At Ellettsville’s town hall on Saturday morning, about 60 people gathered to elect Taylor Bryant as the new chair of Monroe County’s Republican Party.
She had declared her candidacy earlier in the week in a Facebook post.
Saturday’s voice vote by the party’s precinct committeemen and committeewomen was not controversial. It’s not a dramatic change in party leadership. Her election just elevated Bryant from party vice chair to chair.
And Bryant’s first appointment, to fill her vacant vice chair spot, was a familiar face—William Ellis, who up to now has served as party chair. Saturday’s news could be fairly described as a simple swap in the roles of Ellis and Bryant.
What has some area Republicans thinking Bryant’s chairship could attract the attention of media statewide, or even on the national level, is the fact that the eighteen-year-old is now the youngest county chair for the Republican Party in the state of Indiana, possibly the country.
Daniel Elliot, who’s the GOP chair for Morgan County, which is Monroe County’s neighbor to the north, told The B Square the second-youngest county GOP chair for Indiana is Miami County’s Matthew Jelenek, at 25. Elliot was on hand Saturday morning to wish Bryant well.
Ellis compared the past Monroe County Republican Party to a dilapidated automobile that had now been restored for a new driver. “It was like a car with no wheels, and weeds growing out of the engine,” Ellis said.
Ellis continued, “Well, I’ve got wheels on the car, and got the weeds out of the engine. We cranked it over a couple times and it started.”
Elliss concluded, “But Taylor is the one that’s going to take it around the block. Taylor is the one that is going to drive this past the finish line.”
Bryant said on Saturday her goal for the 2022 election year is to gain one seat in Monroe County government. Currently, the only Republican who serves as an elected official in Monroe County government is Marty Hawk. She will be seeking re-election to her District 3 county council seat in 2022. Hawk attended Saturday’s caucus.
Bryant told The B Square there won’t be a full slate of candidates for local county offices up for election in 2022—but it will be more than just an effort to retain Hawk’s seat.
Bryant added, “I don’t seek out people just to put on the ballot—because I would like the people who run to actually be involved and ready for what they have ahead of them.”
Bryant elaborated: “It is such a difficult thing running as a Republican in Monroe County.” In the 2020 presidential race, the Monroe County breakdown was about 63 percent for Democrat Joe Biden, compared to 35 percent for Republican Donald Trump.
Bryant added, “I’m cool with a handful of dedicated people that we run.” The earliest date when a candidate for any race can file a declaration is Jan. 5.
The only hiccup in the proceedings on Saturday came when Charles Trzcinka, who’s an Indiana University professor of finance the school of business and College Republicans faculty advisor, asked if there would be any discussion about Bryant’s election as chair. No, was Ellis’s answer, because no one stood in opposition to Bryant.
Still, Trzcinka took the opportunity to weigh in, saying that as an Indiana University student, Bryant would face pressure from the university in connection with conservative views. “Anyone who’s a student at IU is going to be under pressure.”
Trzcinka continued, “If you take positions that in any way undermine [the university’s position] especially on the diversity issue—but there’s a bunch of other things—you are going to be hurt by IU.”
Trzcinka alluded to an op-ed he’d written, which was published by the Herald-Times in September, on the difference between “equality” and “equity.” The university would not fire him because of the op-ed, he said, because he has tenure and a named chair—it’s the James and Virginia Cozad Chair of Finance. But there are people who will no longer talk to him because of the op-ed, he said.
For Bryant, it could be a different story, Trzcinka cautioned. “What’s going to happen is you’ll have trouble with your grades, you’ll have trouble with your faculty, you’ll have trouble with your career by doing this.” He added, “You’re taking a risk by doing this, please understand.” The risk to Bryant is also a risk to the party, he said.
Countering Trzcinka was Kenny Bryant, who serves on the Washington Township board as its president, and is also Taylor Bryant’s father: “We’re not here to not support the young lady.” Kenny Bryant added, “I don’t care what you think—you’re one person.”
Later during the gathering Kenny Bryant said, “My thought process is: Don’t complain about stuff unless you’re willing to do something about it. And that’s what we’ve got here—you’ve got a young lady who is stepping up, tired of seeing what’s going on with Monroe County, and she’s willing to do something about it.”
Kenny Bryant added, “We can all choose to get behind her and help this thing grow. Or we can sit and say: Oh, she’s 18. We can make this excuse, we make that excuse. I don’t care who the leader is. We’ve got to grow this party. We’ve got to take our county back.”
Taylor Bryant addressed the question of pressure she might experience as an Indiana University student by saying, “Going to IU was a risk.”
She added, “I actually faced more political discrimination at Bloomington High School North than I have at Indiana University.”
Brant described how she was the president of the Bloomington High School Republicans for four years and heard stories from students about liberal bias by their English teacher, or their science teacher. So far she has not heard stories from other students about their economics professor or their public policy professor at IU.
The advantage to the party, Bryant said, was that with her as party chair, it gave Republicans “boots on the ground” of the IU campus, so that they would have first-hand reports of what’s happening there.
Bryant is enrolled as a freshman at IU studying public policy, and describes herself on a pre-law track. On Saturday, she told the gathering that she does not automatically tell her professors about her involvement with the Republican Party. She described the three professors she has told as interested in a conversation.
Makenzie Binford, who is political director of the Monroe County Republican Party and also an IU student, shared her perspective on IU as liberal bastion. “There’s actually a pretty large conservative community within IU,” Binford said.
Binford told Saturday’s gathering that she’s from around the Carmel area. When she arrived at IU, Binford said, “I was like: Wow, I’m in heaven—there’s actually Republicans here!”
In her remarks to the group on Saturday, Taylor Bryant talked about her early involvement in politics, working on Paul White’s 2016 campaign for county commissioner. In that countywide race, Democrat Amanda Barge prevailed on about a 60-40 margin.
White, who attend Saturday’s caucus, recalled that Bryant had asked him to work on his 2016 election day campaign. He had one question for Bryant about that: Why?
Bryant told White that in 2016, “You gave me an excuse to be up all day watching everything happen in real time!”
White responded, “We need to reverberate that to more youngsters. Because for me in my campaign, that was absolutely fantastic.”
Bryant replied, “I would love for every 13-year-old-person who thinks they’re a Republican to do that, because it changes everything, canvassing outside the polls on election day.”
At least a couple of other candidates for higher office attended Saturday’s caucus.
Dave Hall is contesting the race for District 62 state representative. Hall is the owner of Dave Hall Crop Insurance. He serves on the Jackson County council as an at-large member. For the Democrats, Penny Githens has declared herself a candidate for the District 62 spot.
Also attending Saturday’s caucus was Diego Morales, who has declared himself as a candidate for Indiana secretary of state. Morales was a senior advisor to Mike Pence when Pence was governor.
Responding to a question from The B Square about his connection to Pence, Morales described a piece of nuts-and-bolts campaign advice that Pence had given him. When you go on the campaign trail, and you attend Lincoln Day dinners, or Christmas dinners, or any place where there’s a buffet line, go to the start of the line, just stand there, and hand out the plates. That’s what Pence had done when he campaigned for his congressional seat, for governor, and when for vice president.
It’s the best idea anyone has given him, Morales said.
Photos: Monroe County Republican Party caucus (Dec. 18, 2021)