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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Democratic candidates for Senate District 46 make their case ahead of primary

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The Democratic primary for state Senate District 46 features more candidates than any other primary for a local seat in the Indiana Legislature.

Candidates are Kristin Jones, a current city-county councilor; Andrea Hunley, an Indianapolis Public Schools principal; Karla Lopez Owens, director of community outreach at the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office; Ashley Eason, who ran against Republican Sen. Jack Sandlin in Senate District 36 in 2020; and Bobby Kern, a paralegal and perennial candidate for office.

Jones was the only candidate to seek the party’s endorsement earlier this year in a process known as slating. Many candidates for office opted to not go after the party’s endorsement when local Black lawmakers said the process was rigged and called for Marion County Democratic Party Chair Kate Sweeney Bell to resign.

District 46 is new to Indianapolis after state lawmakers redrew legislative and congressional districts in 2021. According to mapping software PlanScore, the district is 21% non-Hispanic Black and the chance of a Democrat winning is more than 99%.

The winner will face Republican Evan Russell Shearin, who is unopposed in his primary.

The Recorder sent a list of questions to each candidate. Candidates were asked to keep the totality of their answers to fewer than 500 words. Answers were lightly edited for clarity, spelling and grammar.

EARLY VOTING
Early voting opened in Marion County on April 5 and ends May 2. Election Day is May 3. All voters must be registered and bring a valid photo ID. Learn more at vote.indy.gov.
Early voting locations:
•City-County Building, 200 E. Washington St.
•Pike Library Branch, 6525 N. Zionsville Road
•Decatur Township Government Center,
5410 S. High School Road
•Warren Township Government Center,
501 N. Post Road
•Franklin Township Government Center,
6231 S. Arlington Ave.
•St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 100 W. 86th St.
•MSD Lawrence Education & Community Center,
6501 Sunnyside Road
•Thatcher Park Community Center,
4649 W. Vermont St.
•Perry Township Government Center, 4925 Shelby St.
NOTE: Only the City-County Building is open for early voting before April 23.

Kristin Jones

Kristin Jones

1) What makes you the right person to represent District 46?

I am the only candidate running who is a current Democratic elected official with a voting record, and it’s a record I am proud of. I am the only candidate who has been endorsed by the Marion County Democratic Party and am proud to be running on the ticket with Congressman Carson. I am also the only candidate who has been endorsed by the Indiana AFL-CIO, the Indianapolis Professional Firefighters Union Local 416, the American Federation of Teachers and seven other labor organizations. Both my voting record and my accomplishments can be found at kjforindiana.com and it is my hope that voters will take the time to see my record of supporting workers, neighborhoods and small businesses.

2) District 46 covers unique areas of Indianapolis — from Fountain Square to the near west side to as far east as 465. What’s the key to representing people from different parts of the city?

At this time I currently represent Perry Township, Wayne Township and Center Township constituents as city-county council District 16 councilor. The neighborhoods in these townships vary greatly and include working-class and middle-class neighborhoods. The key to representing these various constituent groups is simply canvassing. I go door-to-door before, during, and after elections. I do not just want your thoughts before an election, but afterwards so I can find out how I am doing in my job as an elected official, and how the opinions and thoughts of people may change over time. And it’s not only neighborhoods, but businesses that have different needs and concerns based on their business model, size and location. I have a record as a councilor of meeting with and hearing the concerns of large, medium, and small businesses, and I will continue to do so as a state senator. Being an effective elected official is dependent on knowing what your constituents need and the only way you know what their concerns are is to ask them.

3) What are the top issues you would like to address in the Statehouse?

The top issues that we have heard from our neighborhood canvasses are infrastructure issues, equitable health care and our schools. I am ready to address all of these important issues and believe that I can find partners across the aisle to accomplish them. First of all, consider infrastructure. The top issue without any question at the doors is the state of our roads, highways, sidewalks and alleys. It has not changed in my decade of knocking doors. I will work with other senators whose districts include urban areas to make sure we change the gas tax that is currently based on center lane miles (the length of the road) and does not take into account how many lanes a road has. Secondly, we need equitable health care, and I am calling on the legalization of medical marijuana and a serious study for the legalization of recreational marijuana to pay for access to equitable health care for all Hoosiers. And finally, we need to fully fund and support our public schools including everyone in the school ecosystem, such as maintenance workers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and custodial staff.

4) What else should voters know about you?

Voters should know that I am hard working, neighborhood focused, and most importantly, I get results!

Bobby Kern

Bobby Kern

1) What makes you the right person to represent District 46?

Willingness to listen, learn and act. Unlike my opponents I can say I understand the struggles that each and every one faces each and every day in District 46. You see, I grew up here and I’m the only candidate that knows the struggles because I’ve lived them.

2) District 46 covers unique areas of Indianapolis — from Fountain Square to the near west side to as far east as 465. What’s the key to representing people from different parts of the city?

Diversity is a great thing. Just loving people for who they are and where they are in their lives and knowing their struggles. Everyone’s the same with just different circumstances but those things could be overcome. With a little faith hope and love.

3) What are the top issues you would like to address in the Statehouse?

Education: Teach year-round history; add African, Latino, Hispanic, Asian, Native American cultures.

Parental rights: Education choices for their children, health care for their children, discipline of their children.

Mental health: Support construction and funding for residential state mental hospital in Indianapolis.

Constitutional rights: Ballot access for candidates and election reform. Removing signatures requirement to access the ballot.

Taxes: Eliminate property taxes.

As the next senator of Indiana District 46 my plan is to change the criminal system as we know it. There are too many laws that are on the books right now that are biased and racist against people of color. My plan is to go through every law and make sure that the law is fair and just for all and not just a select few. I also believe that people’s records should be automatically expunged without them having to go through the process of doing it themselves. There are felonies that should fall off automatically.

4) What else should voters know about you?

My phone number is 463-266-1617. Anyone can contact me 24/7.

Ashley Eason

Ashley Eason

1) What makes you the right person to represent District 46?

I’m the right person to represent District 46 because I know being a good Democrat isn’t enough. Every single person in this race is a good Democrat. But we can’t make anyone’s lives better with lonely votes of dissent so long as right-wing Republicans control the Indiana Statehouse. That’s why we need a state senator representing Indianapolis who can help build the Indiana Democratic Party local residents need and deserve. We need new leaders in the Senate who won’t shrink back to the status quo and who will challenge assumptions about who gets to be at the table in politics, elections and governing. That’s why this race is really about who can help truly build a statewide Democratic Party with a vision beyond one race or seat and focus on a transformative strategy for the next decade.

2) District 46 covers unique areas of Indianapolis — from Fountain Square to the near west side to as far east as 465. What’s the key to representing people from different parts of the city?

One of the first steps I took in my campaign was distributing a neighborhood feedback survey to voters across the district. I was thrilled to have so many voters participate and I learned a lot from the results. The key to representing a diverse cross-section of Indianapolis is connection and communication. I believe most voters are looking for a leader who listens, is responsive and follows up with them. Ultimately, it’s not that difficult; it just requires consistency.

While there are notable differences across the district, neighbors told us that their key issues of concern are very similar. They include things like improving roads and infrastructure, addressing crime, supporting schools and education, making health care more affordable, making public transit more accessible and ensuring we have good paying jobs available in our community. While each neighborhood has important differences, I believe all of us can get behind improving our community for all neighbors.

3) What are the top issues you would like to address in the Statehouse?

There are many issues I would like to address in the Statehouse. I think the overarching theme is really defending and protecting the needs of my neighbors here in Indianapolis. We’ve seen legislators consistently work against the best interests of our capital city with extreme right-wing policies that harm people directly, that deter investment and that make our city less attractive to the people we desperately need to become Hoosiers by choice. So, I’ll pay particular attention to that kind of harmful legislation while working to address the issues that matter most to my neighbors.

4) What else should voters know about you?

I would like voters to know that I’m not just interested in politics. I once aspired to be a professional singer and received formal training throughout school and college. I love all animals, especially the three cats who adopted us, and I never turn down an opportunity for a solid nap. My extensive experience with global travel has helped me see the best in people all over the world, and I strive to bring some of those special experiences back home to Indianapolis.

Andrea Hunley

Andrea Hunley

1) What makes you the right person to represent District 46?

I am a teacher, mother, small business owner, proven leader and proud Democrat. For 17 years, I have served families as a public school teacher and principal. As a principal, I lead a staff of 50 employees and oversee a $4 million budget.

I serve and lead in our community in a variety of capacities: as a teacher, Indianapolis Public Schools principal, board member and volunteer. My background as an adopted daughter, mother and Black woman gives me the unique ability to connect with the diverse needs and interests of the people in our city. I am ready to lead our state forward.

Since day one, I have remained steadfast in this ever-important goal of running to fight for increased minimum wage, small businesses, workforce development, union apprenticeships, fully funded public schools and strong, connected neighborhoods with affordable housing.

For nearly two decades, I have been doing the work this position calls for day in and day out. I show up, have difficult conversations, balance a multitude of decisions that require thoughtful reflection and research, and I boldly advocate. I am the only candidate with this level of experience and expertise.

2) District 46 covers unique areas of Indianapolis — from Fountain Square to the near west side to as far east as 465. What’s the key to representing people from different parts of the city?

State Senate District 46 includes long-standing local businesses, vibrant neighborhoods and corporate headquarters, community-centered nonprofits, and public schools; it is the economic and cultural hub of our city. District 46 needs a senator with the ability to work across all these sectors and interests. I am the only candidate who has been serving our city in a leadership role for the past two decades. Experienced, proven leadership is key.

District 46 is one of the most diverse districts in our state. We need dynamic and diverse representation. We know that when Black women lead, we build coalitions, collaborate and create consensus. We also shake up stagnant systems and advocate for all.

3) What are the top issues you would like to address in the Statehouse?

I will champion a better quality of life by listening to and working alongside the vibrant people, businesses and neighborhoods of District 46.

This includes:

• education and workforce development

• raising the minimum wage and expanding union apprenticeships

• strong and safe neighborhoods, with affordable housing

• ensuring federal infrastructure dollars are equitably distributed, especially to communities that have been under-resourced. Neighborhoods should have streetlights, accessible roadways and sidewalks.

• fully funded transit because access to jobs and connecting with loved ones and grocery shopping is a right

• health care access, especially for women

4) What else should voters know about you?

My life began in the foster care system and I know how important it is to have accountability in systems. I am a member of the teacher’s union and my dad was in the sheet metal workers union. I know firsthand the importance of a reliable job that pays a living wage.

I am the only candidate who is a small business owner. I am the only candidate who is a mother to school-age children. I am the only candidate who leads from an imperative day in and day out of putting families first. This is the experience, expertise, and passion I will bring to the Statehouse.

Karla Lopez Owens

Karla Lopez Owens

1) What makes you the right person to represent District 46?

It’s not a question of being the right or wrong person to represent District 46. I’m running for this seat because of the collapse in the system that has set the Democratic Party back to the point where we have a supermajority at the Statehouse. I’m running to represent District 46 because people feel abandoned by the party. I want to bring new ideas and a new approach to help the Democratic Party grow.

I’m also running because we have no representatives who are speaking about the life and death consequences of poverty, or who are unapologetically standing up for working class people and who will continue putting people over corporate interests.

As a formerly undocumented immigrant and now a bilingual attorney, I am uniquely situated to represent this district. I’m not here because I’m the right person, I’m here because I’m fighting for immigrants, for Latinos and all working Hoosiers. As a community activist, I’ll continue elevating these voices.

2) District 46 covers unique areas of Indianapolis — from Fountain Square to the near west side to as far east as 465. What’s the key to representing people from different parts of the city?

The key to representing people from different parts of the city is having a track record of commitment to the people and helping them with their needs. It’s having an understanding of the issues working people grapple with every day, addressing their discontent with the status quo and frustrations felt toward those who have been elected to represent us.

These are the issues our campaign is elevating, issues which transcend any election cycle. Furthermore, the district is diverse and it’s growing but the General Assembly is not representative of this. Our campaign is fighting to change that.

Having someone people can relate to is also key. Poverty, hunger and an inability to pay bills are not abstract concepts to me. People want to vote for people that look like them, they want representatives that share their experiences. Being bilingual is an essential skill to have in Indianapolis. I connect with immigrants, with young people, with Black people and brown people. That’s the key. Being able to connect with people in a meaningful way.

3) What are the top issues you would like to address in the Statehouse?

I would focus on raising the minimum wage and fighting for affordable housing. I grew up in poverty. Using my experience and training in the creation of laws, I’d fight to raise the minimum wage and give working class Hoosiers a meaningful opportunity to improve their quality of life.

We are facing a housing crisis and the core of the issue is that people can’t afford housing. Indiana is the worst when it comes to renters’ rights. As experts have noted, our eviction process is fast, cheap and easy. We make evictions a first resort instead of a last resort. I will fight to ensure the rights of tenants facing evictions are not violated by investing in resources like access to legal counsel in their process.
Creating jobs, making laws accessible and empowering business owners is something I’m passionate about. I want to create laws that protect the interest of small business owners and not hurt them. I will focus on improving accessibility to financial assistance that shuts out small business owners who often do not have the capacity or time to navigate the complexities of some of these systems.

4) What else should voters know about you?

(Did not answer.)

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853 or email at tylerf@indyrecorder.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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