Indy senator who co-authored RFRA faces challenge in 2016

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Of the three senators who authored Indiana’s religious freedom act, Indianapolis Republican Scott Schneider could be the most vulnerable in 2016.

Moderate Republicans and Democrats alike are gunning for Schneider’s seat, which he hung onto in 2012 with less than 50 percent of the vote.

“If I were him, I wouldn’t even run. He’s definitely going to be challenged,” said Megan Robertson, a Republican campaign consultant and past coordinator of the Freedom Indiana campaign.

Freedom Indiana last year helped defeat the effort to enact a constitutional ban on gay marriage in the state. It sees the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as opening the door for businesses to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Schneider’s 2012 opponent, Democrat Tim DeLaney, said he’s seriously considering another run. “The district is a well-educated, high-turnout district that wants people focused on what’s important.”

Schneider said Thursday that he intends to seek re-election.

“As I’ve said before, this bill had nothing to do with discrimination, and if it did, I would never have been involved in it. That’s the vast consensus of everybody in the Legislature including the governor,” Schneider said. “That wasn’t the perception, so we enacted a clarification today, which I fully support.”

Introduced Thursday, a proposed “fix” for the law said the act would not give business owners, including those seeking employees and housing companies, the right to deny service to a person who is gay. It also said the original bill cannot be used as a defense in a discrimination lawsuit. However, churches, religious schools and ministers remained exempt from those provisions. Final approval from Pence is expected by the end of the week.

Asked how he’ll address any unsatisfied constituents on the campaign trail, Schneider said, “I want to deal with today. I want to make sure this firestorm that has erupted, that has given a black eye to the state, is properly corrected. We are pleased with a broad coalition of support today of the clarifying language.”

Anger over RFRA prompted calls in the last week for a boycott of Mister Ice, the Schneider family business that supplies bars and restaurants with ice machines. The company’s website shut down over high traffic, and the company issued a statement in response to the boycott.

"The vast majority of our customers understand Mister Ice is totally opposed to discrimination of any kind. Discrimination was never included in the bill,” Mo Wildey, representative for Mister Ice, told WRTV-TV Channel 6. “Those behind the mean-spirited boycott attempt should focus their efforts on the ballot box instead of attempting to harm our innocent employees and their families and other good people."

The bill’s other two Republican authors, Brent Steele of Bedford and Dennis Kruse of Auburn, ran unopposed in their last primary and general elections.

District 30 encompasses much of Washington Township and a corner of Lawrence Township in Marion County, as well as a slice of southern Hamilton County.

Considering the overwhelming number of Republican voters in Hamilton County, GOP blogger Paul Ogden said it would take a strong, well-known candidate with a sharp organization to overcome Schneider in a primary. “It’s really hard to oust someone for being too conservative in a Republican primary,” he said.

Robertson said she’s heard several Republicans express an interest in running against Schneider, and she thinks there’s plenty of time to recruit a solid candidate.

DeLaney also hopes time is on his side. “I have never seen an issue go so live as this one did, so fast,” he said. “I don’t think it takes much to carry that on into another year.”

A former City-County Council member whose father also served on the council, Schneider was elected to the Senate in July 2009 through a special election. The seat opened up after Teresa Lubbers was named Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education.

Schneider was re-elected in 2012 with 49.3 percent of the vote. DeLaney received 48 percent of the roughly 70,000 ballots, and Libertarian F.C. Peterson took 2.7 percent.

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