INDIANAPOLIS – The newly crafted House District 82 seat has attracted four Republican competitors to the open seat after decades of leadership by one lawmaker.
Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, served the district for 40 years but this year was drawn into another seat and decided not to seek re-election.
The new district serves all of Noble County as well as the northeast corner of Whitley County and the northwest corner of Allen County.
The two-year term comes with a base salary of $22,600 plus a per diem. Democrat Mike Wilber is unopposed in that partys primary.
The four candidates span the spectrum – Republican union member, non-profit worker, longtime elementary school principal and Web developer.
Denise Lemmon, 59, is a speech therapist but now runs a Noble County literacy program. She moved to the area after marrying her husband, who grew up on a local farm. She has been married 37 years and has four children.
The stars aligned, she said of her inaugural run for office. I have been very involved with volunteer projects throughout the community for years. This seemed like the next natural step for me to support and serve my community.
She said there is a lot of chatter in the district about education changes in the last two years. She said she hopes that as a legislator she can try to explain the positive side of the changes.
Lots of teacher friends are hesitant of merit pay. They are fabulous teachers, so I dont know what they are worried about, Lemmon said.
And she would support lifting the cap on state-funded vouchers to private schools.
She said she was surprised by the four-way competition for the race, which has included radio ads, lots of yard signs, mailers and tons of social media blasts.
While Lemmon is on board for education changes, opponent Mike Caywood, 66, said he thinks vouchers and charter schools are taking funding away from traditional public schools. Caywood is in his 29th year as an elementary school principal in Fort Wayne.
Im just very frustrated as an educator with some of the things that happened in the state legislature in relationship with public schools and public education, he said. I decided you have to stop complaining about it or step up to the plate.
He said many of these educational changes are part of a national movement and thinks some members vote for them just because they are told to by party leadership.
I dont think they understand the negative impact it is having in the classroom, Caywood said. I am in the thick of it.
He served in Vietnam before settling into education and has been married 46 years in June and has four children.
While he disagrees with changes Republicans have made to public education, he thinks the economy and job climate are moving in the right direction for Indiana, including making it a right-to-work state.
David Ober, 25, is the youngest of those running for the seat – which is a primary reason to run.
Being a young person, I feel we are underrepresented at all levels of government and yet we have all this debt being pushed down on our shoulders. Its tough out there for young folks. We need to get involved, he said.
He ran for Noble County Council in 2010 but lost to the county sheriff, saying he learned a lot from the process.
Ober, who is single, has a degree in computer graphics technology and is a Web developer for a local business.
He said there is a lot to be done in K-12 education, including giving parents a sales tax holiday for school supplies, mandatory electronics, clothing and books.
And Ober thinks the school funding formula isnt fair to rural schools. There is a lot of opportunity to make things more equitable.
He supports the recent movement by the GOP legislature to cut the corporate tax and phase out the inheritance tax. But he wishes replacement revenue – or equivalent cuts – were found rather than just banking on growth in the economy.
The final candidate for the GOP nomination is 61-year-old Wesley Ortell, who moved to northeast Indiana in 2003. A semiretired heavy-equipment operator, Ortell is a Republican union member.
I know its different, he concedes. Im open to what needs to be done – whether Democrat or Republican – to help the working person.
Ortell said he is running partly because he has the time to give to the office.
His primary campaign item is to educate Hoosier students at an earlier age; Indiana doesnt pay for preschool. And he wants to make sure there is a good vocational education program in the state.
To pay for these things, he said, he would rather the Hoosier Lottery profits go to education than excise tax cuts.