Teachers, commissioners take aim at legislative incumbents
Monday, March 17, 2014 8:42 AM
By BRIAN A. HOWEY
INDIANAPOLIS – The teachers are challenging in the House. The county commissioners are doing the same in the Senate.
Looking for trends heading into the November general election, 12 teachers, principals and school board members are seeking Democratic nominations in the House, with rematches coming in four districts: HD16 where Rensselaer School Board member Richard Ludington is challenging State Rep. Douglas Gutwein; HD35 where Melanie Wright came very close to upsetting State Rep. Jack Lutz; in HD46 where James Mann will face State Rep. Bob Heaton, and in HD62 where Democrat Jeff Sparks narrowly lost to State Rep. Matt Ubelhor.
In two other seats, HD21 where State Rep. Timothy Wesco is facing Democrat Jodi Buoscio and in HD29 where State Rep. Kathy Kreag Richardson is facing Joe Marcum, the Republicans ran unopposed in 2012. In HD28, State Rep. Jeffrey Thompson had no Democratic opponent in 2012, easily defeated a Libertarian candidate by more than 18,000 votes, and will face Sean Shanley this time around.
Another race has the potential for being close. In HD4, State Rep. Ed Soliday narrowly defeated Democrat Gregory Simms 14,971 to 14,010 two years ago, and he now faces Democrat Deb Porter, a Valparaiso educator who lost to State Sen. Ed Charbonneau 30,039 to 24,766 in 2012.
The education community is still intrigued by Democrat Supt. Glenda Ritz’s upset of Republican incumbent Tony Bennett in 2012. Many of these teachers gathered recently to discuss campaign tactics that will rely heavily on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, keys to the Ritz upset. Wright posted on her Facebook page, “Please spread the word among your teacher friends so that we may gain momentum as Supt. Glenda Ritz demonstrated in 2102. We would all be appreciative of any volunteers and financial support for our campaigns to spread the message.”
“We had a few who ran in 2012 and just didn’t quite make it over the line,” said Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody. “Democrats look to teachers who are on the ground, and know how to get things done. They are members of their community.”
It’s tough to repeat election dynamics from one cycle to the next. Republican candidates are very aware of the keys to Ritz’s upset and many of these campaigns will evolve into the social media world this year.
With no presidential, gubernatorial or U.S. Senate races, these legislative races will be isolated and will be driven by state issues within a local context. Many of these races won’t take a definitive shape until mid to late October. Zody said the teacher candidates will focus on the controversial education reforms of the Daniels/Bennett era, as well as “creating opportunities to grow the middle class while staying away from divisive social issues. Democrats need to talk about what we’re for.”
Ritz won in 2012 by attracting Republicans not on board with the Bennett reforms, female voters and independents. In 2012, there were a number of political cross currents in Indiana. President Obama won reelection, but was unpopular in Indiana with Republican Mitt Romney carrying 56%. But Gov. Mike Pence won with only 49% and Democrats Ritz and U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly won, capitalizing on controversial rape/abortion comments made by Senate nominee Richard Mourdock.
Democrats will seek to exploit the controversies surrounding HJR-3, but they will lack a united driving force that a statewide campaign brings. A drag on the ticket could be President Obama’s unpopularity in his second mid-term election, as well as that of Obamacare, which is extremely unpopular in many of these rural districts.
Multiple sources tell HPI that Peter Hanscom, wrapping up business with Indiana Freedom, will oversee the House Democratic campaigns.
Gov. Pence could also be a factor. He campaigned ardently on behalf of House GOP candidates in 2010, helping forge a 60% majority. In 2012, he ran well behind many House Republicans. His message this fall on behalf of House Republicans will be one of stay the course on reforms, while heralding his regional work councils, where TV ads are being developed to promote that program that passed in 2013 with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Here are the House races with Democratic teacher candidates that are potentially competitive:
HD4 Porter vs. Rep. Soliday: Democrat Deb Porter is challenging Rep. Soliday. She is a career elementary music teacher and president of the Portage association of teachers. She has been a delegate to the National Education Association convention. “A strong, fully-funded public education pre-K through age 21 is necessary for our students to be prepared for their future,” she said. “We need public schools that help every student achieve his or her potential and have the necessary background knowledge to apply skills to be successful.” Soliday’s narrow victory in 2012 in his newly redrawn district will make this race worth watching.
HD21 Buoscio vs. Rep. Wesco: Jodi Buoscio is challenging State Rep. Timothy Wesco, who ran unopposed in 2012. Buoscio a teacher at Elkhart Memorial High School and is on the ISTA board of directors while chairing the ISTA District Council 1E. “I have been working since age 14, through high school and college, and I know what it means to live within a tight budget,” Buoscio explains. “I believe that if you work 40 hours a week you should be able to afford housing, food, healthcare and save for your children’s education.” Her campaign is drawing help from former Democratic State Rep. Bruce Carter. She was critical of Wesco’s efforts on behalf of HJR-3, the constitutional marriage amendment. “ I believe at a time when our families continue to struggle to live with smaller paychecks or find jobs, and schools are having to beg for funds to fix roofs, HJR-3 is a clear example of misplaced priorities and limited vision which continues to plague our Statehouse,” she said.
HD35 Wright vs. Rep. Lutz: Rep. Lutz defeated Melanie Wright by less than 500 votes in 2012. Wright, a teacher at Daleville Junior High School, was recruited by State Rep. Terri Austin. She decided to get involved in politics when House Republicans cut $300 million out of public education in 2011. Indiana Democratic Chairman Zody cited the Wright/Lutz rematch as well as defending State Rep. Christina Hale in Indianapolis as top priorities. “I had never considered running for public office until the legislative session of 2011,” Wright said on her Facebook page. “Once collective bargaining was eliminated and teacher pay was tied to student test scores, I was determined to fight for my beloved profession. Adding to the turmoil was a commercial stating that a veteran teacher was preventing those teachers who were the ‘best and brightest’ from staying in the classroom due to seniority. The veteran teacher was depicted by a woman who appeared to be in her early 30s! That session lit a fire in me to fight for education!”
HD33 Byrum vs. Rep. Beumer: Democrat Shon Byrum will face State Rep. Greg Beumer, who was chosen by caucus late last year to replace State Rep. Bill Davis. Davis defeated Charles Schemenauer 14,669 to 10,726. So while this isn’t exactly an open seat, Beumer is new to the ballot in the district. Byrum is a social studies teacher in Jay County and announced his candidacy the same day that Rep. Davis resigned. “The issues do not change, regardless of my opponent,” Byrum said on his website. “The people of District 33 desperately need a leader to stand for them in the General Assembly. From upholding the value of the people’s vote on how we educate our students, to creating jobs and communities that our children will want to be a part of and contribute to, we must educate ourselves on the issues and hold our elected officials accountable. When the per capita income for Hoosiers is lower than the national average and half of Hoosier children under nine are in poverty, we can do better.” Rep. Beumer, R-Modoc, served two consecutive terms as a Randolph County commissioner. From 2001-2004, he served as the Region 8 director for the former Indiana Department of Commerce, which consisted of six counties in east central Indiana. He has also served as the director of community development for the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) and as the executive director of the Randolph County Economic Development Corporation.
HD46 Mann vs. Rep. Heaton: Rep. Bob Heaton defeated Democrat James Mann, a South Vigo High School government teacher, 14,630 to 10,771 in 2012, so this is a rematch. Mann has been critical of the fast pace of government reforms. “We need a pause,” he told StateImpact in 2012. “You have to evaluate. Some programs may be good. Some programs aren’t so good,” says Mann, a social studies teacher at Terre Haute South Vigo High School. “You need to reevaluate every step of the way.” Heaton was elected in 2010, upsetting State Rep. Vern Tincher. The former Indiana State basketball star is president of a financial services company in Terre Haute.
HD62 Sparks vs. Rep. Ubelhor: This is the rematch between Democrat Jeff Sparks, the principal at Linton-Stockton Junion High School, and State Rep. Matt Ubelhor. In 2012, Ubelhor defeated Sparks 13,993 to 12,477, so this race has the potential to be competitive. “In public education, teachers and schools need to have some of the respect and honor they deserve restored, rather than all this constant criticism,” Sparks told the Greene County Daily World. “I would like to see public schools refunded the way they ought to be, and the respect returned to public schools that they so richly deserve.” If elected, Sparks told the Daily World he wants to enact the teacher’s bill of rights, an overview of the specific abilities and rights educators have which will enable them to do work more effectively. “It’s more about giving teachers the tools they need to do the best job they can,” he said, adding he’s seen teachers spending an increasing amount of time doing paperwork imposed by the state. “They’re spending less time on teaching,” he said, adding that the state’s pattern of imposing unfunded mandates while increasing requirements poses problems. He’s watched a steady stream of experienced teachers leave the profession. “A lot of good teachers are leaving in the next year,” he said, “and at this point, I don’t think you’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg if things don’t turn around.”
HD68 Gill vs. McMillin: Democrat Rick Gill is challenging State Rep. Jud McMillin. Gill is a retired Indiana State Police trooper, a former Franklin County coroner, and is on the local school board. McMillin was reelected over Democrat Jerome Hoog 19,068 to 8,943 in 2012. McMillin resigned from the Lawrenceburg Regional Grant Committee last December. That committee is being investigated by the FBI. An Indianapolis Star investigation in May found that millions of dollars have been wasted on risky startup companies, many of them with ties to government officials. The FBI has confirmed it has launched a criminal investigation, but has not named a target. McMillin told the Indianapolis Star he resigned to spend more time with his infant child. “Over the past half year to 18 months, I have been reading a lot in the papers about a guy who’s in the seat in the 68th District,” Gill said. “I was upset and thought instead of complaining and complaining about it, why not just go out and try to run for the district.” Gill opposes vouchers, saying, “Last year we had 5,000 vouchers. This year there were 72,000, taking away funds from the public schools. Being on the school board, I see that the public school system needs all the money it can get to sustain what it has and go forward in the future.
Here are the other races where educators are challenging Republican incumbents.
HD16 Ludington vs. Rep. Gutwein: Rich Ludington is a seven-year member of the Rensselaer School Board and is in a rematch State Rep. Douglas Gutwein. Gutwein defeated Ludington 14,409 to 10,029 in 2012.
HD60 Brodhacker vs. Rep. Mayfield: Rep. Peggy Mayfield defeated State Rep. Peggy Welch 15,254 to 12,886 in a redrawn district that became distinctly more Republican. Democrat Daymon Brodhacker is a former Morgan County Democratic chairman. “My campaign slogan is: “Brodhacker: He’s for Indiana...He’s for You!” he explained. “I have chosen this slogan because I stand in support of an Indiana government that serves the essential needs of all Hoosiers and not just the needs of special interest groups and big money donors who have bought and are buying Indiana. I stand in support of an Indiana government that is for the prosperity of all Hoosiers.”
HD70 Sellers vs. Rep. Rhoades: Heidi Sellers is a Memphis Democrat who is challenging Rep. Rhonda Rhoades. In 2012, Rhodes defeated Democrat Terry Miller 16,866 to 12,828. There was little information on the web about Sellers.
HD72 Bailey vs. Rep. Clere: Democrat Kevin Sue Bailey is challenging State Rep. Ed Clere. Bailey is an English professor at Indiana University Southeast who previously taught at Floyd Central High School. She is seeking her first elected office in her challenge to Clere, who won reelection in 2012 by defeating Democrat Sharon Grabowski 16,177 to 13,557. “I think it finally became a moral imperative to run because I believe the dismantling of public education has gone too far,” Bailey told the News& Tribune when she filed. She disagrees with efforts backed by Gov. Mike Pence to move some of the powers of the Indiana Board of Education to the governor’s control. “It’s a strange stance for a Republican governor to want to make government bigger,” Bailey said. This district is trending Republican; Clere won it in 2008 when he upset State Rep. Bill Cochran. Clere has stood out from many House Republicans. The chairman of the House Public Health Committee has questioned the state not accepting federal Medicaid funding. He also opposed the constitutional marriage amendment in 2011 and 2014.
HD84 Haigh vs. Rep. Morris or Barranda: Democrat Fred Haigh will take on the winner of the Republican primary where State Rep. Robert Morris is facing Fort Wayne attorney Michael Barranda. In 2012, Morris defeated Democrat Lee Jordan 18,193 to 10,693, with Libertarian James Hanson getting 1,379. Haigh has served as an educator in public and private schools, a financial planner and adjunct faculty member to Manchester University and Ball State University. “I am passionate about our community and the future of education in Indiana,” Haigh said. “Throughout my career I have seen Fort Wayne grow and have been an advocate for the revitalization of our downtown. But I strongly believe that the 84th House District has not been represented fairly, wisely, or with an open mind. We need a new representative who will focus on area jobs, economic growth, and middle-class values, not someone who is focused on distracting social issues.”
Commissioners for Senate
The fight over the business personal property tax came after at least four county commissioners had announced their intentions to seek Indiana Senate seats. But the fight over local options and state replacement money could play into their hands. A number of county councils, commissioners and the Association of Indiana Counties pressed Gov. Mike Pence and legislative leaders to provide state replacement revenues on the tax repeal. While the current legislation will only impact local governments by about $6 million in 2015, muncipal officials view this as a “slippery slope” that could impact local governments in the future.
In SD45, former Jefferson County Commissioner Julie Berry will attempt to unseat first-term Indiana state Sen. Jim Smith. Berry, is a Democrat who served three terms as the first female Jefferson County commissioner. “I have been approached by Republicans, Democrats and Independents throughout southeastern Indiana asking me to consider running for this position,” Berry told the Madison Courier. “I have decided to go forward based on these conversations and bring with me the experience gained from serving locally and statewide. I will bring my perspective as a mother, a local government official and a private sector business person to Indianapolis to represent the majority views of southeastern Indiana,” she said in the news release.” Smith won his first term in 2010 when he upset longtime Democratic State Sen. Jim Lewis 22,299 to 20,494. The district was not substantially changed during the 2011 reapportionment.
In SD46, Republican State Sen. Ron Grooms faces a rematch from Floyd County Commissioner Chuck Freiberger, who lost 21,019 to 18,965. Both candidates were within 1,100 votes of each other in both Floyd and Clark counties. Freiberger is a Floyd County teacher and will make education funding a key issue.
In SD48, Democratic DuBois County Commissioner Larry Vollmer will face State Rep. Mark Messmer in the open seat being vacated by State Sen. Lindel Hume. The district is considered competitive with both Ritz and Donnelly winning in 2012. Hume ran unopposed in 2010.
Of these three southern Indiana Senate seats, while two are held by Republican incumbents, there is still Democratic strength in local and county elections.
Up north in the SD6 open seat being vacated by State Sen. Sue Landske, former Newton County Commissioner Roxanna Hanford is running, facing Lon P. Childress in the Democratic primary. Hanford served two separate terms as a Newton County commissioner, from 1999-2002 and 2007-2010, focusing on economic development, child protection and drug prevention. She was elected County Commissioner of the Year in 2009 by the Indiana Association of County Commissioners and was similarly honored by her fellow commissioners. “I truly love working for the people,” Hanford said, “which is why I want to go to Indianapolis and give the people of District 6 a voice at the Statehouse. We face great challenges as a state, particularly as it relates to our children and their futures. I’ll protect our children by ensuring they have every chance to succeed, and I’ll fight for our families by expanding educational and economic opportunities so they can share in the economic prosperity that too often eludes them.” Landske won SD6 with 67% of the vote in 2010, so this district is very Republican. State Rep. Rick Niemeyer faces Chris Shepard in the Republican primary. Niemeyer won his HD11 seat with 61% in 2012.
SD39: Economic group endorses Bassler
A key education group has endorsed Eric Bassler for SD39 in his race against State Sen. John Waterman. “At Hoosiers for Economic Growth, we are optimistic that Indiana can be a leader in the competitive national and international economies if we continue to develop a first-rate education system and a skilled workforce,” said Fred Klipsch, who chairs Hoosiers for Economic Growth. “In furtherance of this mission, we support public policies designed to promote economic growth, competitiveness, and a highly-prepared workforce. We believe ensuring high quality K-12 education opportunities for all Indiana students should be a top priority for our state. Thank you for your support of this mission and for your strong stance in favor of educational polices that provide all Hoosier families with a quality education regardless of their family income, zip code or any other circumstance.” Bassler is a Washington city councilman.
SD43: Chamber endorses Perfect
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce announced today its endorsement of Chip Perfect (R-Lawrenceburg) for the Republican primary election to the Indiana Senate, District 43. “Chip Perfect is a Hoosier small business success story and will bring a positive, get-things-done approach to the Indiana Senate,” explains Jeff Brantley, vice president of political affairs for the Indiana Chamber. “As a small business owner, Chip knows what it means to build and motivate a team, provide first-rate customer service and create jobs and economic growth in Indiana.”
Said Perfect, “I agree with the Chamber that free enterprise, reducing excessive regulations and a having topnotch education system are all critically important to Hoosier prosperity.”
A self-described “serial entrepreneur,” Perfect is the owner/operator of Perfect North Slopes in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, as well as several other small businesses in the area. Perfect is running for the open Senate District 43 seat currently held by Sen. Johnny Nugent (R-Lawrenceburg), who is retiring this year and has endorsed Chip Perfect as his replacement.