INDIANAPOLIS – Two northeast Indiana veteran female legislators face similar primary challenges in the Indiana House this May as each seeks to serve a third term.
Their opponents have tea party leanings and question numerous recent votes by Rep. Kathy Heuer, R-Columbia City, and Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse.
The incumbents, though, are standing by their records.
Heuer serves House District 83, which covers parts of Allen and Whitley counties. Kubacki serves House District 22, which covers parts of Kosciusko and Elkhart counties.
The winners of the primaries will appear on the November ballot. The two-year term pays a base salary of more than $24,000. After leadership and expense pay, that salary ranges from $49,000 to about $71,000 for a part-time job.
Heuer, 66, was born and raised in Columbia City and spent about 10 years owning and running a women’s retail clothing store in Columbia City and Warsaw. After that, she went into real estate until she retired her license last year. Now she does a lot of volunteer work and serves on several boards of directors, in addition to being a state lawmaker.
“I’ve really poured my heart and soul into legislative matters,” she said.
Her opponent, 35-year-old Christopher Judy, grew up in Whitley County and now lives in Aboite Township. He spent seven years in the Indiana Army National Guard as a combat medic, including one tour in Iraq in 2008.
He has worked at General Motors since 2006. Judy identifies as Republican but said a lot of his views align with the tea party.
In the House District 22 race, Kubacki, 61, grew up in Pierceton and lived in Chicago and Los Angeles before settling back in the area 15 years ago. She spent her time as a stay-at-home mom and community volunteer.
When her children got older, she thought it was time to get more involved.
“I felt I could contribute positive things, Kubacki said. “Women are 51 percent of the workforce, but there are so few women in the legislature.”
Her opponent, Curt Nisly, has lived outside Goshen since 2007. After high school, the 41-year-old started a computer sales and service business. His wife is chair of the Elkhart County Republican Party, but he also has been involved with the tea party.
After helping other campaigns, he decided to try his hand at politics.
“I wanted to get to the Statehouse someday. I’ve been preparing for when the opportunity came, and that is now,” Nisly said.
The challengers in both races listed the same three main reasons for running against the incumbents.
The first involved the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Kubacki and Heuer each voted to remove a provision that would also ban recognition of same-sex civil unions.
Each then voted against the final version. It passed the General Assembly, but because the language was changed, the earliest the public can vote on it now is 2016 instead of in November.
Kubacki and Heuer each said she didn’t support the amendment because she prefers small government and thinks the constitution should be altered sparingly.
“I’m for traditional marriage,” Judy said. “I think it should have gone to the voters now. Let us decide – not the 150 legislators.”
Another issue is a bill this year to regulate day-care centers run by churches or ministries that accept taxpayer money.
Kubacki championed the bill after working on it for several years, saying it requires only that the centers meet basic minimum safety standards and doesn’t take away any religious freedoms.
“If you don’t want government in your child care, then don’t take government money,” she said.
But Nisly said the bill “crosses a line between church and state that I can’t accept. (Kubacki) is pushing the snack police and the nap police. It is way too much government interference.”
Heuer passionately defends her support for the bill.
“I’ll vote that same way six days a week and twice on Sunday,” she said, pointing out that 23 children have died in Indiana day-care centers in recent years, including a number in centers run by churches or ministries.
“How can we not make sure that every day care has running water? How dare we not do that? A protected area outside to play in? That they get a meal? That there is more than one caregiver if more than 16 kids?”
Judy and Nisly each also cited his opponent’s stance on Common Core academic standards.
Kubacki and Heuer each voted against a “pause” of the standards last year but supported a repeal this year.
“I’m against the nationalization of our education system,” Judy said. “Education works best locally. Parents, teachers and school boards should have a high involvement in the standards.”
Kubacki said her race has been harsh so far with lots of letters to the editor – even from people who don’t live in her district.
“When you stick your neck out, I guess that’s what happens,” she said.
She prefers focusing on women’s and children’s issues. This year, she authored Indiana’s first state income tax credit for adoptions.
“That was a great thing. And it’s all being overshadowed because someone doesn’t think I meet their parameters for being a conservative,” Kubacki said.
Her opponent, Nisly, said that if elected, he will focus on state sovereignty, gun rights and supporting the gay marriage ban.
Heuer, meanwhile, has authored bills to improve worker training and to try to close the skills gap.
Judy said he wants to push a law allowing Hoosiers to carry firearms without a permit.