Analyzing the Race for County Commissioner


The campaign for Vanderburgh County Commissioner has something about it this year that is very different than many of the other races on the ballot. This race and the definitive way that Marsha Abell has chosen to take stands on controversial issues is the main reason that voters can actually decide on the issues as opposed to charisma or the dollars spent on advertising.

This race pits veterans of campaigns and offices past against one another. This race is certainly not a race that is experience vs. youth. Both candidates have multiple offices and campaigns on their resume’ to back up their claims of experience. Incumbent County Commissioner Troy Tornatta (D) has been established solidly within the Vanderburgh County Democratic Party for over a decade and has recently been a staunch supporter and confidant of Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel. Mrs. Abell (R) has at least two decades of history as a perennial candidate and office holder for the Vanderburgh County Republicans.

Charisma and extensive advertising will have little bearing on voters choices in this race because both of these candidates are very much “what you see is what you get” individuals. Troy’s light hearted “awe shucks” demeanor is as predictable and consistent as Marsha’s dogged determination and willingness to take a stand is. One thing is for certain, there is little uncertainly as to the personalities of these candidates.
Setting personality, party affiliation, and campaign budgets aside is refreshing. These candidates have specific issue differences on many fronts that voter can use to make their decisions. Here are the issues where a stark difference exists.

Smoking Ordinance: Mrs. Abell is on record as supporting a comprehensive smoking ban for all of Vanderburgh County. Mr. Tornatta is perhaps the poster child for reversing the Vanderburgh County smoking ban that Cheryl Musgrave worked hard to implement. Mr. Tornatta’s logic behind reversing the Vanderburgh County smoking ban revolved around bringing the City of Evansville and Vanderburgh County’s ordinances into line with one another.

Robert’s Stadium Ballfields Proposal: Mr. Tornatta has expressed the position that other locations within Vanderburgh County should be considered while falling short of outwardly rejecting the current plan. Mrs. Abell has taken a hard line against the current proposal calling the use of the innkeeper’s tax to demolish Robert’s Stadium a federal style bailout of the City of Evansville and the Weinzapfel Administration for an item that should have been in the Arena budget.

GAGE: Mrs. Abell has taken a hard line with respect to GAGE’s departure from its core missions of business incubation, the Engage program, and technology transfer to favor cutting off Vanderburgh County’s annual investment of $150,000 in GAGE. She has cited Downtown Evansville related events like Sock Hops, Hula Hoop Contests, Belly Dancing Lessons, Movies on Main, and Festivals as not furthering the economic development initiatives that GAGE was founded to do. She has recommended that the $150,000 be used to establish a fund to assist small businesses. Mrs. Abell also supports establishing another industrial park somewhere in Vanderburgh County to be used to attract or inspire commercial enterprises to set up shop here.

Mr. Tornatta, a past Board Member and member of GAGE’s Executive Committee while acknowledging that GAGE has strayed from its core mission is willing to give GAGE another year to get the ship righted.

Mrs. Abell has come out against the way in which GAGE was used as a vehicle to increase the salary of City of Evansville employee Tom Barnett, while Mr. Tornatta has expressed no opinion on this issue.

Executive Inn: Mr. Tornatta while expressing concern regarding the effects that the closure of the Executive Inn may have on the Centre, has stated that it is more appropriate to let the City of Evansville and Mayor Weinzapfel continue to lead this effort. He is content to position the County Commissioners in a supporting role in the continuing saga of the Executive Inn Dilemma.

Mrs. Abell is as far from Mr. Tornatta as possible with respect to the Executive Inn. Her basic position is that the City of Evansville and Mayor Weinzapfel made this mess and they should be responsible to clean the mess that they made. She has even stated that the City of Evansville should reimburse Vanderburgh County for the negative impact that the closure of the Executive Inn has had on the financial performance of the Centre. Mrs. Abell is quite clear that Vanderburgh County should not be spending money to “Bail Out” the City of Evansville’s mistakes and that the City of Evansville should pay for each and every one of these mistakes including the walk-bridge between the Centre and the Convention Hotel along with the lost revenues that the Centre has suffered for convention losses this year and into the future. She has done her homework in citing the 10 conventions that have been lost since the Executive has ceased operation including one convention that was lost to French Lick.

Consolidation: Marsha Abell is adamant that an elected official should head up law enforcement of any future consolidated Vanderburgh County. She is also of the opinion that residents of the unincorporated areas of Vanderburgh County should not compromise lifestyles or pick up the tab for City of Evansville services that they do not currently have or want.

Mr. Tornatta has not taken a concrete stance on where he stands but does promote that the two law enforcement entities cooperate with one another. Mr. Tornatta did promote the decision of the Consolidation Committee to have a single county wide vote for consolidation as opposed to separate votes for the City of Evansville and unincorporated Vanderburgh County. It is widely believed that the type of vote supported by Mr. Tornatta increases the probability and establishes the possibility that a consolidation vote will pass against the will of the residents of the unincorporated county.

As stated earlier, this race is very much about management style and willingness to take a stand of issues of economic and political significance. Marsha Abell has drawn her lines in the sand and has not wavered from them on the above issues. Her personality is one that takes a stand. Taking a stand will bring with it the public scrutiny of accountability. Mr. Tornatta has taken less rigid positions than Mrs. Abell on nearly every issue that they have discussed.

Intelligent voters should certainly be able to discern whose positions that they agree with and which ones they do not agree with. Both of these candidates are experienced, both are veterans of politics, both are well meaning, honest, and hard working, and both have spent their adult lives in Vanderburgh County. The election for Vanderburgh County Commissioner should be one of the easiest races for voters that take their time to become informed will ever make. For once, it really is about the issues. Good luck and a great next two days to both candidates.

Check in tomorrow for Mole #3’s thoughts on the race for Vanderburgh County Prosecutor


  1. All three of the current county commissioners need to go. They are more concerned with serving Jonathan Weinzapfel than serving county residents.

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