NEW PALESTINE — Just a tiny portion of Hancock County was drawn into Indiana House District 57 during redistricting last year, so there’s little hype given here to the three candidates vying for the seat in the Nov. 6 election.
But that’s not just here. There have been no debates or organized political events for the contested race across the entire district. Incumbent Republican Sean Eberhart, Democrat Todd Day and Libertarian Paul Bravard are hoping their message resonates with voters with the limited opportunities they have to reach them.
All three say they’ve been going to local festivals to spread their message. Eberhart is seeking a fourth term and wants to continue what he calls a pro-business, fiscally sound approach to state government that has taken hold in recent years under Republican leadership.
Day would like to repeal some of the laws that have been passed in recent years, including the statewide smoking ban and the so-called right-to-work legislation. Bravard, the only Hancock County resident in the race, said his Libertarian philosophy of limited government will be his main drive when he addresses the budget, education and agriculture.
Indiana House District 57 covers mostly Shelby County and the northern part of Bartholomew County. But redistricting this year added the western half of Hancock County’s Sugar Creek Township. Voters in Sugar Creek precincts 1, 4, 6, 8 and 9 can cast a ballot in the race.
Eberhart, 46, is a Shelbyville resident and owner of Advantage Tool Rental. He was first elected to the Legislature in 2006 after having served on the Shelby County Council eight years.
Eberhart points to a strong business climate in Indiana as something he is proud of, as well as a balanced budget the last few years.
“Now we have a truly balanced budget with no gimmicks,” Eberhart said. “We’ve done it with no tax increases.”
In the next two years, Eberhart said the Legislature should focus on funding early childhood education.
“We’ve fully funded kindergarten this past session, which I think needed to be done long ago but we didn’t have the funds,” he said. “And since we’ve been such a good caretaker of the state’s funds, we needed to fund kindergarten and now we need to look at preschool.”
Eberhart has also become known as a champion for second amendment rights. He was the lead author in the House on a law that allows employees to keep a gun in their locked vehicle at their place of employment, for example.
Eberhart was an engineer before becoming a small business owner. He said his work in the private sector gives him a good understanding of budgeting and the economy.
“I know you can’t spend more money than what you’ve got coming in, and I think I know what it takes to create a good environment for businesses to grow and for people to find jobs,” he said.
This is the first time Eberhart has been challenged since he first ran for the office.
Day says voters are glad they have a choice. He says he wants to work to change some of the recent decisions made in the Legislature.
“I’m not really pushing any new legislation,” Day said.
Day, 45, is also a Shelbyville resident. He’s a design engineer at Thermo Transfer and a political newcomer.
Day says his career helps him identify problems and find the best solutions – something that would help him as a state lawmaker.
One of the reasons Day is running for the Legislature is personal. He was born overseas while his father was in the military, and he said he’s been battling state voter ID laws for eight years. Day would like to improve the state’s law to make it easier for people like him to vote without cutting through red tape.
Two hot-button issues in this year’s legislative session are also on Day’s radar. He says the statewide smoking ban should be rescinded.
“It infringes on property rights,” he said. “Local bars, clubs, anywhere really; they don’t need to be told what to do.”
Day also opposes the right-to-work law because of its impact on unions. Day said he did not agree with the walkout of the House Democrats in 2011 over the bill, but also says he understood where they were coming from in opposition to the legislation.
It took two years to pass the law, but Day said he wants it repealed. But Eberhart says, “there’s no chance.”
Right-to-work has already paid dividends, Eberhart said, because companies have decided to locate to Indiana due to the new law.
“It’s proven that it works,” he said. “There’s no chance we’re going to rescind it or go backwards on it.”
Eberhart said there could be changes to the smoking ban. It also won’t be repealed, but there may be tweaks to what types of establishments are included or excluded.
Bravard, 45, lives just outside of New Palestine and is also a political newcomer. He’s a network and systems administrator for Bowen Engineering, and says his background in education and agriculture will help him as a legislator.
While Bravard grew up on a farm, he now calls himself a “hobby farmer” because he lives in a small farm but makes a living in another profession. Still, he says he can relate to the agricultural community, and would like to see money back in the farmers’ pockets.
Bravard proposes reducing property taxes for farmers, and providing low-interest state loans to them.
Bravard also wants to see education reform by restructuring the administrative level of districts across the state. He said districts are often “top-heavy” and instead of a superintendent for each district there could be countywide superintendents. Monetary savings, Bravard said, would go toward more teachers and smaller classroom sizes.
Bravard is a former teacher himself, having taught at Mt. Vernon for three years in the mid-1990s before going into technology.
Bravard also wants to go through the state’s budget line-by-line to see where there are ways to save. He said he would naturally fit into committees on finance or technology, and as a Libertarian wants to find ways to save.
Most of Hancock County remains in the 53rd District currently represented by Republican Rep. Bob Cherry. Cherry is challenged by Libertarian Kim Brand, but Brand does not live in the district and would likely not be allowed to serve if elected.
Buck Creek and Vernon Townships are in Indiana House District 88, represented by Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma who is uncontested this year.