By BRADEN LAMMERS
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
Four area Indiana Statehouse races are up for grabs in the Nov. 6 general election, with one local state representative running unopposed.
House District 72
Indiana House District 72 — which covers portions of Floyd County including New Albany, Floyds Knobs and Edwardsville, and a portion of Clarksville in Clark County — will pit incumbent Republican Ed Clere against Democratic challenger Sharon Grabowski.
Clere, 38, a real estate broker, is seeking his third term in office. After two terms, Clere said he has gained a lot of experience as a legislator, but the most important and relevant experience comes from his roles back home.
“It helps to inform my work as a state representative,” Clere said of being a small business owner, family man and member of his local church. “It gives me a perspective to understand what my fellow Hoosiers are going through.”
And the major task facing the House of Representatives in the next session is writing a budget for those Hoosiers.
Clere explained that despite having a surplus in the state, legislators need to be careful about how they develop a budget and spend money. While the surplus is cited at $2 billion, Clere said the state needs to maintain a 10 percent reserve based on the annual general fund budget, which would cut the surplus to about $600 million.
“There is a temptation to start spending, and our biggest challenge is to maintain restraint,” he said.
He added the state needs to be cautious and continue to resolve unfunded liabilities, take a serious look at how it will fund infrastructure projects now that Major Moves funding is nearly gone and be able to continue to pay for education.
Legislation on Clere’s agenda if he is re-elected includes expansion of the Indiana historic preservation tax credit, development of the land bank program — a tool for communities to find solutions to deal with blighted and vacant property — a plan to expand artisan distilling in Indiana and potential for district park legislation, which he will pursue only with local support.
Clere said he is the best choice for the district pointing to his record as a legislator.
“I’ve proven myself to be an advocate for limited government and ... constituents found me to be accessible and I listen,” he said. “I hope to continue that [and] I hope to continue to be an effective voice for Southern Indiana.”
Grabowski, 65, a retired teacher and investment adviser for a total of 40 years, said her time spent as a teachers association president would serve her well if she is elected to the Indiana House of Representatives.
“I feel the consensus bargaining tool may help me in Indianapolis,” she said.
Grabowski said she decided to run for office because she has a strong feeling for the community, she was asked by former Indiana Senator Connie Sipes to run and she wanted to address the “assaults” on the middle class.
If elected, she wants to address the funding for public schools that has been cut $300 million per year in the last few years and address bargaining rights that have been taken away from teachers through the right-to-work law.
“There’s just a whole list of assaults on the middle class,” Grabowski said. “That’s why I decided to run. I think we need to reverse some of the legislation that has been enacted in the last several years.”
She also pointed to the cuts made to funding Planned Parenthood, cuts made to a program that gives children of disabled veterans breaks in tuition and the school voucher program.
Grabowski added that much of the money being collected in Floyd County is being sent to Indianapolis and being spent by the governor instead of staying in the local community.
“That is significantly taking away money from Floyd County schools,” she said. “These things really disturbed me.”
Grabowski added she wanted to give the residents of Floyd County a choice.
“I have the training, temperament and time to be an effective leader for the community,” she said.
House District 66
Voters in Indiana House District 66, which includes most of southeast Jackson County, Marion Township in Jennings County, three townships in Scott County and eastern Clark County will have a choice between long-time incumbent Democrat Terry Goodin and challenger Republican Justin Stevens.
Goodin, 45, superintendent of Crothersville Schools, is seeking his seventh term in the state house. He said of his time in office: “I’ve built a track record of responding to the needs of my constituents.”
Goodin said he wants to continue to keep taxes low for Hoosiers and make sure the state continues to live within its means while working to reduce the acrimony in the state government.
“I have a record of working across the aisle,” he said.
But the biggest issue facing his district is jobs.
“That’s the most important thing going into the next session,” he said.
Goodin wants to be able to address the needs of small, medium and large businesses and offer a clear distinction between each business in the tax code and reduce hurdles for businesses to locate and thrive in Southern Indiana.
“You can’t necessarily have a one-size-fits-all taxing code that fits all of those businesses,” he said.
The best way to draw businesses and jobs is have a continuing dialogue with companies and improve the educational system that “is the No. 1 economic development tool in our state.”
Goodin said through his time in office he feels he has the confidence of the constituents.
“They know I care about their problems and I will do everything I can to help them,” he said.
Stevens, 29, a field representative for Congressman Todd Young, said he decided to run for state representative because he wanted to represent Indiana as a right-to-life candidate and Goodin was not challenged.
“I feel for democracy to work, we need to have clear choices,” he said. “He’s a big-government guy, I’m a small-government guy. I wanted to make sure people of a district have a voice that speaks for them.”
While Stevens said he represents a clear difference from Goodin, he agreed that the biggest issue facing the district is jobs.
“We need to make sure as recovery happens we put ourselves in a position to thrive,” Stevens said.
He said the area needs to be promoted as a logistical hub by connecting Austin and Madison and infrastructure needs to be improved in the area to help prepare for an influx of jobs and businesses at River Ridge Commerce Center.
Stevens added that the state needs to look at ways to give people further tax breaks on personal income, improve child services programs and project the taxpayers at the same time.
If elected, he added that he would like to introduce legislation to curb prescription drug abuse in Scott County and address sentencing in over-crowded prisons for nonviolent drug offenders.
House District 70
Indiana District 70, which includes most of Harrison County, Corydon and portions of Charlestown and Sellersburg will pit incumbent Republican Rhonda Rhoads against Democratic challenger Terry Miller.
Rhoads, 62, a retired teacher seeking her second term in office, has worked as a public servant for 29 years, including eight years on the Harrison County Council.
“I’ve been working, basically, for the public all of my life,” she said.
If elected to another term, Rhodes said the main tasks she plans to tackle are balancing the budget, building a reserve, securing all-day funding for kindergarten, plus giving a little back to the people.
“I want to have a state that’s fiscally responsible,” she said. “[The people] want money in their pocketbooks, they feel they can manage it better. For people that are conservative, they don’t want the status quo, spending money just to be spending money is not what they want.”
Rhoads said the goal is to focus on the incentives that Republicans put in place and that those policies will make people more financially secure.
Miller, 62, a retired water utility worker and farmer, has served as a Harrison County Commissioner for 17 years and said he feels like the middle class is being attacked with the legislation that Republicans have passed, specifically citing the right-to-work law.
But Miller said the biggest challenge is getting business into the district. One project that has languished he said could help to attract business to the area is the Corydon west interchange that has a federal earmark of $9 million, but has failed to get state funding.
“I just think it’s a shame to lose that money,” Miller said.
He added that he would like to see improvements made to the state’s education system that he said is losing teachers and has increasingly over-crowded classrooms.
“I think that would go a long way in helping draw business — improving education,” Miller said.
Miller added he supports the plan to remove sales tax from gasoline and would like to see the state’s $2 billion surplus go to the Ohio River Bridges Project to take tolls off the new bridges to help residents and businesses in Southern Indiana.
He added that voters should choose him because “I would be an independent voice in Indianapolis. It seems like the current rep[resentative] follows the party line. I would be a voice for District 70.”
House District 73
Indiana District 73, which includes Salem, portions of Henryville, Crawford County, most of Perry and Washington counties, eastern Dubois County, Western Scott County and Southern Jackson County will have incumbent Republican Steve Davisson face off against Democratic challenger Sandra Blanton.
Davisson, 54, a pharmacist, is seeking his second term in office.
He said he has a pretty good connection with people, an understanding of the local community and the struggles people face on a daily basis. Like many other candidates, Davisson said the biggest challenge facing his district is jobs, especially because District 73 lies outside urban and suburban areas.
“We need to stop the brain drain,” he said. “We have a job skills gap here in Indiana, we have trouble finding skilled employees for positions.”
Davisson said the district needs more vocational education brought back to high school for higher tech jobs or apprentice programs, to give students a lot more opportunity than just a four-year college.
To offer incentives, he said he would like to introduce a young entrepreneurs bill where small communities get to bid on companies and would like to develop a rural entrepreneurial Tax Increment Finance zone.
Davisson said he would also like to restore some funding to education programs that have been cut.
Blanton, 63, a retired accountant who worked for a Fortune 500 company and a market research firm, served in the Statehouse from 2008-10 in District 62 and said she will bring her knowledge of cost and budgets to the position. She said she decided to run because “I saw what happened the last two years in the Statehouse to public education. I am afraid we may be headed to forced consolidation or privatization of education.”
Blanton agreed with her opponent that there needs to be partnerships between schools and business and offer more vocational training to prepare students for high-tech skilled industries.
Another issue facing the district is its historic infrastructure. Help is needed with sewer, water, roads and bridges, Blanton said.
She said counties in her district need help because budgets are shrinking.
“Cities and towns just don’t have the funding to repair and replace,” Blanton said.
She said her business background, life experience and previous state representative experience sets her apart from her opponent.
“I know how to get things done,” Blanton said. “I have practical experience with education and those issues important to schools and teachers.”
Indiana House District 71, which covers southern Clark County, Jeffersonville, Clarksville, Utica and portions of Sellersburg and Charlestown, will not be challenged as incumbent Democrat Steve Stemler is running unopposed.