Republican wins tighten their control of Indiana Legislature

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Republicans will be returning to the Statehouse with an even tighter grip on the Legislature after again turning aside Democrats who had tried to break the GOP’s supermajority control.

Republicans gained four seats in the 100-member Indiana House, prevailing in nearly all of the roughly dozen districts that were the most tightly contested for Tuesday’s election.

The most significant of those Republican wins was House Speaker Todd Huston, who prevailed in one of the suburban Indianapolis districts where Democrats unsuccessfully tried to argue that GOP incumbents had fallen out of step with voters.

Republicans will largely have free rein in the Legislature the next two years. They built a 71-29 House majority, expanding on the two-thirds supermajority that allows them to take legislative action even if Democrats boycotted. Republicans kept a Senate supermajority as well.

Huston said he had not expected Republicans adding so many seats and that big victory margins across the state for GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb and President Donald Trump certainly helped the party’s legislative candidates.

“Going into the night I think there was a lot of concern that the political environment was a headwind for Republicans and it appears that, instead, it was a tailwind,” Huston said.

Republicans defeated five Democratic House incumbents across the state, including two districts in northwestern Indiana’s Lake County where former GOP lawmakers won rematches from 2018. This time, Republican Julie Olthoff beat Democrat Lisa Beck and Republican Hal Slager defeated Democrat Chris Chyung, the first Asian-American legislator in state history.

Another Republican victory came with Zach Payne prevailing over 10-term Rep. Terry Goodin, who was the last Democrat from the rural southern Indiana districts that were a party stronghold until the last decade.

The lone bright spot for House Democrats came with a win by Mitch Gore, a Marion County sheriff’s captain, for an Indianapolis seat over five-term Republican Cindy Kirchhofer, the Marion County GOP chairwoman.

Huston defeated Democratic challenger Aimee Rivera Cole after outspending her at least 5-to-1 in his Fishers district as more than $1.5 million poured into Huston’s campaign from mostly Republican organizations and business lobbying groups seeking to keep him in the Legislature. It was Huston’s first election since he took over the powerful position that controls much of the General Assembly’s action in March from longtime GOP Speaker Brian Bosma.

“This is a year — and I took it to the utmost personally — that you just couldn’t take anything for chance,” Huston said.

Republicans have used the full legislative supermajorities they’ve held since the 2012 elections to advance issues such as expanding state funding of vouchers for students attending private schools, toughening anti-abortion laws and approving the contentious state religious objections law in 2015.

House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne said his party’s candidates suffered from the big victory margins for Trump and Holcomb and continued to struggle with the legislative district maps drawn by Republicans after the last census a decade ago. New districts are to be drawn during the 2021 session to adjust for population changes.

“We certainly see the impact in this election of what gerrymandered maps can do and how they can work against us,” GiaQuinta said.

Republicans kept their commanding control of the state Senate, although they lost one seat for a 39-11 majority when the new legislative session starts in January.

That loss came in a northern Indianapolis district where Democrat Fady Qaddoura, a former top aide to Mayor Joe Hogsett, defeated Republican Sen. John Ruckelshaus.

Qaddoura will be the first Muslim ever in the state Senate, according to the Indiana Muslim Advocacy Network. Indiana’s most prominent Muslim politician is Democratic U.S. Rep. Andre Carson of Indianapolis.