Political Notebook

  • Mom's ad surprises candidate
    Congressional candidate Justin Kuhnle said Wednesday afternoon that except for an image texted by a friend, he had little knowledge of a newspaper advertisement supporting his candidacy.
  • Bennett back at the Statehouse
    Gov. Mike Pence had an intriguing visitor to his Statehouse office Tuesday - former Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.
  • Right to Life PAC endorses 6 area GOP candidates
    The Indiana Right to Life Political Action Committee has endorsed six area Republicans seeking Statehouse office.

Texting-and-driving film has area angle

“I wish so bad that I could go back to that day and change my focus.”

Those are the words of Chandler Gerber, a 23-year-old Bluffton man who killed three people when he ran into an Amish buggy while texting and driving last year.

“There’s just nothing that important. … Please, please don’t do it. Please don’t ever text and drive,” he said. “It’s life. You get one chance and you live with the choices you make.”

Gerber’s harrowing story is featured in a new documentary about texting and driving.

The accident was in April 2012, when he was 21. He was texting back and forth with his wife. He sent “I love you” and was reading a response when his head snapped up to horror.

“Glass broke and screeching. … I saw a body come down from off the top of the van,” he said. “I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh. What have I done? What have I done?’ ”

He said there was silence when he got out of his vehicle, save for the severely injured horse moving on the ground.

“I looked in the ditch and there was bodies just laying there,” Gerber remembers.

Children ages 3 and 5, as well as a teenager, died in the crash.

He said back then he thought it was no big deal to text and drive. Now he knows better.

A grand jury declined to bring charges in the case. Indiana lawmakers in 2011 banned texting and driving.

Mobile phone companies funded the documentary by filmmaker Werner Herzog that focused on four texting-and-driving crashes.

It will be distributed to high schools around the country. The 35-minute film is available at www.itcanwait.com.

Coats takes heat for gun vote

Organizing for Action, which describes itself as a nonpartisan social advocacy group, demonstrated Wednesday night outside the Fort Wayne office of Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.

The news organization Politico recently referred to OFA as “President Barack Obama’s political arm,” while others have called it the successor group to Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

OFA volunteers took part in what the group says is “a gun violence prevention event.”

In a news release, Organizing for Action praised Senate legislation that would have expanded background checks on gun buyers. The group said “an obstructive minority” of senators defeated the bill in April.

Although OFA does not identify Coats as one of those senators – he did vote against the legislation – the group asks “what will it take for Sen. Dan Coats to take action?” after mass shootings and polls showing Americans support expanded background checks.

In recent months, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has conducted similar demonstrations over Coats’ vote in South Bend and Indianapolis.

New employer keeps low profile

News that Heather Willis Neal was leaving Gov. Mike Pence’s administration to join Limestone Strategies was met last week with a resounding, “Who?”

Several state lawmakers had never heard of the political and communications consulting company.

And its profile on the Internet is near nil.

No website. No phone number. No Facebook page.

There is only a reference to Cam Savage and Kevin Ober being principals in the company on their LinkedIn pages.

Savage previously was communications director for former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, and in addition, he helped run campaigns for Mitch Daniels, Dan Coats and Todd Rokita.

Ober is the former executive director of the Indiana Republican Party who left in December 2010.

Neal’s name recently surfaced in the A-F accountability scandal with her former boss Bennett, who resigned his Florida post.

She was Pence’s legislative director at the time emails involving her became public about changing a charter school’s grades.

Limestone announced Monday she will head its lobbying efforts instead.

The Secretary of State’s Office shows Limestone was created as a company in January 2011.

The group has given one political donation – $1,000 to Mike Pence’s campaign committee in June 2012.

But it received $61,000 from Tony Bennett’s re-election campaign in 2011 and 2012 for “campaign consultant” work.

It also provided Rep. Todd Huston campaign management services worth more than $18,000 for his Statehouse run in 2012.

Huston is another former employee of Bennett’s, where he was chief of staff.

Savage said Limestone’s biggest successes were general consulting for Congresswoman Susan Brooks’ winning primary and general election bids in 2012, and a Republican mayoral victory for Lloyd Winnecke in Evansville in 2011.

Ritz serves fitting snack

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz was in Fort Wayne on Tuesday to talk about the Department of Education’s new outreach division for school improvement.

The appearance at Grile Administration Center downtown was both an announcement for the news media and a meet-and-greet for the outreach staff.

And what meet-and-greet is complete without snacks?

So what kind of snacks did Ritz’s staff serve up for attendees?

Ritz Bits, of course.

Dan Stockman of The Journal Gazette contributed to this report.

To reach Political Notebook by e-mail, contact Brian Francisco at bfrancisco@jg.net or Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. An expanded Political Notebook can also be found as a daily blog at www.journalgazette.net/politicalnotebook.