On Monday evening, several candidates for local and regional office made an appearance at a networking event hosted by the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce (GBCC) at The Mill, a co-working space north of city hall.
Each candidate got a chance to deliver a quick three-minute stump speech.
This B Square roundup is limited to candidates in contested, partisan races where both candidates appeared.
That leaves out school board races, which are non-partisan.
But one takeaway from Monday’s event was the position taken by school board candidates on the Monroe County Community School Corporation ballot referendum. Each of the three MCCSC school board candidates who attended Monday’s event expressed strong support for the levy increase that appears on the ballot. The three who spoke were: Daniel O’Neill (District 3); Ashley Pirani (District 3); and Erin Wyatt (District 1).
If it’s passed, the referendum would set the school referendum levy rate at $0.185 for eight years, which would increase the average residential taxes paid to the schools by about 35 percent, according to the ballot question wording. The ballot language says the additional money will support the retention and attraction of teachers and staff and enhance programs in STEM, the arts, and special education.
In Monroe County, early voting will take place at the election operations building at 3rd and Walnut streets.
State House District 62: Incumbent Jeff Ellington (R) moved out of the newly drawn district, which means that Penny Githens (D) and Dave Hall (D) are competing for an open seat.
State House District 62: Penny Githens (D)
Githens described District 62 as made up mostly of people who live in Monroe County. From that she reasoned that a Democrat should be elected to represent the district. She said, “We deserve to have someone who represents us, and I think that’s a Democrat here—that’s who we are here in Monroe County.”
Githens said she enjoys her current work as a Monroe County commissioner but said there are policy issues that she can’t address as a county commissioner. “I can’t address public education. I can’t address affordable childcare. I can’t address regionally the need for substance use disorder and mental illness treatment,” she said.
Githens said she won’t be able to address those issues just on her own. She said, “I need other like-minded people up there with me. I need to figure out ways to work with others who are already there.”
Githens described how she worked several years ago to get insurance mandates added for autism, after her son was identified with autism. She said she would bring the same energy she had brought to her work on autism to her work for House District 62.
State House District 62: Dave Hall (R)
Hall introduced himself as a 20-year small business owner, a lifelong Hoosier, a farmer and a member of the Jackson County REMC board. Hall described the REMC as a rural electric distribution co-op, serving 25,000 meters in parts of 10 counties that include Brown, Jackson, and Monroe.
In 2018 the REMC Jackson County started an internet fiber-to-the home project that has now connected over 10,000 homes, Hall said. As he has knocked on thousands of doors in Brown and Monroe, and Jackson counties, some people tell him that they are not able to work from home because they lack connectivity. He has experience getting people connected, Hall said.
Hall cited his experience serving on the Jackson County council—that’s the fiscal body of a county. In 2015, Jackson County had to deal with a jail overcrowding problem, but as Hall put it, “The problem wasn’t that our jail was too small. We had too many people in it.” Instead of building a new jail, they partnered with another county that was also struggling with a jail overcrowding issue to provide mental health care.
That’s a model that should be used everywhere, Hall said. “Because when we just put people in jail, they don’t get better. They don’t get results. They just don’t,” Hall said.
People are stressed and they’re scared, Hall said, because of inflation, among other things. But they’re also scared of city annexation, and they’re scared of having their income taxes increased by people they can’t vote for, Hall said.
That’s an allusion to the way state law is set up, which allows the city council of Bloomington to enact an income tax increase for all of Monroe County on an 8–1 vote.
“Those are issues that we need to fix,” Hall said.
Hall also described how the Jackson County work release center works. “We have a community transition program, so when they get released [from prison] they don’t get just dumped back on the street.”
Monroe County Recorder: Incumbent county recorder Eric Schmitz is term limited, so Amy Swain (D) and Paul White, Sr. (R) are competing for an open seat.
Monroe County Recorder: Amy Swain (D)
Swain started by reviewing some basics about the office of recorder—it was actually the first local county government office created by the state constitution back in 1816, she said. The office also has constitutionally set term limits, which is why incumbent recorder Eric Schmitz cannot seek re-election, Swain said.
Swain described the recorder’s office as mainly focused on property—fees, mortgages, liens, among other things. That means the recorder deals with real estate companies, title companies, mortgage companies, and financial institutions, as well as the general public, Swain said. In her job as the member services director of the Monroe County YMCA, she oversaw the department that did direct interaction with the public and businesses.
As a records archivist for the city of Bloomington, Swain said she digitized original records then posted them in an online database. Swain said she enjoys preserving history, and dealing with the public.
Monroe County Recorder: Paul White, Sr. (R)
White started by saying that he and Swain are friends, and that they have similar goals. White said his experience working for the US Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management, as a map maker, was a suitable background for a recorder. He office searched records, filed records, received records, and went out and proved records, White said.
Because the recorder’s office was the first office created by state legislators in 1816, they must have felt it was an extremely important office. White agrees that the recorder’s office is extremely important, even though you hear very little about it.
White also called the recorder’s office “the most non-political office in county government.” He added, “There are no political decisions made in this office.”
White alluded to a previous Monroe County recorder, Jim Fielder, who was White’s cousin. “I expect to do every bit as good a job as he did, and the recorders that have followed him,” White said.
Monroe County Sheriff: Incumbent sheriff Brad Swain (D) is term limited, so cannot seek re-election. That means Nathan Williamson (R) and Ruben Marté (D are competing for an open seat.
Monroe County Sheriff: Nathan Williamson (R)
As he has knocked on doors, a big topic he’s heard about from people has been the proposed new jail, Williamson said. Mental health is another big topic, Williamson said. The three minutes allowed for that day’s event was not enough to go through those topics, he said, but indicated he’d be happy to talk to anyone about them.
Williamson thinks that work release programs could be added to Monroe County’s jail and he’s met with Dave Hall, to talk about the Jackson County work release center. Hall is a Jackson County councilor, who is competing with Penny Githens for the District 62 state house seat. Adding a work release program to the jail would be possible and thinks it would help the community, Williamson said.
“Because I live in our community, I want to see our community thrive. I don’t want to see our community suffer,” Williamson said. He cited his experience working at the sheriff’s office for more than 11 years now, and two years as a reserve before that. As a reserved he gave his free time to come out and protect the community, Williamson said.
Before becoming a law enforcement officer, he worked in the business world for 11 years, Williamson said. He didn’t start off wanting to work in law enforcement. As Williamson put it, “That kind of grew into something that I enjoyed, and found my passion—which was helping people and bettering the community that I live in.”
Monroe County Sheriff: Ruben Marté (D)
Marté started off by thanking his campaign team: “If it wasn’t for them, I would not be standing in front of you right now,” Marté said.
Marté sketched out his experience as a law enforcement officer. After working for the state police office for 21 years, he now holds the rank of captain. He started his career in law enforcement working for two years at Rikers Island, which Marté described as one of the largest jails in New York City. At Rikers he learned how to talk to people. After Rikers, he attended the NYPD Academy, and while he was in the academy he applied to four different police departments in the state of Indiana.
“Indiana state police accepted me first. And I am glad they did,” Marté said. The state police sent him to the FBI National Academy, where he spent three months, learning how to manage people, learning how to deal with difficult things, not only in one location, but statewide. When he returned to Indiana from the FBI he was “fired up” by the training he received.
One of his assignments with the state police covering the entire state of Indiana was special investigations, which includes white collar crime, crimes against children, cybercrime and vehicle theft, among other offenses.
Another assignment that Marté described taking on had not yet been tried in the state of Indiana. That was to put together a program to teach Indiana state troopers “to work with people that don’t look like them.”
Monroe County Commissioner District 1: The incumbent for this position is Lee Jones (D) who is seeking re-election. Challenging her is Perry Robinson (R).
Monroe County Commissioner District 1: Perry Robinson (R)
Robinson told Monday’s gathering that four years ago he’d been asked to think about running. “I thought about it. I studied it. And here I am—I put my name in the hat.”
Robinson rejected the idea of partisanship: “It’s to the point where it’s not about the D, it’s not about the R, it’s about the unity.” He called on people to start working together. Robinson said he was born in the old Bloomington hospital. His parents at one time owned the Crazy Horse building in downtown Bloomington.
Robinson called for unity in moving forward to expand the convention center: “It’s time to start getting this convention center—let’s get it rolling.” He pointed out that the food and beverage tax that is supposed to fund the convention center expansion was enacted in 2017 and it’s been collected since then. When he knocks on doors, he hears people ask about the convention center: “What are we doing?”
Robinson addressed the question of affordable housing. “Can we have affordable housing in Bloomington, Indiana? I don’t know, I think we can. I hope we can.” But to achieve affordable housing, Robinson thinks some changes in legislation need to be made so that people can actually build on their property.
People are moving out of Monroe County, heading to Greene County, or to Lawrence or to Owen, Robinson said. “If people don’t understand that, they need to pay attention,” he added.
They’re leaving, because they’re tired of dealing with Monroe County, where it takes five or six months to get a permit. “That’s crazy,” Robinson said.
Robinson wrapped up by saying, “But you know, if we start working together and we start making things happen, I’m telling you, Monroe County can be better than what it is now.”
Monroe County Commissioner District 1: Lee Jones (D)
Jones read from a prepared statement. She ticked through her resume of public service: Before being elected as a county commissioner she served on the county council for six years, on the planning commission for 10 years, parks and recreation for eight years, and the board of zoning appeals for four years.
The COVID pandemic sidelined many of the issues she had hoped to work on, like community justice reform. Jones said two studies of the jail county jail had “determined that it is overcrowded, inhumane and unconstitutional.” That means the feds might require Monroe County to build a new jail, dictating its size and design, with a deadline for its completion. That’s why Monroe County has itself initiated a process to build a new jail, Jones said. Part of that effort includes making an offer on land for a new facility. “We hope to have a design done and let it for bidding, by the end of 2023,” Jones said.
Building a jail won’t be enough, Jones said. “Up to 70 percent of the people incarcerated are there for a crisis caused by mental illness or substance abuse,” Jones said. During her first term she worked with others to start the Stride Crisis Diversion Center. Instead of taking people in crisis to jail, or the emergency room, law enforcement officers can take them to Stride, Jones said.
Jones is also concerned about Lake Monroe, because it’s the community’s only water source. “Preserving the life of the reservoir preserves our quality of life,” Jone said. Jones cautioned that it’s going to become increasingly important to protect the lake.
Monroe County Circuit Judge: Incumbent judge Stephen Galvin is not seeking re-election, so the seat that Carl Lamb (R) and Emily Salzmann (D) are seeking is open.
Monroe County Circuit Judge: Carl Lamb (R)
Lamb started off by saying anyone who’s lived here in the last 30 to 40 years has probably heard his name—because as a trial attorney he has represented about 10,000 clients in a 38-year span.
About his experience, Lamb said, “I can say this wholeheartedly without any hesitation: I’m the most qualified candidate probably to ever run for judge, from the perspective there’s not one trial judge who ever ran with 38 years of trial experience.”
His experience goes back a long way, Lamb said, to when he was “eating dirt sandwiches when I was a little kid.” The US Marine Corps gave him an opportunity to get out of a poor and abusive environment in Terre Haute, Indiana.
“How can I get out of here? The United States Marine Corps was my answer,” Lamb said. He cied the Marine Corps motto, semper fi: “You know what that means: Always faithful. Always faithful to God, country, family.”
Lamb ticked through his service to a number of nonprofits.
Lamb said, “I uniquely know what this community needs. We have way too much crime. We need somebody to know the difference between giving somebody a second chance and putting those people off the streets.”
Some of the changes he’s seen in his 44 years living in the community have not been for the better, he said. He wrapped up by asking people to vote for him, based on his experience.
Monroe County Circuit Judge: Emily Salzmann
Salzmann started off by saying she had not always wanted to be a judge. She said, “Being a judge hasn’t always been an aspiration of mine. It’s snuck up on me a little bit.” The way it snuck up on her, she said, was through the experiences she’s had serving as judge pro tempore. A judge pro tempore fills in for the sitting judge and hears the cases that are set for that day and makes orders as the judge, Salzmann said.
Serving as judge pro tempore made clear to her the difference between acting as an advocate and acting as decision maker, Salzmann said. Sitting in as judge pro tempore for four different courts, showed that she has the skills and strengths required to serve as a decision maker, because she went back and I did it 47 times, Salzmann said.
The days when she served as judge pro tempore were those she looked forward to the most, she said. And those were the days when she felt like she’d done the most good.
Sitting in as judge pro tempore means letting people feel heard—listening to their cases, and allowing them to have a space to say their piece, Salzmann said. It also means helping people feel less alienated, if their first language is not English. Salzmann said she’s fluent in Spanish, which helps her “create a space where more people in the community can feel like they are heard.”