A high school student at IPFW’s recent Civics Day wondered what U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman thought about gerrymandering – the practice of drawing state and federal legislative districts to favor one political party over others.
Stutzman said districts should be mapped out as fairly and as evenly as possible, because when you have contested elections, then you have both parties and both candidates, candidates on both sides, campaigning to make sure the public is engaged.
It is tough to argue that Stutzman’s own 3rd District is the result of gerrymandering. As Indiana’s nine congressional districts go, it is more geographically compact than most – a largely rectangular chunk of northeast Indiana bordered on two sides by Ohio and Michigan. It comprises 10 counties and parts of two more. It is urban (Fort Wayne), suburban (Columbia City, Auburn) and rural (large swaths of every county).
But contested? Rarely. Republican candidates have won the seat in 10 consecutive elections dating to 1994, topping 60 percent of the vote a half-dozen times. Democrats have represented the region in just six of the past 38 years.
The upshot is that Stutzman should coast to the GOP nomination in the primary election Tuesday and easily win a third full term in the House in the Nov. 4 general election.
A House term is for two years. The position pays $174,000 a year.
Stutzman’s stances are well-known by now. He is a fiscal and social conservative who advocates for gun rights, opposes abortion rights, wants the Affordable Care Act repealed, would like to split food stamps from agriculture policy in the farm bill, believes a revamped immigration policy should start with increased border security and seeks congressional oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Two men are challenging him on the Republican ballot, and three men are running for the Democratic nomination. Their campaigns have been modest at best and nearly invisible in some cases.
I’ve not met any of my Republican primary opponents, Stutzman said recently. We’ve been to events, we’ve been going to Lincoln Day dinners, and I’ve not crossed paths with them at all. I don’t know what their ambition or what their intent was.
Stutzman has raised $797,000 in contributions during the current election cycle, and he has more than $430,000 in the bank.
Neither of his Republican opponents, nor two of the three Democratic hopefuls, filed a campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission, indicating they have raised and spent little or no money.
Stutzman himself has kept a fairly low profile. Most of his campaigning has been behind the scenes, building up our grass-roots network, he said.
I haven’t seen a need to go up on radio or on TV yet, he said. We did some polling, and we know where we’re at, and we’re looking really good. So we’re going to save our money for the fall if we need it then, and we’ll see what happens in the fall.
His GOP primary foes are Mark William Baringer of Fort Wayne and James Jim E. Mahoney III of Huntington.
Baringer said he is campaigning on Facebook. He said his main goal is preserving Social Security by imposing payroll taxes on personal income exceeding $117,000, which is exempted. Doing so would fund Social Security in perpetuity, he said.
Baringer said he also is concerned about the erosion of personal freedom. I think the Fourth Amendment is really seriously under attack.
The Fourth Amendment protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government without a court-approved, probable-cause warrant. Baringer said the U.S. Constitution should be updated to strengthen the provision.
I don’t know how they got to the point where we have to pull down our pants to get a job and urinate on command, he said.
Baringer fears the next step will be DNA swabs that reveal whether a job applicant is prone to certain diseases or medical conditions.
I think we have to be careful that we don’t go down that road where people are kept out of the workplace because of their genetics, and in being required to provide that information to employers, he said.
Mahoney said his campaign has consisted of social media and door-to-door visits made from his wheelchair.
He said he filed his candidacy because Mr. Stutzman doesn’t have a clue as to the way government should be run. You don’t close down the people’s government so that they can’t get the services they need.
Mahoney was referring to the congressional standoff over spending that led to a partial government shutdown for 16 days last October. He noted that Stutzman voted against the budget plan that reopened federal agencies.
Mahoney criticized Congress for cutting spending on food stamps, and he called for $3 trillion in public infrastructure repairs.
We need to be rebuilding our water systems, our dams, our levies, our roads, our bridges, he said. We have had people die because these repairs have not been made.
Mahoney, a former parks director in Schererville and Merrillville, said the reconstruction would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, which would pay for the improvements with new income tax revenue.
The three candidates for the Democratic nomination include two who ran in 2012. Tommy Schrader finished a distant second with 13.6 percent of the vote, and Justin Kuhnle came in fourth with 10.1 percent. The third Democratic candidate in Tuesday’s primary is Jim Redmond.
Kendallville resident Kuhnle is the lone Democrat to file a campaign finance report. He had raised just $715 in campaign contributions through March, and $250 of it came out of his own pocket. He said he bought 300 yard signs, has been appearing at candidate forums and has been endorsed by Decatur Mayor John Schultz and Portland Mayor Randy Geesaman.
Kuhnle’s campaign proposals include reducing the federal government’s authority over local school districts and repealing the 2.3 percent medical device tax that helps fund the Affordable Care Act, which he generally supports.
The federal health care law is something we can work on and make it better, he said. This was a legit first step to get insurance companies on board.
He favors spurring job growth by encouraging more public-private partnerships on infrastructure projects and returning to the block-grant system in which local governments had more flexibility with federal funds.
Kuhnle said he supports federal spending cuts, citing escalating costs for the military’s F-35 and F-22 fighter jets.
Congress just turns a blind eye and gives them what they want, he said.
Redmond agrees, saying Congress should be diligent about holding federal contracts to their original cost estimates.
The F-35 is the best example that I have: Seven years past due and $165 million over budget, he said.
The rural Auburn resident and Vietnam War veteran said eliminating $50 billion a year in reported fraudulent expenses in Medicare and Medicaid is a great place to start in trying to balance the budget.
Just put an end to it through legislation and prosecution, he said.
Redmond favors halting foreign aid.
I was taught at a very young age that if you have to buy your friends, they’re not your friends – an old Hoosier colloquialism there, he said.
He said he is going to spend less than $1,000 and therefore was not required to file a campaign finance report.
Schrader said he is not raising money. He said his campaign was derailed when he was struck by a car April 3 while walking across Coliseum Boulevard. He is recovering from an arm injury and a fractured bone in one of his legs.
The Fort Wayne resident said he backs raising the minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $10.10 and supports legislation to prohibit employment discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Economic justice for our people, he said.
He supports restoring cuts from the food stamp program that he said Stutzman was responsible for.
Asked how he differed from his Democratic rivals, Schrader said: They can’t beat Marlin Stutzman, and I think I could.
He also said: I don’t really know too much about my opponents, but that same old garbage about trying to get all the fraud and waste out of the budget. I don’t really buy into my opponents’ mumbo jumbo.