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3 Vie for GOP Senate Nod

Rokita, Messer, Braun Hope to Unseat Donnelly in Fall

May 7, 2018

Indiana Senate Primary 2018: What You Need To Know

Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana)

With the election of Donald Trump angering Democrats across the country, and the Senate nearly deadlocked with 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats, this November’s Midterm Election is set to see a massive “Blue Wave” as the Democrats look to win a majority the U.S. House of Representatives and hope to keep the Senate close as they have 10 Senators up for reelection in states won by Donald Trump in 2016. One of those Senators is Indiana’s own Joe Donnelly, expected to be one of the most vulnerable in that group of 10 due to Trump winning Indiana by 19.3 percent in 2016.

The primary election to determine which Republican will challenge him on November 6 is just days away, on May 8, and has been one of the most watched races in the country to this point because of its potential implications in which party will control the Senate come 2019.

This primary also offers a great opportunity for the new age of voters to let their voices be heard on the issues that they care about, such as gun control and school safety, which have been hot topics since the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that resulted in the deaths of 17 students and faculty.

“I also believe young people need to get out and vote at higher rates than in general if they want the issues they care about to be taken seriously on a national scale” said Government teacher Robert McKerr.

The candidates vying for the Republican Nomination to the Senate seat are: Luke Messer, a Congressman representing Indiana’s 6th district, Mike Braun, a former state lawmaker from Jasper and the CEO of Meyer Distributing, and lastly, Todd Rokita, a Congressman representing Indiana’s 4th district.

McKerr also wants students to know that this primary is a great opportunity to choose the candidates that represent them, given the nastiness of the primary between these three.

“If you care about the quality of individuals running”, said McKerr, “you need to get out and vote (next) week!”

The incumbent Senator they are trying to defeat will be Joe Donnelly, a moderate Democrat who won his seat in 2012, defeating Richard Mourdock by six points. Donnelly served in the House from 2007 to 2013 as the representative for Indiana’s 2nd district prior to joining the Senate. However he will be running unopposed in the Democratic Primary, so he will be discussed more in depth in the November edition of this piece as the General Election looms.

The Primary Race will be contested on Tuesday May 8, 2018 and here is more on what you need to know about the three candidates, so that come May 8, you can make an informed vote.

Candidate Bios

Mike Braun:

Mike Braun (R-Jasper)

Braun has spent plenty of time on the campaign trail and in debates hammering home the point that he is a political outsider, likening himself to Donald Trump and having real world experience growing a business. However Braun does have some political experience. He served as a State Representative for District 63 from 2014-2017 before resigning his seat to focus on his Senate campaign.

However that short time in office has still given plenty of things that his opponents can smear him with. A frequent point of attack from Todd Rokita is that he voted to raise taxes 45 times while in the statehouse. Those tax raises are mostly on the gas tax as a part of Indiana’s infrastructure improvement plan, but it did add up to one of the largest tax raises in Indiana’s history.

However the biggest criticism of Braun is the fact that he voted in Democratic primary elections up until 2012, a point that has caught him lots of flak from Luke Messer who has called him a lifetime Democrat and has said “If you’re outside anything, you’re outside the Republican Party” when Braun talks about being a political outsider.

During recent debates Braun has defended his primary voting by saying that for many years elections in his county were decided in Democratic Primaries.

Braun has also drawn criticism for cutting taxes and regulation on the timber industry, which he has a personal financial interest in, as he owns timber land in the southern part of the state that has been valued at over $5 million. When asked about the tax cuts at the 2nd GOP Debate,  Braun said “That was something that was so mild, it passed the ethics test. It had no impact on my holdings”.

In what Braun calls ‘the real world’ he has grown his business, Meyer Distributing, an auto parts distributor, to having locations in 38 states and now has enough money to be able to mostly self-fund his campaign. According to his quarterly financial report filed with the Federal Election Commission, Braun has given himself about $5.4 million of the $5.9 million that his campaign has raised, which has put him ahead of both his Republican opponents combined.

But his business was recently tarnished, with an AP report saying that his employees receive unfair treatment, from not being paid overtime, to an employee being fired after having surgery.

On his website, mikebraunforindiana.com, Braun states that some of his key issues are Job Creation, Draining the Swamp, Reforming Healthcare, Reducing Government Spending, and Strengthening our Military.  

Due to lack of experience, there is not much to go off of when evaluating Braun. Debates have not shown much contrast in policy from any of the three candidates as they are all riding the Trump Train at full steam ahead. What sets these candidates apart is character as well as some of their endorsements.  For Braun, those endorsements are from local state Senator Liz Brown as well as State Reps. Bob Morris, Chris May, Christopher Brown, and Ronald Bacon. Braun has also recently gotten his first national endorsement, from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma).

Luke Messer (R-6th):

Luke Messer (R-6th)

Messer is a long-time politician who after serving three years in the Statehouse from 2003-2006 made the jump to the US House of Representatives in 2012, representing Indiana’s 6th District which includes Columbus, Muncie, and Richmond. Messer was effective during his time in the statehouse and had the strong support of former Governor Mitch Daniels.

“Messer has been a key partner in most of our State’s biggest policy achievements leading the State Republican Party, helping craft a balanced state budget with no tax increases and providing better educational opportunities for all Hoosier children” said Daniels.

Since joining the US House, Messer has founded the Congressional School Choice Caucus and has joined the Republican leadership in the House as Republican Policy Committee Chairman.

Messer has also moved his family out to Virginia, in the D.C. area, a move which has drawn criticism from his opponents, especially from fellow US Rep. Todd Rokita (R-4th). However Messer has been non-apologetic about this move, saying at the 2nd GOP Debate “I’m a lifetime Hoosier and my kids need a full time Dad so my kids are at school with me as I serve in Washington D.C.”.

Messer has also defended himself by acknowledging that he maintains joint ownership of a house with his mother that is in his Congressional District, and recited the address for the home at the previously mentioned GOP Debate.

Another critique that Messer has caught comes from Rokita who has hit Messer on his vote to raise taxes that would be used to build Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, in downtown Indy.

Messer has also been under fire for not disclosing DUIs when he was nominated to replace a state lawmaker that was killed by a drunk driver. Had Messer disclosed the DUIs, it was likely that he would not have been a candidate for the seat, and therefore his political career would be seemingly nonexistent.

Both Braun and Rokita have called Messer a ‘Never Trumper’ for past comments including what he said in April of 2016 in terms of a ‘white knight’ stealing the Republican Nomination from Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention

On legislation in the House, Messer votes with the President’s position 92.9 percent of the time, including the recent spending bill which the President ended up signing despite his disagreements with parts of it.

Messer has an ‘A’ rating with the NRA, a 100% from National Right to Life, and a 97 percent from Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers who are well known Republican donors.

Some of the key issues Messer has listed on his website, lukemesser.com, are Defense/ National Security, Taxes, Overregulation, Veterans, and School Choice.

In terms of endorsements, Messer by far has the most of them, starting with fellow U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-5th). Messer’s 17 other endorsements come from multiple high-level state officials, the most notable being State Senate President Pro Tempore David Long.

Todd Rokita (R-4th):

Rokita has seemingly taken the villain role in this race, taking his support for President Trump to a level of taking his debate style, throwing frequent insults at his opponents as mentioned in the other candidates profiles. Rokita took this role from the beginning, with the first thing he said in his opening statement at the first debate being “Mike (Braun), welcome to the Republican Party, Luke (Messer), welcome back to Indiana.” Rokita also opened his first response to a question in the second debate by saying “I’m glad we doing (the debate) early, it gives Luke (Messer) a chance to get home, to Virginia.”

Todd Rokita (R-4th)

Politically, Rokita started the high profile part of his career as the Indiana Secretary of State, a role he served in from 2002-2010. From there, Rokita joined the US House of Representatives where he is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.

During his time in Congress, Rokita has never voted to raise taxes, a part of his voting record that he loves to talk about at debates. Since the Trump Administration took over, Rokita has voted with the President’s position 90.1 percent of the time, lower than his opponent, Luke Messer, despite claiming to have been “with you, Trump supporters, in the trenches to make sure Crooked Hillary Clinton did not become President” and labeling Messer as a Never Trumper.

Like Messer, Rokita has a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life, and has repeatedly hammered home his 100 percent Anti-Abortion stance, which he claims to be the only one in the Republican Primary to have.

On the topic, Rokita told the Journal Gazette in October 2017 “You’re never going to get me to say that whatever the scenario, however common or rare, that it’s okay to intentionally kill human lives. I’m going to continue to strive to support birth mother and unborn child.”

Like both of this opponents however, Rokita has taken heat for things that he has done during his political career. For Rokita, this “dirt” is a possible ethics violation during his time as Secretary of State. By accessing a Republican donor database from his government office an activity that breaks Indiana law and occured during 2009 as he was preparing to leave his position in the Statehouse and run for a higher level office.

When asked about the possible violation during the second debate Rokita responded by emulating the President, dismissing the story as “fake news” and he went on to claim that the sources from the story were all associated with the Messer campaign.

Last week it was also revealed that Rokita had an alcohol related incident in 1990, the same year Messer was convicted of his first DUI, mentioned above. While Rokita was never charged for DUI, police reports said “Upon stopping the vehicle, the officer did speak with the driver who seemed to be intoxicated and who also provided the officer with a false identification.”

Rokita has few endorsements in the race, but one of them that he does hold is from the campaign chairman/vice chairman from Trump’s 2016 Indiana campaign. However this has backfired in a way for Rokita, who put the endorsement on his yard signs, as the Trump reelection campaign has asked Rokita to take the signs down, believing they give the false impression that the President himself has endorsed Rokita.

On the Issues:

Second Amendment: All three candidates have expressed their Pro-2A stance. Each have also said that they support arming trained and volunteering teachers to add security at schools, a stance demonstrated by an early question at the second debate. However at the third debate, Rokita added that he believed this was an issue to be tackled at the local level. “One size doesn’t fit all, and if a local school board or superintendent or school principal wants that option, and the community wants that option, the community ought to have that option” said Rokita.

Abortion: This is yet another issues where all candidates agree in their anti-abortion views. As mentioned in his profile, Rokita claims to be the only candidate to be 100 percent anti-abortion but both he and Messer have 100 percent ratings from the National Right to Life. The extent of Braun’s record on abortion is his vote in support of Indiana HB 1337, a 2016 state house bill that amended abortion regulations.

Immigration: At the third debate, all three echoed their past support for the wall and securing the Southern border, but it was Rokita who took the issue a step further. Rokita called for the defunding of sanctuary cities, a reason he cites for his recent down vote on the recent spending bill, as well as putting politicians who ignore federal immigration law in jail. In line with his hardline immigration views, Rokita is also running on the idea of making English the U.S.’s official language.

Term Limits: All three candidates said at the third debate that they support term limits for Congress. In contrast with his opponents, Rokita has co-sponsored legislation for term limits. The bill, which Messer supports, allows for Representatives in the House to serve six terms for a total of 12 years, and for Senators to serve two terms, also adding up to a total of 12 years. Braun offers a different plan. Braun also wants two terms for Senators but only three for Representatives, adding up to six years instead of 12.

Filibuster: This is an issue that isn’t a hot topic issue at the moment, but the President has tweeted about it multiple times, and the issues could gain ground the next time the GOP tries to pass major legislation in the Senate, assuming that they stay in the majority and don’t reach 60 seats in the Senate following the midterm election in November. The issue offers some of the most daylight between these candidates as there is on anything else. All of the candidates have said that they support getting rid of, or at least modifying the filibuster. Messer said flat out he wanted the filibuster completely gone while Braun also made that his position. However, Rokita was thinking more about reform, then ‘going nuclear’ with the filibuster.

“What if we had 60 votes to stop something?” said Rokita, “Make the obstructionists vote to hold things up instead of letting them hide.”

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