By Quinn Fitzgerald
INDIANAPOLIS –Twenty-one lawmakers are being challenged in the Indiana primary elections, but the bigger issue is how the expected special session, costing about $30,000 a day, could affect re-election chances.
The primary elections will take place May 8. Shortly after the primary elections, the General Assembly will meet for a special session to address issues like school safety and tax policies that were not resolved during the regular session.
Ed Feigenbaum, the longtime publisher of Indiana Legislative Insight, said the incumbents could be tagged with the failure of the legislature to get its work done.
“The challengers are looking for any particular way to point fingers or lay blame at the feet of the incumbents,” he said.
And if incumbents lose, they may feel chastised by voters, but they end, they still have work to do, Feigenbaum said.
“Any incumbents who might be defeated in the primary, they’re still elected. They’re still responsible for making decisions through Nov. 8 of this year. They would still be involved in the interim study committees and things like that.”
A number of longtime legislators are facing challenges in the primaries. In the Democratic primary, Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, is being challenged by Anderson City Councilwoman Tamie Dixon-Tatum. She replaced her father, Ollie H. Dixon, on the ballot.
“Tim Lanane is a good person. This is nothing personable,” Dixon-Tatum said. “I’m representing the voiceless, and by the voiceless I mean the youth, women, and various minority groups. I want to make sure everybody has a voice, and that everybody has an opportunity to share their voice.”
Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, is being challenged by Anderson City Councilwoman Rebecca Crumes. Until now, neither Austin nor Lanane have faced primary opposition.
With a number of lawmakers retiring from the General Assembly, there will also be a close watch on the open seats this year. Laura Wilson, assistant professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis, said the open seats are generally more competitive than held by an incumbent.
“People see this as an opportunity to get in, and especially with the incumbents advantaged in the United States, this is where you see a lot more attention in terms of the elections themselves,” Wilson said.
However, for some districts, Feigenbaum said there is usually a clear winner because of the makeup of that district.
“In a district like say Charlie Brown’s district in Lake County where it’s obviously going to go to one party. The Republicans are not going to have a chance there. We’ll see a number of Democrats run in the seat,” Feigenbuam said. Brown, a Democrat from Gary, announced this year that is not running for re-election but will instead seek a local political office.
Overall, Feigenbaum said there are no real patterns or trends in this year’s legislative race.
“Every once in a while, you’ll see some strange trends but you’re not seeing it this year,” he said. “If you look at the individual districts, you see that they’re really district-by-district contests.”
One potentially competitive primary, Feigenbaum said, is between Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, and his challenger Crystal LaMotte, who ran against Merritt in the last primary. However, in the 2016 primary election, Merritt won three-quarters of the vote.
Last year, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed House Enrolled Act 1438, which Merritt co-sponsored. It allows a county or city to enact its own syringe exchange program rather than seeking approval from the state.
TheStatehouseFile.com reached out to LaMotte for an interview, but never received a response.
LaMotte stated on her website that the Needle Exchange program is misleading because needles are being simply handing out instead of exchanged.
In response to LaMotte, Merritt said the programs are locally motivated and the state is an advisory role. He said they have helped eliminate diseases from dirty needles.
“No government funds are spent on needle exchanges, and they are needle exchanges,” Merritt said. “It’s been proven that they do knock down HIV and they do knock down Hep C.”
Merritt has been in the senate for 28 years, which is too long, LaMotte said. Merritt said because communication with his district is still strong, it doesn’t matter how long he is in the General Assembly.
“First of all, I continually enjoy being a state senator for one. But two, I spend a great deal of time with constituents in my district and we still understand each other,” Merritt said. “I still understand what people in northeast Indianapolis and south Hamilton County feel, and so I feel like I still have a hand on the pulse of my constituents.”
FOOTNOTE: Quinn Fitzgerald is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.