INDIANAPOLIS – Three regional Indiana House districts are up for grabs this November.
Two have incumbent legislators seeking another term while a third redrawn district is an open seat.
The base pay for the office is about $23,000 but with daily expense and leadership pay, the compensation ranges from $48,000 to almost $70,000.
Here is a primer on those running in the three races.
House District 18 – serving Wabash and parts of Kosciusko, Grant and Howard counties.
Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, is seeking his 13th term. He has served in the Indiana House since he was first elected in 1988.
The former teacher and small-business man said since he has been in the majority, he has realized how much progress can be made for the state and he wants to return for another term.
One of Wolkins’ goals in the last session – and upcoming one if re-elected – will be to continue downsizing state government. He worked last year to eliminate and combine dozens of state boards. It resulted in 200 fewer appointments for the governor to make.
He also wants to change the law to give local government more flexibility on setting salaries for elected officials. Right now they cannot lower the wage of an elected official even if many responsibilities are taken away.
Wolkins, 69, said he looks forward to providing funding for key programs that have been cut or flatlined in the upcoming budget session. He noted a local center that works with the developmentally disabled has been struggling because of state budget cuts.
I don’t really see the need to cut taxes right now, he said. Before we cut, I would like to restore some services.
Wolkins’ Democratic opponent, Christopher Wright of Warsaw, did not return repeated calls from The Journal Gazette.
House District 22 – serving parts of Kosciusko and Elkhart counties.
Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse, is seeking a second term after first being elected in 2010.
The former stay-at-home mother said she has found her niche helping her constituents in the legislature.
If re-elected, Kubacki, 60, hopes to work on a number of issues facing the farming community in her district.
I really feel there is an assault on farming tradition, she said, noting employment regulations, property tax increases and more.
Kubacki serves on the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee and noted it’s easy to be positive about a budget when the state has a surplus. But she doesn’t want the state to fritter that money away through a tax cut.
The mindset is we need a tax credit or tax deduction for everyone, and we just can’t do that, she said. I think what you do is cut regulation, which doesn’t affect tax revenue negatively. And we should look at the money we have and find ways to incentivize businesses.
She is unclear whether she supports an expansion of the Medicaid system – health care for the poor – saying everything is up in the air until the presidential and congressional elections are done.
But Kubacki said a joint state and local effort on road funding will likely be a priority in 2013.
Kubacki’s opponent, 56-year-old John Bonitati, of Warsaw, is a technical marketing manager in the orthopedic industry with multiple college degrees.
He unsuccessfully ran for a township trustee post in 2010 and was drawn to this race after legislators passed a right-to-work law affecting unions.
Bonitati has been relatively quiet in the race but has recently started some radio commercials, billboards and direct mail pieces.
His budget philosophy starts with sending money to public education – not private groups running charter schools or private religious schools.
Bonitati also said he would rather the money he will receive from an automatic taxpayer refund go back to programs hit hard by cuts in the budget process.
Some of these programs and people are really hurting, he said.
Bonitati also thinks the state should consider the Medicaid expansion to cover more poor Hoosiers, especially if the federal government is going to initially pick up the tab.
We can make the base program more efficient and cover as many people as we can, he said.
House District 51 – serving most of Steuben and LaGrange counties.
Democrat Lon Keyes of Fremont ran four years ago against the incumbent, who now isn’t seeking re-election.
The 50-year-old pharmacist believes the state legislature is of great importance since it can regulate local governments and all facets of Indiana life – from education to public safety.
Keyes thinks it would be arrogant of him to have a host of bills ready to file since he will be new to the system if elected. Instead, he focuses on issues that are important to him.
The first is education, and the priority, he said, should be putting more resources back into public education. He isn’t sure he would have supported vouchers for private schools but believes now there should be a nonpartisan study of their effectiveness before widening the program.
Keyes also believes in giving more control back to local governments.
Before considering a wholesale cut in state taxes, he believes legislators should be upfront about unfunded pension liabilities and money still owed to the federal government for unemployment compensation loans.
My slogan is smart government works, Keyes said. We shouldn’t do stuff just because we can.
His Republican opponent, Dennis Zent, is a 64-year-old dentist specializing in root canals. Instead of throwing out candy at parades, this summer he gave out toothbrushes.
An Army veteran, he joked that his only previous political service was eighth-grade class president. He put his name in the hat in a caucus to replace a departing state senator a few years back but did not succeed.
Zent would focus on economic development issues, especially trying to make sure Indiana’s rural counties have the same tools to attract new businesses as Indiana’s more urban, populated areas.
Because he lives on a lake, he also has an interest in environmental issues.
As for tax cuts, Zent feels the state’s current reserves aren’t quite high enough. He could support cuts if they are targeted in a way to increase business activity. For instance, he doesn’t believe next year’s small automatic taxpayer refunds will spur jobs.