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Commentary: A Shocking Discovery In Indian Hill - A Whole Lot Of Democrats

hyland mcfarlin
Marilyn Hyland, president of the Indian Hill Democratic Club, and Gwen McFarlin, chair of the Hamilton County Democratic Party.

For someone like me, who has been covering politics in the Cincinnati area for nearly 40 years, I had something that was very much like an out-of-body experience at the historic Little Red School House in Indian Hill on Sunday.

I walked in the former one-room schoolhouse on Givens Road, now a community gathering place, on a sunny, pleasant afternoon, when people could be out riding bikes, chasing golf balls, or just walking along the tree-shaded roads of Hamilton County's wealthiest suburb.

Instead, they were busy filling up the seats at the schoolhouse, nibbling on the cheese and crackers, sipping wine and chatting with each other and a small army of candidates in the March 17 primary who had descended upon Givens Road.

Democratic candidates. In Indian Hill of all places. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Not all of the wine-sippers and cheese munchers were from Indian Hill, though.

Marilyn Hyland, president of the Indian Hill Democratic Club, had invited people from other Democratic clubs from areas you do not immediately associate with Democratic politics – Madeira, Terrace Park, Sycamore Township, and a Mariemont-Fairfax-Columbia Township club.

I had been invited to speak briefly to the group and give them an overview of the upcoming Ohio primary, both at the presidential and local levels.

I get a lot of invitations from political organizations, Democratic and Republican, to speak; and I do my best to oblige as many as I can. The invitations come rolling in just before and just after a major election. Nobody wants to hear from me in, say, July – which is OK by me, because I miss fewer Reds games that way.

Hyland, who was a Democratic candidate for county commissioner in 1998, had me scheduled to speak early in the program. The candidates – 14 of them in all – were lined up in chairs behind me, patiently waiting to get their three minutes.

I was privileged – I was allotted 10 minutes. But when I got up there and saw that many candidates and that many people in the audience, I decided to scrap the talk I had planned to give and riff off the top of my head.

I have been covering politics in this county since 1982, I said, which is something like a life sentence without the possibility of parole. (That got a good laugh, always a good way to start a public speaking gig.)

If I had come out here, say, 20 years ago – maybe even 10, there would have been about 10 to 12 people in this audience; and about half as many candidates lined up behind me, I said.

Half as many candidates, I said, because back in those days, the Hamilton County Democratic Party found it nearly impossible to find candidates to run for all of the positions on the ballot.

It was too hard; not many people were willing to run for a judgeship or a state legislative seat, just so they could get beaten like a rented mule by a Republican incumbent in the fall.

In those days, the two parties actually made deals – We won't run anybody against your judge if you don't run anybody against ours.

This happened at a time when both parties were trying desperately to keep African-Americans on the bench.

Now, that is no longer a problem. Blacks can run against whites and win. Blacks routinely run against each other – even in Democratic primaries.

Democratic voters can go to a primary election like the one which will be held in Ohio on March 17 and actually have choices to make.

Hyland told me that when she first ran for a precinct executive position in the Democratic Party in 2005, there were only about 400 people in the 19 square miles of Indian Hill who identified as Democrats.

There are nearly 1,000 today.

Not bad for a place where the median household income was $215,679 in 2017, as opposed to $52,407 throughout Ohio.

"When I ran for precinct executive the first time, you needed six Democrats in the precinct to qualify,'' Hyland said. "We had five in my family and friends. We had a sixth, but it turns out she was out of town on Election Day, so we came up one short."

That has not been a problem in recent years, Hyland said.

As surprised as I was by the turnout Sunday, Gwen McFarlin, a former Springfield Township trustee who is now chair of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, seemed just as surprised – pleasantly so.

"People don't realize that, even in places like Indian Hill, we have support for our candidates,'' McFarland told me. "We don't give away any part of this county to the Republicans. And we are not interested in making deals anymore.

"We're on the move,'' McFarlin said. "Even in Indian Hill."

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Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.