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"The most horrible campaign": It's getting testy in the District 22 Indiana House contest

Incumbent Rebecca Kubacki, challenged in the GOP primary by Curt Nisly, blasts the "despicable" tone of the race.

Posted on April 19, 2014 at 10:07 a.m.

It's getting hot in District 22.

The incumbent to the Indiana House seat in the district, Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, faces an intense intra-party challenge in the upcoming GOP primary from Curt Nisly. Nisly backers, including tea party elements in the district, have waged an uncommonly strong war of words in the letters-to-the-editor pages of District 22 newspapers like The Elkhart Truth and the Warsaw Times-Union.

But the back and forth isn't limited to newsprint or the digital sphere. Kubacki, from Syracuse, said she's brought up the strong tone, face-to-face, with Nisly, most recently at a candidate forum in Warsaw on Wednesday, April 16. 

Guns, same-sex marriage
Here's where Rep. Rebecca Kubacki and GOP challenger Curt Nisly stand on just two issues that have emerged in their contest:
Same-sex marriage: Both view marriage as the union of one man and one woman. But Nisly favors House Joint Resolution 3, the proposal to amend the Indiana Constitution to define marriage as such, thus prohibiting same-sex marriage, while Kubacki voted against it.
Lawmakers ultimately approved HJR-3 in the last legislative session, despite Kubacki's opposition, and now the measure faces consideration again by lawmakers in 2015 or 2016, per the constitutional amendment process. If approved a second time, it would go to voters for final consideration as a ballot question in the November 2016 vote.
He's "in favor of letting the marriage amendment go to the people for the vote," said Nisly.
Kubacki voted for a measure similar to HJR-3 in 2011 but now says the Constitution shouldn't be altered in such instances because it sets a precedent. Who's to say pro-choice advocates couldn't push to amend the Constitution to allow abortion if they were in the majority?
"To me, it's a matter of the Constitution. We leave it alone," Kubacki said. "The Constitution is there to protect us from super majorities."
Guns: Both Nisly and Kubacki characterize themselves as pro-gun advocates.
But Nisly crticicized Kubacki's "terrible anti-gun rights vote" for an amendment to Senate Bill 229 in the last legislative session that would have prohibited carrying of weapons onto school grounds in locked cars. The amendment failed and Kubacki ultimately voted for SB 229 anyway, without the change, and the bill passed.
If the amendment had passed, "staffers who work at a school and parents who visit a school (would be) effectively disarmed for their trip to and from the school, and possibly all day," Nisly said in a statement. "These law-abiding citizens should not be disarmed on their commute, nor for other errands they may have to perform that day."
Kubacki defended her vote on the amendment, saying it reflected the view of three school superintendents from District 22 whose schools had policies prohibiting guns on school grounds, even in locked cars. Similarly, she saw it as a matter of local control — letting local people set their own rules.
"It's their school. They had a policy. We should respect that policy," Kubacki said. At any rate, she noted she ultimately voted for SB 229, even without the amendment.

"They've run the most horrible campaign I've ever witnessed," Kubacki said by phone. "It's just been horrible. I just can't believe these people." 

Nisly maintains that his focus has been on the issues and Kubacki's voting record, which he's fiercely questioned, notably on the same-sex marriage question. Kubacki voted last January against House Joint Resolution 3, the measure to prohibit same-sex marriage, while Nisly favors the proposal. (See more in the sidebar.)

"Our campaign has been totally about the issues and her votes. Her votes are fair game," he said. What backers write in their letters to newspapers, said Nisly, is out of his control.

Nisly, married to Mary Nisly, chairwoman of the Elkhart County Republican Party, lives in Jackson Township in Elkhart County. That's south of Goshen and on the northern fringe of District 22.

STRONG, CRITICAL STANCES

Kubacki, first elected to the District 22 seat in 2010, is seeking her third term heading to the May 6 primary. District 22 covers Locke, Union and Jackson townships in southern Elkhart County, including Nappanee, and northern Kosciusko County, including much of Warsaw.

Among other things, the incumbent cites what she says is Indiana's financial strength and lawmakers' role in that. The state is operating under a balanced budget, has surplus revenue and has a solid financial rating.

"We are setting the standard for fiscal responsibility with truly balanced state budgets, tough accountability for spending by state agencies and the largest tax cuts in Hoosier history," says Kubacki's campaign website.

She's pro-life and pro-guns. "You can't find anyone more conservative than I am," she said.

Nisly, who runs an Elkhart-based tech firm, C-Tech Solutions, jumped into the race in January, dissatisfied with Kubacki. He sits on the conservative end of the Republican spectrum — strong on gun rights, a foe of same-sex marriage and an outspoken proponent of local control as a counterweight to federal authority.

"I absolutely think I represent the values of the district in a very clear way," Nisly said.

Such moderate statements notwithstanding, those sounding off in letters to the editor have frequently taken very critical stances, notably against Kubacki.

"The representative from District 22 has left my moral, conservative Christian views by the wayside," Joe Morehead of Milford wrote in a letter to the Warsaw Times-Union. He was upset over Kubacki's vote on HJR-3.

"Mrs. Kubacki has proven time and again that she is a Republican in name only (aka RINO)," Steve Peach of Nappanee said in another letter to the Warsaw newspaper.

'DESPICABLE, COWARDLY AND UN-CHRISTIAN'

Of course Kubacki has her backers.

But still, the tone has been strong, and it ratcheted up another notch after Kubacki sent out a campaign mailer containing a supportive letter written by her daughter, Katie. Teresa Martin of Silver Lake had some choice comments, published in a letter to the editor in the Warsaw newspaper.

"It appears that (Kubacki) can’t run on her votes, so she’ll have her daughter write a letter of warm sentiments to stir the emotions of District 22. Well, emotions are stirred alright and it’s because she’s decided to throw her constituents under the bus and vote how her 'experts' tell her to vote," Martin wrote.

In response to that and other letters, Kubacki took out a full-page ad in the Times-Union on Wednesday.

She opened the newspaper on April 12 "to find two vicious attack letters from Curt Nisly supporters," Kubacki said in the ad. "This time, they are attacking my daughter! We’ve seen some really hateful things posted on the internet, too. That Curt Nisly’s campaign would attack my daughter is one of the most despicable, cowardly and un-Christian things I’ve seen a candidate’s campaign ever do."

Kubacki went on to charge that the varied letters against her were part of campaign orchestrated by a Kosciusko County tea party activist. "Day after day, one hateful, critical letter after another," she wrote.

SMILE 'AND LET IT GO'

Nisly rejects any suggestion of dirty campaigning. It's all about the issues.

"If it's despicable, it's not coming from our campaign," he said in a phone interview.

He said he's heard rumblings that things got hot in Kubacki's campaigns in 2010 and 2012, nasty even. As such, he's not been so sympathetic when Kubacki has voiced her concerns to him about the tone of the contest.

"So I just smile when she says that and let it go," he said.

In fact, he's upbeat. In knocking on doors in District 22, he gets positive feedback from the public, says his name recognition is growing. "We are right on track with the people in the district on the issues," he said.

Kubacki, meanwhile, remains adamant.

"It's been despicable," she said.

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack or visit him on Facebook.


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