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Local politics

Senate District 15
Liz Brown
Fort Wayne
Age: 55
Party: Republican
Political experience: One term on Fort Wayne City Council; unsuccessful bid for mayor
Current occupation: Civil mediator Ken Fries
Age: 54
Party: Republican
Political experience: Finishing second term as Allen County sheriff
Current occupation: Allen County sheriff Jeff Snyder
Fort Wayne
Age: 58
Party: Republican
Political experience: First run for public office
Current occupation: Owns food service company Darren Vogt
Fort Wayne
Age: 44
Party: Republican
Political experience: Serving the last year of his third term on Allen County Council
Current occupation: Insurance agency owner, commercial real estate
Election preview

Senate race field puts focus on taxes, schools


– The ground war is heating up in the Republican primary for the open Senate District 15 seat.

Three well-known politicos and one businessman are knocking on doors, running radio ads and sending mailers in the quest to replace retiring Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne.

It is the first time the seat has been open since 1985 – making it an attractive post.

The winner of the primary will face Democrat Jack Morris in November.

The four-year Senate term pays a base salary of more than $24,000.

After leadership and other expense pay, that salary ranges from $49,000 to about $71,000 for a part-time job.

The candidates squaring off are former Fort Wayne City Councilwoman and former Liz Brown, Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries, businessman Jeff Snyder and Allen County Councilman Darren Vogt.

Their conservative credentials are similar: They all support a constitutional ban on gay marriage, oppose abortion and defend the Second Amendment.

So voters are going to have to look deeper.

“It shouldn’t be a popularity contest,” said Vogt, 44.

He emphasized his experience with budgeting as a county councilman elected in 2001. Vogt also said he is giving up that County Council seat to run for the state Senate – an indication of his conviction about the job.

“Fiscally, we have been able to deal with hard economic times and make tough decisions. It isn’t popular to say no. I have shown proven leadership in that area,” he said. “I’m not a politician. I’m an elected official. I am passionate, and I get the job done.”

If elected, the insurance agency owner said his interests would lie in keeping taxes low and businesses free from regulation.

Vogt has four young children in the public school system and is especially concerned about how the school funding formula is calculated.

“I think it’s broken. I want to work closely and make sure schools aren’t being hurt,” he said.

Snyder seems the least comfortable in the race, saying it is difficult to ask people for campaign donations.

But he wanted some diversity in the race.

“I have become increasingly disenchanted with the lifetime politicians,” he said.

“I thought it was time for a businessman to try.”

Snyder, 58, runs a food service company and hasn’t been involved with Republican politics until now.

“My thought would be to keep the constituents in mind for every vote. What is best for them? Does this help or hurt?” he said.

One specific concern is the rising unemployment taxes that businesses are paying.

The federal tax has increased for Indiana companies to pay back a loan the state has when it borrowed money for unemployment benefits from the federal government during the recession.

The loan amount has dropped significantly but still is $1.3 billion.

And the federal unemployment tax on businesses increases every year until that loan is paid off.

“We really just need total tax reform instead of doing bits and pieces,” Snyder said.

Fries, 54, has spent 32 years in law enforcement, including the past eight as sheriff. He is prohibited from seeking a third term and now wants to take his expertise to the Indiana Statehouse.

“At the end of the year, I retire. I could fade into the sunset. But I’m not done making a difference,” he said.

Fries said state government is getting too big – even in Republican-dominated Indiana.

As an example, he mentioned a bill in this session banning some teens from using tanning beds.

“We have no business, as government, sticking our noses into parents’ business like that,” Fries said. “People are tired of all the government regulations.”

He also said he supports phasing out the business personal property tax – and he doesn’t believe the local revenue needs to be replaced.

“We are overtaxed,” Fries said. He thinks government is funding some programs that aren’t necessary, such as county participation in the Purdue Extension Office and preparing shovel-ready job sites that take land off the tax rolls.

If elected, he plans to be accessible to constituents – coming back every weekend to host “coffee with Kenny” meetings. Wyss was sometimes criticized for having a home in Indianapolis and spending a lot of time there and traveling.

Brown, 55, is a civil mediator in sometimes-contentious domestic cases.

Years ago, she participated in the Lugar Series for Women, and that’s when she knew she wanted to serve the community in a different way. She has run for a number of offices and served one term on the Fort Wayne City Council.

That stint gave her legislative experience she believes is important for work in the Indiana Senate.

Brown is concerned about what she calls the “educational morass” the state is in, particularly regarding state standards, curriculum and too much emphasis on testing.

“One kid is sick, and the whole school’s grade goes up or down,” she said.

Brown also has questions about whether some Indiana public schools are underfunded and others overfunded.

She is a proponent of phasing out the business personal property tax. “If we reduce taxes, people keep money and can invest,” she said.

She is OK with giving communities options to replace part of the revenue but said the responsibility should be on local officials to vote on those increases.

“They have to take the political hit,” she said.