Fort Wayne attorney Casey Cox needed only one ballot to capture the House District 85 caucus Tuesday night to replace longtime Rep. Phyllis Pond, R-New Haven.
He defeated six other candidates for the post, receiving 37 of 59 votes on the first ballot.
Only two other candidates received votes – Dave Heine earned 20 and Ken Richardson received two. The other candidates were Denny Worman, Mike Cameron, Ken Knoblauch and John Nichter.
Each candidate was permitted a two-minute introduction from a supporter and a three-minute speech about their candidacy.
Cox promised to honor Pond when he heads to the Indiana Statehouse – "we need to uphold her spirit of public service and her commitment to this district."
Pond, 82, died Sept. 22 after serving in the Indiana House since 1978.
Cox will finish out her term, which ends in late 2014. The election for a new term is next year and he will have the advantage of incumbency – having served one session – in the contest.
But he downplayed that advantage, saying anyone who challenges him in the primary will have several months to campaign locally while he is serving in Indianapolis.
Former state lawmaker and local educator Steve Gabet introduced Cox as a motivated student in his government class years ago.
He said Cox would come by his house for hot chocolate and deep political conversations.
"He was interested in good government and developed a strong conservative philosophy," Gabet said.
Cox, 31, said some people in his generation are apathetic and lean liberal but noted "there is an army of Reagan babies out there and I'm a card carrying member."
He said the state needs to address the skills gap and improve vocational training. He also wants to work with regional economic development entities to identify northeast Indiana's key assets and leverage them for jobs.
After his win, Cox said he supports traditional marriage between one man and one woman but would not give a firm commitment that he would vote for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions.
"Anytime you are tinkering with the Constitution you want to make sure all the questions are answered," he said.
Several others focused on traditional marriage and family values, with Heine definitively promising to support the amendment and do everything he could to see it pass.
If the General Assembly approves the measure it goes to voters next November.
Mike Obergfell introduced Heine as a man with a moral compass, who has been both a corporate executive and family farmer.
"His only political ambition is to continue to serve the people," Obergfell said.
Heine focused on his business skills, including strategic planning and budgeting.