SOUTHERN INDIANA — A political newcomer and longtime obstetrician beat a Jeffersonville city councilman in the race for Indiana House District 71.
Democrat Rita Fleming garnered 13,214 votes (or 55.6 percent) over Republican Matt Owen's 10,010 (42.4 percent). Owen is a sitting Jeffersonville councilman who has been in that office since 2012.
"I am surprised," Fleming said Tuesday night. "But I will tell you I worked really hard and I truly wanted to not just work hard administratively, but I wanted to talk to people. I wanted to talk face to face, I wanted to shake their hand, and I think that makes a difference."
Clark County Democrat Party Chair Katie Miller said Fleming was "hands down" the best candidate for District 71, which represents parts of Clark County including Clarksville, Jeffersonville and Utica.
"That was a huge get for the party to have her run for this seat, so we're very thankful to have and present good, quality candidates on the ballot," Miller said.
Owen said during the Republican watch party at Kye's that he wouldn't change anything about how he ran his campaign.
"We ran our heart out. I wore my shoes out," he said.
Owen said he looks forward to "staying involved with the party." His term on the council ends in 2019.
He previously told the News and Tribune that he knew going into this race that the District 71 seat has been historically Democrat. Democrat and outgoing District 71 Rep. Steve Stemler has held the seat since 2006. He announced in 2017 that he would not seek re-election.
Fleming, who was surrounded by family during Tuesday's watch party, said she plans to go to Indianapolis today and "learn my way around."
"I realize I have a lot to learn and I am so happy to be representing the people in this district," she said. "I truly appreciate their trust in me and I will promise you I will give you 110 percent."
While this was Fleming's first run for elected office, she's not new to government. She has sat on the Jeffersonville Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals for 10 years and is Board of Directors president for Jeffersonville Mainstreet.
She previously told the News and Tribune that her priorities in office would include working to make sure people with pre-existing conditions, and the public at-large, have access to affordable health care. She also wants to be an example of a less divisive brand of politics so prevalent in today's government.
"[I] hope that we learn to be nicer to each other," she said, "and learn to sit down and talk to each other."