Indiana GOP lawmakers hold off many—but not all—hard-right challengers

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Frustrated Indiana conservatives fell short in several primary races Tuesday in their drive to push the Republican-controlled state Legislature further to the right and saw one of their movement’s leaders lose his reelection bid.

The roughly two dozen so-called liberty candidates did see some victories in Republican legislative races across the state, with one defeating a 10-term incumbent in northern Indiana and another winning the nomination for a GOP-leaning open seat in suburban Indianapolis.

Several races remained uncalled Tuesday night, but most of the incumbent lawmakers overcame challenges from candidates who argued that the Legislature hasn’t been aggressive enough in attempting to ban abortion, enhancing gun rights and overturning COVID-19 restrictions that were ordered by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Republican legislative leaders argued the “no compromise” stances adopted by many challengers aren’t practical. They tout the state’s low taxes and unemployment and broad private school voucher program among its conservative successes.

Unlike in other GOP races across the country—including Ohio, which also had a statewide primary Tuesday—the Indiana legislative contests focused on state issues, rather than which candidate is closest to former President Donald Trump or has his support.

The challengers said they were trying to tap into a deep resentment among voters—and even winning a few seats could nudge the Legislature further to the right.

It was unclear whether the leak of a draft opinion suggesting the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn a 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide had any impact in the primary. Indiana lawmakers didn’t pursue major anti-abortion action during this year’s session as they waited for a decision from the Supreme Court. If the court overturns Roe v Wade, those lawmakers could ask Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to call the Legislature into a special session so they can act without having to wait until 2023.

“The vast majority of House Republicans, including myself, have been abundantly clear that we want to take action to further protect life should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn, in full or in part, Roe,” Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said in a statement Tuesday. “We will continue to await the court’s final decision.”

Indiana law generally prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with 99% of abortions in the state occurring at 13 weeks or earlier, according to a state Health Department report.

The state House GOP campaign operation gave more than $1 million to candidates for the primary—including Craig Snow, who defeated hard-right Republican Rep. Curt Nisly of Milford on Tuesday. Nisly and fellow GOP Rep. John Jacob of Indianapolis—also targeted for defeat—are heroes of the “liberty candidate” challengers for proposals blocked by legislative leaders, including a total abortion ban and seeking to void all state COVID-19 restrictions as far back as late 2020.

Meanwhile, the Liberty Defense PAC, which has worked to rally support for its endorsed candidates, had raised a total of about $95,000 by the end of March.

“Some of our incumbents are facing very, very engaged opponents,” Huston said. “You can’t take any chances. Our team has been doing everything they need to do, knocking on doors, lots of voter contacts, those types of things. Nobody should take it lightly.”

Some challengers say their movement grew from protests against COVID-19 shutdowns and complaints that GOP legislators didn’t take action to end Holcomb’s executive orders, including a mask mandate.

Lorissa Sweet, a County Council member from rural northern Indiana, defeated Rep. Dan Leonard of Huntington. Leonard, a top Huston lieutenant, drew the wrath of social conservatives for his frequent role in blocking proposals from Nisly and Jacob—either by raising procedural objections or not taking up bills assigned to the House committee he leads.

The challengers were unsuccessful against several other top Republicans, including House Majority Leader Matthew Lehman of Berne and several committee chairmen appointed by Huston. Meanwhile, Rep. John Young of Franklin lost his bid for a fourth term to a challenger who wasn’t among the Liberty Defense candidates.

The “liberty candidates” are predominantly running in heavily Republican districts, so even primary wins by far-right challengers would likely provide few opportunities for Democrats to dent the GOP’s current 71-29 House majority.

One voter favoring Jacob said he believed more legislators like him would better ensure personal freedoms and increase the push to restrict access to abortions in Indiana.

“I’m a conservative Christian, and I can see that in our culture today, there is so much moving in directions that are not Biblical, and I’m thinking that might be part of the pushback” against many current lawmakers, said Mike Teipen, 73, of Indianapolis. “It maybe rubs people too much the wrong way—they don’t want to take a strong stand on certain issues. But that’s what I think makes a good lawmaker.”

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10 thoughts on “Indiana GOP lawmakers hold off many—but not all—hard-right challengers

  1. So-called neutral Associated Press can’t help but throw its petty little jabs in. I’m rarely sympathetic to far-right views–they’re just as rigid and insufferable as the far more numerous (and more powerful) hard-left–but that’s not the responsibility of the AP to judge for us. That’s our job. Does the AP do the same about candidates who want abortions up until the baby’s head is popping out; does it call them “far left”? Does it offer any analysis about how many on the “hard left” are seeking to strip away the “rare” adjective in center-left President Bill Clinton’s famous and long doctrinaire approach “safe, legal and rare”? No? Then why should anyone outside of the choir take a preacher like the AP seriously?

    1. Attacking the refs is generally what people can’t compete. The article was fine.

      Yesterday was a good day. John Jacob can go back to the sidewalk where he belongs to play a pretend abortion doctor, with his ketchup and dismembered baby dolls, as opposed to drawing a check from taxpayers to be an elected representative when he had no interest in any issue but abortion and guns. (Drive your district, John, the roads are trash.) He and Nisly being sent away gives me a small sliver of hope for the Indiana GOP. They have a line they don’t want their party to cross. Sure, I don’t agree with where that line is, but that even they have limits is a good thing.

      A great way to make abortions “rare” would be to reduce the demand for them. Take actions to lead to less unplanned pregnancies like making sex education practical (stop insisting the only way is abstinence-only education which didn’t work before, doesn’t work now, and won’t work in the future), making birth control like IUD’s readily available and easy for women to get (which worked in Colorado, look it up), and work to lower the $250,000 cost of raising a child so people don’t get abortions because they can’t afford another kid.

      Or, we can change nothing and think that eliminating the supply of places to get an abortion will magically solve the issue. Spoiler alert, it won’t, it will lead to more women dying or getting sterilized. Sometimes, I think that the lessons from Prohibition and the War on Drugs have yet to be learned.

      If abortion in the state of Indiana is legal even in the case of rape, incest, or the health of the mother after the Mississippi decision comes down, I will be very surprised. It will be a sad state of affairs that an ectopic pregnancy, which has a 0.0 chance of being a live birth and must be removed in all cases, will be a death sentence in the state of Indiana … but I guess that’s just God’s will, huh? Maybe we should also sentence the father to death if the mother dies during pregnancy or childbirth … only fair that he also has some skin in the game…

    2. Hi Lauren! For those of us who aren’t as savvy about these topics as you appear to be, can you name the candidates (any candidate) who want abortions up until “ the baby’s head is popping out”?

    1. No one wants to consider there are multiple ways to achieve the same goal of minimizing the number of abortions (which is what I’m also after). Makes me think that the goal isn’t the abortions or the babies, it’s about telling other people how they should live their lives and making sure their opinions and preferences are codified as superior in the eyes of the law.

      And the concept that the Federalist Society cranks are pushing, that if it’s not explicitly stated in the Constitution then it can be restricted by the states, is … sure an interesting way to go after any number of rights. I mean, maybe Justice Thomas should think that one through when it comes to his interracial marriage… that’s quite unpopular in several states…

    2. Joe B – there is a chicken and the egg part to this… part of the reason is the Supreme Court nominations did not animate / motivate voters in the Democratic Party as much as the GOP over the last few decades.

      One of the changes this may usher in, is the opposite reaction; Dem voters may animate more on the issue.

      If they don’t, over the long-term, then there is the political answer from the people.

      In all the commentary, very little(none?) has been focused on the jurisprudence; its only on the outcomes. ‘profound moral question’; not in constitution; so let the states’ legislatures balance. Seems reasonable to me, on it’s face.

    3. All well and good, but there’s also nothing stopping the federal government from codifying Roe v. Wade in legislation. Will only take a few of the more extreme state bans to play out (women dying entirely preventable deaths due to complications from being mandated to continue non-viable pregnancies) and the national appetite to act will rise.

      Also doesn’t matter what Sinema and Manchin think about the filibuster if Collins and Murkowski feel sufficiently wronged and decide that abortion rights are worth blowing it up over. They’ve been embarrassed so it’s not something I’d rule out.

  2. It is fairly obvious that liberals are trying to change a terrible narrative with social justice issues. Don’t know if that will save them in the fall unless the economy starts to turn around…We will see.

    1. That’s called politics, Clark. Both sides do it.

      You don’t think Republicans were smart to make the 2016 election about holding your nose and voting Trump to get pro-life judges? Or Democrats were foolish to not make the same argument on behalf of Hillary?