Early Thursday morning, Andrew Guenther filed the paperwork required to create an exploratory committee for a Bloomington city council run in 2023.
Guenther will be starting law school at Indiana University this fall. He holds an undergraduate degree from IU in public affairs, and is currently working on a masters degree.
Guenther is former chair of Bloomington’s environmental commission. He has also served on Monroe County’s environmental commission and Bloomington’s board of housing quality appeals.
In 2019 Guenther ran for the District 2 city council seat as a Republican, but lost in the general election to Democrat Sue Sgambelluri.
Compared to 2019, two things are different about a potential run next year. First, Guenther is considering a run as an independent candidate, unaffiliated with any political party. Guenther announced on Jan. 2, 2021 that he was no longer a member of the Republican Party.
A second difference is that Guenther would be a candidate for an at-large seat on the council.
The three at-large seats are elected citywide, which means candidate eligibility is based just on city residency. That removes from the equation any uncertainty related to the outcome of this year’s redistricting process—which will likely see some changes to the boundaries of the six council districts.
The current at-large councilmembers are: Susan Sandberg, Jim Sims, and Matt Flaherty.
In a news release sent shortly after he filed his paperwork, Guenther is quoted, saying that his decision to explore another run for city council was made “after long consultations with family and friends, as well as community members who have approached me to ask me to run.”
The quote continues, “Many local Democrats, Republicans, and independents have expressed disappointment to me in the current administration and council. I am running to represent all those disappointed in the direction Bloomington is going under our current leadership.”
Guenther’s party affiliation has been in the news from time to time in the last several months, because he filed a lawsuit two years ago over an appointment to the Bloomington plan commission—based on the commission’s partisan balancing requirement.
The Indiana court of appeals recently ruled in the case, overturning the lower court’s ruling in Guenther’s favor, which would have resulted in Guenther’s appointment to the plan commission instead of Chris Cockerham.
The key point of law in the case was whether state law requires that an appointee to a partisan-balanced commission, like a plan commission, has to have an affiliation with some party or other. Guenther sought to be appointed as a Republican to Bloomington’s plan commission—he was at the time a Republican.
Candidates who are unaffiliated with any party do not automatically qualify for the general election ballot under Indiana law. They have to collect enough signatures from voters who live in the jurisdiction they want to represent. Under Indiana election law, “enough” means 2 percent of the voters in the jurisdiction who cast a ballot in the most recent election for the secretary of state.
The secretary of state is up for election this year. So the exact number of signatures that Guenther would need to collect to qualify for the ballot won’t be known until after Nov. 8.
But it will probably be in the ballpark of 500 signatures that Guenther needs to get—based on 2018 election turnout. In 2018, Bloomington voters cast 26,052 ballots in the secretary of state’s race. Two percent of that is 521.04, which is 522, after rounding up.
No unaffiliated candidate has ever served on the Bloomington city council. District 3 voters nearly put one in office in 2019, when Nick Kappas came within 23 votes of winning the general election. In the three-way race, between Democrat Ron Smith and two independents, Kappas and Marty Spechler, here’s the breakdown: Smith received 448 votes (46.3 percent), Kappas 425 votes (43.9 percent), and Spechler 95 votes (9.8 percent).
At-large independent candidates for city council do not face the same kind of straight-ticket disadvantage that district independent candidates do. That’s because under Indiana election law, straight-ticket votes don’t apply to races like at-large city council seats, where voters choose up to three candidates. Under Indiana law, voters have to make separate choices for each of the three at-large candidates.
Guenther won’t be able to file a declaration of candidacy for an at-large city council seat until early January 2023.
But he probably won’t have to wait that long to start collecting signatures. According to Matthew Kochevar, who serves as co-general counsel at the Indiana Election Division, the only requirement is that the signatures be collected on the correct form. That form has not yet been published.
But the proper form could be released as soon as September.
Responding to an emailed question from The B Square, Kochevar put it like this: “A person can begin circulating the petition form [CAN-44] just as soon as it is available from the Indiana Election Division, who is responsible under law for creating and updating this form.”
Kochevar added, “I don’t have an ETA at this time when the form will be available. In the past the form has been updated for the next municipal [election] around Labor Day the year before the municipal election year.”