As the days wind down before the November election, there are few really interesting story lines brewing in Cass County political races.
But one that has been interesting as it has developed is the race – or races – for the Cass County Council. It’s interesting for a couple of reasons. One is that Democrat Scott Peattie has run the most aggressive, thorough campaign of any at-large county council candidate in recent memory. Another is that Terry Homburg, a former Logansport City Councilman who ran for mayor in 1995, also is seeking one of the three at-large seats. Unlike the four district council races which are held in off years, the at-large races have become a virtual “winner take all” situation for political parties. In a county that has had the longest running Lincoln Day Dinner and historically a strong Republican county in rural areas, it has become a difficult feat for Democrats to win even one of the three seats.
In fact, if Peattie or Homburg win, they would become the first Democrat or Democrats to win one of the at-large seats since 1976. The late Pete D’Andrea edged out a Republican to capture one of the seats. Another Democrat, Fred Grusenmeyer, narrowly finished out of the running after winning many precincts that year.
But it has been 36 years since then and Republicans have won 24 consecutive times in races for the at-large seat on the council ballot. Not coincidentally, the GOP has held majority control throughout that period, though Democrats were able to cut the margin to 4-3 during the 1990s.
Peattie’s name recognition stems in part from operating his own bait shop for several years. Presumably his customer base included people from outside the city where Peattie will have to run well to win.
Likewise, Homburg hails from Logansport, but the Homburg name is well-known in rural portions of the county. Ironically, what Homburg brings to the ticket is more government fiscal experience as a councilman than any of the Republican candidates running, or for that matter, any of the Democrats.
Republicans have an unusual irony in this election cycle. George Stebbins, the incumbent council president, has never won an election. He was appointed to the seat when former Clerk and Councilwoman Charlene “Chod” Gibson resigned.
Stebbins, who also is a local businessman, and another incumbent, Jeff LeDonne, could be characterized as Cass County’s own version of Log Cabin Republicans, though not in the sense that the national party’s Log Cabin Republicans embrace inclusion. Stebbins and LeDonne both cast votes that wiped out county funding for the Cass County Historical Society Museum after the museum had negotiated an ongoing funding agreement with the county. Once funding was wiped out, the county said goodbye to the only real log cabin from the county in the public domain. County historical officials gave the log cabin to a sister organization in Carroll County. The cabin was a focal point at the entrance of France Park, which also was impacted recently by the council when it turned the Cass County Parks and Recreation Board upside down until its members were gone, along with the park superintendent.
What are the chances of this streak – which may be the longest by either party on either the city or county council in local history – coming to an end? That’s a good question, but much of the answer will be determined by voter turnout. With recent projections forecasting Indiana as a “pink” state that does not have a clear majority for Mitt Romney and could conceivably tilt to Barack Obama again as it did in 2008, the chances are decent if Democrats and independents will turn out not only for Obama, but for gubernatorial candidate John Gregg, Senate candidate Joe Donnelly and incumbent Circuit Judge Leo Burns. In Gregg and Donnelly’s cases in particular, independent and moderate Republican voters will be key. The same could be said for Peattie and Homburg because the number of registered Republicans outnumbers Democrats in Cass.
If the streak does come to an end, it will have to be because Peattie or Homburg do well in Clay Township, which has the largest group of voters outside the city of Logansport and the closest proximity to the city. Democrats up and down the ticket will have to do well in Jackson Township, Jefferson and Washington to have any hopes of carrying the county.
What will happen? Nothing is set in stone, at least not yet.
And that’s one of the reasons why there are elections – and why we should be interested in them.
• Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached through the newspaper at firstname.lastname@example.org.