News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

February 8, 2014

May primaries set as filing deadline passes

TERRE HAUTE — The stage is set for the May 6 Democratic and Republican party primaries in Vigo County. The state’s candidate filing deadline came and went at noon Friday.

There are only a handful of contested races on the Democrat and GOP ballots, although a couple of interesting rematches of close 2012 races appear set for November.

None of the five Wabash Valley incumbent members of the Indiana House of Representatives – Alan Morrison (R-42), Clyde Kersey (D-43), Jim Baird (R-44), Kreg Battles (D-45) and Bob Heaton (R-46) – face a primary opponent.

However, opposing party candidates who lost close races in 2012 to incumbents Morrison and Battles have filed to run uncontested in their party primaries, setting up interesting rematches for November.

Morrison will face Democrat Mark Spelbring in November in District 42 and Battles will face former long-time State Representative Bruce Borders in a rematch for the District 45 seat. Morrison defeated Spelbring in Nov. 2012 by just 106 votes (out of more than 25,000 cast) and Battles defeated Borders, a Republican, by just 75 votes, also out of more than 25,000 cast.

Among races strictly in Vigo County, Assessor Debbie Lewis is one of just two county office-holding incumbents facing a primary challenge on the Democratic ballot. She will face Kevin Gardner, a West Terre Haute businessman, in May.

Lewis has worked in the Vigo County Assessor’s office since 1986, when she was named deputy assessor. She was appointed to the assessor’s post in 2001, then won her first election in 2002. She ran uncontested that year but faced a challenge in 2006 from Harrison Township Assessor Larry Auler. Lewis captured that primary race and was re-elected in the general election. She was also re-elected in 2010 in an uncontested race.

Gardner, a West Terre Haute native and 1985 graduate of West Vigo and 1990 graduate of Indiana State University, operates Bud and Sons Auto, Inc., near Dresser in West Terre Haute. He has operated the family business for 26 years and started studying for the necessary certification to be an assessor in March. He completed his “Level 3” certification work at the end of September.

“It was very eye-opening,” Gardner said of the course work involved in reaching his Level 3 certification. “I’m a number-cruncher, so I enjoyed learning all of that.”

This is the first election year in which a new state requirement is in place stating that assessors must achieve a Level 3 certification before taking office. Incumbent assessors have until 2016 to become Level 3 assessors. Lewis is currently a Level 2 certified assessor.

Another contested race on the Democratic ballot this year will be the Harrison Township Assessor’s post – an open seat thanks to the decision of Democrat Mick Love not to seek re-election. Terre Haute City Councilman Norm Loudermilk is completing his Level 3 certification now and will be facing Don Pruett, the current deputy Harrison Township Assessor, in the party’s primary race. Pruett received his Level 3 certification in December, he said.

Loudermilk, because of a change in state law, is in his final two years on the Terre Haute City Council. Law prohibits city firefighters and police officers from holding elective office for the city’s in which they serve as emergency responders. Loudermilk is a Terre Haute city firefighter.

If elected in November, Loudermilk will resign his City Council seat, he said. At that point, he would have little more than 1 year left in that position. State law would prohibit him from remaining on the council and also serving as the township assessor. First elected to the council nearly 18 years ago, Loudermilk said he wanted to continue to be active in local politics, and the assessor’s race presented an opportunity for continued public service.

Pruett, the current deputy township assessor, retired after 30 years on the Terre Haute Fire Department in 2006 and started a new career in the assessor’s office, he said. He started as field deputy, doing property measurements and handling building permits, and became chief deputy about six months ago. Pruett decided to seek the assessor’s office – pending Love’s decision to resign – about two years ago, he said.

Another contested race on the Democratic ballot is a challenge to County Councilwoman Kathy Chalos-Miller, who was first elected to the 3rd District seat in 2006. She is facing a challenge from Curtis DeBaun IV, who sought the Democratic Party nomination for a County Council at-large seat in 2012.

On the Republican primary ballot, Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-8th, is facing a challenge from Andrew McNeil, who, according to his campaign website, appears to be attacking the incumbent from the right. This is nothing new to Bucshon, who was challenged two years ago by Kristi Risk, who was more favored by many Tea Party Republicans, said Matt Bergbower, assistant professor of political science at Indiana State University.

One challenge for incumbent Republicans such as Bucshon who are facing Tea Party challenges is to avoid alienating more centrist voters during the primaries, Bergbower said. On the other hand, a good primary challenge can also sharpen a candidate’s campaigning skills, he said.

Republican John Waterman is also facing a primary challenge for the Indiana Senate seat he has held for five terms. Waterman is being challenged by Eric Bassler, an elected official in Washington, Ind., financial adviser for Edward Jones and economist.

There is also one judge race being contested on the Democratic ballot in Vigo County. John Kesler II and Lakshmi (Lucky) Reddy are each seeking the judge’s post currently occupied by Phil Adler, who is not seeking re-election.

On the Democratic ticket, Tom Spangler, a Jasper businessman, is set to face William Bryk in the primary in the District 8 congressional race. Bryk ran in 2012 and makes no secret of living in New York, not Indiana. His interest is to run in uncontested races, he told the Tribune-Star at the time. He filed for the District 8 primary before Spangler entered the primary.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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