INDIANAPOLIS – If Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, wants a seventh term in the Indiana House he has to get by Republican newcomer Taylor Isch first.
Lehman has served House District 79 – all of Adams County and portions of Allen and Wells counties – since 2009 and is now a high-ranking member serving as majority floor leader and often speaking for the House GOP caucus.
“I have always told people I will get out when I don't feel like I'm effective or I'm not humbled by what I do,” he said.
Lehman said his expertise will come in handy as the caucus transitions to a new speaker.
“I bring a common sense approach to caucus,” he said. “I feel like the role I'm in is much more of a peacemaker or negotiator. I can do the work behind the scenes – I love getting everyone in the room and trying to negotiate a deal.”
Lehman also runs the Insurance Committee and focuses some on public policy issues, such as gaming and alcohol regulation. In recent years he has taken on the subject of payday lending and other credit options for consumers.
One accomplishment he notes is the increase in the gas tax. Some Republicans opposed it, but Lehman pushed for a lower match rate for smaller communities to get extra funding.
“I'm pretty conservative. Some will say I'm pretty far to the right, but I use logic in my decisions,” he said.
Isch, from Bluffton, says Lehman is not conservative enough.
He said that a Republican shouldn't support a tax hike as Lehman did and that he also voted for a “fix” to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015.
Isch also said Lehman has accepted money from a liberal gun safety group – Everytown for Gun Safety. It was a $500 contribution in 2016.
“He's not conservative enough for the district,” he said.
Isch is pursuing a degree in computer science and running a tree service with his father.
If elected, Isch said he would focus on fighting attacks on the Second Amendment. He noted Indiana's red flag law allowing police to confiscate guns from someone believed to be a danger to themselves or others.
“I'm all about lowering taxes and putting money back in the people's pockets,” he said. “Oftentimes government is wasting those dollars.”
But he couldn't give an example of wasteful spending.
Isch also believes the government has overreached during the pandemic.
“People are smart enough to keep themselves safe. I don't think we should have shut the economy down. The last three years of gains was wiped out in two months. It's crazy. Absolutely nuts,” he said.
Isch said he hadn't considered a first bill he would file, saying “I don't have a personal agenda.”
Lehman said Gov. Eric Holcomb took strong steps out of the gate on the coronavirus. And he gives credit to Republican legislative leadership for steering Holcomb to reopening the economy in private meetings.
“We had a seat at that table,” he said, noting the curve was bent and hospital capacity is steady while testing increases.
He does think lawmakers have an obligation as a legislative branch to “look at the authority we have given and see if there should be more checks and balance in the future.”
Aside from that Lehman will be instrumental in ongoing discussions on how to reduce health care costs.
The two-year term pays about $27,000 in base salary but many legislators make more than $50,000 after per diem and leadership pay.
House District 79 Republican
Current job: Partner in Bixler Insurance
Political experience: House member since 2009, former Adams County Councilman
Current job: College student in computer science; runs tree service with father
Political experience: First run for elected office