November 14, 2023 at 10:25 a.m.

Brian Howey: The Beauty of Democracy: Concessions of Vanquished

By Brian Howey

Across the Hoosier prairies, hills and hollers, as the cornfields morphed into city limits and neighborhoods, something beautiful occurred Tuesday night.

There were elections in more than 100 cities and towns.

There were some 250 or so candidates for mayor from the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties, as well as some independents and write-ins. More than half of them lost.

And in nearly all the races that I’ve monitored, those candidates who came up short at the ballot box … conceded.

There were no charges of “rigged” or “stolen” elections. That’s because America’s election process worked. It did Tuesday with only a few hitches. Like it did in 2020 and 2016.

There is no sugar coating an election loss. It stings. Or as Adlai Stevenson acknowledged by quoting Abraham Lincoln after one of Stevenson’s two losses to Dwight Eisenhower, “He was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”

In Carmel, Democrat Councilman Miles Nelson lost to Republican Sue Finkam 57-42%. When he conceded two hours after the polls closed, Nelson said, “Because of you, we have moved the needle in this community. We showed this community that a choice is good. This community is going to continue to be a phenomenal place to live.”

There was a much closer race in Fort Wayne, where Democrat Mayor Tom Henry defeated Councilman Tom Didier by just 1,700 votes. It was a rematch from a city council race 20 years ago where the Republican won, launching Henry on a path that would bring him a record five consecutive mayoral wins in Indiana’s second-largest city.

About three hours after the polls closed, Didier called Henry to congratulate him on the win. Henry said that in turn he thanked Didier for a “spirited and professional” campaign. The two agreed to meet to discuss Didier’s ideas for the city.

“I worked tirelessly 16 hours every day working on this campaign for over two years,” Didier said. “I gave it my all. I have to accept it and move on.”

And then Didier turned up at Mayor Henry’s victory party, with WANE-TV capturing the moment where the vanquished Republican could be seen talking to the mayor’s wife, Cindy, offering his congratulations and shaking her hand.

In Evansville, a century after Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson rose up to lead a racist takeover of the state of Indiana, voters on Tuesday elected Stephanie Terry, the first Black woman, as mayor.

“Honestly, it’s surreal. I never believed an African American could really be in this position,” Terry told WFIE-TV after she declared victory on a 49%-40% win over Republican Natalie Rascher, while Libertarian Michael Daugherty received 11% of the vote.

“The fact is our city is ready to move forward; that this city really is for everyone and that we can be inclusive.”

Rascher told supporters, “It’s OK. It doesn’t matter what position you hold, to be a leader. And I know I will continue to be a leader in our community. I know all of these candidates over here will continue to be leaders in our community.”

Rascher told her supporters how important it is to lose gracefully. “My kids were sitting there,” she said. “I didn’t want them crying and upset. … You win some, you lose some.”

The late Kansas Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Dole said after he lost to President Bill Clinton, “Sure, losing an election hurts, but I’ve experienced worse. And at an age when every day is precious, brooding over what might have been is self-defeating.

“In conceding the 1996 election, I remarked that ‘tomorrow will be the first time in my life I don’t have anything to do.’ I was wrong. Seventy-two hours after conceding the election, I was swapping wisecracks with David Letterman on his late-night show.”

Across Indiana, the notion of “rigged” elections and the cruelty of social media has sent a shiver through the process. There were almost 40 uncontested mayoral races this year, including cities like Kokomo, Jeffersonville, Hammond and Elkhart. Many of these cities had had competitive mayoral races in recent cycles.

I’ve been covering politics for 40 years, and I cannot recall this many uncontested mayoral races in a cycle.

Mayor-elect Finkam noted in a social media post after her October debate with Nelson, in which she was asked to denounce the Moms for Liberty group, “This is why people don’t run for public office. I’ve been called a Nazi, racist and money-hungry whore, and followed by a person with a camera, since I would not bend to my opponent’s theatrics.”

Theatrics aside, Founding Father Thomas Jefferson once said, “We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”

President Lincoln once observed, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, the late president of the University of Notre Dame, observed, “Voting is a civic sacrament.”

** Brian Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.