Indiana Democrats aim to break General Assembly supermajorities
INDIANAPOLIS — Following primary elections that saw a trio of Indiana Republican legislators unseated, Democrats have set their sights on the fall campaigns with hopes of breaking Republican supermajorities in the General Assembly so large that even a walkout can’t stop them from passing legislation.
Several Republican legislators were targeted in Tuesday’s primary on a variety of issues, but two of the three who were ousted had faced backlash over their votes that helped keep a gay marriage ban off the November ballot.
Democrats, meanwhile, walked away from the primary largely unscathed.
At stake as the two parties head into November is the Democrats’ ability to effectively filibuster Republican priorities.
Republicans, who control the House 69-31, hope to retain the supermajority they gained in 2012 that allows them to conduct business without any Democrats present. Democrats would need to win at least three seats to break that supermajority and four to break the one in the Senate, where the GOP edge is 37-13.
The importance of the supermajority became evident in 2011 and 2012, when Democrats effectively filibustered debate on a divisive right-to-work measure by walking out.
Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne, said Democrats are able to focus their time and money squarely on November’s general election because so few Democratic candidates faced primary challenges.
“I’d be willing to bet the Democrats are feeling somewhat optimistic because they actually have people who even today can be thinking about what they’re doing for November,” he said.
No clear thread seemed to knit together Tuesday races, which were intensely local fights.
Social conservatives’ displeasure over votes that kept a constitutional ban on gay marriage off the November ballot helped tea party candidates oust Reps. Rebecca Kubacki of Syracuse and Kathy Heuer of Columbia City. But a third northeast Republican who voted to keep the ban off the ballot, Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, easily survived a challenge from the right.
Christopher Judy, the Fort Wayne union autoworker who unseated Heuer with help from the tea party, said voters were angry over her votes to support Common Core education standards and keep the marriage ban from the ballot.
Across the state, the only incumbent senator to lose, Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, fell to business-backed Republican Washington City Councilman Eric Bassler. The gay marriage battle played little, if any, role in his loss.
But even that contentious battle didn’t seem to resonate with many voters, who were more concerned about the economy and jobs.
Guirlene Durosier, 45, said she has a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in community psychology, and lost her former job as a social worker at a hospice company. She’s in school again to get another degree.
“I barely can make it. I have two low-paying jobs,” said Durosier, who was born in Haiti and raised in Florida. “I’ve looked everywhere. It’s hard to find jobs.”
Indiana’s unemployment rate has dropped sharply in the past year, something Gov. Mike Pence consistently points out. But the state’s median income, a measure used to gauge how the middle class is performing, has also declined.
“There are jobs, but you’ve gotta have three or four jobs to make it,” said Nina Whitsey, 74, of Indianapolis.
A study from the Tax Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think tank, found that the average tax burden for Hoosiers crept up from 2001-2011 while incomes dropped. Pence’s staff says the numbers don’t take into account tax cuts signed by the governor.
Republicans have won sizable gains inside the Statehouse in the last two cycles. They won back the House from Democrats in 2010 and built on that lead in 2012, achieving a supermajority for the first time in decades. The recipe for Republicans is to keep doing what they’ve been doing, said Pete Seat, an Indiana Republican operative and former party spokesman.
Not all races were settled Tuesday night. After the votes were tallied, one GOP primary race for a legislative seat remained too close to call as well as a Democratic contest for Congress.
Jesse Bohannon, who was trailing Doug Miller by 95 votes in the Republican race for Indiana District 48 in northern Elkhart County, said he wasn’t ready to concede but would not decide whether to seek a recount before the county clerk finishes the official count on May 16.
A phone at a number listed for Miller rung unanswered when The Associated Press called seeking comment.
All nine congressional incumbents won their primaries Tuesday, as did most Statehouse veterans.
Unofficial results in the Democratic primary for the 3rd Congressional District surrounding Fort Wayne showed Justin Kuhnle leading Tommy Schrader by 83 votes with all precincts reporting.
Schrader said Wednesday that he intended to ask for a recount because of the narrow results, but Kuhnle remained confident.
“I’m very confident in the results,” Kuhnle said. “I’m ready to lead on day one as far as the citizens and I think that’s why I came out on top.”
The winner will face incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman in November. Stutzman, a tea party favorite, will be seeking his third term in Congress.