Party : Republican
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Senate District 44 takes in the limestone quarries and scenic hill country of south central Indiana south and east of Bloomington. Its biggest cities are Seymour, the small town of the John Mellencamp ode, and Bedford, which is home to Eric Koch, a first-term Republican who previously represented the area for 14 years in the Indiana House. Koch (pronounced “cook”) is an attorney and eighth-generation Hoosier with a polished delivery and, as a colleague in the House once said, never a hair out of place. His list of honors and recognitions might be the longest included on any official bio in the Indiana General Assembly.
Koch also has a long list of bills on which he has been primary or secondary author, often dealing with utilities and the judiciary, two of the subject matters he has overseen as a committee chair in the House and then the Senate. Koch had a rare spate of bad press in 2015 when The Indianapolis Star called attention to his authoring a House bill to strip local governments of their ability to regulate oil and gas drilling while he had investments in oil and gas companies. Ethics rules prohibit legislators from authoring or voting on legislation that would have a unique, direct and substantial personal financial benefit; Koch said any personal benefit from his bill would be “very indirect, unsubstantial and not unique” but he effectively withdrew the bill soon after.
A Koch-authored Senate bill in 2017 was credited with expanding broadband access in underserved areas by allowing rural electric utilities to use existing easements and infrastructure, an effort he is expanding in 2020 with new legislation. He was named Legislator of the Year by ARC of Indiana, an advocacy group for the intellectually disabled, for his work on a 2019 law allowing “supported decision-making arrangements’’ in lieu of more restrictive guardianships. Though not outspokenly conservative on social issues from the floor, he broke from more mainstream leadership to vote against bills in 2019 that expanded gambling, allowed sentencing enhancements for bias crimes and legalized hemp.
In 2021, as a member of the Senate Elections Committee, Koch became one of the key players in the decennial redistricting -- but not as key as he had been in the redistricting of a decade before, when as chairman of the House Elections and Apportionment Committee he authored the legislation which set the stage for a decade of overwhelming Republican control of both chambers.
Koch’s district skirts Bloomington and Columbus, the area’s largest population centers, leaving a rural, somewhat remote and uniformly Republican-friendly terrain that bodes well for his continuation into a third decade as a legislator. In 2016, his winning margins in the primary and general election were 2-to-1, nearly as comfortable as he enjoyed during his House tenure; in 2020, his margin was closer to 3-to-1 against a late Democratic entry in the general election. – Kevin Morgan