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Takeaways, trustees and setups: Tuesday’s lightly attended primary
Fairfield Township on Taletha Coles: That’s enough. Mitch Daniels’ staffer advances to meet a Daniels foil on campus in state Senate race. A debut review of new voting machines
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How about a few quick takeaways from Tuesday’s primary election, which scrounged up fewer than half the Tippecanoe County voters than in the last midterm primary in 2018 and registered a turnout of 7.5%?
FAIRFIELD TOWNSHIP TRUSTEE: TIME’S UP: Taletha Coles’ tumultuous time as Fairfield Township trustee has been documented enough here that several of you have pleaded … no more.
Voters said pretty much the same on Tuesday.
Coles, facing calls from the Fairfield Township Board to step down over questionable spending and an ongoing audit by the State Board of Accounts, managed 11.4% of the vote in the first – and what turned out to be the only – step in her re-election bid in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
Monica Casanova, a Fairfield Township Board member, won a three-candidate race with 59.6% of the vote among Democrats in a township that includes much of Lafayette. Rocky Hession, another board member, finished second with 29%.
April O’Brien, an owner of Sacred Grounds coffeehouse, ran unopposed in the Republican primary.
“It’s a lot of clean up that needs to be done,” Casanova said Tuesday night. “We have no idea about what’s really going on in that office.”
Casanova said that if elected in November, the plan would be to set consistent hours in an office designed, in part, to handle emergency assistance and to make sure to see people face-to-face after more than two years of locked township doors.
O’Brien, whose coffeehouse is next door to the township offices on Wabash Avenue, has been attending Fairfield Township Board meetings for more than a year to help figure out what’s been happening with Coles in office. She said she spent recent months talking with Lafayette firefighters – Coles’ relationship with the department has been strained – and meeting with other trustees to figure out how to turn things around in Fairfield Township.
“I want to restore some relationships and rebuild transparency, first of all,” O’Brien said. “(Coles) has locked people out. Literally locked them out. I want to build a bridge, instead.”
O’Brien suggested that no matter who wins in November, the next trustee will get plenty of help from people who want to see things run smoother, too.
Coles did not respond to messages for comment about her loss.
Casanova said that given revelations about Coles’ spending – a court-ordered release of some documents have shown the trustee paid for staff massages and nails, motivational tapes and meals on the township credit card – she was in favor of the township board exploring a new state law that offers a path to ousting a township trustee. That law, passed in the spring, takes effect July 1.
Casanova said that might usher Coles out only a few months before the next trustee comes in.
“But it’s been shocking to see what she’s spending on,” Casanova said. “I think we have to at least look at it.”
DEERY IN SENATE DISTRICT 23: Spencer Deery, a West Lafayette Republican and a member of Purdue President Mitch Daniels’ staff, won a four-way race in Indiana Senate District 23 with 30.8% of the vote with more than 95% of the ballots counted. The Associated Press called it for Deery late Tuesday night over Parke County GOP Chair Bill Webster (27%); Fountain County Clerk Paula Copenhaver (23%); and West Lafayette construction management company owner Christian Beaver (19.3%).
Indiana Senate District 23 includes parts of Tippecanoe, Vermillion, Parke, Fountain, Warren and Montgomery counties. It essentially became an open seat, after state Sen. Phil Boots, a Crawfordsville Republican, was drawn out of the district and has since announced he plans to retire at the end of this term.
Deery’s win sets up an interesting matchup against David Sanders, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. Sanders, a Purdue biology professor, West Lafayette City Council member and a committed foil of Daniels on and off campus, has been adamant that the right Democratic message can win in the strong, red district. How much of that will target Deery as part of Daniels’ staff will be seen.
Deery, in his first run for public office, said he was glad to get support during the primary, including 51% of the vote in Tippecanoe County and endorsements from state Sen. Ron Alting and Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh.
“I feel really grateful, not just that they supported me but that they supported what we were trying to do, to raise the bar on the quality of candidates we so often get in government,” Deery said Tuesday night. “I plan to continue with the same message, that we need leaders with integrity and discipline; we need adults in the room where it happens. Not grand standers, not politicians constantly looking for the next office to run for.”
IN INDIANA HOUSE DISTRICT 41: Mark Genda, owner of Genda Funeral Home in Frankfort, took 43% of the vote to beat Tippecanoe County Republicans Shane Weist (29%) and Richard Bagsby (28%). House District 41 includes the eastern part of Tippecanoe County, along with parts of Clinton, Montgomery and Boone counties. The district has no incumbent with the retirement of state Rep. Tim Brown.
In November, Genda will face Democrat Greg Woods, a procurement specialist from Lebanon who ran against Brown in the 2020 election.
UP AGAINST REP. SHEILA KLINKER IN HOUSE DISTRICT 27: Republican Jim Hass won 62% of the vote against Tim Radice in a race to see who would challenge state Rep. Sheila Klinker, a Lafayette Democrat going for her 21st two-year term.
Tuesday night, the pair ran into each other at the County Office Building during the vote count and reminisced about being neighbors on Kossuth Street during parts of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
“The message is, we all know and are part of the community,” Hass said.
Two years ago, Klinker beat Hass by a 62%-38% margin.
UNOPPOSED IN OTHER GENERAL ASSEMBLY RACES IN TIPPECANOE COUNTY: The General Assembly contests still open heading into November include state Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, in Senate District 22; state Rep. Chris Campbell, D-West Lafayette, in House District 26; state Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica, in House District 13; and Heath Van Natter, R-Kokomo, in House District 38.
IN THE 4TH DISTRICT: U.S. Rep. Jim Baird, a Republican from Greencastle, will face Roger Day, who took 68% of the vote in the Democratic primary over Howard Pollchik.
PRECINCT COMMITTEE BATTLES FOR DEMOCRATS: Progressive Democrats, looking to make inroads into the party’s decision making, scored more wins than losses in a concerted push to run candidates for precinct committee positions typically filled, uncontested, by party loyalists.
The effort coordinated statewide by Act Indiana had 11 wins out of 20 contested precinct committee races, based on tallies by Margaret Hass, one of the local organizers. She said eight of those encouraged to run lost and another one stood tied as of Tuesday night. Another 13 won slots after running uncontested.
The main duty of precinct committee positions is to select replacements when there are vacancies when elected officials step down or leave, for whatever reason. The slots also are used to get people involved and potentially prepared to run for office.
“It’s about building a bench, getting people involved, getting ordinary people involved in politics,” Hass said. “We just don’t want a group of wealthy, connected people making all the decisions.”
Jacque Chosnek, Tippecanoe County Democratic Party chair, tracked the precinct races Tuesday night at the County Office Building. She said she still had a number of precinct committee slots to fill after the primary.
“I’m not worried about this,” Chosnek said. “This just is what it is.”
NEW VOTING MACHINES: Tippecanoe County Clerk Julie Roush said the county’s new, $1.5 million voting system from MicroVote passed its first test Tuesday. She said poll workers put in extra effort to make sure voters understood how to use the machines with push button rather than touch screens. Roush said the election staff still needed to debrief everyone, starting Wednesday. But she called Tuesday’s primary a good trial run. Of course, it helped to work out kinks when 9,178 – of 122,331 on the voter rolls – came to the polls during the primary. That was a 7.5% turnout. In 2018, 20,552 voters came out, which was a bit over 19% for that year. The big drivers then included hotly contested U.S. Senate and 4th District House races, plus a year that was marked as a mini-blue wave in assorted local races in the midterm after Donald Trump was elected president.
RESULTS: Here are links to local and statewide results from Tuesday’s primary.
COURTHOUSE RALLY IN DEFENSE OF ‘ROE’
Susan Rowe, a retired advertising consultant from West Lafayette, read the draft opinion – leaked to Politico Monday night – that suggests the U.S. Supreme Court justices were prepared to overturn Roe v. Wade, a 1973 ruling the guaranteed protection for women to get an abortion. Rowe said she also heard the calls across the country for abortion rights advocates to get to their courthouses to be seen. Rowe said she had to do it, running to a craft store to pick up poster board and Sharpies, and getting the word out to rally dozens of people to the Tippecanoe County Courthouse for an hour Tuesday evening.
“Because, this is crazy, don’t you think?” Rowe said. “Does this mean we have to go back to the 1800s? I mean, that’s what’s frightening me. … This just means that rich women, including Republicans, will get abortions when they need them. Poor women will not, or if they do, they’re going to be illegal. We’ve seen this story. That’s why we have Roe v. Wade.”
State Rep. Chris Campbell, a West Lafayette Democrat, was among those rallying.
Before the end of the 2022 General Assembly session, 100 Republicans in the House and Senate sent a letter to Gov. Eric Holcomb, calling on him to bring the legislature back into session if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe, as expected, this summer so they could consider legislation that bans abortion in Indiana.
“I’m not ready to throw in the towel,” Campbell said. “We have one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country, and people don’t think their votes matter. This is it. This is a vote or die situation. … This is the biggest fight of our lives.”
SUBSCRIPTIONS MAKE THIS REPORTING PROJECT WORK. HOP ON, THERE’S ROOM …