District 65 seat contended in six-way primary


With longtime District 65 State Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, seeking a senate seat, the Republican primary ballot has filled up, with six candidates vying to replace him.

House District 65 covers all of Brown County, as well as parts of Lawrence, Jackson, Monroe and Johnson counties.

Democrat candidate Chris Woods is uncontested in the primary.

The six Republican candidates share many views, but none more so than their admiration for the job Koch has done over the past 14 years.

One issue he has championed — funding local road improvements — remains a hot topic.

Mark Mathis, from Bedford, said the capabilities of local highway departments may be underestimated.

He cited a case where a condemned Lawrence County bridge was going to be replaced with state assistance. For the same cost as the matching funds the county would put up to receive state funds, the county highway department was able to replace the bridge, and in less time than the original project prediction, he said.

Mathis takes a cautious view of raising additional taxes to cover road repair and maintenance. The state collects enough taxes; the money needs to be wisely appropriated, he said.

Jim Pfaff, from Monroe County, agreed that the state should use existing revenue for roads rather than raise additional taxes.

The state awards targeted economic development money that could instead benefit all Hoosiers by directing it toward road improvements, Pfaff said. Infrastructure is the best economic development expenditure, he added.

Darren Byrd, from Brown County, said road funding should be tied directly to road use. He cited the 18-cent-per-gallon gas tax and taxes on vehicle registration as examples. The current gas tax — passed in 2002 — has become outdated, because more efficient cars and decreased consumption prevent the per-gallon tax from keeping pace with rising costs, he said.

Byrd would accept updating the gas tax. But if charging taxes were the only option to keep roads and bridges from deteriorating, he said he wouldn’t rule that option out.

Chris May, from Bedford, has dealt with lack of road funding firsthand as a Lawrence County Commissioner. Less than 2 percent of that county’s roads can be repaved each year, he said.

He said the road funding effort needs to focus on reprioritizing state spending to find ways to send more road money to local governments.

All candidates agreed that the lower the level of government, the more influence voters have on decisions, and the better qualified public officials are to decide how to spend money.

Every county is different, and no solution devised at the state level will be able to address each community’s unique problems, said Franklin Andrew, from Monroe County.

The 7-percent sales tax on gas goes into the state’s general fund and is divided out from there, he said.

Instead, sales tax collected within a county on gas should go back to that county’s government to spend on roads and bridges, he said. It should be up to the local officials to determine where the need is greatest within their counties.

Jacob Franklin, from Monroe County, would like to work with state and local entities to determine where the needs are, he said. Most of all, he wants to find ways to work within existing budgets in order to avoid any tax increase.

However, he said it is not possible to predict the future and that needs can change and costs can increase.

Whether adjusting budget priorities to free up money, or facing a need to raise taxes, Franklin said it’s important to seek a fair solution that meets the consensus of voters.

Darren Byrd

Hometown: Fruitdale

Occupation: Mechanical draftsman

Political experience: One year on Brown County Council

Family: Two adult daughters and two teenage sons

Jacob Franklin

Hometown: Bloomington

Occupation: Property development manager

Political experience: Former deputy clerk of Monroe Circuit Court

Jim Pfaff

Residence: Bloomington

Occupation: Business, communications and political consultant

Political experience: Political organizer and four years as a congressional chief of staff

Family: Wife, Myra

Mark Mathis

Residence: Bedford

Occupation: Minister, home-based business owner and telecommunications contractor

Political experience: Two terms on the Lawrence County Council

Family: Wife, Samantha; six sons and three daughters

Franklin Andrew

Residence: Bloomington

Occupation: Farmer

Political experience: Precinct committeeman, party county chairman, frequent campaign volunteer.

Family: Married

Chris May

Hometown: Bedford

Occupation: Sales engineer and small business owner

Political experience: Three-term Lawrence County commissioner

Family: Wife, Amanda, and two children

Where they stand

What does “managing natural resources” mean to you?

Franklin Andrew: From managing his own 107 acres of forest land, a proactive approach is necessary to control and prevent disease and foster growth and biodiversity.

Darren Byrd: Manage resources without plundering them. Management is necessary in order to maintain health of forests, and lack of balanced management can create situations such as out-of-control wildfires in the western states.

Jacob Franklin: Management that considers future sustainability of industries that use the resources and the needs of future generations, while preserving biodiversity and considering impacts on other resources such as water.

Mark Mathis: Selective harvesting of mature trees in state forests and carefully planned management.

Chris May: A balance between demand for use and conservation, both in principle and as means of keeping Indiana’s best and brightest from leaving the state for better opportunities.

Jim Pfaff: More local input in how natural resources are managed. Needs in one county may not be the same in another, and decisions made at the local level will be the most effective.

How will you build relationships with constituents?

Franklin Andrew: Holding office hours. In-person conversations allow communication that cannot happen in emails, texts and phone calls alone.

Darren Byrd: Continue to attend local government meetings around the district, such as county councils and commissioners. Continue to be a part of the community and available to the people.

Jacob Franklin: Be available and present within the communities, such as “town hall” meetings around the district.

Mark Mathis: Lend an ear, calling on experience as pastor. Listen and not alienate. Reach out even to those disenfranchised who may not vote, as the job is to represent everyone.

Chris May: Reaching out to local businesses, as well as individuals from both sides of the political aisle. Representatives represent all taxpayers, regardless how they voted. Will work to respond quickly to constituents.

Jim Pfaff: Hold town hall meetings around the district, and also bring in people to meetings from outside district to introduce ideas and perspective. Continue to talk with local people directly.

How will you engage people who disagree with you?

Franklin Andrew: Listen to and address concerns. We may not always reach a consensus, but should be able to end conversations with mutual respect.

Darren Byrd: The only way to solve problems is to meet and talk. They won’t always agree or change his point of view, but he will still listen openly.

Jacob Franklin: Listen and encourage input, even from those outside the district when the decisions affect the entire state. It is important for opposite sides to work together as a community.

Mark Mathis: Respectful discourse. Not everyone is right and some may never be satisfied, but current national political scene is embarrassing due to lack of respect.

Chris May: Welcomes disagreement because it provides additional perspective. May not reach a consensus, but should work toward it.

Jim Pfaff: Loves hearing ideas from all sides. Will be honest and direct on principles and stances.

How do you strike a balance among local, state and federal roles of government?

Franklin Andrew: The state and U.S. constitutions serve as guardrails to keep government on the road. The most effective government serves with the consensus of the governed. While power not enumerated to the federal government belongs to states, the state determines what power local governments should have. The state should protect individual rights, such as property rights, but not interfere in local affairs such as schools or streetscapes.

Darren Byrd: Need more balance. Federal government has too much control at the local level. Local government should have most say in local affairs, because people have the most input and potential to address grievances against local officials.

Jacob Franklin: Local officials have more interaction with local people and accountability to them, and are best suited to and most effective at handling local affairs.

Mark Mathis: The constitution was made to restrict the government, not the people. States should have more control over local than federal has over state, but local governments should be entrusted with local issues.

Chris May: Local government should have more control. The state needs to defer to them, as the federal government needs to defer to the state.

Jim Pfaff: Government is best when closest to the people. State should stand up to federal government, and make sure local communities have as much control as conceivably possible.

Author photo
Ben Kibbey is a Brown County transplant from the cornfields of central Ohio. He covers county government, business, outdoors, sports and general news.