When we interviewed candidates running for nine different Region seats in the Indiana General Assembly, we paid close attention to candidates’ willingness for bipartisan cooperation.
Where possible, we interviewed opposing candidates at the same time in our offices so we could see a real-time comparison.
The Times Editorial Board also paid close attention to whether candidates planned to work with, rather than against, state leaders for the good of Northwest Indiana development and education.
With those key qualities in mind, here are our picks for Northwest Indiana legislative seats on Nov. 8 general election ballot:
Indiana House District 1 Longtime incumbent Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, seeks her 10th term in the Indiana House. She faces Libertarian candidate Michael Sandridge, of Whiting.
Though neither candidate’s ideas or responses came across as particularly compelling in our interviews, Lawson gets the nod based on experience and respect she’s garnered among state Democrats.
Sandridge appeared unversed in issues of importance to the Region’s economy.
Indiana House District 4
This race pits incumbent Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, against Pamela Mishler Fish, D-Valparaiso.
It was one of the toughest races in which to endorse because both candidates offer exceptional ideas and drive to represent Region issues in Indianapolis.
Though it failed to become law in the most recent legislative session, Soliday’s long-term state road funding plan is one of the best, most sustainable infrastructure proposals we’ve seen.
While the state has been content to kick the can down the pothole-ridden expanse of Indiana roads, Soliday proposed a plan that would have locked in funding with minimal tax increases.
Fish, a Valparaiso businesswoman, impressed us prior to the May primary with sensible ideas for promoting spec buildings and tech infrastructure to attract business to Northwest Indiana and the rest of the state.
In fact, we endorsed Fish over her primary opponent.
But in the general election, we endorse Soliday. He’s extremely respected by state leaders and remains the candidate best placed to continue pursuing Region interests in the General Assembly, including the difficult quest for long-term road funding.
Soliday should put aside his pride, though, and consider some of the great ideas Fish has proposed. At times during our endorsement interview process, Soliday seemed impatient with Fish and left abruptly at the interview’s conclusion.
Fish is a quality candidate who we hope continues seeking public office.
Indiana House of Representatives, District 11
Incumbent Rep. Michael Aylesworth, R-Hebron, faces James Metro, D-Cedar Lake, for a legislative seat that includes representation of parts of Porter and south Lake counties.
Aylesworth gets our endorsement.
Aylesworth, a former Porter County commissioner and council member, is completing his first term in the Indiana House. He has helped work to improve funding for local fire and ambulance services, consolidate municipal elections and restore Indiana’s highway rest areas.
Though he’s well respected by the state’s GOP majority leaders, we appreciate the bipartisan tone Aylesworth struck during our interview.
We believe this mentality will serve the Region well in a second term.
Metro, a union operating engineer, cancelled his interview with us and did not reschedule.
Indiana House District 12
This race is a legislative rematch from the 2014 general election, pitting incumbent Rep. Bill Fine, R-Munster, against Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster.
Fine, who is completing his first term after defeating Reardon in 2014, gets our endorsement.
We were impressed with the grasp both candidates have on issues within their district and the state.
However, Fine is better positioned to work with, rather than against, the Republican majority for the good of the Region.
Fine, like many state Republicans, realizes mistakes were made in the handling of the divisive Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015 — a law that required an emergency language fix because it was perceived as discriminatory against gays and threatened state commerce through cancelled contracts, conventions and events.
However, Fine and other local Republicans appears to have learned from this debacle.
He has good business sense, is a strong advocate for school choice, and we look forward to seeing what he can accomplish in a second term.
Indiana House District 15
Incumbent Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, faces Dyer Democrat Tom O’Donnell, a former Lake County Council Member.
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Both candidates are seasoned advocates for Northwest Indiana and possess intelligent and bipartisan qualities we appreciate.
But Slager earns our strong endorsement.
Few lawmakers anywhere in the state, much less the Region, have developed the kind of respect Slager enjoys in the Indiana General Assembly.
He’s brought an air of professionalism that reflects well on our Region, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed with state leaders.
On the legislative side of things, Slager spearheaded the law holding Calumet Township, long known for waste and corruption, accountable for its spending practices and exorbitant tax rate.
Though Griffith leaders had long sought a means to secede from the township, Slager made it possible by convincing the General Assembly that Calumet Township’s tax rate, often more than 12 times greater than the state township average, could no longer go unchecked.
Indiana House District 19
Incumbent Rep. Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point, faces Crown Point Democrat Shelli VanDenburgh in a rematch of 2014. Libertarian candidate Evan Demaree, who also seeks this seat, did not participate in our endorsement process.
Last time VanDenburgh and Olthoff met on the general election stage, VanDenburgh was the incumbent.
Now the roles are reversed. We believe the game of musical chairs should stop, and we endorse Olthoff.
We were impressed with the civility expressed between both candidates during our interview process.
But we didn’t like the “us versus them” philosophy that VanDenburgh and many other state and Region Democrats expressed, pitting Northwest Indiana against the rest of the state.
Our Region has carried an inferiority complex — an unneeded chip on its shoulder — for too long, believing downstate conservative interests are out to get us.
Respected Region leaders, such as Slager, have exposed the flaws in that old way of thinking.
Indiana House District 20
Republican Jim Pressel, Democrat Karen Biernacki and Libertarian Aurea Torres are competing for the seat being vacated by incumbent Tom Dermody. Torres didn’t meet with our editorial board, so our decision is between Pressel and Biernacki. This is another case where the voters are faced with two good candidates.
Pressel is a custom home builder. Biernacki started the court-appointed special advocate (CASA) program in LaPorte County.
Biernacki’s adult children live outside Indiana. “They were calling me, and they were embarrassed” when the RFRA controversy exploded onto the political scene in Indiana. Pressel said RFRA could be revisited if there’s a middle ground to be found.
Of more importance, though, is a focus on issues that affect all Hoosiers – jobs, roads and education. Pressel’s focus on those issues is clear.
We endorse Pressel.
Indiana Senate District 5
Democrat Jim Harper faces Republican Ed Charbonneau, the incumbent. Harper offers a younger perspective and promises to reach across the aisle to work on major issues. Charbonneau makes the point, correctly, that he has a track record of doing so.
Harper says the Republican focus on divisive social issues has hurt the Indiana brand, a point well taken. Charbonneau says Indiana “didn’t lose one job” because of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act controversy, although he agrees it was handled “horribly.” The Republicans responded promptly to enact a legislative fix, and revisited the issue this past session before dropping it when a compromise seemed unlikely.
Harper is a strong candidate, but Charbonneau has the experience to get things done in the General Assembly. We endorse Charbonneau.
Indiana Senate District 8
Democrat Maxine Spenner faces Republican Mike Bohacek for this open seat being vacated by incumbent Jim Arnold. Spenner is a retired teacher. Bohacek, who owns a logistics business, is a LaPorte County commissioner.
Spenner is obviously passionate about the people of District 8 and the future of Indiana. Bohacek is too, and he has the savvy to make things happen in the Senate.
Bohacek sees the wisdom of getting LaPorte County to recognize that it is a part of Northwest Indiana and to act accordingly. Double-tracking for the South Shore Line, for example, must happen between Gary and Michigan City to speed the commute to Chicago. But because LaPorte County isn’t part of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, the county must find a way to pay for its share of that project.
We endorse Bohacek.
Though candidates in several Region legislative races are uncontested, we were impressed by some of those aspirants during the primary endorsement process.
Running uncontested on Nov. 8 are Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago, who seeks the Indiana House 2nd District seat; Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, who seeks the Indiana House 3rd District seat; incumbent Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, vying for the Indiana Senate’s 2nd District seat; Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, who seeks re-election to the Indiana House 3rd District seat; and Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, who seeks re-election to the Indiana House 14th District seat.
Newcomers Harris and Melton show much fresh promise as young political up-and-comers with fresh ideas.