Dispute in Hamilton County GOP chair caucus leads to legal action
Update Jan. 30: On Saturday, Jan. 30 the caucus results were announced as follows: Laura Campbell won the white ballots 115-99, and Pete Peterson won the yellow ballots 52-0, meaning that combined Peterson won. Because all of the appointments made in November (yellow ballots) voted for Peterson, Campbell can appeal the decision to the state Republican party. Campbell told Current on Jan. 30 that she has not decided yet if she will appeal.
Update Jan. 26: According to Laura Campbell, the Jan. 30 caucus is taking place. There will be no 10-day postponement.
After Pete Emigh resigned as head of the Hamilton County Republican Party at the end of 2015, two leaders threw their hats in the ring to replace him. Laura Campbell, member of the Carmel City Council and former vice chairperson, will face off against Pete Peterson, president of the Fishers City Council and treasurer for the party.
Campbell is serving as acting head of the county GOP until a replacement is picked at a caucus that is currently scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 30. The caucus will be held at the Ritz Charles in Carmel and is not open to the public.
Peterson is seen as Emigh’s choice for a replacement, which has led to some controversy. Campbell said she discovered that Emigh appointed 71 new committeemen on Nov. 29 before he left office. Campbell said she looked over the new appointments and she believed Emigh purposely selected people who would back Peterson.
“Upon a review of the names of those 71, it became clear to me that Emigh was attempting to stack the deck to ensure Peterson would win,” Campbell wrote in a letter. “The 71 that were appointed included Peterson’s daughter, his mortgage broker who co-signed on his home loan, vendors who do business with Fishers, Fishers city employees, and a host of others who would clearly vote for Peterson. Only a few of the Emigh appointees have ever had anything to do with Hamilton County Republican politics.”
As a result, Campbell removed the 71 appointees, which she said was within her right as acting party chair. She said Emigh broke the rules by appointing the committeemen without notification.
Among those that were removed is Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness. He has asked for state party officials to get involved and decide if the original appointees can participate in the caucus.
If the appointees are approved, Campbell said the Jan. 30 caucus will be postponed and rescheduled because 10 days notice is needed.
Peterson told Current in Carmel in an interview that he feels his “opponent’s actions” could divide Republicans instead of uniting them for a common goal.
“At the end of the day, this isn’t about one person, but about the Republican Party as a whole,” he said. “We have a large base of Republican voters and I hate to see anything damage our ability when it comes to statewide elections.”
In interviews, both Campbell and Peterson were careful about commenting about specifics because of the ongoing legal action.
Campbell said she wants to make sure every voice is heard, but feels it’s unfair to “stack the deck” with Peterson-friendly committeemen because that would disenfranchise other voters. She said the goal should be ongoing participation in the party and not just voting in this caucus.
“In talking to a lot of our precinct committeemen, just preparing for this process, I’ve found that many of them felt very disgruntled and that the party hasn’t respected them and they’re spot on because there’s been more of financial, fundraising focus to our party than the grassroots, volunteer focus,” she said. “Our base has really suffered as a result.”
Campbell wants to get more citizens engaged in the electoral process beyond just casting a vote.
“It’s an entire effort,” she said. “We are going to have to unite and put aside our differences in the fall to win elections. I think my background gives me the right experience and I work with all types of people from various backgrounds. I’ve brought people together who have supported different candidates.”