Leonard gets challenge from veteran teacher in District 50

Dan Leonard (left) and John Stoffel
Dan Leonard (left) and John Stoffel Photos provided.

Incumbent Dan Leonard is facing a challenge for the Republican nomination for the District 50 seat in the Indiana House of Representatives.

The challenger is John Stoffel, a Huntington teacher.

District 50 encompasses all of Huntington County and portions of Wells and Allen counties.

The winner of the nomination will face Democrat Jorge Fernandez in the general election.

Representatives serve two-year terms.

Dan Leonard
Leonard, 71, has held the District 50 seat for 18 years. He formerly owned South Side Furniture, in Huntington.

Of his accomplishments in office, Leonard says helping secure funds for the transformation of County Road 900 North/Lafayette Center Road into a four-lane road is a point of pride.

“That’s probably one of the larger projects that I’ve been involved in and had some input in,” says Leonard.

A total of 3.7 miles of the road were reconstructed, from Roanoke to the General Motors Fort Wayne Assembly plant.

Leonard says that the project, which totaled $19.1 million, coincided with GM deciding to invest $1.2 billion to expand the plant. That investment, he notes, led to the creation of over 100 jobs.

Leonard says he was also glad to help pass legislation recently that facilitated raises for GM workers.

“We just completed this last session a skills enhancement fund bill that helped General Motors out up here to allow them to help fund raises for workers at General Motors, which I was very happy to do,” he says. “It was a bipartisan bill that everybody jumped on.”

Another accomplishment in office, notes Leonard, was supporting the expenditure of state surplus money to buy down the unfunded liability in the Indiana State Teachers’ Retirement Fund. That expenditure, made as part of the state’s 2018 budget cycle, totaled $150 million.

“By putting in $150 million and buying down the unfunded liability, we reduced the amount that school corporations had to pay into that fund by two percent,” explains Leonard. “So, that actually saved school corporations. Every school corporation in the state, it saved them two percent of their payroll.

“It added up to about $77 million a year in savings.”

Currently, Leonard says one of his main priorities at the statehouse is getting unemployment benefits out to Hoosiers who are out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We went in one week from servicing about 3,000 claims across the state of Indiana to servicing 75,000 claims,” says Leonard, who has focused on unemployment insurance issues since 2005.

Leonard works with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, which runs the state’s unemployment insurance program. The department, he says, has seen unemployment claims climb as high as 146,000.

Before the pandemic, says Leonard, the state’s unemployment insurance fund contained $890 million. That fund, however, was once broke, he says, requiring a $2.2 billion loan to keep it running. Leonard notes that he rewrote legislation that ultimately paid off that loan – accomplishing the feat in 2015 as compared to 2019, which was the original projected payoff year.

The fund then started rising to its aforementioned total, beginning in 2015.

“I think you have to imagine, if we had stayed on the normal course and paid that debt off in ’19, we’d have $0 in the fund now,” says Leonard.

“I believe that having that surplus in that fund,” he adds, “helps Indiana survive this pandemic.”

For more information about Leonard’s campaign, visit www.facebook.com/ RepLeonard50.

John Stoffel
Stoffel, 52, is a political newcomer. He has worked in education for over 25 years, spending the last 20 in Huntington. He is currently a fifth-grade teacher at Flint Springs Elementary School.

Stoffel says he would be an advocate for public education at the statehouse. One of the reasons he’s running, he says, is because of the rejected referendum questions that were brought before voters last fall by the Huntington County Community School Corporation. Those questions pertained to property tax increases that would have funded improvements to Huntington North High School and provided funds for the compensation and retention of teachers, plus the hiring of additional school resource officers.

“I noticed a greater community awareness about education because of that referendum,” observes Stoffel. “I know it didn’t pass. I supported the referendum because I believe we need an investment – a long overdue investment in our public schools.”

“I think people thrive in environments where schools are seen as investments for our future,” he adds. “I think we can invest in education and still be fiscally conservative. We can balance those two.”

If ultimately elected, Stoffel says having an ongoing dialogue with constituents would be one of his main priorities.

“If I was a state representative, when new legislation was being considered, I’m going to call these people that this affects … and I want their honest input,” he says. “I want to work with the people on frontlines and get their expert opinion.”

Stoffel says this approach would exemplify the concept of subsidiarity, which is important to him as a Republican.

“And that means always listening or trying to solve problems at the most local area of impact,” he states.

For more information about Stoffel’s campaign, visit www.stoffelforstaterep.com.

The primary election’s early voting period is underway. Due to the pandemic, voters are encouraged to cast an absentee ballot by mail.

Applications for this type of ballot are available at www.IndianaVoters.com. The Huntington County clerk’s office must receive completed applications by May 21. Contact the clerk’s office at 358-4820 or yvette.runkle@huntington.in.us.

Election Day is June 2.