Koch, Wirth seek District 44 Senate seat

A Lawrence County attorney who has been a state lawmaker for the past 18 years is being challenged this year by a Columbus educator.

Incumbent District 44 state senator Eric Koch, R-Bedford, is defending his seat against Democrat Cynthia “Cinde” Wirth.

District 44 contains Brownstown, Carr, Driftwood, Hamilton, Owen, Pershing and Salt Creek townships in Jackson County, parts of five townships in Bartholomew County, three townships in southern Monroe County and essentially all of Lawrence and Brown counties.

When asked if the current economic downturn might force public schools to make drastic cuts in education, Koch said Gov. Eric Holcomb has already expressed his intention not to reduce K-12 tuition support during the current biennium.

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In addition, the State Budget Agency is not asking for tuition support appropriations to be reduced, Koch said. But too much will remain unknown about the state’s fiscal outlook until December, he said.

Wirth says she is seeking the office because current state lawmakers have policies in place that won’t allow Indiana to “get ahead.” For example, she says the General Assembly refuses to provide incentives to move away from fossil fuels and toward alternative energy sources.

When asked if the current economic downturn might force Indiana public schools to make drastic cuts in education over the next four years, Wirth said if the school districts face budget cuts similar to 2010, she feels the issue needs to be solved without punishing students, teachers and public schools.

Supporting public education by retooling the funding formula and prioritizing public education and public school teachers should be the budget priority for state legislators in 2021, Wirth said.

Both candidates were asked an additional four questions.

Q: This year is a census year, so candidates elected this year will draw district lines that will exist for 10 years. Would you support a bill that would create a bipartisan redistricting commission?

Koch: “Article 4, Section 5 of the Indiana Constitution vests only the General Assembly with the authority to conduct redistricting and apportionment.”

Wirth: “I would support a bill to create a bipartisan redistricting commission to better represent constituents’ needs and voices over party agendas and partisan gerrymandering.”

Q: Evaluate how well you believe Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has done in his handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Is there anything the Indiana General Assembly should do to help combat the virus?

Koch: “There has certainly been no handbook to use for governing during an event like this. I would anticipate that when the General Assembly returns to session, the Emergency Powers statute will be changed to require the General Assembly to be called into session if a declared emergency extends beyond a short period of time and to place limits upon the use of executive orders.”

Wirth: “With no initial federal guidance or response upon the COVID-19 pandemic reaching Indiana, Gov. Holcomb initially stepped up and aggressively sought to protect Hoosier health and lives. Gov. Holcomb did not stand firm on the grounds that it was a public health emergency against the challenge to the mask mandate and caved to the whims of Washington, D.C., thereby placing public health at risk.”

Q: Last March, there was a major last-hour rewrite of a bill that essentially overrules protections passed in Indianapolis, Bloomington and Merrillville to protect tenants from predatory landlord practices. With evictions expected to skyrocket after government protections eventually end for tenants, would you support strong protections for tenants?

Koch: “Contract law should be uniform throughout Indiana and all parties should be required to honor their obligations under a lease. Indiana courts are well-equipped to handle outrageous behavior by property owners or tenants. It is important to note that rental assistance is available through the COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program to those Hoosiers who have lost income because of the pandemic.”

Wirth: “Yes, Indiana has an ongoing housing shortage for lower income Hoosiers, feeding predatory landlord practices. Renters in Indiana are at a distinct disadvantage and deserve access to safe, habitable living spaces without threat of retaliation by landlords who could destroy a renter’s credit history, simply evict them or both. In many cases, an eviction is the final step that leads to homelessness.”

Q: What do you think should be the priority of state lawmakers next year?

Koch: “We do not yet know what impact this pandemic will have on the state’s budget over the next biennium. The state budget director instructed state agencies to submit budget plans for the next biennium, which are 15% less than their current (FY21) appropriations. In a best-case scenario, that may be sufficient to align future spending with revenues. On the other hand, should we see a prolonged impact on the service, hospitality and entertainment industries, we may need to look toward additional reductions in expenditures. Historically, K-12 education, infrastructure improvements and economic development have been priorities of the General Assembly during budget sessions.”

Wirth: “Supporting public education by retooling the funding formula and prioritizing public education and public school teachers should be the budget priority for our state legislators in 2021. Expanding access to affordable health care programs is another priority that needs to be addressed. Funding job training programs for new, high-tech industries is also high on my list of priorities.”

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Name: Cynthia "Cinde" Wirth

Age: 51

Residence: Columbus

Party: Democrat

Previous offices sought: State Representative District 59

Occupation: Teacher

Education: Bachelor’s degree in biology and Spanish from the University of Evansville; undergraduate programs at Harlaxton College in Grantham, England; British Studies Oaxaca Cultural Institute in Oaxaca, Mexico, Mexican Conversation and Culture; master’s degree in anthropology/archaeology from Indiana University;graduate certificate in underwater resource management from Indiana University; Ph.D. in educational and STEM policy from Ball State University

Professional honors and associations: U.S. Department of Energy, Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Legislative Fellow; BCSC Mindy Lewis Above and Beyond Diversity Award; BCSC Friends of Miyoshi Educational Ambassador; National New Tech Network Project Teaching Honors; Bartholomew Consolidated School Foundation Innovation Grants; Sustainable Furniture Council; International Association of Caribbean Archaeologists; Society of American Archaeologists; Registered Professional Archaeologists

Community involvement: Sunrise Rotary; Leadership Bartholomew County; Columbus Service League Sustainer; Columbus Comprehensive Plan Committee; vice president of the Downtown Merchants Association; president and vice president of the Columbus Lacrosse Club; Bartholomew County Historical Society; chairwoman of the BCHS Historic Homes Tour; Historic Columbus Development; Friends of The Commons; chairwoman of the Uncommon Cause Committee; Columbus City Park Improvement Committee; Downtown Columbus Parking Committee

Family: Husband, Trent; two adult children

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Name: Eric A. Koch

Age: 55

Residence: Bedford

Party: Republican

Previous office held: District 65 state representative (2002 to 2016)

Occupation: Attorney in private practice

Education: Bachelor of Science in business administration from Georgetown University; Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Indiana University School of Law, Bloomington; civil mediation certificate from Indiana University School of Law, Indianapolis; graduate certificate in energy policy panning from the University of Idaho College of Business and Economics; Southern Methodist University, Cox School of Business, Southwestern Graduate School of Banking Foundation; community bank director certification from Southern Methodist University

Professional honors and associations: Sagamore of the Wabash and Kentucky Colonel; Guardian of Small Business Award from the National Federation of Independent Business (2019); Champion of Justice Award from the Indiana Judges Association (2016); Randall T. Shepard Award from the Indiana Pro Bono Commission (2012); Legislative Excellence Award, Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council (2018); Legislator of the Year, Indiana Chapter National Association of Water Companies (2018); Legislator of the Year, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (2017); Legislative Service Award, Indiana Municipal Power Agency (2017); National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (2016): Outstanding Achievement in State Tax Reform Award, Tax Foundation (2015); Legislator of the Year, Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association (2015); Champion of Indiana’s Electric Cooperatives (2015); Legislator of the Year, Indiana Trial Lawyers Association (2008 and 2015); Legislator of the Year, Indiana Telecommunications Association (2011) President’s Award, Southern Indiana Center for Independent Living (2006 and 2008); Legislative Leadership Award, Indiana Rural Health Association (2006); Government Leadership Award, Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce (2005)

Community involvement: Member, Consumer Advisory Committee, Federal Communication Commission (2019 to present); member, Executive Committee of the National Council on Electricity Policy (2019 to present); board of governors, Dunn Memorial Hospital (1999 to 2010, chairman 2001 to 2010); board of directors, National Legal Center for the Medically Dependent and Disabled (1993 to 2013); board of directors, Indiana Heritage Arts Inc. (1999 to 2001); commissioner, National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (2018 to present); board member, Mitchell Urban Enterprise Association (2017); board of advisers, Oakland City University Bedford (2008 to 2011); chairman, board of directors, St. Vincent Dunn Hospital (2010 to 2014); trustee, Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (2006 to 2011); Indiana Public Defender Commission (2017 to present); Indiana Supreme Court Innovation Initiative (2019 to present); Indiana Commercial Courts Committee (2019 to present); board of governors, Society of Indiana Pioneers (2014 to present); Indiana Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Statewide Steering Committee; Indiana Military Base Planning Council (2005 to 2019); Indiana Commission on Courts (2007 to 2011); Indiana Probate Code Study Commission

Family: Wife, Connie; three adult sons; one daughter-in-law; one grandchild