INDIANAPOLIS – Two state House seats in Allen County are up for grabs this year, and both have drawn feisty Republican primary contests as incumbents try to hold on to their seats.
In House District 84 – covering parts of Fort Wayne – Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, wants a third full term. His challenger is Fort Wayne attorney Michael Barranda.
In House District 85 – spanning the northeastern section of Allen County – Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, just finished his first legislative session after being appointed in a caucus to fill the remainder of Rep. Phyllis Pond’s term. She died last year. His two opponents – Ken Knoblauch and Denny Worman – want the voters to make a different decision.
The winners of the primaries go on to the November ballot. The two-year 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.
House District 84
Morris, 38, is a business owner who wants to focus on jobs – especially make sure veterans have quality jobs when they return from service.
He said he worked on two key bills in the 2014 session – business personal property tax reform and the repealing of an energy efficiency program.
He was not listed as a sponsor or author on the legislation.
I wasn’t invisible but working on the background, Morris said, noting he filed similar legislation last year.
The first bill gives local units of government options for reducing or eliminating equipment property taxes that businesses pay.
The second bill ended a state energy efficiency program that he said was costing Hoosiers $3 to $5 a month on their electric bills.
Energy companies already have those programs built in, so it was nice to be able to lift that tax, Morris said.
He supports the constitutional gay marriage ban and moving Allen County to a single county executive system with a larger County Council.
If re-elected, Morris wants to make sure the Indiana National Guard is financed adequately, including allowing the guard to keep unused state funds for future concerns.
Barranda, 35, grew up in Kendallville and moved to Fort Wayne after law school. He does civil and commercial litigation and trial law.
Morris’ comments questioning the Girl Scouts in 2012 initially drew Barranda’s attention to the seat but are not the reason he is running.
I feel this is a significant position for our community, and we need the best representation possible, he said.
Barranda said Morris votes along party lines and follows suit the way his caucus wants but has passed little legislation and doesn’t add to the discourse.
Barranda is 100 percent behind the move to a single county executive and said Morris was sometimes unclear on his position though he did vote for the bill.
He also questioned Morris’ vote against municipal utility legislation that – if defeated – would have slowed important development in the community.
If elected, Barranda said he hopes to work on legislation allowing schools more freedom to innovate.
He wants to hold public schools, charters and private schools that accept state dollars to the same standards and oversight.
House District 85
Cox, 31, moved to Allen County when he was 14 and now practices business and local government law.
Though a new lawmaker, he said he found ways to contribute in his first session, including working to repeal an unnecessary law regarding when businesses cease operation as part of a government reduction bill.
When going door-to-door, Cox said he focuses on his conservative values.
If re-elected he wants to work to improve the state’s Safe Haven law for troubled women who give birth to children they don’t want. And he hopes to get involved in the issue of combating prescription drug abuse.
He supports cutting taxes that will spur economic growth but wants to guard against putting future legislatures in the position of having to hike taxes in a few years to take care of state services.
He favors the constitutional ban against gay marriage and opposes the move to an Allen County single county executive.
Knoblauch, 68, lives in Woodburn and is a lifetime Allen County resident. He was in the Army, taught art and English and worked in the business world. He also had one term on the East Allen County Schools board.
He focuses on being a citizen-legislator and bringing a broad diversity of experience to the body.
On the education front, Knoblauch said the ISTEP+ test was originally created as a means to achieve goals but unfortunately it has become the end. We are focusing too much on one test.
He supports the constitutional ban on gay marriage and is still researching the single county executive question.
I feel the current system has been effective, Knoblauch said. But I’m open to more efficient ways. I’m open to it but haven’t researched all the arguments yet.
Worman, 60, is a familiar name in the district, having run unsuccessfully against Pond four times.
He has lived in Leo his whole life and works to bring businesses to the area as a commercial real estate specialist.
Worman criticized Cox for voting to remove a sentence regarding civil unions in the proposed constitutional gay marriage ban. If the language had not been altered and had passed the legislature Hoosiers could vote on it this fall. Now the issue is pushed back to 2016.
Casey Cox took away the right to vote in 2014, Worman said.
Cox was just one of 52 House members to vote that way. The Senate also chose not to reinsert the section.
Worman said he opposes tax increases and wants to reduce government regulation. He also said the more guns that people have protect each other.
Worman opposes the referendum to move to a single county executive system.
I like the decisions to be spread around, he said.