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What to do with Joyce Poling?

By Scott Tibbs, May 2, 2005

"Republican" County Commissioner Joyce Poling voted with Democrat Iris Kiesling on Friday to appoint Greg Travis to the Economic Development Corporation. This is the same Greg Travis who has been blasting Republican officeholders like Jeff Ellington and Poling's colleague Herb Kilmer for years. This is the same Greg Travis who founded the Association of Monroe County Taxpayers, intentionally choosing a name that would be confused with the conservative Monroe County Taxpayers Association. This is the same Greg Travis that is virulently anti-growth. Interestingly enough, the Herald-Times failed to report on this appointment.

Poling's excuse was the county legal department's interpretation of Indiana Code section 36-7-12-7 which states: "The members of the economic development commission shall be appointed by the county executives. One (1) of the members shall be selected by the county executive, one (1) shall be nominated by the county fiscal body, and one (1) shall be nominated by the fiscal body of the most populous municipality located in the county." In other words, the Commissioners must approve a nominee of the County Council. The law does not state that the Commissioners must automatically rubber stamp the person the Council appoints. The Commissioners could, for example, reject the appointment and tell the Council to select someone else.

It makes absolutely no sense that the County Commissioners would be forced to rubber stamp anyone the County Council nominates. Why have a vote at all if the intention was that the Council's nominee automatically takes a seat on the EDC? Instead of backing down and voting with Kiesling again, Poling should have voted with Kilmer, who is also an attorney.

But this isn't Poling's first defection from the Republican camp. Earlier this year, Poling voted to appoint left-winger Richard Martin to the Monroe County Plan Commission. Kilmer had told Poling he would refuse to serve on the Plan Commission if Martin was reappointed, yet Poling sided with Kiesling anyway. Poling also openly considered challenging Republican Representative John Hostettler in 1996.

So here is the question facing county Republicans: what should we do about Joyce Poling? As long as Poling continues to provide the County Commissioners with an effective 2-1 Democratic majority, why should Republicans continue to support her? Quite a few Republicans are very upset with Poling and there is already talk of a primary challenge in 2008.

I think that this talk will turn out to be just that. I have heard local Republicans complain about Joyce Poling as long as I've been in politics, and yet when push comes to shove and it's time to do something about her, conservative Republicans back down. The only way Republicans can hope to be rid of Poling is if a Democrat takes her seat.

Last year, Poling barely survived a challenge from Michael "Moss" Englert, who gained fame as a tree sitter in 2001. Poling beat "Moss" by less than 800 votes to be the only Republican to win a contested race in Monroe County. Had the Democrats nominated a stronger candidate, Poling would have been defeated as well.

I have met Englert a few times, and he is a genuinely nice guy. I disagree with him on almost everything, but I respect that he has strong convictions and stands by those convictions. I wonder if Republicans would not have been better off had Englert defeated Poling last year, especially since she voted the same way he would have on several key issues.

How much are conservative Republicans willing to put up with before they say "enough is enough"? Is the Republican Party founded on philosophical principles or is the GOP a social clique that will elect anyone with an "R" next to his or her name?