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By Marilyn Odendahl

The Indiana Citizen

September 15, 2023

After the votes had been counted Tuesday night in the Senate District 43 Republican caucus, Randy Maxwell stood at the podium and confessed he had not thought to prepare a victory speech.

The CEO of Maxwell Construction in Guilford had campaigned across the district for the legislative seat being vacated by Sen. Chip Perfect, R-Lawrenceburg. He picked up the departing senator’s strong endorsement and touted his experience running a business, serving on community boards and being appointed by former Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2007 to the unemployment insurance board.

Describing himself as a Hoosier with deep roots and an “unwavering commitment” to conservative values, Maxwell won the Indiana Republican Party caucus decisively, capturing 56 of the 80 votes cast by precinct committee members.

“However you voted tonight, I’m representing everybody in District 43 – which is 135,000 people, which is a little bit overwhelming,” Maxwell told the crowd.

Maxwell was in a three-way race with Sam Mortenson, owner of MMM Tree Service, and Joe Volk, a farmer and small-business owner. In the end, Mortenson got 17 votes and Volk netted seven.

The newest state senator will be joining a growing class of new Indiana legislators elected in caucus in 2023. Another caucus will need to be held soon for the seat held by Sen. Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, who announced Friday his plans to resign Oct. 16. Ford is the fourth Republican legislator in the state leaving or planning to leave the general assembly this year.

Perfect, speaking at the caucus, recalled being recruited by former Republican Sen. Johnny Nugent to run for the Indiana Senate in the 2014 election. From Nugent, he learned being effective in the legislature “takes a unique skill, experience level and personality.”

Perfect said he sees those necessary qualities in Maxwell who started his own business, has a financial acumen that will be especially helpful in crafting state budgets, and is a “likable guy,” so he will be able to build relationships.

“Lastly, maybe the most important characteristic is just being a good human being,” Perfect said. “I’ve been around Randy a long time and I know that for a fact, but you can also measure that because he and his wife, Robin, have raised three wonderful children, great students, great athletes and, more importantly, really good people.”

Asked how much of a mandate 56 votes gives Maxwell, Republican Party chairs Lisa Fisher of Switzerland County and Don Thomason of Ohio County said the precinct committee members were representing the residents in their precincts, so all the constituents in Senate District 43 had a voice in the caucus vote, albeit indirectly.

“I do think it’s fair and he had 56 votes out of the 80 that were there,” Fisher said.  “I was surprised that there were 80, tell you the truth. With the 10-day notice, you don’t have that much time to find out about it and then to rearrange your life so you can be there.”

The caucus was held at the Dillsboro Civic Club, a single nondescript building tucked a few blocks south of the downtown. Inside, the precinct members sat on metal folding chairs and politely listened to the candidates’ speeches, applauding after each.

They then filed to the back of the room and went behind a partition where they cast their ballots. Maxwell won on the first round of voting.

The newest member of the State Senate has almost four months before the Indiana General Assembly convenes for the 2024 session. He told The Indiana Citizen he does not plan to champion any specific issues or causes in the Statehouse.

 “I have no agenda,” he said. “There’s nothing even on my radar screen that I’m going up there to do.”

However, complicated issues that are roiling his district will likely demand his attention. The two biggest problems: roads and gambling.

Switzerland County, like neighboring Ohio County, sits on the banks of the Ohio River and its biggest employer and main industry, according to Fisher, is the riverboat casino, Belterra Casino Resort. Across the river, Fisher sees new plants manufacturing stainless steel and drywall starting operations in Kentucky and providing jobs while the revenues from the riverboat have been declining and the state has increasingly been taking a bigger portion.

On top of this, semitrailer trucks are rumbling along the winding, two-lane country roads because no direct routes exist connecting the communities to the major thoroughfares. Residents in the small towns are no longer able to enjoy the outdoors from their front porches because of the noise from the trucks, Fisher said.

The county needs to keep more of the tax revenue from the riverboat, Fisher continued, and it needs the state to build the new highway dubbed Link 101 which will cut across the farmland to connect Markland Dam to U.S. 50. She believed much of Volk’s support came from farmers who do not want the new road to be built.

“I do understand that people that live in rural areas, you know, you live in a rural area because you want to live in a rural area. You don’t want a road next to you or near you,” Fisher said. “But if you’re not growing, you’re dying and that’s the truth.”

Introducing himself to precinct members in the days before the caucus, Maxwell said he was surprised that every small community in the district had different concerns. People told him where their counties needed help, but he said for many of the issues, like those involving local government personnel, he did not think the legislature should get involved.

“People just want to talk. People just want to be heard,” Maxwell said. “I think that it made them feel good and I tried to do more listening than talking. At least that was some advice that was given to me and I try to heed that advice.”

Key endorsement

Nearly two hours before the caucus started, supporters of Volk gathered in the parking lot, holding handmade signs encouraging precinct officials to vote for their candidate. Anna Townsend admitted she did not know much about politics or the issues, but she was spending part of her evening trying to help Volk get to the Statehouse because he is pro-life.

 “I’m Catholic and I’m pro-life,” Townsend said.

Volk stayed outside, greeting and conversing with his supporters until he had to go in the building for the caucus. He said family, friends and neighbors began calling him and asking him to run as soon as Perfect announced his resignation.

“It’s God’s plan that people called me and, as you see tonight, they all came out,” Volk said, gesturing to the individuals around him.

Both Mortenson and Volk made their faith centerpieces in their campaigns and said they saw a need to make biblical principles the foundation of government.

In his letter introducing himself to precinct committee members, Mortenson wrote about conservative values, the “Leftist agenda” and how his relationship with Jesus Christ is what he treasures most. Volk put his Bible on the podium when he spoke to the precinct committee members and used part of his allotted three minutes to have the room join him in a silent prayer.

Also as part of his stump speech before the precinct members, Volk highlighted his work on his family farm which spreads across three counties. He emphasized his background, saying, if elected, he would be the only member of the Senate making a living by farming.

“We need diversity in our Senate and currently there are no active farmers making decisions that affect us,” Volk said. “With $35.1 billion in revenue for Indiana, farmers need representation.”

Mortenson talked about the nation being in decline and about the moral decay “all around us.” Then, as he did in his letter announcing his candidacy, he invoked the American Revolution and quoted from Thomas Paine’s oratory on the difference between summer patriots who shrink from service and winter soldiers who fight tyranny.

“Our nation is in trouble and we will not save her with summer soldiers. It’s going to take winter soldiers willing to do the hard work in the trenches to restore principles of liberty,” Mortenson. “I’ve been willing with my whole life to do the hard work. I’m no sunshine patriot. I’m offering myself to serve you as a winter soldier, willing to give of my life, my fortune and sacred honor to restore our state and our nation.”

Mortenson declined to speak to The Indiana Citizen after the caucus, saying he needed to tend to his young children and pregnant wife.

Thomason, the Republican Party chair from Ohio County, speculated that Mortenson and Volk appealed to the same group of people and they split that vote. He said he agrees with their messages but added that they were speaking to more national issues, rather than addressing the concerns of state and local governments.

He also noted the 13 days between Perfect’s announcement and the caucus did not give precinct officials much time to research and connect with the candidates. He, personally, would have liked more time to vet the three men running and is confused by the rush to caucus since the legislature is not in session.

Perfect not only advocated for Maxwell at the caucus, he endorsed his friend in his Aug. 30 resignation letter to precinct members.  The state senator described Maxwell as “a great family man, a proven leader, a successful business owner and a tenacious fighter.”

While a few more days of campaigning may have tightened the race, Thomason doubted the outcome would have been different. Perfect’s endorsement likely cinched the vote for Maxwell, he said.

“People are going to go with name recognition or, again, I come back to the endorsement because you haven’t had an opportunity to full do the research yourself and you’ve had very brief conversations, maybe, with some of the candidates,” Thomason said. “You’re going to have to trust other things and, again, I think that recommendation (helped).”

Dwight Adams, a freelance editor and writer based in Indianapolis, edited this article. He is a former content editor, copy editor and digital producer at The Indianapolis Star and IndyStar.com, and worked as a planner for other newspapers, including the Louisville Courier Journal. 

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