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Legislator to deploy; wife might take place

Banks

– Columbia City Republican state Sen. Jim Banks will deploy to Afghanistan in September and miss the entire 2015 legislative session.

But a rarely used state law will allow a temporary replacement – possibly his wife – to represent his constituents during his absence.

“I’m honored to serve in both capacities. It’s unfortunate that they conflict with each other,” Banks said. “Duty to my country comes first.”

He has championed veterans issues for several years. And now his wife and three daughters are getting firsthand experience facing what thousands of Hoosiers have gone through in recent years.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he doesn’t think the law allowing for a leave of absence due to military service has been used in the legislature in modern times.

“The entire Senate family is extremely proud of Sen. Banks for his service in the U.S. Navy,” he said.

Banks, a supply corps officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, is scheduled to leave Sept. 5 and return April 30.

Banks has served Senate District 17 – covering portions of Huntington, Whitley, Wabash and Grant counties – since 2010.

He does not have permission to talk about his specific assignment, though he said the financial aspects of getting troops out of the region is likely to be a significant part of his role.

Long said the process is complicated, but “I think it will work very smoothly in the end.”

When Banks is re-elected in November to a new four-year term – he is unopposed – he will take an oath of office by Skype with an Indiana Supreme Court justice. Long said Chief Justice Brent Dickson has cleared the process as meeting state law.

Then Banks will immediately request a temporary leave of absence Nov. 5.

At that point, a caucus of precinct committeemen and women will meet to choose a replacement, who will be sworn in Nov. 18 on Organization Day and serve until Banks returns.

Banks said he has encouraged his wife, Amanda, to seek the position.

“No one could step in as easily,” he said.

Long also said Amanda Banks is bright and has a political history herself as a conservative Republican.

But both men cautioned that a replacement will be chosen by the nearly 100 local precinct committeemembers.

Jim Banks knew about the deployment for weeks and made his announcement only days after the deadline for parties to fill a vacancy on the ballot. Democrats didn’t put anyone up.

But he said he didn’t do so to purposely avoid a competitor. Instead, he said it just took awhile to get career and family obligations settled before making the news public.

“Political considerations really didn’t matter at all,” he said. “I’m a competitive person. I did everything I could to find an opponent. I couldn’t find an opponent.”

The state senator also said he considered resigning until learning about the state statute he could evoke to make sure a senator was in place to serve.

Banks said South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has given him advice on the situation. He is serving seven months in Afghanistan also in the Navy Reserve. He is expected to return this year. A deputy mayor is serving in his absence.

nkelly@jg.net

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