After serving Hoosiers in District 44 for nearly 20 years, State Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, is stepping down, and two Republicans are trying to fill his shoes.
Pharmacist Josh Anderson and District 65 State Rep. Eric Koch, both from Bedford, are seeking the GOP’s nomination for District 44 senator in the May primary.
Democrat candidate Linda Kay Henderson of Bedford has no opposition in the primary.
District 44 includes Brown and Lawrence counties and portions of Bartholomew, Jackson and Monroe counties.
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Koch, an attorney, has served in the House of Representatives for 14 years.
Anderson is a pharmacist and part-owner of Crowder’s pharmacy in Bedford. He also is part-owner and operator of Lincoln Plaza Pharmacy and Med Shoppe Pharmacy in Bedford, and Panacea Pharmacy in Bloomington. He and his wife, Laura, also opened a café on the Bedford square.
“I am familiar with the ins and outs of small business and different types of businesses,” he said.
Anderson said he believes Steele was a “great senator and served the office well,” but he looks forward to bringing his own ideas and experience to the Senate.
Koch and Steele had a partnership in the House and Senate. Steele would often author bills in the Senate that Koch would carry in the House, and vice versa.
The most recent one was Senate Bill 28, which raises the amount of damages Hoosiers can collect in medical malpractice suits.
If elected, Koch plans to carry on a quality he and Steele share: Passion for the job.
“But those are going to be very big shoes to fill. Each legislator has their own style. Brent is one of a kind,” Koch said.
Anderson doesn’t plan to differentiate himself from Steele’s record, but said he will be himself. “I am just presenting myself and what I have to offer as a small business owner, and someone who is involved with health care and has been involved with the drug abuse problem,” he said.
Anderson served on a prescription drug abuse task force for Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and helped write rules for the prescription drug take-back program.
Crowder’s was the first pharmacy in the state to implement the “yellow jug” program, getting unused prescription drugs out of medicine cabinets and keeping them out of the water system, he said.
The drug epidemic will be a focus for both candidates.
“We have to look, I think, more at treatment issues than just incarceration,” Anderson said. “I think if we just keep incarcerating them for longer, you know as soon as they get back out, they’re going to go right back to it.”
Koch said he has been working on the problem during his time at the Statehouse using an approach that first focuses on treatment for the addict and secondly on the dealer.
He co-authored a bill this year that would increase penalties and make sentences for dealers not able to be suspended, as well as sentences for “those who profit from the misery created by the drug trade,” Koch said.
“We’re beginning to see some results, but it continues to be a battle, particularly in our rural areas,” he said.
Education and long-term funding and fixes for infrastructure, including roads and bridges, are another focus for both candidates.
Koch also wants to find long-term solutions for aging water and wastewater systems.
“Education continues to be the highest priority, and how do we make sure our local schools have sufficient funds to do their jobs?” Koch said, citing 52 percent of the state’s budget going to education funding. “How do we get them the most money that we can within the fiscal restraints that exist?”
Koch also cited declining enrollment as one of the biggest challenges facing rural school corporations.
Anderson wants to look at education funding from a local angle. He said he wants to make sure vouchers are distributed to students who actually need them.
“It’s different from across the state, so we need to look at more of an individual or more of a local solution instead of throwing everybody into one basket, the one-size-fits-all,” he said.
Health care is another top issue for Anderson, especially with the state expanding the Healthy Indiana Plan and Medicaid.
“We have to make sure that is done appropriately and that we’re not cutting reimbursements to our health care providers so that we can fit more people in under the program. If we do that, it decreases the quality of care that the patients are getting,” he said.
Both men plan to be accessible to constituents and look forward to having civil conversations both with those who agree and disagree with them.
“My brand has been to be very accessible and very responsive. I handle virtually all of my own constituent communication,” Koch said. “That is the way I legislate, through understanding the communities by being involved in those communities.”
“If I am elected, I’m a pharmacist, and I still plan on working here in the pharmacy, so anyone can come find me whenever they want,” Anderson said.
“I think there’s so much polarization right now, extreme on one side to the other, and nobody is really listening. I think we just really need to sit down and have an engaged conversation,” Anderson said.
Political experience: None
Family: Wife, Laura; three young sons
Political experience: Indiana House District 65 representative for 14 years
Family: Wife, Connie, and three sons