FORT WAYNE | The party unity helping Hoosier Republicans win control of nearly every statewide elected office for the past decade is beginning to fracture.
Some 1,650 Republican delegates came together for their biannual convention Saturday under the banner of “One Party Working for Indiana,” but left the Grand Wayne Center sharply divided on the issue of gay marriage and backing a state treasurer candidate who required three ballots to win the nomination.
The marriage issue centered on a new provision in this year's party platform declaring strong families “based on marriage between a man and a woman” are the foundation of society.
An expected fight to reject the entire platform never materialized, but supporters of marriage equality forced a convention vote on whether to return that section of the platform to the unanimously approved 2012 language that said “strong families are the foundation of virtue” without insisting on opposite-sex marriage.
About 30 percent of the delegates supported readopting the 2012 "strong families" party platform plank.
Their defeat produced hearty applause and cheers from many of the others.
Megan Robertson is a Republican delegate originally from Portage who this year successfully led the Freedom Indiana coalition in halting a pending state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to male-female couples. She said the GOP risks electoral defeat if it continues marginalizing marriage equality supporters.
“More importantly than dividing the party going forward, which it clearly does and will continue to do, I think it hurts us with voters,” Robertson said. “The job of the Republican Party is to win elections. We're a political organization, and if it's not helping us win elections then it might not necessarily be something we ought to be doing.”
A second proposal to alter the party platform, offered by Chris Retson, of Crown Point, also was defeated. He suggested adopting something akin to former Gov. Mitch Daniels' social issues "truce."
“We cannot win our fights on economic matters if half the country is against us because we've alienated them on social issues,” Retson said prior to the vote.
Debate regarding the contentious marriage and social issues proposals generally was peaceful and orderly thanks to Convention Chairman Ed Simcox, a LaPorte native who was Indiana secretary of state from 1978-86. He carefully explained the rules and procedures to be followed.
He also kept delegates informed and in line as the race for the state treasurer nomination went into a second and then a third ballot -- all the while plagued by voting machine delays as the convention stretched into its seventh hour.
In the end, Kelly Mitchell, a Valparaiso University graduate, was nominated as the Republican candidate for state treasurer, defeating Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold and Don Bates Jr., a Richmond financial adviser.
Mitchell is director of the TrustINdiana local government investment pool under state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. She describes herself as a “pro-life and pro-gun Republican.”
Seybold narrowly led Mitchell after the first ballot, thanks in part to a strong nomination speech by LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo.
On the second ballot, Mitchell led Seybold by 76 votes, but didn't win a majority, forcing a third ballot. As lowest vote-getter, Bates automatically was dropped from the final round of balloting.
Mitchell topped Seybold on the third ballot 63 percent to 37 percent.
She joins Secretary of State Connie Lawson and state Auditor Suzanne Crouch, who were nominated by acclamation, at the top of the Republican ticket for the fall election.
It's believed this is the first time an Indiana political party has nominated all female candidates for every statewide office in a single election year.
Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann said she hopes Hoosier Republicans will come together to support their candidates and preserve the party's control of the Statehouse.
“Our party must strive for unity. It is in our unity that we enable our Republican candidates to win in November,” Ellspermann said.
Lake County Republican delegates embraced that call for unity, mostly by grumbling about the presence of former county GOP Vice Chairman George Janiec, who voted Democratic in the May 6 primary election.
A threat by Munster Republican Eric Krieg to challenge Janiec's delegate credentials at the convention didn't go anywhere because GOP rules require credential challenges be filed 10 days before the convention.