INDIANAPOLIS – A Statehouse veteran meets a political newcomer in the House District 50 race for the Republican nomination.
Huntington Rep. Dan Leonard is seeking a 10th term, but John Stoffel, also of Huntington, isn't going to let him have it without a fight.
House District 50 includes all of Huntington County and portions of Wells and Allen counties. The term is for two years and has a base salary of about $27,000. But with per diem legislators regularly make more than $50,000 for a part-time job.
Democrat Jorge Fernandez will take on the winner of the Republican primary in the fall.
“I think I feel like I've been pretty effective for the district I represent – bringing things back to the district,” Leonard said, mentioning road funding, grants and statutory language to help economic development projects. “Hopefully I've done a respectable job for my constituents and I would love to keep helping them.”
Stoffel, an elementary school math teacher, said he is running because legislation being passed is too top-down and without input from the people it impacts.
He said Leonard isn't listening to local concerns and doesn't appear very conservative, noting the move away from local control and expansion of school choice options without assessing whether the program is successful.
And, of course, Stoffel is concerned about education.
“I don't want to make this all about education, but it did start through the lens of education. I noticed a lot of legislation over the last decade that was heavy handed,” he said.
If elected, his first priority would be getting rid of the punitive A-F school grades that schools receive. They are almost solely based on test scores and have caused teachers and students to focus too much on testing and not enough on learning.
“It's harmful to kids, teachers and communities,” Stoffel said. “I don't know that it's meant to be as punitive as it's become. There are unintended consequences.”
He also thinks the state needs to do more to help local counties with jail costs after moving low-level offenders out of state prisons.
“This has created a burden for counties and came without adequate funding,” he said.
Leonard, meanwhile, has focused a lot on unemployment issues as well as property tax issues with the Department of Local Government Finance.
He is the House Rules Chairman, which means he reviews every amendment filed to bills on the floor and often objects to them on procedural grounds.
Leonard expects lawmakers will be busy in 2021 dealing with ramifications from the coronavirus pandemic.
He thinks the legislature needs to fine-tune what exact authority the governor has during a public emergency, noting Gov. Eric Holcomb waived several unemployment-related laws.
“I don't think he has taken advantage of it but I see ways he could,” Leonard said.
He said lawmakers might need to dial back executive powers, such as closing businesses and delaying taxes.
“It's almost like a martial law situation,” Leonard said. “The whole purpose of closing things down and keeping people at home was to slow the spread – not stop it. We've done that. So why are we gradually working back rather than just opening back up?”
Leonard said he doesn't think teacher pay is as big of an issue as some, noting the legislature has provided record increases for K-12 education in the last two budgets.
“If they want a raise work harder,” he said, noting some teachers make $80,000 to $90,000.
He also touts that his knowledge of the General Assembly is much more rounded than his opponent. That is due to his work on the House Ways and Means Committee, where all fiscal issues go for review.
“I'm just not focused on one thing,” Leonard said.
House District 50 Republican
Current job: Retired small-business man
Political experience: Has served in the Indiana House since 2002; seeking 10th term
Current job: Fifth grade teacher at Flint Springs Elementary
Political experience: First attempt at elected office