Chris Douglas

The Marion County Republican Party and Race (and a Recommendation for Required Reading)

Filed By Chris Douglas | January 02, 2007 8:09 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Beurt Ser Vaas, Keith Bulen, Ray Crowe, Republican Action Committee, Richard Lugar, Stanley Huseland

In a previous post on the Past and Future of the Republican Party in Central Indiana, I referred to the events of 1966 wherein a progressive leadership overhauled the local GOP, recruited young professionals, and set the stage for significant development of Indianapolis, development which I believe continues to benefit us. It was that leadership that came to be supplanted by a more conservative brand of Republicanism, a brand of conservatism which, as before, can and should be arrested from further influence.

Wilson Allen respectfully entered some thoughts on the Marion County GOP's history with regard to race, which history I should in turn respectfully correct, newly educated by the warts-and-all biography of Keith Bulen, who engineered the defeat of the entrenched conservatives, and achieved the Chairmanship himself. (It is the progressive Republicanism that prevailed in Central Indiana after 1966 that serves as the backdrop for many of us who grew up progressive Republican in Indianapolis.)

The Republican Action Committee (RAC) of 1966, under the influence of Keith Bulen and such individuals as Beurt Ser Vaas and Larry Borst, after recruiting and pushing 15 candidates for the state representative seats around Marion County, achieved control of the Marion County Party, then those 15 candidates became the Republican Slate. In contrast to the all-white-male Republican legislators who held the seats in 1963, this slate included two women, one of whom (Harriette Baliey Conn) was African American. The slate also included Ray P. Crowe, the African American coach who brought Crispus Attucks its historic championships. Crowe was recruited by William Ray, an African American Realtor who sat on the Republican Action Committee's Executive Committee. The RAC's district vice chairman, Nola Allen, was the first African American ever to be a member of the Republican State Committee.

All 15 slated Republicans from Marion County were elected to the House, including Conn and Crowe. To be completely explicit, two of the 15 Marion County Republican Representatives elected in 1966 were African American, and supported by the Marion County Republican Party of Keith Bulen.

Based on this history, it seems to me that while it can always be legitimate to debate Republican policy of the day and its effects, it would be unjust to characterize the Republican Action Committee and the generation it brought to leadership in Indianapolis in that era as racially backward. They were ahead of their day. Many of the young professionals that they recruited (my parents and their friends among them) were progressives on the topic of race, and many of them are progressive today on the topic of sexual orientation.

(Bulen created a public relations firm in 1971 to handle Republican campaigns. Bulen was chairman... Mitch Daniels, newly graduated from Princeton, was hired by, worked for and with Bulen as Vice President as one of his first paid jobs.)

Lugar and Integration

Regarding Lugar's history on the School Board, the debate of the day was about voluntary integration (pre-dating court-ordered integration). After formal segregation ended, a de-facto segregation emerged driven by neighborhood residence. Shortridge became 90% African American. Lugar (if I understand the history correctly) while on the school board pushed a plan to turn Shortridge into that era's version of a magnet school where Shortridge became much more highly integrated, ensuring both black and white attendance together. For this reason, he was not well liked by many conservatives.

Indiana Political Science Required Reading List

I strongly, almost strenuously, urge the biography of Bulen: "Political Warrior" by Stanley Huseland, which I plagiarize liberally above. Huseland is no Republican, and offers his share of negative observations. But the careers of so many politicians that surround us today.... or of their children... are discussed in this book. Anyone new to Indianapolis or anyone whose family and background have not been steeped in Indianapolis political history, but have ambitions in Indianapolis, would find this book highly instructive in understanding the underground currents in the late 20th century history of Indiana's Republican Party, many of which currents remain critically, if quietly, important today.

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Wilson46201 | January 2, 2007 11:02 PM

I am grateful for the correction on Harriette Bailey Conn in 1968 - I just checked her biography - a remarkable lady! She nevertheless had been preceded by Democrat Daisy Lloyd in 1964 as the first Black woman in the General Assembly. I dont believe the GOP ever elected a Black woman to the House since Ms. Conn back in the 1960s. Putting popular Attucks basketball coach Ray Crowe on the ticket was a slick political move.

Anyways, after Attorney Conn and Coach Crowe were elected back in the late 60s, no Black Republican has gone to the Legislature. Democrats Bill Crawford and Julia Carson were elected in 1972 and have stayed in elective office ever since.

I am not trying to whitewash the Indiana or Marion County Democratic Party. There have been fierce inner-party battles as African-Americans have struggled to get more of a voice at the table. The 1984 primary where Rev. Jesse Jackson took Marion County stunned Democratic leadership both Black and white. This was finally stabilized when Julia Carson won the Congressional seat in 1996.

I am grateful to Chris Douglas for his continuing political history lessons - I am merely the smart-ass student asking challenging questions...

Wilson said, "Anyways, after Attorney Conn and Coach Crowe were elected back in the late 60s, no Black Republican has gone to the Legislature."

That's not true. There was a Republican African-American elected to the House from Anderson in 1994 who served for one term. He was defeated by a white Democrat. I believe his last name was Turner, but I'm not sure about that.

Thanks for the info Chris. It's always good to know where we're going by studying where we've been. I hope your progressive Republican friends can step up to the plate sometime soon and temper the fundamentalists in your ranks. Of course, I wish the same thing from Hoosier Democrats! :)