A Fort Wayne educator emerged Thursday as a GOP primary challenger to the Indiana Senate's top Republican, who has faced criticism from religious conservatives for championing a bill that would have extended civil rights protections to lesbians, gays and bisexuals.
John Kessler, who heads the Center for Economic Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, filed paperwork with state election officials Thursday to run against Senate President Pro Tem David Long in the May primary.
Kessler, of Fort Wayne, declined to comment on his candidacy. He has held his current job since 2006.
Long was first elected to his Fort Wayne seat in 1996 and became the Senate leader in 2006. He told The Associated Press that he's never met Kessler, but he's not surprised by the challenge.
"I expected that I might have an opponent based on the issue I've been dealing with," Long said. "I know that there was an effort to find someone to run against me, which is fine."
Long certainly knows the perils a legislative leader can face in a primary election. His predecessor as Senate president — Sen. Robert Garton of Columbus — held the spot for 26 years before he was defeated in the 2006 Republican primary by then-political newcomer Greg Walker, who ran as the more socially conservative candidate.
Two Republican House members from northeastern Indiana lost in the 2014 primary to tea party-backed challengers.
Long faced a backlash from religious conservatives after he promised a debate this session of a bill that would have extended civil rights protections to lesbians, gays and bisexuals, but not transgender people. Lawmakers killed the bill, which was a priority for Long, instead of bringing it up for a highly anticipated vote before the full Senate.
Monica Boyer, a tea party activist from Warsaw, criticized Long for vowing to raise the issue again next year.
"I think Sen. Long has been there a very, very long time," she said. "When you've been in the job a long time you tend to listen to corporations and the lobbyists and you tend to forget your base."
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