Many people have very strong feelings about the proposal to hand over the city's water and sewer utility assets to Citizens Energy Group in exchange for one or two or three different amounts (depending on the day, the night out, or who's talking) Mayor Greg Ballard says he will use for infrastructure repair.
Unscientific polling in the Indianapolis Star has run against the plan by wide margins, and the general consensus of the people I've talked to is that it just doesn't make a lot of sense. Many will concede that something must be done to fix our roads and streets, but the plan is short sighted because this doesn't tackle even the majority of the problems. Some have gone so far as to say that this is a pig in a poke and creates some sort of slush fund for the Mayor and the Republican-led Council.
Council Democratic leader Joanne Sanders has been a strong and consistent voice against the plan. She went head-to-head and toe-to-toe with Republican Council President Ryan Vaughn in a Fox 59 Faceoff segment, and, by most accounts on both sides of the aisle, wiped the floor with Vaughn's weak defense of the plan. She has provided strong, compelling, and consistent leadership for her caucus.
Herding Democrats for a party leader is a difficult job sometimes, and this proposal was no exception. There were three key defectors in the caucus. Councillors Paul Bateman, Mary Moriarty-Adams, and Jackie Nytes decided to back the Mayor's plan and that hands over the city's water and sewer assets for the one-time quick fix amount to fix a part of the city's infrastructure. It's a plan even the Indianapolis Star has questioned as a back door tax increase as it's pretty clear that ratepayer dollars will be paying for the infrastructure repairs.
Proponents of the plan will say that the Democrats were just being the "Party of No" here. They say that the Dems should provide some sort of alternative to counter the triple digit increases in rates and fix the roads and streets. Well, with all due respect to those plan backers, isn't that what we still have right now? We are faced with, what everyone concedes are, triple digit rate increases in the future as well as many infrastructure projects that won't even get done WITH this plan. Now, we don't have the assets anymore, and we likely can't ever get them back. How is our position that much better now?
That brings us back to politics.
For the three Democrats that voted for the Mayor's plan, sledding can get tough for 2011. I have already heard rumblings within the party (from no one in any official party capacity, mind you) that Nytes and Adams may expect an opponent in the primary based on their previous votes on the preliminary proposals to get the plan moving. Bateman's late defection from the party line has not really been cussed and discussed yet, so it remains to be seen what will happen.
Many believe that some sort of back door deal had been struck between the Mayor's Office and the Democrats that voted for the plan. I don't know if it's true or not, but that is currently out there.
I have contacted all three Councillors and I have invited them to respond to Democrats in explaining their votes here on this blog. I told them that I would publish their comments unedited as a guest blog post. I want to be fair to them.
It's not necessarily a bad thing to go against your "party line" because sometimes your party is on the wrong side of things. Still, it's unclear to me as I see the evidence why the Democratic position was the wrong position and why these three Councillors left the party bus.
It's complicated. No question.
Turns out that if some back door deal was struck, the Mayor didn't need their votes. 15 Republican votes were enough to do the deal and all voted in lock step. Libertarian Ed Coleman voted with the Republicans. That left Democrats with just 13 votes. Maybe seeing that the votes weren't there to overturn the plan, Nytes, Bateman, and Adams decided to vote the way they did.
I can't get inside their brains. What they did was either incredibly brave or incredibly bad for their chances of being unopposed in the primary. Votes have consequences, and, if they voted for what they believed was best for their constituents, then they can sleep soundly at night. If this was their justification, I'm never going to criticize a politician for doing that because too often it happens the other way.
One thing is clear, an already compelling 2011 election season might have just gotten a little bit more compelling.