Marion County clerk primary unfolds amid slating controversy

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The two Democrats running in the May 3 primary for Marion County clerk on Monday disagreed over whether one candidate’s presence is a conflict of interest.

Former state Sen. Billie Breaux says she entered the race primarily because she wants to protect people’s right to vote, but Kate Sweeney Bell’s candidacy influenced her decision to run as well. Bell, who is the Marion County recorder, is also the chair of the Marion County Democratic Party.

Breaux says she has nothing against Bell personally, but thinks it’s unseemly for a county party chair to also seek elected office.

“I have been in the Democratic Party for many, many years and never before have we had a chair also run for an elected position,” Breaux said.

At issue is the party’s primary endorsement process, known as slating. The practice is rare in Indiana outside the Marion County Democratic Party.

Earlier this year, the party released a list of candidates it has endorsed for the primary, ranging from U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, an Indianapolis Democrat, to candidates for township trustee and constable. Among those endorsements was Bell for county clerk. That sparked an outcry from the Marion County Black Elected Officials, which at one point tried to prevent future such candidacies through state legislation. The effort ultimately died due to House subject-matter rules.

Breaux says the problem is that the county party chair is responsible for appointing people to fill precinct committee vacancies. Those precinct committee members, in turn, vote in the slating process.

Bell says her candidacy does not represent a conflict of interest, adding that she plans to step down as county party chair if she wins. She says she entered the race because she wants to defend Hoosiers’ voting rights from attack in Washington, D.C.

Asked why she didn’t step aside at the beginning of her campaign, she replied, “There are people who are counting on me and who I am responsible for helping get through the primary, and I take that responsibility very seriously.”

News 8 asked each candidate why they felt they were the best choice for county clerk. Bell pointed to her track record as county recorder, noting the accolades she has received for delivering services for previously underserved Marion County residents. Breaux highlighted her lifetime of activism and public service in both state and county office.

The primary is on May 3 and early voting ends May 2. The winner of the Democratic primary for Marion County clerk will face Republican Andrew Harrison, who is unopposed in his party’s primary.