Kokomo — The Kokomo Tea Party had its first election showing since forming just more than a year ago, but the bigger story Tuesday was the shocking upset of longtime Howard County Councilman Jim Papacek.
Considered a chief ally of Council President Dick Miller, Papacek lost to political newcomer John Roberts, an Indian Heights resident, who took 52 percent of the vote.
Tuesday, Roberts showed up at Howard County Republican headquarters after 8:30 p.m. with his family, after all but a few party stalwarts had gone home for the evening.
Papacek, on the other hand, was at headquarters earlier in the evening, surrounded by party faithful as the votes were read.
“I thought it was really strange ... Jim not getting re-elected, with all the experience he has on the county council. It will be really hard to replace him with someone who really hasn’t been a part of the Republican party,” former Howard County Commissioner Brad Bagwell said Wednesday.
Roberts said he was “surprised” by Tuesday’s result, but attributed it in part to hard work.
At the same time, Roberts said there is a certain level of voter dissatisfaction.
“A lot of people were angry, and they wanted to mix things up,” Roberts said. “They’re upset they’re being overtaxed. It’s their wallets talking.”
Roberts stopped short of saying the dissatisfaction was with county government.
“I wouldn’t say so much county government; they want to get some fresh vision in there,” he said.
One area where Roberts hasn’t been in step with current county leadership is on annexation.
Roberts has consistently supported Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight’s decision to annex the Heights, even as county leaders have opposed every aspect of the annexation plan.
County Councilman Paul Wyman said he welcomed both Roberts and former County Councilman Dwight Singer onto the Republican ballot in November. Singer, who lost to Dave Trine in a 2006 county commissioner race, seeks to return to a seat he vacated four years ago.
“I think it’s positive,” Wyman said of the election outcome. “Dwight’s got a lot of experience on the council; he understands the current economic conditions we’re in. And Roberts is new to the scene, but he seems to have a lot of ideas.”
Councilman Stan Ortman said he wasn’t sure why Roberts won.
“If I’m just going to take a wild guess, people are just unhappy with the status quo, but they don’t know what they want. ... All they do is complain about what’s happened and run it down, but they don’t present a viable alternative,” Ortman said.
Tea party effect?
The Kokomo Tea Party had its first election since forming last April, but one local organizer said the party’s power won’t truly be felt until November.
State Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-South Bend, has become a clear Tea Party favorite, and easily bested opponent Jack Jordan in the Indiana 2nd District congressional GOP primary.
But in other GOP races, particularly in the 5th District congressional race and in the U.S. Senate race, the party’s impact was harder to gauge.
Kokomo Tea Party central committee member Matt Turner said the local party decided against endorsing specific candidates this primary. The local party formed a political action committee last year, but Turner said it’s mainly being used to defray the cost of rallies.
Turner said he personally would have liked to have seen someone “other than [incumbents Dan Burton and Dan Coats] win” but added he felt both are solid conservatives.
“What happened [Tuesday] was what I was afraid would happen, but I’m not too upset,” Turner said. “However, I was concerned there were so many other decent candidates in it.”
Dunn noted that 3,300 more Republicans voted in this primary than in the 2006 primary, saying the Tea Party was partly responsible for bringing Republicans out for this primary. Dunn also said the lack of contested Democratic races may have played a role.
In the final analysis, however, the Tea Partiers votes’ may have been dispersed among numerous candidates who didn’t win.
“Coats was not a real darling of the Tea Party, and if you add up all of the [votes for other GOP candidates] in that race, you realize what a potential impact the Tea Party could have had,” Dunn said.
• Scott Smith is a Kokomo Tribune staff writer. He may be reached at 765-454-8569 or via e-mail at email@example.com