Indiana House District 7 extends south from South Bend through suburban and into rural St. Joseph County, an area that was friendly to Republicans in the 2016 presidential election but continued to send Democrats to the Indiana General Assembly, albeit by closer margins than in the past. Democrat Joe Taylor was reelected by 727 votes in 2018 – slightly more than he had won by in 2016 – only to resign barely a month after the election, saying he had taken a new job that would require him to move out of state. His timing drew criticism after Taylor acknowledged that he knew of the new job before the election but ran anyway in order to keep the seat under Democratic control.
To replace him, district Democratic officials chose Ross Deal, a former Mishawaka policeman working as an insurance agent and serving his second term on the Mishawaka City Council. In an interview soon after his election, he touched on common Democratic themes such as boosting teacher pay and increasing funding for the Indiana Department of Child Services. Though Democrats increased their numbers in the House in 2018, Deal arrived as part of a distinct minority with just under half the number of seats held by Republicans. Though twice elected to the Mishawaka council, Deal went before district voters for the first time in 2020 and was denied election in his own right, losing to Republican Jake Teshka, also a Mishawaka Common Council member, by more than 2,000 votes; with both campaigns spending more than $100,000, it was among the state’s most expensive legislative races.
Teshka, a former executive director with the St. Joseph County Republican Party, works as a business development officer with a credit union in nearby Goshen. He said in an interview with the South Bend Tribune that if elected, he would serve as an “independent voice in the majority,’’ pushing to use more state money to increase teacher pay as well as to increase state spending on addiction treatment and recovery.
Teshka first made headlines, though, through 2021 legislation that he authored to "disannex" suburban neighborhoods in the South Bend school district to a smaller, rural -- and predominantly white -- district. Though Teshka argued that the legislation was intended only to allow students to attend schools closer to their homes and more in line with the agricultural character of their community, Democratic legislators said from the House floor that it raised issues of racism, triggering jeers from some Republican House members and altercations between legislators outside the House chamber. The bill later passed the House but did not receive a committee hearing in the Senate. – Kevin Morgan