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House District 55 is in the heart of southeastern Indiana, settled by German Catholics two centuries ago and still home to one of the oldest convents in the Midwest. To its south, it has a resilient manufacturing economy with Hillenbrand caskets and subsidiaries in Batesville and a Honda plant in Greensburg; to the north, the district also includes Connersville, which lost jobs and population after the closing of a Ford plant. Connersville was selected for one of the state’s first needle exchanges, and the opioid crisis that necessitated the program remains a problem throughout the region, which is predominantly rural.

Cindy Ziemke, owner of a restaurant near the convent in Oldenburg, has represented District 55 since 2012. Soon after arriving in the Indiana House, she went public with the story of her two sons’ heroin addictions and their struggles to recover. Substance abuse and mental health have been a topic of her legislative efforts since. Her bill relaxing requirements of physician oversight over addiction treatment was signed into law in 2019, as was her measure to scale back the spending powers of township government, an area in which Ziemke has sought more widespread change but against formidable opposition. The opposition includes the Indiana Farm Bureau, which argues that, especially in rural areas, township governments provide services such as fire protection that might not be available otherwise.

Ziemke’s initial effort in 2015 to dissolve township governments outright – already the case in most states and a longstanding blue-ribbon recommendation for government efficiency in Indiana – died in committee, as did another in 2017 to do away only with the legislative arm of township government. A Ziemke-authored bill in 2017 to sharply reduce the number of townships through consolidation made it to the House floor, where it stopped after being weakened through amendment. A reliable yes vote for Republican leadership, Ziemke seldom leads the charge on other issues, and it’s rare for her to speak from the House floor.

In 2018, Ziemke faced a primary challenge for the first time since her initial nomination six years before; her opponent was a former Farm Bureau board member opposed to her stand on townships over whom she won comfortably — though not by the wide margin by which she tends to beat Democrats. Ziemke had no opposition in either the primary or general elections in 2020. – Kevin Morgan