Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Jose Evans' Party-Switching Still Leaves Unanswered Questions

Radio talk show host Amos Brown had an in-depth interview with City-County Councilor Jose Evans discussing his shock announcement this morning that he was leaving the Democratic Party to become a Republican. Evans' party switch narrows Democrat control from 16-13 to 15-14. Republican leaders, not surprisingly, did a lot of crowing with the addition of its only African-America member of the City-County Council. Evans' motivation for switching parties seems suspect to many, and that's being polite. Evans' explanation for switching parties during his interview on today's airing of "Afternoons With Amos" was less than convincing.

Evans has been one of the lone voices on the council expressing opposition to the increasing expansion of city-sponsored charter schools, which have become a cornerstone of the agenda pursued by Mayor Greg Ballard and Republicans on the council. Yet he tells Brown that the last straw for him in reaching his decision to switch parties was the expansion of charter schools. Granted, the charter school initiatives have enjoyed bipartisan support, but Evans seems to blame the charter school initiative on Ballard's predecessor, Bart Peterson, in whose administration Evans served. As Evans sees it, Ballard simply inherited what Peterson initiated. But it's Mayor Ballard who has jumped into the charter school movement with both feet and who is pursuing legislation at the State House to strip the city council of any oversight role over city-sponsored charter schools.

I still recall interviewing Ballard shortly after he was nominated by the GOP shortly after the May, 2007 primary when nobody gave him a chance of winning. At that time, Ballard similarly expressed reservations about Mayor Peterson's charter school initiative. Ballard told me that he would emphasize making improvements to our existing public schools and emphasize charter schools less. When I posted Ballard's comments, the charter school folks became apoplectic and were more determined than ever to ensure Peterson was re-elected to a third term. When Ballard upset Peterson in the November general election that year, as with so many issues, Ballard did a 180-degree turn on charter schools and never looked back. How Evans believes he's going to have a more favorable reception with his views on charter schools as a Republican councilor is a big mystery to me.

Brown took Evans to task on other issues where he's at odds with Ballard and Republicans, including Ballard's State House initiatives to seize more power vis-a-vis the council, and to do away with at-large council members. Evans complained about the failure of the council to grant a TIF for Avondale-Meadows while approving one for the much more affluent MidNorth neighborhoods. Yet Mayor Ballard offered Republican Councilor Christine Scales no help in her efforts to secure a TIF for Avondale-Meadows while leaning hard on the council to approve the MidNorth TIF. He also noted Evans' stance on helping Indianapolis' hotel workers obtain greater legal rights, a move opposed by Ballard and the Republicans on the council.

Evans insisted his position on issues wouldn't change simply because he was switching parties. He maintained that he was going to be the same person he's always been, which begs the question again--why the switch? Republican PR flack Robert Vane joined Evans on the radio this afternoon and assured Brown's listeners that the Republican leadership had not asked Evans to switch his position on any issues. Given that Evans has been at odds with Republicans on virtually every party-line vote, his party switch is even more perplexing. What do Republicans gain from Evans' switch? Of course, many Republicans, including your's truly, wonder why many current Republican councilors have the "R" behind their name given their tax-and-spend records.

A number of people with whom I've spoken today seem to believe a financial incentive was offered to Evans, a self-employed consultant, to switch parties. Whether there is any basis for those rumors is less than clear. The lack of transparency in financial reporting required of city council members under the city's ethics code won't aid in shedding light on a financial motive offered to Evans, if one exists. Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus was in town today to welcome Evans into the GOP fold, along with Indiana GOP Chairman Eric Holcomb and Marion Co. GOP Chairman Kyle Walker, whose absence from appearances before black media in Indianapolis during his visit today rubbed Brown the wrong way.

There are perhaps some more petty explanations for Evans' decision. There is the fact that Evans' feathers were ruffled when he was rebuffed by his fellow Democratic colleagues when he unsuccessfully challenged Maggie Lewis for the council president's job. Evans also aborted a quixotic run for mayor in 2011 after Democrats pressured him hard to drop his primary challenge to the party's slated candidate, Melina Kennedy, who narrowly lost to Ballard in the general election. The Republican-drawn council map also throws Evans in the same district with fellow Democrat Angela Mansfield, whose standing with the party is better than his. Evans also didn't do himself any favors with his fellow Democrats on the council when he would run and spill the beans to consummate pot-stirrer Abdul Hakim-Shabazz, who is on Ballard's campaign payroll, just minutes after Democrats would conclude a caucus meeting. Abdul has never been known for keeping his sources confidential.

Judging by the callers to Brown's radio show this afternoon, Evans is going to have a difficult time convincing African-Americans of the sincerity of his shift to the Republican Party. Sen. Greg Taylor, for one, took Evans to task for failing to discuss his concerns with members of his own party before reaching his decision, who were caught by surprise to learn from this blog first of Evans' decision to switch parties. This writer, for one, is convinced it had nothing to do with political philosophy and was more likely for reasons of expedience. I'm reluctant to even grant that it was for political expedience because Evans has little chance of success running as a Republican in his Democratic-leaning district, and he certainly has no future as a Republican mayoral candidate.

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