INDIANAPOLIS | For most Northwest Indiana state senators and representatives, it's been years, or sometimes decades, since they've faced a serious election opponent.
But this year in three Lake County House districts and one Senate district, younger candidates — including some local officeholders — are challenging four state lawmakers with a combined 112 years of legislative service.
The challengers say it's long past time the region is represented by new faces at the Statehouse. Democratic primary voters will decide Tuesday whether they agree.
In the 2nd House District, which includes the east side of Hammond, East Chicago and Gary's west side, Ricardo "Rick" Garcia, 29, wants to replace 70-year-old state Rep. Earl Harris, D-East Chicago, who has represented the area since 1982.
"The representatives that are currently in office have taken us about as far as they can," Garcia said. "I think it's time for my generation to start stepping up and taking the reins and begin laying a solid foundation for our future."
Younger representatives also bring more spirit to the job, said Tony Walker, 45, president of the Gary Public Library Board. Walker is challenging 74-year-old state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, in the 3rd House District of Gary, Hobart, Lake Station and New Chicago, which Brown has represented for three decades.
"Effectiveness does not just come from longevity," Walker said. "You can be effective through bringing a passion and an energy and a commitment to what you're doing, beyond just collecting a paycheck."
Sherman Carson, 39, a Merrillville businessman, said the need for a passionate representative looking out for the entire district is one reason he's running against 22-year state Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, in the 14th House District of Merrillville and the south side of Gary. Smith is 68.
"A lot of the current politicians have held office for two or three decades, and to see the conditions of the community from the time that I graduated 20-some odd years ago to where it is now, it's a disgrace," Carson said. "I really believe it's time to give them a new, fresh choice for representation."
For David Vinzant, 55, a Hobart City Council member, the decision to run against 77-year-old state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, came down to a question of effectiveness.
"People have realized she hasn't been producing the results," Vinzant said. "Hobart, Lake Station and New Chicago have been represented by her for the last 10 years, and we've seen no benefit from that."
Rogers, who has served in the General Assembly for 30 years, also is being challenged by Darren Washington, 41, president of the Gary Community School Corp. board. He said it's "time for a new voice in Indianapolis that will fight for all communities" in the district, which also includes parts of Merrillville and Crown Point.
The four veteran lawmakers all said their opponents are mistaken to claim Northwest Indiana would benefit from new representation at the Statehouse.
"That's a lot of poppycock," Brown said. "When you look at both the state level and the federal level, seniority and experience are what gets things done."
Rogers agreed, and Harris said experience is "a real advantage," while Smith suggested new lawmakers would "probably get even less than we've been able to achieve."