First candidate emerges to replace retiring Kenley, while former foe mulls options

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The race to replace retiring state Sen. Luke Kenley is beginning to take shape.

Noblesville Common Council President Megan Wiles on Monday announced she plans to run in the upcoming Republican caucus for the Hamilton County seat.

megan wilesMegan Wiles

And businessman Scott Willis, who unsuccessfully battled Kenley for the District 20 seat in 2016, said he is considering running as well.

Kenley announced last week he would retire in September after serving in the seat since 1992, although his current term doesn’t expire until Nov. 3, 2020. Kenley, 72, is one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers and a key budget writer. He currently is the Indiana Senate Appropriations chairman.

Wiles, who joined the Noblesville Council in 2016, said in a press release that “Hamilton County has been very fortunate to have Senator Kenley’s leadership at the Statehouse for many years.” Wiles said she was “incredibly flattered” to be approached by Kenley about running.

scott willisScott Willis

Wiles is also the executive director of the Riverview Health Foundation, which benefits the Hamilton County-owned hospital Riverview Health. She formerly was president of Hamilton County’s community foundation Legacy Fund.

"I have been able to spend the last 20 years of my life focused on Hamilton County and working for different organizations to help make improvements to this community,” Wiles said. “Now with Sen. Kenley retiring, I thought this is is another way for me to give back and help this community that I love and that I’ve grown up in.”

Wiles said she wanted to “continue the Republican agenda when it comes to workforce development, job readiness, job creation and keeping our taxes low.” She also said she wanted to work with State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, on curbing opioid abuse.

But she also said she was passionate about keeping control of various issues at the local level and has been worried about “legislation that has come through that takes away some of that control or decision-making.”

As examples, she cited legislation about small cell towers being placed into public right of way and legislation regarding short-term rentals.

“We’ve got good people on the local level,” Wiles said. “They know their communities."

Willis, meanwhile, is “exploring” running and plans to make a decision at the end of the week," he told IBJ on Monday. Another option would to pursue a more locally focused political position in Westfield, he said.

“I put a lot of time and effort when I ran against Luke the last time,” Willis said. “I do feel like I owe it to myself to at least look at the lay of the land. Out of fairness to the residents of Hamilton County, I need to be all in if I want to do this.”

Willis, who started pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturer recruiting firm Arnett Management Solutions Inc. and spent most of his adult life in the Marine Corps, ran against Kenley in 2016 on a platform of bringing more state dollars home to Hamilton County. Specifically, he said he was concerned about school and road funding.

Willis said he expects there to be “at least two to three people” running in the Republican caucus, including Wiles.

Despite Kenley’s support of Wiles, Willis said, “Nobody’s going to give it to her” without a contest.

The caucus to replace Kenley will be held later this year.

According to Indiana Republican Party spokesman Pete Seat, “per state law and the rules of the Indiana Republican Party, a caucus must be called sometime between when the party receives Senator Kenley’s official notice of resignation and 30 days following the resignation going into effect.”

“Eligible precinct committee people from his state Senate district [those who are on the official list 30 days prior to the resignation] will be given at least 10 days notice of a caucus taking place,” Seat told IBJ in an email.

Senate Pro Tempore David Long will need to appoint a replacement for Kenley on the appropriations committee before the next General Assembly.

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