North Vernon attorney wins Statehouse seat


NORTH VERNON — A North Vernon attorney will be a fresh face in the Indiana House of Representatives and also will become one of Indiana’s youngest lawmakers.

J. Alex Zimmerman, 30, was selected as the new representative for Indiana House District 67 on Monday. He was one of four candidates, and he was chosen at a caucus of district Republicans in Ripley County to succeed retired Rep. Randy Frye, R-Greensburg.

Despite a four-way race, Zimmerman won the caucus with a majority of votes on the first ballot.

“I’m ready to get to work on behalf of House District 67, and I’m honored and humbled to have been selected in the caucus,” Zimmerman said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

District 67 includes most of Jennings County, a portion of Decatur County and all of Ripley and Jefferson counties. The district includes the county seat communities of North Vernon, Madison and Versailles.

A Delaware County native, Zimmerman is no stranger to the corridors of power in the Indiana Statehouse.

Before opening his general law practice in North Vernon in 2020, he worked nearly six years on the Indiana State Senate Republican majority staff. He is a Franklin College graduate and a 2020 graduate of the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

“The experience I bring from being a staffer before can only benefit me,” Zimmerman said.

At Franklin College, Zimmerman met his future wife, Kayla Ellis Zimmerman, a Jennings County native and a graduate of Jennings County High School. The couple have a 2-year-old son, Liam.

Zimmerman said when he and Kayla were living in the Indianapolis area and planning to start a family, they chose to make their home in Jennings County, where they bought and remodeled a house.

“What drew me to this area, besides my wife and family, is it’s true Hoosier hospitality down here in southeast Indiana,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a great place to live, raise a family, it’s a friendly community. After living in Indianapolis and Johnson County six or seven years, it’s really nice to only have a f5-minute drive to work instead of a 45-minute commute. It’s just a relaxed pace of living, and I couldn’t be more happy to be here.”

Zimmerman believes the state could do a better job of selling such attributes, and he said rural development will be a top legislative priority.

The state, he said, “has done a good job of investing in Marion County and the doughnut counties, so to speak (around Indianapolis), but I think that the state has not been investing what it could be in rural Indiana.”

Investment could add to the natural beauty of places such as Muscatatuck Park in North Vernon, Versailles State Park, Madison and surrounding areas. He said southeastern Indiana should not be viewed not just as attractive for tourism dollars but as appealing places where young people can make their homes and futures.

“I’d like to see more of our younger generation get that education and come back to rural Indiana,” he said.

Zimmerman said he also plans to focus on addressing what he referred to “the mental health crisis we have in Indiana right now.”

As part of his law practice, Zimmerman has a contract to serve as a public defender in a couple of counties and has seen firsthand how law enforcement officers and people in the justice system are overburdened by issues related to mental health — issues they may not be equipped to address.

Because he and others in the justice system are not trained mental health experts, he said, “It’s a lot harder for us to be able to help our clients if they have continuing mental health issues that continue to go unaddressed,” he said.

Zimmerman said the legislature took meaningful steps toward mental health reform in the last session, but “I think the state could be doing more to help with the mental health crisis we have in Indiana right now.”

He pointed to the Stride Center in Columbus as a model for intervention to help people in mental health crisis and divert them from the criminal justice system. He said he’s aware of instances where officers in Jennings County have referred people to Stride, but it may not be practical to replicate such centers in every county.

Asked what legislation he would propose to address the mental health crisis, Zimmerman suggested making crisis intervention training a requirement at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.

“The issue is it’s a weeklong course,” he said, which could present problems, particularly for smaller communities, in taking active officers off the street. Still, the training could be enacted as a requirement for future officers so they would leave the academy with at least some basic crisis intervention training training.

Frye, 67, the retired lawmaker Zimmerman will succeed, announced in June he would retire effective July 8, citing multiple health concerns. He had served as a state representative since 2010.

Indiana Republican Party chairman Kyle Hupfer issued a statement congratulating Zimmerman.

“Hoosiers in the district will be well represented by Alex, and we look forward to him joining the rest of the Republican caucus in the Statehouse to deliver results for his constituents and the state of Indiana,” he said.

Zimmerman will fill the remainder of Frye’s term that runs through 2024. Zimmerman is scheduled to be formally sworn in on Tuesday. According to House staff, he will be the second-youngest member. He is just a few months older than first-term Rep. Kyle Pierce, R-Anderson.

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