INDIANAPOLIS – Four from northeast Indiana are vying to fill the remainder of Jim Banks’ Senate term in a caucus of precinct insiders.
Banks, from Columbia City, was elected to Congress and resigned his seat Nov. 9. His state term has two years left. District 17 includes parts of Grant, Whitley, Huntington and Wabash counties.
The Indiana Republican Party will hold the caucus Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Wabash REMC. About 120 precinct men and women will vote to fill the vacancy.
Only one candidate has filed to run so far but four are interested: Huntington businessman Andy Zay; Marion hospital executive Ann Vermilion; Marion engineer Darren Reese; and Lee Baatz of Columbia City.
Though Banks just resigned it has been presumed he would win his general election, so several of the candidates have been in touch with precinct committee members for months to try to gain support. Coffee, emails and home visits are among the campaign highlights.
Here is information on all the candidates:
• Zay, 50, owns a car dealership in Huntington. He is married with five children. He has helped with other campaigns over the years but this is the first time he has become a candidate.
"I want to continue the great representation the district has had," he said.
Zay said he wants to focus on making sure the state doesn’t lose ground in the fight for jobs, and he also wants to have a say in the new infrastructure plan.
"We have a good climate but we can’t get lazy or let the budget get out of whack," he said.
• Vermilion, 42, is an executive at Marion General Hospital. She is married with three children. Though not a politician, she has worked with several task forces on Indiana’s opioid and heroin problem.
"I bring a rural perspective to education and health care," she said, noting her husband is a school board member.
Vermilion believes her expertise in health care and human services is lacking in the legislature, and she wants to represent the rural way of life – "that voice is needed –someone who is truly happy living in a smaller town."
• Reese, 44, lives in Marion but runs an environmental engineering and property development company in Indianapolis. He has been married for 19 years.
"I’m running because this is an exciting time. There is going to be a lot of change coming out of the federal government in terms of how it works with state and locals," he said.
"We are losing a well-versed senator, and I think I’m the guy to replace him and maintain the service and continuity the district is used to."
He has long been involved with the Republican Party and helped on other campaigns.
Reese’s top issue is local control and giving local units of government the tools to succeed or fail on their own. He is also concerned about the overcrowding in local jails ever since the legislature overhauled the criminal justice system.
• Baatz, 65, is a retired utility executive who has lived in Columbia City since 2009. He has three children and three grandkids. He is a precinct committeeman – and can vote for himself in the caucus – but has never run before.
"It’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up," he said, noting he wants to serve the district and appreciates the caucus process won’t be unduly expensive.
He supports a modest gas tax increase to aid local and state infrastructure but does not want to move to a mileage-based tax.
"I call myself a practical conservative," Baatz said. "I’m really looking for good government."