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Lobbyists spent $20.7 million during session. Here’s which groups spent the most.
- Lobbyists in the health care, energy and education industries generally spent the most on lobbying this past reporting period.
- Hoosiers for Quality Education, which advocated for more funding for charter schools, reported spending the most on lobbying efforts.
- Out of the top 5 self-representing lobbyists with the largest wallets this past legislative session, four came from the health care industry.
Editor's note: This article is part of a series regarding influence in the Indiana Statehouse. Read more about which lawmakers received the most entertainment during the legislative session here.
By nearly all metrics, school choice advocates walked away from the 2023 legislative session as winners.
Lawmakers approved a massive expansion of the state-funded voucher system, enabling roughly 97% of Indiana students to use state money to attend the school of their choice. Likewise, charter schools will receive millions of dollars in future years, in some cases siphoning away money historically dedicated to traditional public schools.
One clue as to why school choice advocates were successful this year could be in the data compiled and recently released by the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission showing how much each lobbyist spent trying to persuade lawmakers between Nov. 1, 2022, through April 30, 2023 — the period covering the most recent legislative session.
Hoosiers for Quality Education, a school choice advocacy group, and its affiliate reported spending a combined $433,754 on lobbying over the course of six months, hundreds of thousands more than any organization spent lobbying for their own interests. Most of that stemmed from spending on a massive public-facing advertising campaign arguing that charter school students were being unfairly underfunded.
As part of a series tracking Statehouse influence, State Affairs sorted through lobbying data to determine which groups and industries reported spending the most. Altogether, lobbyists spent $20.7 million compensating lawyers, purchasing facetime via pricey meals and professional sporting event tickets or pursuing other lobbying-related expenditures, based on numbers provided by the commission at the close of June.
Out of the top 100 registered lobbyists representing their own organizations, those in the health care, energy and education industries spent the most.
Lawmakers rely on lobbyists for information on how laws will impact different professions or the well-being of Hoosiers. In fact, more than a thousand organizations and companies have filed with the lobbying commission, including some consumer advocates for Hoosiers in poverty or seniors.
“These guys are part-time legislators,” Betsy Wiley, president of Hoosiers for Quality Education, said. “They are not experts in health care, utilities, K-12 education, higher ed, welfare, corrections, DNR. They can’t possibly be, nor can their staff, so they have to find trusted resources to give them data and information to help them make an informed decision.”
But many of the top 100 biggest spenders came from industries that stand to gain or be harmed financially by the laws legislators pass, including those in state-regulated industries such as alcohol or gaming. The State Affairs analysis provides a window into who has enough resources to influence change at the Statehouse. Of course, there are other ways to attempt to garner influence that don’t show up in these numbers, including through campaign contributions.
“You’re talking about really, really large companies that just have enormous resources and deep pockets and with that comes an enormous amount of influence and access,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Citizens Action Coalition.
The analysis also showed inconsistencies in which expenditures organizations and companies report as lobbying expenses, which means it’s challenging for every day Hoosiers to track who is actually spending the most money influencing lawmakers. It also might not capture all of the session-related spending if lobbyists were compensated after the fact due to the timeline of the reporting periods.
Top 10 lobbying spenders
- Hoosiers for Quality Education, Inc.: $390,238
- Indiana State Medical Association: $230,638
- Indiana Farm Bureau Inc.: $204,866
- Indiana Hospital Association: $193,700
- Indiana University Health (IU Health): $156,558
- Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce: $151,623
- Duke Energy Indiana LLC: $146,318
- St. Vincent Health, Inc: $142,157
- Americans for Prosperity: $127,416
- AFT Indiana: $126,645
Source: Indiana Lobby Registration Commission's 2023 employer lobbyist total spreadsheet combined with 2023 compensated lobbyist total spreadsheet, sorted by State Affairs. Lobbying firms with diverse clients were excluded.
How the education debate was impacted
Education spending makes up more than half of the state budget, which means lobbyists were unsurprised the industry as a whole spent more than most others. This year lawmakers not only dramatically expanded school choice, but they also pursued a host of other education-related bills, including those that increase work-based learning in schools, prohibit the teaching of human sexuality in K-3rd grade and reduce the power of teacher unions.
Hoosiers for Quality Education might have topped the list in part due to vagueness surrounding when advertising spending needs to be reported as a lobbying expenditure. The group claimed roughly $380,000 for an ad blitz on behalf of the Indiana Student Funding Alliance, which included a call to “close the gap” between funding for traditional public school students and those who attend charters.
“I’d rather air on the side of transparency,” Wiley from Hoosiers for Quality Education said of the decision to include the advertising spend in the lobbying reports. “I would rather over report than under report, so we just reported it all.”
Previously, only traditional public schools received local property tax dollars, while charter schools had to rely solely on state money. That led to a lack of parity between the two, Wiley said.
Because of changes in Senate Bill 391 and the budget — which was supported by Hoosiers for Quality Education, traditional schools in four counties will be required to share future referendum tax levy dollars and other property tax growth with brick and mortar charter schools in the area. Had the referendum sharing requirement alone been in effect in 2022, charter schools in those areas would have received $23.9 million in local taxes that otherwise would have been allocated to traditional public schools, according to an analysis from the state’s Legislative Services Agency. The state also increased its own spending on charter schools.
AFT Indiana, one of the groups representing teachers, also landed in the top 10 lobbyists representing their own interests, spending $126,645, the majority of which went toward paying lobbyists, according to records.
Sally Sloan, executive director of AFT Indiana, left a message for State Affairs saying the organization’s report was inaccurate and would be corrected, but didn’t return multiple followup calls seeking clarification.
Health care industry dominated top 100 spenders
When looking at the top 100 lobbyists, those from the health care industry spent the most — $1.92 million, or more than double what any other industry spent.
Out of the top 5 self-representing lobbyists with the largest wallets this past legislative session, three came from the health care industry. That’s unsurprising given the legislative leaders’ focus on health care-related issues this past legislative session, including increasing public and mental health spending and cutting health care costs for consumers.
The Indiana State Medical Association (ISMA), which represents physicians, spent the second most when excluding traditional lobbying firms with diverse clients, dedicating $230,638 toward its lobbying efforts. The majority of that funding went toward paying lobbyists, but ISMA spent an additional $14,786 on entertainment for lawmakers. The bulk of that entertainment spending came from a dinner hosted for all Senate and House health committee members, a spokesman for ISMA said.
The group, which declined an interview request, lobbied for enhancements to the state’s trauma care system and measures they argued would reduce costs, such as limits on physician noncompete clauses and a reduction in prior authorization requirements.
Such legislation passed, but in some cases with restrictive caveats. For example, as Senate Bill 7 crossed the finish line, it banned noncompetes for primary care physicians only.
Hospitals, which occasionally found themselves at odds with the goals of ISMA throughout the legislative session, weren’t far behind in spending. The Indiana Hospital Association ranked No. 4, spending $193,700, followed by Indiana University Health, which spent $156,558. St. Vincent Health, otherwise known as Ascension, ranked No. 8, spending $142,157.
All three were on defense much of the legislative session as lawmakers threatened to implement price caps in an effort to lower costs at the biggest hospital systems.
Lawmakers didn’t implement price caps, but they did pass legislation requiring nonprofit hospital systems to charge for services based on where the service is actually provided and implementing other reporting requirements. Advocates argued the initiative will lower health care prices, but hospitals warned it will have unintended consequences.
Brian Tabor, IHA president, called the bill “an unprecedented picking of winners and losers within an industry.”
Energy industry pays big
Following health care, spending by the energy and utility industry made up the next biggest category when looking at the top 100 lobbyists.
Duke Energy Indiana, an electric and natural gas company, ranked No. 7, spending $146,318 in the first reporting period of the year, mostly on its own lobbyists or reimbursing others.
Angeline Protogere, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, emphasized that the company complies with all lobbying laws.
“In Indiana, Duke Energy serves 69 counties, and we provide background and education on utility issues to not only legislators representing those counties, but across the entire state,” Protogere said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Indiana Energy Association, which advocates for utility companies, topped a different list by spending $45,613 on entertainment-related expenses, the fourth-highest spend on entertainment for lawmakers. The association spent $33,182 on at least one unspecified function every lawmaker was invited to and more than $11,000 on tickets and refreshments for sporting events for 22 lawmakers and some of their family members. Half of those lawmakers sit on committees passing laws regarding utilities or the environment.
“Advocacy is centered around issues affecting the energy transition and what it means for our customers and their constituents,” Danielle McGrath, president of IEA, said. “Given the complexity of our issues and the speed at which things are changing, it's imperative to communicate on the issues and provide opportunities for others to learn and ask questions.”
Olson, from Citizens Action Coalition, called the legislative session “one of the most successful sessions in a very long time,” for utility companies.
House Bill 1420, for example, allows the state’s existing utility companies, such as Duke Energy, to have first dibs on potentially billions of dollars worth of new electricity transmission lines. Likewise, House Bill 1421 enables utility companies to charge ratepayers for projects associated with natural gas before the infrastructure comes online.
“The influence and the reach of utilities was extraordinary,” Olson said. “The results speak for themselves.”
Other prolific spenders
The Indiana Farm Bureau and The Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, known as the Indy Chamber, also ranked high on the list, coming in at No. 3 and 6, respectively.
A majority of the Indiana Farm Bureau’s $204,866 lobbying expenditures came from compensating lobbyists. But the organization also spent $44,900 on at least one event every lawmaker was invited to and $10,798 worth of other entertainment and gifts.
Top 10 gift and entertainment providers
1. Accelerate Indiana Municipalities: $69,185
2. Indiana Farm Bureau Inc.: $55,701
3. Indiana Manufacturers Association: $55,636
4. Indiana Energy Association, Inc: $45,613
5. Indiana Association of Realtors: $37,500
6. The Corydon Group: $29,927*
*non-client expenditures plus reports listing The Corydon Group as a client
7. Indiana Electric Cooperatives: $27,889
8. Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys, Inc.: $27,063
9. Krieg DeVault LLP: $25,115*
*non-client expenses plus reports listing Krieg DeVault as a client
10. Bose Public Affairs Group LLC: $21,829*
*non-client expenses plus reports listing Bose Public Affairs Group as a client
Source: Indiana Lobby Registration Commission's 2023 employer lobbyist total spreadsheet combined with entertainment and gift expenditures on behalf of clients listed on the 2023 compensated lobbyist total spreadsheet, sorted by State Affairs.
The organization, which represents 260,000 member-families, focuses on issues that impact agriculture and rural communities. This past legislative session it weighed in on everything from property taxes to utilities to public health funding. It did not respond to a request for an interview.
Meanwhile, the Indy Chamber reported spending $151,623 on lobbying, the majority of which was for paying lobbyists. Unlike some other organizations, the chamber includes the total salary for its two staff lobbyists in that figure, despite it only making up a portion of thost staff members’ jobs. The chamber, which represents businesses and economic development in central Indiana, also provided $726-worth of Pacers suite tickets to lawmakers.
“With the Indy Chamber being headquartered in Indianapolis and representing the businesses of the nine-county Indy region,” said Adam Burtner, vice president of government affairs for Indy Chamber, “it’s important to ensure legislators from across the state who are here during legislative session can experience what makes Indy the economic driver of the state, including showcasing the events and cultural assets only Downtown Indianapolis can offer.”
Americans for Prosperity, an influential political advocacy group that often contributes to Republican campaigns, also ranked in the top 10, spending $127,416 on its lobbying efforts. Josh Webb, Indiana state director for Americans for Prosperity, said the organization lobbied in favor of expanding the school voucher program and supported many of the major health care cost-cutting bills in their final form this year. The organization is trying to increase its lobbying presence in Indiana.
“We’re not really there to serve any one special interest or one group,” Webb said. “We’re really there to advance these principles of freedom that we believe in.”
The largest ‘entertainment’ providers
Some lobbyists relied more than others on providing entertainment to lawmakers, but it’s challenging to get a complete picture of who was really treating lawmakers the most due to differences in how each lobbyist reports entertainment expenditures.
Big name lobbying firms would have topped the entertainment-providing list, but State Affairs counted entertainment and gifts purchased on behalf of a client toward the client’s total. Still, some groups like Corydon Group, which paid for lawmakers to eat and golf while on out-of-state trips to Hawaii and Arizona, graced the top 10 list when including entertainment not attributable to any particular client.
Accelerate Indiana Municipalities, which speaks on behalf of more than 460 cities and towns, was associated with the highest dollar amount of entertainment in the last reporting period: $69,185. But most of that, the organization said, was due to one $65,000 legislative dinner every lawmaker was invited to.
That number was the total cost of the event and included the expenditures of others in attendance, such as leaders of cities and towns who capitalized on the opportunity to speak with the lawmakers. Some organizations appear to only report the cost associated with the lawmakers.
“We try to be obviously meticulous in our reporting and err on the side of transparency, so I guess we’re a little confused on what the reporting process is for everyone else as well,” said Matt Greller, chief executive officer of AIM. “We’re not the only ones who have these big dinners.”
The Indiana Manufacturers Association, which was associated with $55,636 worth of entertainment spending, shared a similar story. The organization, too, has one high-priced legislative reception each year in which every lawmaker is invited. Andrew Berger, senior vice president of governmental affairs for the Indiana Manufacturers Association, said the majority of people at the event are IMA members. But, the trade organization still reports the cost of the entire event.
“I know there’s events that are not showing up on those reports. I don’t know why; I don’t want to speculate on what other people do,” Berger said. “But I’m confident we’re doing it the right way.”
Neither organization shared specific examples of organizations reporting large functions differently.
Still, both argued the receptions — and lobbying in general — were vital to achieving their goals.
“The lobbying team here at the IMA are well known at the Statehouse,” Berger said. “But the best lobbyists for a trade association like us are our members, the people who actually are paying the taxes, are hiring people in Indiana or paying health care costs.”
Header image credit: Brittney Phan
Lawmakers want to loosen Indiana’s child labor laws, eliminating restrictions on how late 16-year-olds can work on school nights.
Bill author Rep. Kendell Culp, R-Rensselaer, said House Bill 1093 will align Indiana’s youth labor laws to more closely match those on a federal level.
“1093 is a teenage workforce bill,” Culp said. “This bill allows parents the flexibility to better accommodate the learning their youth receives beyond the classroom setting.”
Opponents, though, fear that loosening standards could enable employers to take advantage of young people, impacting their education.
House Bill 1093 has already passed the House by a 66-31 vote and was voted out of the Senate Committee on Pensions and Labor this week, almost entirely along party lines. Only a couple of Republicans joined Democrats in rejecting the bill on the House floor.
What the bill does
Under House Bill 1093, 16- and 17-year-olds would no longer have any restrictions on when and how many hours per week they can work. Under current Indiana law, 16 and 17-year-olds can only work until 10 p.m. on a school night unless they get permission from a parent, and can’t work more than 40 hours in a school week.
The bill also exempts 14 and 15 year olds from Indiana’s child labor laws if they’ve graduated from high school or completed eighth grade and are excused from compulsory school attendance requirements. That often applies to those who are Amish, who often don’t attend school after eighth grade..
Supporters argued that other students can get home late due to away sporting events, and that those working should be afforded the same opportunities.
“How can the kids in sports play in games until 9, 10 o’clock at night but they can’t work past 7 o’clock on a school night?” asked Todd Gudeman, who runs a fast food restaurant. “People in sports, they aren’t getting their homework done.”
The legislation also provides a new exception to child labor laws for child actors and newspaper carriers. Plus, the bill would also allow 16 and 17 year olds to work in hazardous jobs if they are working in the agriculture sector.
Why it matters
Some opponents worry that loosening child labor laws could harm young people, particularly those living in poverty.
Lauren Murfree, policy analyst with Indiana Community Action Poverty Institute, told a story during a committee hearing on Wednesday about her own experience getting injured while working at a restaurant at 16 years old.
Before the injury, she had to contribute to her household in order to keep them afloat. She said her employer forced her to clock out before cleaning at night, but if she spoke up she was worried she would be fired.
“We need to recognize that particularly for youth in poverty, adults retain the most power and in turn can cause the most harm,” Murfree said. “We’re stealing from the futures of our youth for the profits of these businesses when we loosen protections on youth employment.”
Sen. Rodney Pol, D-Chesterton, echoed those same concerns.
“The idea that you have children that do have to work to support their families, that now may be subject to losing their position if they don’t work enough that I think is problematic,” Pol said. “‘We need you to work more, now we legally can require you to do so.’”
There were more than 19,000 youth employment violations of various types in 2023 according to the Indiana Department of Labor.
Employers who rely on teenage labor want to see this legislation enacted, arguing it would provide more opportunities for valuable on-the-job educational opportunities for young people.
Plus, they say they need the employees.
Jennifer Ousley, who represents Indiana Beach Amusement Park, said the park has increasingly had to rely on bringing people in from out of the country for the summer in order to make up for a lack of workers.
She said her own first job at 13 years old helped her develop a great work ethic.
“At 13 I sought after my first job because I wanted a sense of belonging, I wanted to have a sense of leadership,” Ousley said. “Working at such an early age was part of my mental health.”
Likewise, Jay Chupp, whose family is Amish, spoke in favor of the bill because he wants his children, who stop attending school after eighth grade, to have more opportunities to work.
“As an Amish parent of teenagers,” Chupp said, “I strongly believe now is the time my kids need to be learning the soft skills that will be so beneficial now and in their future.”
Because the bill could reduce the amount of fines employers receive for violating child labor laws, the legislation will have to pass out of the powerful Senate Appropriations committee, too.
Next week is the deadline for a bill to make it out of committee.
When Ray Rivera Baez purchased his South Bend home in 2019, he knew he had a fixer-upper. The 32-year-old poured tens of thousands into renovating his house built in the 1950s, tearing out some of the piping in one of the bathrooms and the kitchen. But he didn’t touch the pipes that bring water from …
The six Republican candidates for governor have spent months traveling the state while campaigning before small crowds and speaking at local GOP functions.
A series of televised debates on the horizon will give the broader public a chance to see the candidates in bursts longer than the 30-second commercials flashing ever more frequently on TV screens to capture voters’ attention ahead of the May primary.
At least five of the Republican candidates are on tap to participate in two televised debates set for consecutive nights in late March — about two weeks before the start of early voting for the primary.
The campaign calendar has:
The first debate, on March 26, is being organized by Fox 59 (WXIN-TV) in Indianapolis, with plans for broadcast also on fellow Nexstar-owned stations WANE-TV in Fort Wayne, WTWO-TV in Terre Haute and WEHT-TV in Evansville, according to CJ Hoyt, the Fox 59 news director.
The second debate, on March 27, will be hosted by WISH-TV of Indianapolis. Five of the Republican campaigns told State Affairs their candidate will participate. The station’s news director hasn’t replied to messages seeking confirmation.
A third televised debate is planned for April 23 — two weeks before the May 7 primary day — by the nonprofit Indiana Debate Commission.
That debate is set to happen before an audience at Hine Hall Auditorium on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus. It will be available to television and radio stations statewide for broadcast, with several stations having aired debates sponsored by the commission since its first one in 2008.
Why it matters
U.S. Sen. Mike Braun has been touting his endorsement from Donald Trump and working to build on the perception he’s the front-runner for the Republican nomination to replace Gov. Eric Holcomb, who can’t run again because of term limits.
Joining Braun in the crowded field is Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, former state Commerce Secretary Brad Chambers, Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden, former state Attorney General Curtis Hill and conservative activist Jamie Reitenour.
With less than three months before primary voting ends, those five are working to stand out as top challengers to Braun.
Braun hasn’t been on the campaign trail in Indiana as much as the other candidates because U.S. Senate business has often kept him in Washington.
But he’s not following the Trump playbook of skipping debates against challengers. That’s no surprise to Mike Murphy, a former Marion County Republican chair and state legislator.
“He’s pretty direct in his views and he’s got a lot of confidence,” Murphy said. “He’s been a U.S. senator and he’s a very wealthy guy, so why should he hide?”
Campaign officials for Braun, Crouch, Chambers, Doden and Hill have confirmed their debate participation to State Affairs. The Reitenour campaign hasn’t responded to messages seeking comment.
What’s coming up?
The flurry of debates starts with an untelevised session on March 11 sponsored by Current Publishing at The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.
Crouch, Chambers, Doden, Hill and Reitenour are scheduled to participate, with Braun not taking part because the Senate is scheduled to be meeting that week in Washington.
April 8 is the voter registration deadline to cast a primary ballot. Early in-person voting will start April 9 and continue on various schedules set by county election officials over the following four weeks.
The primary day is May 7, after which attention will turn to the general Election Day on Nov. 5.
What about the Democrats?
The Republican primary winner will seek to extend the party’s 20-year hold on the governor’s office.
That candidate will likely face Democratic nominee Jennifer McCormick, who was a Republican when she won election as state superintendent of public instruction in 2016.
But she broke with Statehouse Republicans over education policies, such as the use of standardized testing to rate schools and teachers, as well as her support for increased scrutiny of charter schools and the state’s private school voucher program.
Tamie Dixon-Tatum of Anderson, an unsuccessful state Senate candidate in 2022, was the only other person filing to seek the Democratic nomination for governor. The state Election Commission, however, will likely remove her from the ballot for failing to collect the required number of petition signatures.
DANVILLE, Ind. (Dec. 19, 2023) — Eric Doden had some advice, the type he couldn’t share in front of a reporter.
Doden spent the early part of his campaign for governor visiting communities in all 92 counties — a lot of them small towns just like 11,000-person Danville. And on this cold December day, local leaders picked Doden’s brain about how to redevelop the city’s aptly named Main Street as they showed off their downtown.
A local business owner was willing to unload his historic building only for a high price, but Doden had some strategies to get around that. If there’s something Doden knows, it’s how to break through barriers to redevelopment using whatever tactics he can, even if it means making some enemies.
Most of Doden’s campaign days so far have looked just like this as he meets with local leaders around the state. That’s where Doden, a developer by trade, thrives: conversations surrounding the economic success of Indiana cities and towns.
In a crowded Republican primary, Doden is trying to stand out by pitching himself as the candidate with a bold vision for all of Indiana — including small towns like Danville. And he is campaigning everywhere. That has meant less time spent talking about red-meat social issues and more on economic development.
But trying to shine in a field of candidates with far more name recognition has been challenging. He faces U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, former Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers, former Attorney General Curtis Hill and Indianapolis mother Jamie Reitenour.
Doden, 54, has little name recognition outside of northeast Indiana, where he lives in Fort Wayne. He was the president of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation under then-Gov. Mike Pence from 2013 to 2015, but since then he’s been based in Fort Wayne, where he primarily focused on redevelopment projects.
A December poll conducted by Mark It Red for Braun’s campaign ranked Doden in fifth place with only 3% of the vote. Doden’s campaign hasn’t released any of its own internal polling to refute those numbers but emphasized the poll is now outdated and no longer useful. He similarly underperformed in a recent low-turnout 6th Congressional District straw poll.
The bottom of the pack ranking, though, is not for lack of money or effort. Doden, who is often referred to as persistent, tenacious and at times aggressive, was the first to enter the campaign in 2021, three years before the primary election. He’s now visited all 92 counties.
Plus, his father Daryle Doden and his wife have shelled out nearly $3 million for his campaign, including contributions from Ambassador Enterprises, his father’s investment company. Doden and his wife, whom he shares five kids with, have put $300,000 of their personal money into the campaign too.
‘Where there is no vision, the people will perish’
Earlier that December day, Doden spoke with outgoing Danville Town Council member David Winters while eating a sandwich at The Beehive, a local cafe. Or rather, Doden, sporting a casual zip-up sweater and sneakers, was mostly listening while Winters ticked through his concerns, from the inability to fix state-owned local roads to “wokeism” in public education.
Doden says he likes to listen 70% or 80% of the time during these one-on-ones rather than doing the talking himself and sometimes asks his team afterward how much he spoke during a given conversation.
“I can just tell you the experience my daughter had: This wokeism, really pushing an ideology on our students, teaching them what to think versus how to think,” Winters told Doden. “We’ve got to get schools to focus more on the fundamentals — reading, writing, give parents more control.”
In response, Doden seamlessly pivoted to talking about his plan to repeal the state income tax for teachers to encourage more people to get into the field.
“When I talk to teachers, especially the ones that are just really trying to teach, they’ve been struggling feeling more like social workers, and it’s starting to create challenges to keep and retain the talent that are really good gifted teachers that are called to that,” Doden said. “Just to be clear, those teachers are teaching the basics.”
Doden certainly has socially conservative ideals, but those aren’t the economic development issues he’s built his campaign around. For example, asked about Gov. Eric Holcomb’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic — an issue that has led to some Republican distrust of Holcomb — Doden said he doesn’t “like to spend a lot of time litigating the past.”
Still, he’s garnered support from some Republicans like Winters who have socially conservative values and are skeptical of Holcomb.
It’s no secret Doden is religious — arguably more vocal about religion than any other candidate. He is the grandson of a preacher and a graduate of Hillsdale College, where he received a bachelor of arts in business finance and Christian studies. Now his family attends Blackhawk Ministries in Fort Wayne.
During his campaign, Doden has managed to focus primarily on economic issues while also making his Christian faith central to his image.
“By leaning into religion he doesn’t have to talk about the other social issues, because they are so often just tied together,” said Andrew Downs, director emeritus of Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics. “Because he’s not spending airtime talking about pro-life and books in schools and [school choice] vouchers, he gets to spend more time talking about economic development.”
Just take one of his campaign ads:
“The Bible says, ‘Where there is no vision, the people will perish,’ ” Doden says while sitting in a small-town church pew, quoting Proverbs 29:18. “As governor, we’ll deliver a better, bolder vision for our future.”
Sometimes that means taking a different approach to the same socially conservative values other candidates have. His answer to his “100%” anti-abortion stance, for example, is to implement zero-cost adoption.
“I’m a conservative, but we want ideas that bring people together,” Doden said. “We can sit here and debate all day long, and I’m not really going to convince, generally speaking, somebody that’s on the other side, but we can find policies that we all can agree to.”
And he’s concerned about state government overreach, but he’s talked less about COVID-19 and more about a disdain of government overreach when it comes to economic development initiatives, such as the controversial LEAP Innovation District in Lebanon. He’s the kind of guy who seems to trust the private sector far more than the government — so much so he didn’t know who the mayor was in a small city he helped redevelop.
Doden’s platform and views have resonated with Winters.
“Faith is important to me. Pro-life views are important to me, and I know that he possesses all of those qualities,” Winters told State Affairs. “So when I think of a constitutional conservative, he’s got all the bona fides on that.”
‘He really wants to lift the entire state’
This summer, before all of the candidates had announced they were running, Doden crouched in the basement of a half-finished building. Wearing a yellow vest and orange hard hat, he showed reporters one of his biggest accomplishments: The redevelopment of dozens of old buildings in downtown Van Wert.
It’s an 11,000-person Ohio city just across the border from Fort Wayne and, perhaps more important to Doden, his mother’s hometown. His grandparents are buried just two miles outside the town limits.
It was Doden who bluntly delivered the bad news to Van Wert leaders that they had a problem with their crumbling buildings, said Seth Baker, chief executive officer of the Van Wert County Foundation. Through his company Pago USA, Doden pitched a plan to redevelop Van Wert’s downtown in 2019, centered on restoring dozens of dilapidated downtown buildings.
The project is ongoing, but already dozens of residential units have been leased and the project attracted a new-to-Van Wert coffee and chocolate shop.
“There’s just a lot of hope about our future and excitement,” Baker said, “kind of a we-believe and can-do attitude.”
For Doden, this community is a microcosm of what can be accomplished in Indiana through his Indiana Main Street Initiative proposal, which would create a $100 million fund to spur private investment-driven redevelopment projects in communities of 30,000 people or fewer. The initiative was the subject of a book Doden co-wrote.
So why is Doden so focused on small towns? He was born in Butler, a small city northeast of Fort Wayne, where he was told the only way to make it was to leave and not come back.
“I don’t want the next generations of people to have that same statement made to them,” Doden said. “They should have the option to live and grow in their small town and start a business.”
Doden credits much of his interest in the redevelopment of towns and cities of all sizes to the growth he witnessed in Valparaiso between when he graduated from law school in 1997 and when he returned more than a decade later.
“It inspired me to say, ‘Well, look, if they can do that in Valparaiso, we should be able to do that in Fort Wayne,’ ” Doden said.
So he ran for Fort Wayne mayor in 2011. He lost badly in the Republican primary, coming in third with 18% of the vote.
Two years later, then-Gov. Mike Pence chose him as president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. By then, Doden had some experience under his belt working for his dad’s company Ambassador Enterprises and launching a private equity firm, Domo Ventures LLC.
Jim Atterholt, Pence’s former chief of staff, nicknamed him a “force of nature.”
“He was extremely determined,” Atterholt said. “He did not accept the status quo just because it was the status quo. He was a change agent, and he was bound and determined to push the boundaries.”
While serving under Pence, Doden traveled the state and helped launch the Regional Cities Initiative, a state plan to incentivize private regional development using state dollars. When lawmakers dramatically slashed the budget for the idea during the legislative process, Doden was on the frontlines urging business leaders to contact their lawmakers.
(Holcomb still uses a variation of the program, now known as the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative). It’s a plan Doden hopes to reinvent should he become governor.
Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas has known Doden for decades, but it’s Doden’s work on Regional Cities that stands out to him.
“It created a new paradigm of state government really partnering with local government and the private sector to fund key projects that can move communities forward,” said Costas, who plans to vote for Doden in May.
“He really wants to lift the entire state,” he added, “not just a few regions.”
Doden hopes voters can tell the difference between his and Chambers’ vision, even if their backgrounds are similar. Both have prioritized economic development in their campaigns. But while Doden touts Regional Cities as his biggest achievement while leading the IEDC, Chambers’ IEDC legacy will likely center on the LEAP Innovation District.
Getting Doden’s message out to Republican primary voters who don’t know him personally may be the challenging part.
Even convincing news outlets to devote resources to covering the campaign can be difficult. For the visit to Van Wert, Dodens’ campaign borrowed a Mercedes-Benz van — outfitted with massage chairs — and invited members of the media to tag along with Doden to Fort Wayne and Van Wert for tours.
Only two Indianapolis-area reporters showed up, leaving most of the multirow van empty.
‘I’m a hyper-competitive guy’
Doden admits his biggest shortcoming is that he likes to win. He once admitted he would do “whatever it takes to win — unless it’s illegal or immoral”
“I’m a hyper-competitive guy,” he told State Affairs. “When you’re hyper-competitive, sometimes you can focus so much on winning that you’re forgetting the why.”
That attitude has at times won him some enemies, particularly in Fort Wayne from 2015 to 2018 when he was the CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., the local economic development organization.
His crowning achievement during that time was successfully pushing for the redevelopment of the former General Electric factory in Fort Wayne. The company employed 10,000 employees in Fort Wayne at its peak in the 1940s, but its numbers had dwindled after decades of job cuts. Finally, in 2015, GE eliminated its roughly 90 remaining Fort Wayne jobs, leaving the 39-acre campus and more than a dozen historic buildings vacant.
Doden helped a developer and city leaders ink a deal to turn the buildings into a mixed-use campus known as Electric Works, relying on $65 million from the city. But at times, Democratic and Republican leaders in the city alike questioned Doden’s tactics — and were concerned about the hefty price tag associated with the project.
“When you have to turn something around, it takes a lot of energy and a lot of effort, and you have to be firm and you have to keep on track,” Doden said. “Sometimes, especially if people weren’t sure we should do something, they don’t like that. They don’t like assertive.”
Eighteen Allen County elected officials — all Republicans — in 2016 signed a letter to Doden questioning whether Greater Fort Wayne Inc., an organization that receives some city money, should be lobbying for a sales tax. Despite the rebuke, the organization continued to exert public marketing pressure on city council members and Democratic Mayor Tom Henry, including for fully funding the Electric Works project.
“Eric is aggressive. He can be confrontational, but as I mentioned earlier, once he envisions something that he feels would be an appropriate investment, he goes after it with everything he’s got,” said Henry, who shared that Doden’s “stubbornness” only occasionally bothered him. “His assertiveness can sometimes be abrasive to people. … He gets so passionate that he’s almost brash.”
To that point, Doden isn’t afraid to ruffle some feathers. His campaign was the first to go critical this election cycle, targeting Braun for pushing a bill in the U.S. Senate to reform qualified immunity, which shields law enforcement officers from liability while performing official duties.
“I think voters deserve to be reminded where people stand on the issues,” Doden said. “That’s part of the process. Each one of us as candidates should be challenging each other.”
But can this candidate who loves winning, win the crowded Republican primary election when he’s coming from behind in name recognition?
As Doden wrapped up his tour in Danville, he found himself on a basketball court — as any true Hoosier candidate does — flawlessly making nine baskets in a row, around-the-world style.
If only winning a campaign were as easy as picking up a basketball.
Downs emphasized it’s only February and Doden has the money to be a credible threat. But if internal polls are correct, not only does Doden have to close the gap between him and first place, but he’s also got to beat three other candidates.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘Will everybody make mistakes?’ He’s got to make up that gap and pass people,” Downs said. “He has a chance, but he’s going to need everything to go well.”
- Age: 54
- Hometown: Butler
- Current home: Fort Wayne
- Education: Bachelor of arts in business finance and Chrisitan studies from Hillsdale College; juris doctor, Valparaiso University School of Law
- Family: Married to Maci with five kids, ages 17-23
- Job: President of Pago USA and founding partner of Domo Development LLC and Domo Ventures LLC
- Work history: CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc. from 2015 to 2018, president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. from 2013 to 2015, director of investments for Ambassador Enterprises LLC from 2008 to 2010