Lake GOP seeks to eliminate precincts
Thursday, January 26, 2017 10:01 AM
MERRILLVILLE – It’s not too often that Lake County Republicans gain the upper hand on the county’s Democrats. In fact, Republicans haven’t won a countywide election for more than 60 years, except for Hank Adams’ victory for county assessor a decade ago.
It was, however, hard to call that a Republican victory in that many county Democrats were vocal supporters of Adams because of legal problems plaguing Carole Ann Seaton, the Democratic nominee. Adams is deceased and Democrat Jerome Prince, a rising star in party politics, is the assessor.
But, back to the GOP, who have Democrats over a barrel. Republicans four years ago had Democrats reeling when the Legislature approved a bill ordering the elimination of all Lake County precincts with fewer than 600 registered voters. Democrats as a stalling tactic took the matter to court. It worked as the legislation expired.
Republicans are back and Hal Slager, R-Schererville, has again introduced the same legislation. So, county Democrats again are on the hook to eliminate all precincts with fewer than 600 voters. Such a move would mean the elimination of almost half of the county’s 523 precincts.
That kind of reduction would decimate the Gary precinct organization that has seen its population plummet from a high of about 175,000 to fewer than 80,000 today. Yet, Gary has maintained almost the same number of precincts and has about 140 today. Gary has about 27 percent of the county’s precincts but just 16 percent of the population.
Under the Republican consolidation plan, Hammond and East Chicago, the county’s other urban cities, would also lose precincts. Standing to gain the greatest number of precincts are Crown Point, St. John, Merrillville (which absorbed most of Gary’s population loss), Schererville, and Hobart and points south.
A Democratic organization with fewer precincts in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago would be much weaker and play into the hands of Republicans who have difficulty finding committeemen for precincts in the urban part of the county. One might call it a first step toward Republicans gaining prominence.
Lake Democrats this time are conceding that there is little they can do. Democrats have started negotiations with Republican county Chairman Dan Dernulc in an effort to ward off the legislation. Gary, Hammond and East Chicago apparently will no longer have the upper hand in filling vacancies in county offices. That power will be widespread in the future.
Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. He is a columnist for The Times of Northwest Indiana.