INDIANAPOLIS – Allen County – the largest county geographically in the state – has been sliced and diced into nine different Indiana House districts.
And this year eight of them are contested in the fall election.
Eighteen candidates in all are vying to represent various parts of the county in a position that carries a two-year term and pays a base salary of almost $23,000. After leadership and other expense pay, that salary ranges from $48,000 to almost $70,000 for a part-time job.
Here is a primer on those running:
House District 50
Serves Huntington County and parts of Wells and Adams counties
Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, is running as an incumbent, though redistricting means about a third of the district is new to him.
The 63-year-old small-business man said the main reason he is seeking re-election is that he appreciates the sense of accomplishment when he helps a constituent with a problem or issue involving state government.
It’s like running a 24-hour-a-day complaint department, he said. But you feel good when you get someone’s problems solved.
While in office, Leonard became known for his work overhauling the state’s unemployment system, which included raising tax rates for businesses and closing loopholes for coverage.
If elected again, he wants to work on giving more flexibility for local government to shift various tax dollars to different local accounts, to help in discussions over road funding.
Leonard also doesn’t approve when one government entity uses taxpayer dollars to sue another. He said there should be a less expensive way to settle these disputes, perhaps through an administrative process.
Mike Wallin, 54, is a longtime Allen County resident who works in a factory and is a strong union supporter. He ran for office largely because he opposes the right-to-work legislation passed the last legislative session that curbs union rights.
I want to represent the working families of Indiana, but I am a Christian. I am strong pro-life and pro-gun. If you want to label me as a Democrat or a Republican, I’m just not sure. My views are conflicting.
I wish people would get away from the two-party system. I wish people would look at the individual and not the party.
Wallin believes the state budget is out of control and legislators are cutting in the wrong areas.
Our school systems are hurting, he said. Wallin couldn’t identify other areas of state spending to cut.
Wallin also supports marriage as solely between one man and woman, which he said damages any support from Democrats.
House District 52
Serves DeKalb County and parts of Allen and Steuben counties
There is no incumbent in the race between Democrat Charles Odier and Republican Ben Smaltz, both of DeKalb.
Odier, 61, was born in Fort Wayne but has called St. Joe home since 1992.
He is running because I’m tired of seeing the middle class being attacked. Somebody has to make a difference.
The 43-year union member said recent right-to-work legislation will just drag wages down for everyone.
Odier doesn’t approve of many recent educational changes, including giving state tax dollars to private schools and adding more charter schools.
This is his first time running for office. Sometimes you get cussed at and sometimes people are happy, he said.
He faces Smaltz, 42, who owns and runs a family business in Auburn.
I have gone from sweeping floors and dumping trash to owning it, he said.
Smaltz has served on the DeKalb County Council for 10 years and is ready to move to the state level.
I am running on jobs. Everybody is. We need them badly, he said. There are jobs available right now. We are missing the boat on vocational education in high schools.
Smaltz also supports education funding first over tax cuts.
House District 79
Serves Adams County and parts of Allen and Wells counties
Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, has served four years in the Indiana House, making a niche for himself in the insurance field.
It’s boring and technical, but every single person is touched by insurance every single day, and we are heavily regulated, he said.
Outside the insurance realm, Lehman worked last year to bring a common-sense approach to sewer districts. He thinks the pendulum had swung too far in requiring residents to hook onto a system when they had functioning septic systems.
He is also concerned about expanding Medicaid. He thinks government has gone from being the backstop for struggling Hoosiers to the forefront of providing long-term services.
And he is working on a bill to lessen the amount of time an empty school building has to sit in case a charter school might want it. In Allen County, one district was stopped from selling a building to a local private school even though there has been no charter interest.
Lehman is opposed by Democrat Mike Snyder of Decatur.
The longtime union leader has been involved with politics before but never run for office.
He disagrees with passage of last session’s right-to-work legislation but said he will focus on other issues too. For instance, he is concerned that changes in education are tearing the system down.
We cut the heck out of programs and now we have billions and are giving money back, Snyder said. I just don’t understand it. And we lost and found money. It’s not acceptable.
He also is concerned about unintended consequences from a new anti-nepotism law for local government – especially in small, rural towns and counties.
Snyder also would like the state to tighten campaign finance rules so outside entities have less sway.
It’s hard enough getting people to vote with all this distrust in the system, he said.
House District 81
Serves parts of Fort Wayne
Rep. Win Moses, D-Fort Wayne, has held the post for 20 years and is seeking an 11th term.
Even though he has been in the minority in recent years, he still enjoys fighting for local projects, such as additional funding for IPFW or job development opportunities.
His niche has become utility regulation and specifically fighting for lower consumer rates. He also has become somewhat of a maverick in the House Democratic caucus.
I was acutely aware of partisan politics in the past. I don’t care anymore. It is freeing, Moses said.
In the next year, he said Republicans will likely push to expand vouchers, though he personally wants to ensure improvement and progress before expansion.
As for next year’s budget, Moses would like to restore cuts to programs involving kids and spend any surplus money on incentives for economic development.
He and Republican opponent Martin Carbaugh just started running television ads in the race, and GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence campaigned for Carbaugh.
Carbaugh, a lifelong Fort Wayne resident, works in financial services and decided to run when he was redistricted into a seat with a Democrat.
I’m optimistic, Carbaugh said. But I take nothing for granted. (Moses) is a very personable guy. I don’t go door-to-door saying what a bad guy he is or anything. We just disagree philosophically.
Carbaugh said he will oppose any expansion in Medicaid per the federal health care act. And in general, he wants to keep government focused on core services and not branch out in local government or private-sector issues.
The third man in the race is Libertarian Alex Avery, who believes taxes should be voluntary.
He also favors home schooling, which is already legal with few regulations in Indiana.
I’m drawing kind of a blank right now, Avery said. I’m just trying to give Libertarians somebody to vote for. That’s pretty much the whole point of my campaign.
House District 82
Serves Noble County and parts of Allen, Whitley and LaGrange counties
Mike Wilber, a Democrat from LaOtto, is the business agent and president of Sheet Metal Workers Local 20 who wants to fight for education if elected.
I think we are victimizing our teachers, making them the enemy, he said, proposing some decisions come back to the local level.
Wilber, 42, criticizes the use of standardized testing to gauge teacher effectiveness because every child and class is different.
He also doesn’t support sending tax dollars to more charter schools or private schools.
Wilber supports tweaking the formula used to distribute state gas tax dollars, saying it should be used for road repairs and construction, not road-related state agencies.
The Democrat is also a licensed gun owner who regularly carries, and he supports recent legislation to open up that right.
David Ober, 25, squeaked out a close win in the Republican primary and is focusing heavily on jobs and the economy.
He said companies have jobs but can’t find workers with the right skills – sometimes because people are making more on unemployment.
Ober supports a top-down audit of regulations in state statute to see what can be eliminated and advocates a balanced budget.
I don’t think we should be in a huge hurry to spend away our surplus, he said of the upcoming state budget. It’s just too soon. The economy has been sluggish in its recovery, and I don’t think we should put the cart before the horse on this thing.
House District 83
Serves most of Whitley County and small portion of Allen County
Rep. Kathy Heuer, R-Columbia City, has an education background but made her way in life as a businesswoman running a small apparel store for 10 years. Heuer, now a real estate broker, was first elected to the Indiana House in 2010.
Her niche is economic development, especially working with her local jobs officials on making Indiana more attractive for business.
If we have education and economic development at the forefront we will keep growing, Heuer said.
She said most state current incentives are only for businesses that are growing or expanding and Indiana needs to provide a retraining incentive for existing employees and companies.
Heuer also supports getting more dollars flowing back in to education, which she says will be hard in the current atmosphere.
Her Democratic opponent, John Good, did not return repeated messages for an interview for this story.
House District 84
Serves parts of Fort Wayne
This race had the makings for a marquee matchup but has petered out in recent months.
Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, made national news this year when he criticized the Girl Scouts for having what he called an extreme agenda in support of premarital sex, abortion and lesbians.
His comments came after the filing deadline for the race, which means he was unopposed in the May primary. Since then, he has also kept a low profile in the district.
Morris said the Girl Scout controversy rarely comes up. It’s really not a part of the race, he said. It’s about education and jobs.
His Democratic opponent, Lee Jordan, didn’t return numerous calls for interviews.
Morris wants to connect people in his district to open jobs and is working on having a link on his state website.
He didn’t comment specifically on his priorities for the next budget, saying he didn’t want to shoot from the hip without seeing what anticipated revenues and needs are.
Libertarian James Hanson, a lawyer, grew up an ardent Republican but realized he has Libertarian economic beliefs.
The whole Bob Morris thing popped up, and I was asked to run, he said. (Morris) is a talking-points guy. He doesn’t think through his positions. I think our district deserves something different.
House District 85
Serves northeast Allen County
Democrat Evan Smith is hoping to bring an end to New Haven Republican Phyllis Pond’s 34-year hold on the district.
He noted that she has said several times in the past she would run only one more time but then decides to try again.
I think the district deserves a new life, the 29-year-old Smith said. I know my chances are very, very difficult. She’s been in office for five years longer than I’ve been alive.
A teacher at a local Catholic school, he would fight the Republicans’ education agenda that he feels has hurt students and scared teachers away.
Teachers are spending so much time on state bureaucracy they aren’t teaching, Smith said.
He also thinks Indiana’s tax burden is reasonable and tax cuts are not needed at this time.
Pond, 81, counters many of her Republican colleagues – calling for a slowdown on education change. But she does support a renewed focus on vocational education.
She doesn’t support a large expansion of Medicaid, saying Indiana needs to save its money for those who really need it. I think the expansion goes a bit too far.
As for tax cuts, Pond said in the past the legislature has done some small tax cuts and people didn’t even notice. But they do notice when pet programs are cut.