened To First Republican Forums?

About a year ago, a group of "moderate" Republicans in Indiana established a new organization called First Republican Forums, Inc. The organization, which lists its business address as 1221 N. Delaware Street, is headed by local attorney Syd Steele according to an Indianapolis Star report last year. The Star reported:

Steele said the group was formed to give a voice to Republicans who believe the party must return to its roots as the party of Abraham Lincoln and not be defined by such things as the amendment banning same-sex marriage.

"It's amazing the number of people who say that it's about time," Steele said. And though {Micah} Clark said Daniels won on the strength of conservative votes and "should dance with the ones that brung ya," Steele said the true base of the party are the centrists.

Steele thinks that by backing nondiscrimination policies such as Daniels' and the one considered by the City-County Council, the party would gain members. "We may lose some extremists, but that's their choice," Steele said.

He would like to see Daniels and other Republican Party leaders be more outspoken in their support of such issues. "I'd like to see him take the lead," Steele said.

At the time of this report, AI found it a little odd that a well-founded group like this would be headed by an attorney who worked at the same law firm as House Speaker Brian Bosma, a partner at Kroger Gardis & Regas. Perhaps no speaker in the history of the state of Indiana has made an anti-gay agenda as high of a priority as Bosma. Be that as it may, AI fully supported Steele's and the group's intentions.

The group gained some attention when it hosted former EPA administrator and New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman for a fundraising event last year. But other than the Star report, the group has fallen completely off the radar, and that is not a good thing.

Presumably, one of the group's intentions is to find socially moderate candidates to seek office as Republicans to soften its well-earned image as a captive of the religious right. The first test for the group was last Tuesday's Indiana primary. While the religious right groups had a plethora of candidates across the state running in house and senate districts and claimed many victories, there were virtually no new-comer moderate voices on the ballot from which to choose. Tuesday's defeat of Senate President Pro Tem Robert Garton and Rep. Mary Kay Budak vanquished a dying breed of moderate Republicans in Indiana politics. It is not at all clear that the group did anything to assist Garton or Budak.

Should the group decide to re-double its efforts and try to regain lost territory, it may face a much larger roadblock. An issue that arose in the Senate District 41 race is the source of that roadblock. Senate Republican challenger Greg Walker claimed the endorsement of the Indiana Republican Assembly. This group was set up by some conservative Republians in September, 2001, but it was administratively dissolved on September 12, 2004, according to the Secretary of State's records. Garton's campaign cried foul, suggesting that Walker was misleading Republican voters by using the group's purported endorsement as evidence of official party backing. It would not be surprising if Indiana Republicans respond by looking for a legal way of restricting outside groups from using the Republican name without its express permission.

A similar issue arose in Illinois in 1990. J. Patrick Rooney, who used to claim his personal residence and the state of domestication for his Golden Rule Insurance Company in Lawrenceville, Illinois, took control of a political action committee known as the United Republican Fund. The group was originally founded and run by a group of civic-minded and pro-business, moderate Republicans, including former Illinois Sen. Charles Percy and Gov. Richard Ogilvie, to financially aid Republican candidates.

After Rooney got control of the group, he took it on a decidedly more socially conservative course than Illinois Republicans were accustomed to. He used it to help launch the candidacy of an extremist conservative, Steven Baer, for governor against the party's choice, Jim Edgar, in 1990. It so angered party moderates like then-Gov. James Thompson that legal efforts were undertaken to vanquish the group. The first step was to disallow any organization from using the name of either political party without that party's express consent. A law was enacted which is still on the books today and reads:

{The name of a not-for-profit corporation} [s]hall not contain the words "regular democrat," "regular democratic," "regular republican," "democrat," "democratic," or "republican," nor the name of any other established political party, unless consent to usage of such words or name is given to the corporation by the State central committee of such established political party; notwithstanding any other provisions of this Act, any corporation, whose name at the time this amendatory Act takes effect contains any of the words listed in this paragraph shall certify to the Secretary of State no later than January 1, 1989, that consent has been given by the State central committee; consent given to a corporation by the State central committee to use the above listed words may be revoked upon notification to the corporation and the Secretary of State.

If that wasn't enough, efforts were also initiated to de-domesticate Golden Rule in Illinois, since it always appeared to everyone that the company was really based in Indianapolis and only claimed Illinois as its state of domestication to take advantage of its favorable treatment of insurance companies. The heat was more than Rooney could take. He threw in the towel to avoid further damage, leaving Illinois politics for more friendly waters in the state next door-Indiana. The URF later returned to its normal role in Illinois politics. Rooney eventually launched his own campaign for Governor in Indiana in1996, only to abandon the race before the primary after spending a ton of his own money. He continues to be a major funding source for conservative candidates in Indiana and throughout the country. He kicked in $5,000 to Greg Walker in defeating Garton. Garton, coincidentally, was one of Rooney's primary contenders for Governor.

Given the questionable use of the Indiana Republican Assembly name by Walker's campaign, it would not be surprising to see a similar effort undertaken by Indiana Republicans as the approach taken in Illinois. That raises the question of whether the party would ever expressly consent to the use of the Republican name by First Indiana Republican Forums, particularly if it were to become a viable force within the party, a status which it is far from achieving if this past Tuesday's election is any indication.

Nonetheless, we hope to see the organization emerge into the light of day. A force for moderation within the Indiana Republican Party is badly needed. Unfortunately, it may realize the same fate as a similar effort in the 1990s when a group called Republicans For A Better Indiana was formed with a similar objective. It was administratively dissolved in 1996 just 3 years after its formation.

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