Editor's note: This is the third of three stories on the hopefuls for the District 48 seat in the Indiana House. Profiles of Doug Miller (look here) and Jesse Bohannon (look here) have already run.
ELKHART — Adam Bujalski sees himself as a mediating force among Republicans.
"The Republican Party has a major issue with in-fighting, when everybody just wants to have their voice heard," he said.
More about Adam Bujalski
Occupation: Manager at KeyBank branch in Goshen.
Political background: A Republican, he unsuccessfully ran for the Elkhart City Council in 2011 and vied, unsuccessfully, for an open Elkhart City Council spot in a 2013 GOP caucus.
Roots, education: He grew up in Detroit and in 2005 moved to Elkhart, hometown of his wife. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, and is working on a master's degree in business from the school.
Family: He's married with one child and another on the way.
Other: He served in the U.S. Army from 2000 to 2004.
In running for vice chair of the Elkhart County Republican Central Committee (and winning), he sought to bridge the sides — moderates and more conservative tea party types. Now, in vying for the District 48 seat in the Indiana House, he thinks that ability to unite will serve him well.
He doesn't agree all the time with tea party activists or more mainstream elements of the Republican Party. "But I think that's what makes a good politician," he said. He'll listen to the sides, read up on an issue, "but I'm still going to come to my own decisions as well."
Bujalski, a resident of Elkhart and manager of a KeyBank branch in Goshen, is one of three candidates running for the District 48 post, to be vacated by incumbent Rep. Tim Neese, who isn't seeking re-election. No Democrats are running for the seat, which covers northwestern Elkhart County, including northern Elkhart.
Thus, the winner of the May 6 primary has the inside track to the post in the Nov. 4 vote.
In announcing his candidacy last August, a day after Neese announced he wouldn't seek re-election, Bujalski touted job growth and economic improvement as two priority issues.
He praised the limited business property tax reform measure approved by lawmakers in the recently concluded legislative session. It grants individual counties authority to eliminate the business tax on new business property or on smaller-sized companies, but doesn't completely do away with the tax, as first sought by Gov. Mike Pence.
"I am all for tax reform, I think taxes are too high," said Bujalski. But he's also cognizant of local government officials' concerns about losing too much tax revenue and their calls that a replacement revenue source be identified to offset any permanent cuts.
He touts the importance of beefing up vocational and other alternative offerings at public schools to leave high school grads better prepared. Having served in the U.S. Army, veterans' issues are also important to him. He served from 2000 to 2004 and received a medical discharge following a work-related incident in the military.
'TO THE FULL "R"'
Bujalski wasn't always a Republican. He described himself as "fiercely independent" until a few years ago.
Then after President Obama took office in 2009, he shifted gears. Democrats, he ruefully charges, started taking away personal liberties, "just completely destroying our Constitution." He turned to the GOP.
"At that point, I got rid of my little independent label and went to the full 'R,'" Bujalski said.
Still, he says he's open to debate — on most things.
"I tell people I have only one non-negotiable in my life and that's my abortion stance. I'm 100 percent pro-life," said Bujalski, who is accepting of abortion only when the life of a mother is at stake. "Outside of that, I'm willing to sit down and talk with anybody. I think we need to have open-mindedness."
SAME-SEX MARRIAGE, EDUCATION, GUNS
Here's how Bujalski stands on a range of matters:
Same-sex marriage: He doesn't think House Joint Resolution 3 will come up again. That's the proposal to define marriage in the Indiana Constitution as the union of one man and one woman, thus prohibiting same-sex marriage. It's too controversial, and Pence won't want to have to deal with such a hot-potato issue in 2016, when he'll be up for re-election.
That said, he favors the measure and would vote for it if it comes up. Lawmakers earlier this year removed a provision that would have prohibited civil unions and Bujalski indicates that was the right step.
"To me marriage is (between) a man and a woman. That's my faith," he said. "But the civil union part of me, I don't have an issue with that."
Lawmakers approved HJR-3 earlier this year, but it would require approval again by lawmakers in 2015 or 2016 and then approval by voters in the November 2016 ballot.
Education: He touted the example of the Elkhart Area Career Center at Elkhart Community Schools, which provides specialized education to high school students in a range of fields, as the sort of initiative more schools should have. He'd back increasing funding for such programs in public schools.
Not all high school grads are bound for college and they should have some sort of skill set that'll serve them on graduating. Having the skills learned at places like the career center "can translate into a real job (on graduating)," he said. "They're not going to have to go out and make minimum wage somewhere."
He's OK with Indiana's school voucher program, which provides grants to families up to a certain income threshold to send their kids to private schools. But he wouldn't want to expand it, worried about the impact if even more funding were diverted away from public schools to families sending their kids to private schools.
"I do agree with the income cut-off at some point because we can't completely butcher our public schools as well," he said.
Guns: He favors gun rights, but doesn't necessarily see the need for new legislation related to ownership, just an emphasis on gun education. He cites the example of his son.
"My son is nine years old and he's gone through two (National Rifle Association) safety courses geared toward children," he said.