By Millicent Martin Emery
Tuesday’s primary election night was a chance for three Wayne County candidates to celebrate early victories, but also a reminder that months of work to fully win voters’ confidence await them.
Candidates earning the Republican nomination in contested primaries include Randy Retter for Wayne County sheriff; Beth Leisure for County Council District 3; Dr. Brad Barrett for Indiana House of Representatives’ District 56 seat; and Tom Saunders for Indiana House District 54.
Wayne County Sheriff
Randy Retter earned the Republicans’ nomination for Wayne County sheriff over Todd Barker, one of Retter’s colleagues at the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, and Donnie Benedict, who serves Richmond Police Department.
Retter received 43 percent of the vote, followed by Barker with 35 percent and Benedict with 21 percent. The sheriff’s race had the most votes cast with 6,871.
“This is awesome,” Retter said about his victory after awaiting results at Whitewater Community Television’s studio inside Indiana University East. “We’ve been working so hard, and when I say we, it’s not just me, it’s my team that’s been working so hard for the last year to get us out there. I just couldn’t be any prouder of them. And honestly, I owe a debt of gratitude to Wayne County. They got behind me and supported me so much, I feel just overwhelmed with gratitude.
“I’ve got so much confidence in my team and the support I’ve gotten from the county. I’m really looking forward to November,” Retter continued. “We’re going work just as hard all the way through the summer and push this all the way through to a win.”
Because a Democrat could choose to join the race before the end of June, Retter doesn’t plan to take the summer off from campaigning.
“This is for the people of Wayne County and I’m going to get out there and work just as hard as I have for the last year,” he said.
Retter said he wanted to pick the best possible people he could find for his team, including campaign co-chairs Peter Zaleski and Rodger Smith, and he is very humbled by the endorsement from current Sheriff Jeff Cappa.
“I worked very hard to just simply be the best I could be, and Sheriff Cappa recognized that and stood by me,” Retter said.
During the campaign, Retter talked about his plan for combating the drug issue and keeping accreditation at the jail. However, he believes the win primarily shows residents want to continue the progress of the current administration of the sheriff’s department.
“I really think as a big picture, everyone likes the abilities and service they’re getting from our department and they want to make sure it continues going that direction,” Retter said. “… They see the changes that came in the last eight years and they want to make sure they still have that.”
Wayne County Council District 3
Republican nominee Beth Leisure said she’s very happy about the outcome of Tuesday’s race.
She received 812 votes, which was nearly 56 percent of the total. Richmond resident Mark Hoelscher, a former county auditor, business manager for Northeastern schools, and retired restaurant owner, received 639 votes.
“I felt like if you just take the high road and let people know who you are and what you stand for, that in the end that always pays off,” said Leisure.
Hoelscher focused much of his campaign around his opposition to an additional food and beverage tax of one penny per dollar for restaurant purchases. Some area residents and organizations, including the Wayne County Convention & Tourism Bureau, had suggested that money would help with economic development and quality of life improvements. However, shortly before the election, county council members said they would not vote on that tax this year.
Leisure knows she faces Democrat Nick Elder in the fall. Both candidates started their campaigns months ago, and both are Milton residents who own antique shops in Cambridge City.
“The Republican Party does an awesome job of pulling together and backing the candidates and I think it’s going to be fun for us all to get to work together, all the parades and all the fun stuff coming up to the election will be a little less harrowing than this primary thing,” Leisure said.
Leisure said she’s grateful for the support of her husband, Rick, as well as some current county council members, including Zaleski and Smith, during her campaign.
Either Elder or Leisure will replace Zaleski, who chose not to run for another term.
Leisure said she’ll wait and see what issues develop in the coming months for the fall campaign.
“Council does such an awesome job and they’re already working on things that are going on, so we have to see where that evolves and where things are at by then to see what lies ahead,” Leisure said.
Council members evaluate budgets proposed by county department heads and approve a plan for 2019 before the November election.
Leisure is involved with two organizations that submit budgets to the county. She acknowledges the process can be challenging for all involved, both for the departments looking ahead and proposing what they feel is needed for good government, as well as the tough decisions about spending priorities that council must make with a limited amount of money.
“I get to see both sides of that,” Leisure said.
Elder congratulated Leisure on a hard-fought race.
“I’m excited to get down to business in the general election and present and plead my case to the voters,” Elder said. “I haven’t had that opportunity because (Democrats) haven’t had a primary.”
Elder said he wants to let voters where he stands on issues.
“I look forward to a spirited debate and hopefully we can stick to the issues and leave all the other stuff on the side,” Elder said.
Indiana House District 56
Brad Barrett, who recently retired as a surgeon from Reid Health, defeated incumbent Richard “Dick” Hamm in the GOP race with 67 percent of the 6,265 votes cast in that race. Hamm is currently serving his third term as a state representative.
Barrett said he had mixed feelings after the news was announced. He said he was happy with the final result, calling it the culmination of months of hard work.
“… At the end of the day when the smoke settles, I am absolutely excited about the next step,” Barrett said.
However, Barrett said he went through a roller-coaster ride with highs and lows and positivity and negativity during the campaign. He noted it’s impossible to know the impact of a mailer that was sent in the days before the election to local voters by an Indianapolis-based political action committee called Indiana Business for Responsive Government. The mailer said it was not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee. Hamm told local media he was unaware of the postcards before they were sent.
The card, featuring photos of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Senators Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, urged voters to “Stop Brad Barrett and his Democrat friends from invading the Republican party,” based on a Facebook post Barrett had made encouraging any resident to consider requesting a Republican ballot in the primary.
Based on conversations with voters and social media posts, Barrett said he believes the mailer had the opposite effect than the one the senders intended.
Postcards aside, Barrett said he’s looking forward to spreading out the work of the general election campaign in the next five to six months instead of the exhausting compact primary schedule of the past two to three months.
“I’ve learned so much,” Barrett said. “I went into this just very green and unknowing of the process. Now I feel I’m starting to get a better feel for it.”
Barrett said Tuesday was a day for celebration, not only for his victory but for his 25th wedding anniversary. However, the hard work starts soon.
In the fall, Barrett will face Democrat Jeffrey Locke, who is currently serving as a city councilman in Richmond and formerly held public office in Fayette County.
Hamm said wins and losses in politics are “part of the program,” and acknowledged Barrett likely had many friends through his years at Reid Health who turned out to vote.
“You do what you do and try to do the best you can,” Hamm said.
Hamm said he will focus on returning for the May 14 special session at the statehouse and help the Speaker of the House get three or four bills through that didn’t get finished during the earlier session.
“I enjoyed it,” Hamm said of his six years in office. “The fact is I was solving problems for constituents today. That was part of my program. A lot of people don’t realize this is a full-time job, and if you don’t treat it that way, you’re not going to in any way shape or form do what’s best for Wayne County. I’m reasonably sure (Barrett) will. That’s not even a question.”
Locke said he’s excited about November. He chatted with Barrett after the results were announced.
“I just think there needs to be a change in Indianapolis and the leadership in Indy,” Locke said. “I’ve sat back and watched and something has to be done. The Republicans have supermajorities in both houses and they’re going to have a special session this year for $30,000 a day because they can’t run state government. I think the Republican Party has gotten used to their supermajorities and they’ve lost touch with the common working man and woman out here in the state.”
Locke said he was the first Democrat elected to his Richmond Common Council district in about 25 years, so he knows hard work, and said he has a good team backing him to get his message out in person and on his website.
“We’ll be out working the neighborhoods,” Locke said. “We’re not going to sit on our butts and just take anything for granted because Mr. Barrett is going to be a formidable opponent.”
Some of Locke’s concerns include the number of tax increases that Republican lawmakers have passed in recent years as well as preliminary discussion about making Interstate 70 a toll road, which Locke believes would be detrimental to Wayne County, especially local residents who rely on the road to get from one town to another or even just across Richmond.
Contested township races
Just a few votes separated the candidates in contested races for township offices.
Larry Joe Black, Bill Sullivan and James D. Howell were chosen to be GOP nominees for Dalton Township board.
Matthew Berger won the GOP nomination with 69 votes for Green Township trustee over Robert D. Conyers, who had 64 votes.
Republicans chosen to advance to the fall election for the Wayne Township board were Diane Dwyer Blackwell, Marilyn Sowers and Terri Smith.
Even though it was open as a vote center for the week before the election, voter traffic was steady Tuesday at Golay Community Center in Cambridge City.
Betsy Schultz of Milton stopped by to vote on her day off. She said she sometimes skips primary elections but always votes in the fall contests.
“I just think it’s important we try to do that,” Schultz said about voting.
She said she definitely likes the convenience of vote centers.
Al Glover, a former Richmond Common Council member, worked Tuesday as a greeter at Golay.
“It’s been very interesting,” Glover said of his day at the polls. “I am finding people are very interested in voting and are realizing how wonderful it is to be an American and experience the precious rights we’ve fought for in many wars.”