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Plans to turn junkyards and landfills into massive park take shape in southern Indiana
CLARKSVILLE — What once was undisturbed wildlife along the shore of Silver Creek now contains a trail of weedy gravel leading to a discarded mobile home. It’s the only thing left from a junkyard stationed among this patch of forested landscape.
“We call it the graveyard,” Vern Eswine, communications director of River Heritage Conservancy, said on a recent May afternoon. “The first thing you saw as you pulled into New Albany was all these trucks and buses and junk sitting here.”
Much has already been cleared, the latest steps in a process that began in 2016 to transform an unsightly mix of junkyards, landfills and other industrial properties into a massive park along the Ohio River in southern Indiana. Think hiking trails, kayaking and treehouses, but also the restoration of land and preservation of wetlands and waterways.
It’s called Origin Park, and Eswine is among an army of people who have been working — often behind the scenes, but increasingly out in the open — to ensure that the transformation takes shape. Hopefully sooner than later.
River Heritage Conservancy, the nonprofit group driving the change, is close to either acquiring or reaching agreements for about 430 acres. And it just received maybe its most important endorsement to date: The two-year budget passed by the Indiana General Assembly last month contained $37.5 million to accelerate Origin Park’s timeline.
The funding is key to a business plan at the center of Origin Park’s ambitions. It will pay for about half of the costs associated with building a 35-acre Outdoor Adventure Center that will house ziplines, climbing walls and manmade water recreation. The goal is to charge fees for access to that part of the park in order to pay for the conservation of the rest — not only protecting the wildlife but also ensuring free access to hundreds of acres of Indiana nature. And it's just across the bridge from a city full of potential visitors in Louisville.
Plans for the Outdoor Adventure Center
Planners originally slated the Outdoor Adventure Center as maybe the third phase of the project. Work can soon begin, though, because of the cash infusion from the state.
“We basically push a lot of our deadlines way forward because of that,” Eswine said. “And now that’s totally jump-started our ability to actually start planning and permitting, just to actually start building this thing while we’re finishing phase one.”
The state's spending on Origin Park is just one part of a larger investment into conservation and nature projects that have been celebrated by Gov. Eric Holcomb and legislative leaders in recent weeks: $30 million for new trails; $10 million to the President Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust Fund; $5 million for ongoing storm damage cleanup at McCormick’s Creek State Park; and $1.9 million toward acquiring the land for the closed Minnehaha Fish and Wildlife Area. The list goes on.
Perhaps the most ambitious plan of them all, though, is Origin Park.
“We're not going to own it, but in terms of setting aside property for the public, we’ll be making significant gains,” Holcomb told reporters following the passage of the state budget in late April. “I’m very pleased with the trails and park potential to keep our momentum going.”
Where Eswine stood next to the mobile home, at the northern end of the park, will one day become the Outdoor Adventure Center.
The plan for the Outdoor Adventure Center is modeled after Whitewater in Charlotte, North Carolina. A group from Origin Park visited there for inspiration, learning that it pulls in $2.5 million to $3 million in revenue each year, Eswine said.
The company that built Whitewater is going to build Origin Park’s version, Eswine said. Projections show it will draw up to $3 million in revenue each year.
In materials shared with Indiana lawmakers, planners said the park will also drive at least $8 million in new spending to nearby towns.
The goal is to open the Outdoor Adventure Center by 2028.
But that’s just a small slice of the overall plan. Other parts of the park are already open, with a lot more on the way.
Contrasts of abandonment and restoration
Just downstream from the mobile home is a new entry point into the water called Croghan Launch, which opened to the public in March.
A paved ramp gives way to a place to drag canoes and kayaks into Silver Creek. The creek is deep and wide enough for anglers, too. On a recent May afternoon, a man who had launched his motorized boat at a different point still waited near Croghan, fishing rod in hand. The creek serves as a tributary into the Ohio River.
On the other side of the boat launch, however, a landfill looms. Someone might think it’s just a hill, but it’s still there, towering beyond stretches of trees and grasses.
What will happen with some of the spaces remains to be seen. At one landfill, for example, park planners watched for years as a once-level horizon grew in height, driven by trucks that were dumping in heaps every day. That finally stopped about four months ago when the conservancy group acquired the land.
“You can’t really do anything with this. You can be on it, but you can’t dig into it,” Eswine said about the landfill. “There’s plans for it, but we’re not really dealing with that part right now.”
At one of the now-closed junkyards, the debris is mostly cleared but what remains is a barbed-wire fence running along a concrete pad where a semi-truck trailer has been sitting for what seems like decades by the look of it. But almost as if to prove Origin Park’s mission about the importance of reclaiming this space for wildlife, a wild turkey trotted just beyond the trailer on its way to a patch of trees.
Moments like that are common right now. The park is a study in contrasts between abandonment and restoration. It’s not just wild turkey surviving among the vestiges of a junkyard; within some draining wetlands live beaver that recently dammed Mill Creek, and soaring above a landfill is a red-shouldered hawk.
The lands are home to flying squirrels too, Eswine said, and more than 150 types of birds. A late May hike revealed the unmistakable calls of eastern wood-pewee and Carolina wren, in addition to much of the backyard fare typically found in Midwestern cities, such as American robins, blue jays and northern cardinals.
A 2019 ecological report also identified 20 species of mammals, including four types of bats, and several amphibians, reptiles and insects that have found homes amid the emerging wilderness.
Elevated walkways and protecting wetlands
What’s unique about much of this land is that it’s within the flood plain. Rather than fight the occasional floods, Origin Park’s planners are incorporating it into the design. Elevated walkways will allow visitors to have access year-round.
“It will literally be in the trees,” Eswine said. “When we started developing this park, we embraced the fact that it’s going to flood more often than not.”
Another goal is to add protections for the wetlands contained within Buttonbush Woods.
And on the southern end of the property, which stretches along the banks of the Ohio River, much of the land is eroding into the waters below. It’s so bad that a riverside road has been closed to motorists because large pieces of concrete have snapped like a Hershey bar. Planners are hoping to bring in a partner organization to slow the erosion.
Meanwhile, Origin Park is being supported by the Environmental Protection Agency. An $800,000 grant, announced last week, will help pay for cleanup of polluted and industrial sites inside the park.
Eswine, who runs New Albany-based The Marketing Company and has lived in southern Indiana for almost all of his adult years, said he is witnessing a revival among Indiana’s river communities, where downtowns are booming and festivals are filling with visitors.
And he sees Origin Park, which is aptly named to acknowledge that it’s linked to a new beginning, as inherently connected to the region’s revival.
“There is a lot of history along these banks, other than just the formation of Clarksville, New Albany and Jeffersonville,” Eswine said. “Wildlife and civilizations have called this home and we're trying to honestly get back and protect as much as we can.”
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
At least 10 candidates for Congress or the Legislature face being taken off Indiana’s May primary ballot in the wake of a state Supreme Court order allowing enforcement of the state’s two-primary voting standard for Republican or Democratic candidates.
The most prominent of those at risk is John Rust, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate who challenged the constitutionality of the law.
Rust is the subject of several challenges filed with state election officials by Friday’s deadline. Also facing likely removal when the state Election Commission meets next week is a Democratic candidate for governor.
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley will be listed on the Indiana ballot as no challenges were filed against her despite recent taunting from Donald Trump’s campaign that she wouldn’t gather the required petition signatures to qualify.
Rust vows to fight on despite ruling
Several near-identical challenges were submitted against Rust, the former board chairman of the Seymour-based egg producer Rose Acre Farms who has sought to run against U.S. Rep. Jim Banks for the Republican Senate nomination.
Rust likely will be taken off the primary ballot as a Supreme Court order issued Thursday supported a state law adopted in 2021 requiring candidates appearing on Republican or Democratic primary ballots to have chosen that party’s ballot in the two most recent primaries in which they voted. Or candidates can provide certification of party affiliation from their county party chair.
Rust acknowledged he voted in Democratic primaries in 2010 and 2012 before voting in the 2016 Republican primary. The Jackson County Republican chair has said she would not certify Rust as a Republican, citing his previous Democratic primary votes.
Rust’s lawsuit argued that the two-primary requirement violated constitutional rights of free speech, association and equal protection. He plans taking his legal fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, contending the law leaves more than 80% of Indiana voters ineligible for party primaries and that running as an independent or write-in candidate is not a viable option.
“It is absolutely wrong that 81% of Hoosiers are banned from running for political office,” Rust told State Affairs. “It is just wrong, and I am confident the United States Supreme Court will halt that.”
Other candidates caught up by Supreme Court’s order
A majority vote of the Election Commission, which is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, is needed to remove any candidates from the primary ballot. The commission is scheduled to meet on Feb. 27.
The commission voted in 2022 to remove candidates who didn’t meet the two-primary rule and those running for statewide offices who did not submit the required 500 petition signatures of registered voters from all nine congressional districts.
Several of those candidates argued that the laws were unfair, but the commission members said they had no choice but to enforce the laws.
Five congressional candidates face challenges on the grounds of not meeting the two-primary voting rule, including Sid Mahant, a trucking company owner who has loaned $2 million to his campaign against several others for the Republican nomination for the 6th Congressional District seat being given up by Rep. Greg Pence.
Other congressional candidates facing similar challenges are Republicans Jonathan Brown and Scott King and Democrat Ryan Pfenninger in the 5th Congressional District now held by Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz, and Republican Trent Lester who filed against Rep. Jim Baird in the 4th Congressional District.
Challenges to Trump, Biden but not Haley
The primary ballot spot for Haley, the former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador, wasn’t challenged even after Trump’s campaign taunted her on social media in recent weeks about her having a precarious petition signature situation.
Unofficial tallies submitted by county offices to the state Election Division showed Haley’s campaign just clearing the minimum with 509 signatures in the 7th Congressional District, which is completely within Marion County.
Carlin Yoder, a former state senator who is the Trump campaign’s state director, said Haley’s signatures were questionable but there was no point in challenging her ballot position.
“We’ve got bigger things to go after than worrying about her being on the ballot at this point when she really should be dropping out already,” Yoder told State Affairs. “She’s almost irrelevant at this point.”
Challenge petitions were filed by a voter against Trump’s ballot eligibility on the 14th Amendment’s ban on officeholders who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office again and against President Joe Biden claiming, without submitting any evidence, his campaign submitted fraudulent petition signatures.
The U.S. Supreme Court could rule soon on such constitutional challenge arguments made in other states but Yoder called the Indiana challenge a “joke” from liberals worried about Trump beating Biden.
“It won’t work,” Yoder said. “I’m not worried about that.”
Yoder said the Trump campaign had no role with the challenge against Biden, filed by a frequent Republican office candidate.
Democratic candidate filed on principle
Tamie Dixon Tatum of Anderson filed her candidacy for Democratic nomination for governor even though she knew she didn’t meet the signature requirement.
A challenge petition against Tatum claims she only submitted 1,896 total signatures and met the 500-signature minimum in only one congressional district. The challenge was filed by a top staffer to Jennifer McCormick when she was state schools superintendent — and Tatum’s removal would leave McCormick as the sole Democratic candidate.
Tatum submitted a challenge against McCormick on the grounds that the state Democratic Party unfairly favored her for the nomination.
Tatum, who was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for a state Senate seat in 2022, told State Affairs she believed voters deserved to have choices on the ballot.
“I think the signature requirement is designed to be nearly impossible,” Tatum said. “I believe that it squeezes out the common person. You know, I’m not a millionaire and I shouldn’t have to be one to run.”