The Republican incumbent’s pragmatic approach to state policy earns him the nod in Indiana House District 79, while voters in a newly configured District 82 will be best served by a Democratic candidate with a rich education background and strong community roots.
House District 79
Rep. Matt Lehman is seeking his third term, quietly building expertise in several key areas. Owner of Bixler Insurance in Berne, he is chairman of the insurance committee and also serves on the courts and criminal code, government and regulatory reform, and public policy committees.
A former county councilman, he’s much in tune with local government needs. When rural residents complained that amended legislation regulating golf cart use on public streets eliminated a county’s authority to extend use to unincorporated areas, Lehman sponsored the House version of a bill that remedied the problem. He’s worked on another important fix, as well: A rushed and poorly conceived law that allows a charter school to make a claim on any public school building for as long as four years after a public school is closed.
Lehman also authored bills addressing telecommunications and septic tank issues – the sort of bills that attract little attention but address real problems for some constituents.
His counsel on proposed criminal code revision is invaluable.
We want to imprison people we’re afraid of, not the people we’re mad at, he said, noting the need to exercise caution with regard to violent sexual offenders. We seriously have to look at the length of sentencing.
Lehman’s challenger, Democrat Mike Snyder, is a local union president at Bunge North America, the former Central Soya plant in Decatur. He has impressive experience lobbying at both the state and federal levels and a stronger grasp of issues facing Indiana than most legislative challengers. He is critical of the school-choice measures approved by the legislature and calls for more accountability by state government, citing budget errors and the failed privatization contract at the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.
Lehman’s local government experience and record as an incumbent, however, make him the better choice for district voters.
District 79 includes all of Adams County, plus Marion, Madison and half of Pleasant Township in Allen County and four townships in northern Wells County.
House District 82
Democrat Mike Wilber is a solid choice in the new district, swapped from an area south of Fort Wayne to include all of Noble County, part of northwest Allen County and northeast Whitley County, including Churubusco. Small portions of Elkhart and LaGrange counties also are in the district.
A graduate of Northwest Allen County Schools and a resident of LaOtto, Wilber is the business agent and president of Sheet Metal Workers Local 20. A graduate of both Ivy Tech Community College and the National Labor College, he’s a former apprenticeship instructor and certified welding inspector.
While he opposed approval of a right-to-work law in the last session, Wilber said he became engaged in the political process when LaOtto Elementary School was closed by the East Noble School Corp.
It was a very efficient school. They wanted to save $30,000 by turning out the lights, Wilber said.
His own inquiry into how the district could keep the school open and an unsuccessful bid for the school board motivated him to seek the new legislative seat. He is critical of the state’s new voucher law and charter school expansion.
Wilber’s familiarity with the building trades and vocational programs would be an asset in discussions on education policy at the Statehouse. A volunteer firefighter, he’s also knowledgeable on the subject of township government.
The Republican challenger, David Ober, is a self-employed Web designer seeking his first elected office. He’s a graduate of Central Noble High School and Purdue University. His views reflect partisan talking points rather than informed opinions.