The closed-door sessions to draw new legislative maps surprisingly placed a respected and powerful 40-year lawmaker in the same district as a less-experienced Republican colleague. But with Rep. Jeff Espichs retirement, the new District 50 now looks to be part of a well-considered succession plan, with the Ways and Means Committee chairman handing off to a colleague, Rep. Dan Leonard, who shares an ability to work across the aisle and tackle tough fiscal problems.
In District 52 – an open seat because incumbent David Yarde unsuccessfully sought a Senate seat – voters would be well served by Charles Odier, a 43-year employee of B.F. Goodrich.
Redrawn boundaries that placed Espichs home in Leonards district would have been troubling if not for the formers impending retirement and the latters strong qualifications.
Leonard, who owns and operates South Side Furniture in Huntington, has built a solid record in his 10 years in the General Assembly. His most significant contribution is likely his work on the states unemployment insurance fund shortfall, created when lawmakers increased benefits and reduced employer contributions. The state owes the federal government $1.7 billion borrowed to cover the shortfall.
Leonard was instrumental in persuading Republican and Democratic lawmakers to accept increases in unemployment taxes and cuts in benefits.
On education issues, hes ready for a break.
Ive had enough of the new stuff – the vouchers, the charters, Leonard said. I would like to see the education legislation slow up. Weve put in some pretty big things.
As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, Leonard is mindful of available revenue and cautious about promising more than the state can deliver, even when the promise of a tax cut comes from his partys gubernatorial candidate.
To balance a budget and keep a governor who wants a tax reduction happy will not be easy, he said. We have to keep taxes low, but still maintain services.
His challenger is Democrat Mike Wallin. Wallin declined an invitation to meet with the editorial board or to respond to a questionnaire.
District 50 now includes all of Huntington County, three townships in Wells County and a southwestern swath of Allen County that includes Fort Wayne International Airport and the General Motors plant.
Voters in District 52 have a choice between Republican Ben Smaltz, an Auburn business owner, and Odier, who has worked to promote Made in America resolutions in northeast Indiana, encouraging cities and towns to buy American-made products.
Odier, a resident of St. Joe, is concerned about per-capita earnings, noting that the right-to-work law will drive down wages. A member of United Steelworkers Local 715, Odier would bring a perspective to the General Assembly that is increasingly in short supply. He also is critical of legislation affecting public schools and of budget cuts that fell disproportionately on K-12 education.
Im absolutely against vouchers, Odier said. Were going to subsidize private schools.
Smaltz champions the school changes, arguing that the voucher and charter programs will have a small effect on public schools. His only criticism is of the Common Core standards embraced by the Indiana Department of Education.
Hes interested in utilities and energy issues, particularly in demanding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provide more proof about particulate levels resulting from coal-fired energy.
The district includes all of DeKalb County, a portion of northwest Allen County from Huntertown east to Tonkel Road and the southeast corner of Steuben County, including Hamilton.
Sunday: Indiana attorney general