The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Ken Eitel in the May primary.
Eitel, a Greencastle businessman, is challenging incumbent Andy Thomas (R-Brazil) for the District 44 State Representative's seat in the Indiana Legislature. Thomas is completing his first term in office. He was elected following the retirement from the Legislature of Susan Crosby.
When asked why the Chamber was endorsing Eitel instead of the incumbent Republican in the Primary, Michael Davis, Political Action Committee and Public Affairs Director, said Thomas and the Chamber did not see eye-to-eye on some key issues.
The Chamber, through its lobbyist division, Indiana Business for Responsive Government, looks at incumbent candidates in Indiana and who has filed to run against them. Each candidate is scored using criteria from the IBRG.
"While (Thomas) does have a voting score that makes him eligible (for endorsement), he has not been supportive on key issues," Davis told The Times on Thursday. "He has shown a lack of willingness to work with us, especially on education issues."
Other key issues are tax and finance and health care, Davis said.
Thomas' support of a bill that would "have gutted Public Law 221," a law that holds schools accountable and originated during Gov. Robert Orr's administration was one reason why the Chamber decided not to endorse him in the primary.
In 1987, the Indiana Legislature passed Public Law 221, part of the A-plus education reform package.
The result was a political struggle between the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana State Teachers Association. The Chamber supported the reforms and the ISTA opposed them, the Indianapolis Star reported.
When asked about the Chamber's endorsement of his opponent, Thomas cited his many endorsements, including one from the ISTA.
The state Chamber of Commerce has an impressive success record, Davis said. Since 1990, only one candidate it has endorsed has lost an election and the Chamber has an 83 percent success rate overall, in both primary and general elections. Davis estimated the Chamber is endorsing a dozen candidates in the Indiana Primary this year.
"It is not unusual for us to get involved in primary races" contrary to many other special interest groups, Davis said.
Davis contrasted Thomas' record with the views of Eitel.
"Ken's views on all these issues align very closely with ours," Davis said.
Eitel is understandably pleased with the Indiana Chamber's endorsement. "Obviously, I'm excited the Chamber has joined our campaign," he said Thursday. "I believe our goals match those of the Chamber."
Eitel also is concerned about "excellence in education, lessening the tax burden and economic growth through job creation," he said.
He would like to see a high quality of life maintained while stimulating the economy. He also wants to see each community set its own standards.
"I believe in community involvement," he said. "The future of Indiana is in the hands of citizens rather than government. Citizens need to be asked about the future of Indiana and what the state's needs are.
"I believe in building alliances between groups with similar interests. Much can be accomplished."
According to Eitel, one way to build alliances is through his proposed District 44 Leadership Council that would bring together community leaders and other citizens quarterly to talk about issues and challenges.
Another way to build alliances is through roundtables at the grassroots level.
For the past three years, Eitel has been a facilitator for a quality of life roundtable in Greencastle.
Once a quarter, a diverse group of people (from agriculture, other business and social service agencies) meet to discuss community and state needs.
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