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Independent Mayors Buck Trends In Local Politics

Shawna Girgis and Fred Paris

Photo: Kylee Wierks/WFIU News

Independent mayors Shawna Girgis of Bedford and Fred Paris of Franklin are up for re-election Tuesday.

Despite a deeply-entrenched two-party political system in Indiana, two independent mayors will stand for re-election Tuesday.

When Shawna Girgis was elected in 2007, she became the city’s first independent and first female mayor. Girgis says her election came, in part, as a result of some unique circumstances.

“We had had a sitting mayor who was a Republican at the time was actually defeated in the primary, and so at that point that’s when someone asked me have you ever thought about running,” she says. “So when I decided yeah I might like to do that, given the deadlines and the filing period you would have to file as an independent candidate.”

Though incumbency carries its own benefits for re-election, including offering a candidate much-needed name recognition, Girgis says her independent status has posed its own challenges.

“I think you have to work a lot harder because there’s not a system in place to promote the candidate the candidate has to do the work themselves and garner their own supporters and volunteers it’s not already in place,” she says.

Indiana University political science professor Margie Hershey agrees, noting the political culture is tough for independents.

“Just about all the states have much more restrictive laws governing independent or minor party candidates then they do governing Democrats and Republicans,” Hershey says. “It’s much tougher to get on the ballot if you are an independent or third party candidate you often have to get many more signatures on petitions than the republican and democratic candidate do. Sometimes the Republican and Democratic candidate don’t have to do anything at all to get on the ballot whereas Independent candidates almost always have to.”

Removing Labels In Local Politics

Franklin mayor Fred Paris says his own internal conflict caused him to get into politics, saying he felt disconnected with the labels available to him when he first ran in 2007.

“I didn’t really blend very well with anybody’s philosophy,” he says. “What I did is I went and looked at all the different political parties, I went online and actually read not just about Republicans and Democrats but all the other parties that are listed on Wikipedia and I really couldn’t find anybody that I really felt I fit with so I thought the only way to go is Independent.” 

I wish they’d do away with political parties at the local level.”

Though he is running again as an independent this year, Paris says he’d like to see political parties done away with at the municipal level.

“I don’t think there should be any party politics in local elections,” he says. “I think it should be based on candidates running on their platforms and then the top two voters have a run-off. So I wish they’d do away with political parties at the local level.”

Hershey does not see that happening anytime soon.

“In about 60 percent or 70 percent of municipality cities and towns, they run non-partisan elections at the local level,” she says. “We run partisan elections, but we are a minority. But that would have to be done on a statewide basis, and it’s just very difficult to abolish parties when it’s the parties that would have to do the abolishing.”

In Bedford, Shawna Girgis runs against Republican challenger Rick Butterfield in Tuesday’s election. Fred Paris will face off with GOP candidate Joe McGuinness in Franklin.  So in both cities, it is a two-horse race, as voters are used to.  But in both cases, only one of the candidates will have a familiar letter next to their name. An

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