The 2023 ‘Foothold’ Councilmen

November 13, 2022

Eli Wax of South Bend

Eli Wax, who represents the 5th District for the South Bend City Council, was elected in a Republican caucus vote. 

Q. — Why do you think the caucus elected you?

A. — The office I hold was previously held by Jake Teshka and became vacant when he won election for Indiana State Representative in November 2020. I ran against a few other conservative republicans including Clifton French, who runs a local news website, and Jason Kring, who at the time of this writing is running for election for County Council. It was a close race, and I won in a run-off.

I ran on the idea that, for this office, it isn’t sufficient to have the right values and political views, but that it is also necessary to have the ability to effectuate those views. As the only Republican-held seat in the South Bend Common Council, to be effective, the council member needs to also have the experience and ability to work positively in an adversarial environment with those whom he may disagree. My experience as an attorney advocating and negotiating for my clients’ best interests against the opposition taught me how to be effective and persuasive while working in a way to encourage movement in my clients’ direction. Again, it isn’t enough to be right, it also requires the ability to work with others with whom you may disagree to get the results necessary. This is especially true when being in an 8-1 minority. I think this message resonated with the caucus voters. 

Q. — What is your philosophy of government

A. — At heart, I am a conservative with libertarian leanings. On the local level, I believe that, first and foremost, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of our residents’ tax dollars. This means prioritizing spending on public safety and critical infrastructure, such as police, fire, EMS, streets and utilities, rather than expanding government and creating new programs and departments. Additionally, while some limited regulation is necessary, it is critically important that we keep government out of the way of private growth and individual liberty, rather than trying to micromanage our city from the top down. 

Q. — What was your most difficult and perhaps loneliest vote?

A. — Being outnumbered 8-1, I have a lot of lonely votes. Many of those have been on unnecessarily partisan resolutions, such as calling on the Indiana State legislators to pass new gun laws, or calling out other states’ Republican legislatures for “voter suppression.” While standing alone on those votes wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t describe it as being particularly difficult. 

There was one vote, however, that does stand out to me as being particularly difficult. South Bend was amending its MWBE law, which provides special treatment and consideration for minority- and women-owned businesses in contracting with the city. The other members of the Council, who supported the bill had sincere and well-intended goals in supporting it. Despite having a large minority and female population, almost none of the local businesses, especially in certain building and contracting sectors, are owned by minorities or women. While I concur with my colleagues in their sincere desire to see more minority and women businesses succeed and develop, I believe the law in question is both wrong and unconstitutional. The 14th Amendment requires that before municipalities make race-based regulations they must first attempt to fix disparities through race-neutral solutions such as streamlining the contracting processes so that emerging businesses have more opportunity to compete with well-established larger businesses that are in a better position to deal with burdensome regulations and processes. In addition to the constitutional aspect, I believe that reducing red tape and regulation provides better outcomes for everyone than increasing regulations to achieve a desired result. While my conviction on the issue was strong, because of the nature of the subject, being the sole opposition to that bill was quite lonely. 

Contact Councilman Wax at

Don Schmidt of Fort Wayne

Don Schmidt, who formerly represented the 2nd District for the Fort Wayne City Council, was last elected in a landslide in 2003, winning by 38 points. He lost four years later by only 13 votes out of a total 9,115 cast.

Q. — Why do you think you won reelection in 2003?

A. — I believe people saw me as someone who did not try to straddle the fence on issues, but someone who studied an issue, articulated a position and then voted accordingly. Being fearless of criticism allowed me to speak boldly on issues, which I considered an asset.

Q. — What is your philosophy of government?

A. — I follow the philosophy of Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman, where less government is better than more government, regulation should be as minimum as possible and fiscal prudence should always be preferred over proliferate spending. 

Q. — What was your most difficult and perhaps loneliest vote?

A. — I did not have really difficult votes personally, although one of the most controversial was when I voted for a Democrat to be council president during Republican control of the council. He was the better choice over the “next in line” Republican. All of the pressure came from the Party chairman. It should be noted that the last year of Democrat control of the council, two Democrats felt I deserved to be president and voted for me over the objections of their fellow Democrats. 

When the County Option Income Tax (COIT) was proposed in 1988 I was one of only two council members who voted in favor (an atypical vote for a fiscal conservative) as it went down to defeat. My favorable vote was predicated on a last-minute agreement with the mayor to change the bill to give permanent property tax relief to homeowners. The change, however, came too late for the majority of the council to communicate with their voters. It was the very next year when the COIT was enacted that most realized that the positive property tax relief I added was the right thing to do. 

Contact former Councilman Schmidt at

Russ Jehl of Fort Wayne

Russ Jehl, unopposed in the last election, represents the 2nd District for the Fort Wayne City Council.

Q. — Why do you think you were unopposed? 

A. — Although the district I represent is competitive, I don’t think anyone ran against me in the Republican primary because I have a strong history of fiscal conservatism. In the general election, I believe no one ran against me because of my track record of pushing for infrastructure upgrades, which are important to preserving strong neighborhoods. Although I might be more conservative than many of my constituents, they see me fighting for them and they appreciate it.

Q. — What is your philosophy of government?

A. — Thomas Jefferson said, “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.” The role of city government is plainly defined, making the object of local government clear: We are charged with providing top-notch police, fire, water, roads and parks. These are the prerequisites for a strong local economy.

Q. — What was your most difficult and perhaps loneliest vote?

A. — I co-sponsored legislation that took on our city unions and ended collective bargaining for non-public safety employees. I believe Fort Wayne was the first Indiana city to do so. The management of the city is now rightly the responsibility of the elected officials, not the unions. The vote was contentious with a lot of hyperbolic language, personal attacks and fear-mongering. Several years later, the city is in a much better financial position, remains a wonderful employer for which to work and is receiving great recognition. This year, Fort Wayne was named by WalletHub as the third best-run city in the country and number one in Indiana. 

Contact Councilman Jehl at

Tony Green of Carmel

Tony Green, who represents the Southwest District for the Carmel City Council, was elected in 2017 in a Republican caucus vote to fill a vacated seat. He has since been elected by popular vote.

Q. — Why do you think the caucus elected you?

A. — My message was being independent and transparent.

Q. — What is your philosophy of government?

A. — Smaller, less regulated government. Government expenditures should generally be for needed public services and investments in infrastructure.

Q. — What was your most difficult and perhaps loneliest vote?

A. — I voted against the city’s budget twice. The vote was 6-1.

Contact Councilman Green at

David Giffel of Fishers

David Giffel, who represents the Southwest District for the Fishers City Council, was elected last year in a Republican caucus vote to fill a vacated seat.

Q. — Why do you think the caucus elected you?

A. — I won because of years of relationships developed with others on the GOP Precinct Committee.

 Q.  — What is your philosophy of government?

A. — I believe in individualism and taking personal responsibility for yourself as much as humanly possible. I also believe in the principle of subsidiarity, holding that what can be done at a lower level in a social system shouldn’t be done at a higher one. On a city council, this principle facilitates a broader range of solutions, quicker and more informed decision-making, and greater involvement of more citizens. As a result, there is less chance of one bad decision causing a system-wide failure and there is less opportunity for moral hazard. Today, for example, the federal government takes far too much of our hard-earned money and controls far too many social issues.

For me, the primary role of city government is protecting the people from crime and fires. I tend to be a data-driven decision-maker and mainly want to keep my city attractive and provide good quality of life in its neighborhoods. 

Q. — What was your most difficult and perhaps loneliest vote?

A. — The most challenging was a recent vote to raise a local food-and-beverage sales tax by 1 percent in order to build a new 8,500-seat event center. It would be a tax that I know will never end unless future leadership wants it to end. An event center would be expensive, and the cost is estimated at $170 million with an annual bond payment of $9.7 million. Finally, I was not fond of the intentional fast-track approval.

Since the 2014 elections, our mayor and local developers have been executing a plan to make our city’s downtown a more urbanized area. The mayor’s vision is to create a vibrant city center that is a more dense, vibrant, walkable place where someone can work, play and shop. Most of our residents will still need to drive to this area, no differently than a mall.

The main reason behind developing this area would be to attract more 2- and 3-percent assessed value properties. However, given the current Indiana tax laws, our mayor believes that the city’s suburban growth model, given the projected increase in personnel costs, would have a “net operating deficit of $22.5 million by 2040, not a sustainable fiscal condition.”

The food-and-beverage sales-tax increase would pass with or without my vote so I decided to reach out to constituents, trying to determine how hard I would fight for or against it. I sampled neighborhoods with a self-stamped return-envelope survey, a targeted text campaign, an online poll from my email list and face-to-face conversations with random residents at our local Farmers Market. My total population reach was about 7,000, with about a 12 percent response rate.

I found a slight majority of my constituents did not mind paying a few extra dollars annually to have another entertainment option in the downtown area. We are blessed to be successful enough to earn our way to live in our city, one of the wealthiest communities in Indiana. We held a public hearing and only one person showed up to speak against the tax. I received a handful of emails for and against. Since most people didn’t seem to object, I began due diligence on the financial viability.

The event center would be financed with four different sources of taxes because it is an amenity, not a self-sustained business. The city would share revenues from: operations, repurpose a cumulative capital levy; profit enjoyed by the privately owned utility from a recently purchased sewer company; and the sales tax increase.

Forecasting beyond three years is difficult. However, reviewing the food-and-beverage taxes in other Indiana cities, I speculated that by 2035 the sales tax alone would surpass the bond payment. (One city councilor attempted to pass a sunset on the tax. However, the bonds sold will be connected to the sales tax so this amendment would be somewhat worthless.)

Undoubtedly, the location would attract new development and is in a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district. Moreover, the TIF funds could help pay the bond should Biden’s Inflationary policies send the economy into a downward spiral.

I was fortunate to be able to discuss the event center with the CEO of Meridian Entertainment, an expert whose business advises event centers and manages shows. He believes our center would be competitive in the region and good for the city’s long-term growth, keeping us a high-quality community. 

A related consideration is that the city will need to address congestion soon. However, I believe that given our high growth, we should be able to recover the “repurposed” cumulative capital fund, freeing up any levy required to fix most of our congestion without a tax rate increase.

Finally, when any business is deciding whether to locate in a community, the owners look at amenities that would attract good employees. The event center would create a buzz for the city and be a regional destination spot.

Being new to the council and considering the information gathered from my hours of due diligence, I decided to trust the mayor and vote a painful “yes.” 

Contact Councilman Giffel at

Ryan Cummins of Terre Haute

Ryan Cummins, the owner of a family business and a former Marine artillery officer, won his last city council election by a three-to-one margin despite being roundly outvoted at the council table in his first term and being targeted by the public employee unions. 

Q. — Why do you think you won reelection to the city council? 

A. — I wasn’t surprised that I won. I had spent the previous four years on the council in a significant minority as the only elected Republican in any city office. Because of that and the fact that I was confident in my principles, I was covered extensively by local media as the sole opposition to “business as usual” in local government. I was surprised, however, by the margin of victory. It was heartening to realize that while I stood by myself quite often in the debate and subsequent votes, there were quite a few more people quietly standing behind me in support. The vote totals showed that. 

Again, the coverage gave me substantial name recognition, which is good when running in an election but far from the deciding factor. I believe the deciding factor in most voters’ minds was that they knew I would take a stand, that I would ask the questions that needed to be asked regardless of the way things always have been done.

An example was when I questioned the use of tax abatement as an economic-development tool. Property tax abatement was handed out by my city (and most local government across Indiana) like candy at Halloween. While the boilerplate language supposedly had parameters and safeguards, the reality was that there is no rhyme or reason to how abatement was awarded to a petitioner. I am certainly in favor of lower taxes but not when lower taxes for one (an abatement petitioner) is offset by raising taxes on other property taxpayers. This is a feature of our property tax system, more so before property-tax caps but still a result even in the era of constitutional caps. Add to this the fact that empirical studies from across the nation (several cited in this journal) show that these types of ecodevo schemes do not create jobs in a community, do not increase prosperity, do no create wealth. This needed to be questioned vigorously. Those who advocate for this and other schemes must be forced to defend them.

I won because the majority of candidates — nearly all? — typically demonstrate their ability and intention to “go along to get along.” I believe a large number of voters recognize this, more so in local elections, and would readily support a principled candidate who demonstrates knowledge and the courage of his convictions. During one debate on the council when I raised my hand to be recognized, one of my more ardent opponents interjected, “Oh, we don’t need to hear from Ryan. We know what he will say.” He meant it as an insult, that I wasn’t good at this political game. I took it as a supreme compliment because he recognized a consistent adherence to my principles. It was one of the nicest things any of my colleagues ever said to me. 

 Q.  — What is your philosophy of government?

A. — I would sum it up as a philosophy of the individual over “the state.” Said differently and stealing a line from the mission of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, I believe in “the primacy of the individual when addressing public concerns.”

Toward the end of my second term on the city council, then Sen. Richard Lugar came to town on some sort of public-relations tour. As the only elected Republican in the city, I was invited to a presentation by the senator. At the end of his short talk, he asked if anyone had questions. I certainly did. I stated that it is impossible for the typical Hoosier to know and understand the details of all the legislation he would have to vote on, legislation that would often directly affect his constituents. Given that, what were the principles that guided the senator when the time came to raise his hand and vote “yes” or “no.”” Lugar was a seasoned politician and immediately launched into a spiel about the common good, “Hoosier values,” doing what’s right and a lot of other meaningless nonsense. He expounded for over 10  minutes, and he really didn’t say anything of substance. When he was done, my friend who was sitting next to me chuckled a little, leaned over and whispered, “Geez, this guy is a staunch Republican? Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi could have given the same answer.” 

So I will answer the same question I posed to the senator. The principles that guide me when the time came to vote yea or nay are as follows:

Q. — What was your most difficult and perhaps loneliest vote?

A. — In two terms, eight years on the city council, I was on the short end of well over 200 8-1 votes (I count the occasional 7-2 vote in this total) so it is hard to say what was the most difficult. If I were to zero in on the toughest votes, it would be when it came time to vote on public-employee compensation.

In the private sector, more specifically in for-profit business, compensation is determined by productivity, sales and profits. In other words, by tangible measurable parameters. Most folks seem to think that the boss sets compensation. I suppose that is true in a purely technical sense but the reality is that the customer is far and away the driving factor in what an employee makes in compensation. One caveat, if a private business’s customer base is all or nearly all in government, this is probably not true.

In the public sector there are no sales, no profits, and measures of productivity are often a matter of opinion. The result is that addressing compensation becomes emotional and personal. Anyone with any amount of life experience quickly understands that making substantial decisions based on emotion, on feelings, on passions, almost always leads to poor and costly outcomes. That pretty much describes the results when setting public-employee compensation.

It is true that government cannot be run like a business. The incentives are completely different. As a council member, I had to make sure I approached this difficult situation with a different mindset. I approached public employee compensation from the point of view of a customer. Doing this causes a whole different set of questions to come into the discussion. 

As a customer buying a night out, purchasing a car, hiring a contractor, paying for legal advice, you directly or indirectly ask a number of questions: Is this a good value? Can I get a better deal elsewhere? What do I have to forgo if I buy this? Is the higher price option worth it? Should I even be interested in buying this? Will it benefit me in the short term? The long term? And a thousand other questions related to whether I want to make this exchange. 

As a council member, I looked at it as the person who was purchasing the services of a police or fire department, a city engineer’s abilities and expertise, a municipal IT professional, and so on for all those folks I represented. It led to expecting, in fact demanding, answers to the questions regarding these purchases the same as I would be asking the car dealer, the home builder or the lawyer. Did it lead to satisfactory answers? Hardly ever, maybe never. In eight years I voted yes on a salary ordinance barely a handful of times. I voted no most often because I did not get the answers I expected and demanded as the purchaser. To say it was difficult would be an understatement. I stayed true to my principles and look on my time on that council with satisfaction in the job I accomplished.

Contact former Councilman Cummins at

Josh Bain of Indianapolis

Josh Bain, who represents the 20th District for the Indianapolis City-County Council, was unanimously elected in a 2020 caucus to fill a vacated seat.

Q. — Why do you think the caucus elected you?

A.  — I have been an active member of the community since I was in high school. From an early age I felt God was calling me to public service, and I have been blessed that God has opened many doors for me whether it was working at the Indiana General Assembly or working on campaigns with the House Republican Campaign Committee. I was that 16-year-old who would show up to community meetings and town halls, an early involvement that demonstrated my commitment to my community over the past decades. 

Q. — What is your philosophy on government?

A. — While I have always had a healthy respect for our system of government, it has grown stronger since taking office. The separation of powers and the distinct responsibility of each branch created by our Founding Fathers that runs from our federal to local government is vital to our process. I am a conservative Republican, and that does mean that there are partisan battles that have to be fought for the values in which I believe. But I am also a partisan for the branch of government in which I serve. The legislative branch is the policy-making branch of government, and policy-making is a constitutionally strong power that has been diluted and passed off to other branches. I believe the legislative branch needs to be reconstituted at every level. That doesn’t mean there won’t be conflict within the branches, and I think robust and vigorous debate between them is a good thing, a constant and ever-present tug-and-pull. I believe most of the systemic issues we have in our government today can be easily fixed by returning to the specific roles and responsibilities of our balanced system of government.

Q. — What was your most difficult and perhaps loneliest vote? 

A. — When I was elected to the Indianapolis City-County Council, it was during a contentious time in our city with most of the discussions surrounding law enforcement. Proposal 237-2020 was a restructuring of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s (IMPD) General Orders Board. I viewed it as removing authority from IMPD leadership to activists appointed by a political body. It was on that night that I realized the meaning of Winston Churchill’s quote: “There’s something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space.” 

There were many protesters there at the full council meeting. Many had to be dragged out by Marion County Sheriff deputies as they were throwing things, screaming and shouting and resisting arrest. As all of that was unfolding, I felt for the first time in my tenure on the Council that there is a constant spiritual battle being fought on our behalf and God allowed me to catch a glimpse of it. Although I didn’t physically see that spiritual side of the fight, I did feel it in my spirit, and that spiritual battle was as real as the mob that came down to disrupt the Council meeting.

Contact Councilman Bain at

Jason Arp of Fort Wayne

Jason Arp, who represents the 4th District for the Fort Wayne City Council, won reelection this year despite being targeted by monied special interests benefiting from downtown redevelopment. The local newspaper spent two years doing all it could to prevent his reelection.

Q. — Why do you think you won reelection?

A. — Despite being outspent three to one, I had a track record in my first term of pursuing truth and staying faithful to my initial campaign pledges as evidenced by my voting record and public commentary. I communicated this message by extensive door-to-door campaigning, the ultimately reason I won. 

Q. — What is your philosophy of government?

A. — My philosophy of government is “minarchy,” defined by the Mises Institute as a political ideology that accepts the role of a minimal state. The economist Ludwig von Mises believed courts, police, armies and laws are necessary for the protection of private-property rights. Without these rights there can be no capital formation. Outside of these basic roles, the government begins to infringe on markets and take on the role of an interested party, weighing in on behalf of those who ingratiate themselves to those in power. 

Q. — What was your most difficult and perhaps loneliest vote?

A. —  I voted to strike down the ordinance that regulated sexually oriented businesses (strip clubs, specifically). The ordinance was enacted a couple years earlier, by a more Republican council. The ordinance violates the private-property rights of the owners, the privacy of the employees and the customers, in addition to creating a new set of rules and codes of conduct that were in no way within the base role of government, this was an example of a council and a mayor earning social-moral points by picking on an unpopular group of property owners. The philosophical argument was not the difficult part. The difficulty arises in the social stigma of standing for the rights of even the immoral. Many friends and supporters were the most vociferous in opposition to my legislative action to strike the ordinance. Thankfully, my wife was supportive and I was able to proceed. My attempt failed 4-5 (myself in favor, the other four Republicans against, three Democrats for and one against). Although this may have cost political capital, I’m confident I did the right thing, namely fighting to preserve private-property rights against the do-gooders in government. 

Contact Councilman Arp at


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