Commentary: If Voting Were Only The Answer


By Dan Carpenter

Two distressing news items out of state government this week speak volumes about how much – or how little – your vote matters.

First, from the secretary of state, we got the particulars on our modern-record-low turnout in the Nov. 4 election: Thirty percent of registered voters bothered to cast ballots, compared to 39 percent in 2002, the last election without gubernatorial or U.S. Senate races. Marion County posted 25 percent, about the same as the last two mayoral elections. (Greg Ballard – the 13-percent solution.)

Next, we learned courtesy of the resolute Tom LoBianco at the Associated Press that the state’s investigation of ousted state schools chief Tony Bennett turned up plenty of evidence to charge him with federal fraud for using his office as a weapon in his unsuccessful 2012 election campaign against Glenda Ritz.

The state Inspector General kept that information from the public; LoBianco ferreted it out. Moreover, the IG hadn’t investigated in the first place until LoBianco exposed Bennett’s sleazy tactics.

Having disposed of this inconvenient business by finding Bennett guilty of minor violations and levying a $5,000 fine, the IG has moved on. So have the rest of Bennett’s fellow Republicans in power; including his holdover State Board of Education and Gov. Mike Pence’s bogus education office, created to oppose the Department of Education which Ritz was overwhelmingly elected to lead. (Pence made the surprise announcement Thursday he plans to dissolve that agency because of the controversy surrounding it.)

So, what shall we conclude? That you missed an opportunity and skipped an obligation last month by not going to the polls and earning one of those “I Count, I Voted” stickers? Or that you did your duty in 2012 by handing Glenda Ritz one of the widest victory margins of any state office-holder, and the guys in the Statehouse decided your vote didn’t count after all?

Either way, the lesson is clear: Politicians are perfectly happy to claim a mandate when 85 percent of the voting public did not choose them, and politicians will do what their elite supporters dictate regardless of what the people “decide” at the polls.

Wendell Berry, the Kentucky agrarian writer and maverick social critic, put it timelessly in an essay published more than 40 years ago:

“The time is past when it was enough merely to elect our officials. We will have to elect them and then go and watch them and keep our hands on them, the way the coal companies do.”

Coal companies haven’t gotten any less hands-on. The notorious Koch brothers owe their fortune to the problematic fossil fuel, and that industry’s hold on Indiana politicians is reflected in Pence’s adamantine opposition to the federal government’s latest effort to alleviate the poisonous impact of coal burning on our air, water, soil, children and fetuses.

So citizens, like the coal companies and the anti-Ritz forces that wish to privatize our schools for profit, must lobby. And picket. And write letters to the editor. And raise hell. And perhaps vote.

I say perhaps because some of the most politically engaged people in America see no point in choosing between establishment alternatives, and instead work to bring pressure on whoever winds up in office. When fellow progressives lecture them about shirking their responsibility, they can point to the travails of a history-making president and a triumphant Indiana schoolteacher and reply that citizenship is a much bigger job than merely voting.

Dan Carpenter is a freelance writer, a contributor to The Indianapolis Business Journal and Sky Blue Window and the author “Indiana Out Loud.”


  1. Why is it that it’s always the Koch brothers who are mentioned while overlooking two players with even more money and more manipulative? Why not mention the likes of George Soros and Michael Bloomberg who have a progressive leftist agenda. The analysis regarding both parties with their respective establishments is spot on. The American people overwhelmingly oppose amnesty, but the establishments of both parties support it. They don’t care at all about the will of the people as we’re seeing right now in Congress regarding this issue. John Boehner wants amnesty just as much as the president. When it comes to progressives, it’s all about maintaining their “power” and “control.”

  2. in response to Tasos: Soros and Bloomberg get a lot of “play” in the Mainstream Conservative Media, but they have not been as successful in spreading their influence through their “tentacles” in state and local circles as have the Koch Brothers. Certainly Bloomberg had influence as mayor of New York, but he wasn’t a Democrat, and he did many things, especially in education, that infuriated Democrats. I’m sure you speak of Bloomberg’s advocacy of gun control, but as far as a “progressive leftist agenda” label, that would be going a bit far with Bloomberg. Btw, put together, the Koch Brothers are the richest two people in America, and no, the Bloomberg/Soros combo are not nearly as manipulative throughout the American corporate/political world as are the Kochs. Scott Walker and Pence owe their political notoriety to the Kochs, and likely Brownback does in Kansas, even as he has wrecked the Kansas economy.

  3. Stop blaming the winners. Get good candidates and get your voters out if you want to win.

  4. From Politico, as per Koch/Soros: The Koch network also has developed in-house expertise in polling, message-testing, fact-checking, advertising, media buying, dial groups and donor maintenance. Add mastery of election law, a corporate-minded aggressiveness and years of patient experimentation — plus seemingly limitless cash — and the Koch operation actually exceeds the RNC’s data operation in many important respects.
    “The Koch operations are the most important nonparty political players in the U.S. today, and no one else is even close,” said a top Republican who has been involved in the last eight presidential campaigns.
    (Also on POLITICO: End of a D.C. institution)
    The least-known vehicle for the Kochs is a for-profit company known as i360, started by a former adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign after McCain lost to Barack Obama in 2008. Subsequently, it merged with a Koch-funded data nonprofit. The Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners, formed in late 2011, eventually became an investor, officials confirmed to POLITICO.
    Spending more than $50 million in cash over the past four years, i360 links voter information with consumer data purchased from credit bureaus and other vendors. Information from social networks is blended in, along with any interaction the voter may have had with affiliated campaigns and advocacy groups. Then come estimated income, recent addresses, how often a person has voted, and even the brand of car they drive. Another i360 service slices and dices information about TV viewing to help campaigns target ads more precisely and cost efficiently.

    The story also delves into the Pence relationship, how many candidates received help, and that sort of thing. I wish that we were talking about just the political parties here, but thanks to Citizens United, the outside money and research being done is tremendous, and allows a few individuals with unlimited means to literally purchase our political system. I’m sure a few on the right will mention how unions were also advantaged by Citizens United, but if you check the net worth of any selected union, or group of unions, you’ll find that it pales in comparison to the net worth of the organizations that the US Chamber of Commerce and Koch affiliated groups can bring against them, especially in a state-by-state, district-by-district situation. For more on my above-mentioned story:

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