Indiana Senate District 36 is not large in comparison to others around the state but it includes a little bit of everything – to the north, monuments to war heroes, temples of professional sports and tourism in Downtown Indianapolis and to the south, the suburbs of Center Grove fading into farm fields in Johnson County. In between are dense Indianapolis neighborhoods, some of them thoroughly gentrified, others sinking further into poverty. This diversity of interests has been represented since 2016 by Jack Sandlin, a former Indianapolis policeman who gravitated into Republican politics at the township, city and finally state levels.
Sandlin has been an officeholder for more than 20 years, and his four years as a legislator have been relatively prolific and newsworthy, authoring a range of legislation that might reflect the range of constituencies that he is serving. In his first session, Sandlin introduced a bill with bipartisan sponsorship to allow wider opportunities for victims of human trafficking who had been charged with criminal offenses such as prostitution to have their records expunged; it passed the Senate unanimously but did not make it through the House. In 2019, he authored the bill, passed and signed into law, through which plans for a new professional soccer stadium in Indiana moved closer – though, as yet, not close enough – to reality.
Once an investigator in the Marion County prosecutor’s office, Sandlin in 2020 was one of the authors on a bill which would allow the Indiana attorney general to intervene when a county prosecutor declined to enforce a state law; the legislation, seen as a broadside against a recently announced policy by the Democratic prosecutor in Marion County not to file possession charges for two ounces or less of marijuana, did not advance beyond a Senate committee. Also in 2020, Sandlin, a former township trustee in Marion County, authored a bill which would allow trustees to provide township assistance to waive residency requirements and offer assistance to the homeless; the bill drew bipartisan support and passed the Senate unanimously but did not advance in the House.
Sandlin’s legislative record fades into the background in a Google search on his name, which instead pulls up page after page of hits involving an incident involving his use of social media a few months after his election in 2016; according to widespread news reports, his Facebook feed included the sharing of a meme body-shaming participants in the Women’s March in Washington that Sandlin said was not his intention. “I don’t believe that I put it there,’’ he said in an interview with The Indianapolis Star. “There’s always an outside chance that I could have hit something. I know others that have had stuff show up on their Facebook wall as well.’’
Sandlin won election in 2016 by about 8,000 votes in a district that was solidly for Clinton in the north and for Trump in the south. Though Republicans continue to maintain a foothold in southern Marion County, Democrats saw the district as one that they hoped to pick up in 2020; Sandlin wound up winning reelection though by a smaller margin, about 4,000 votes. – Kevin Morgan