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The state’s 16th Senate District encompasses much of western and southwestern Allen County, and a small part of eastern Whitley County. The district includes a remarkable range of housing and businesses, from new condos in downtown Fort Wayne to modest cottages built for the workers who powered the city’s expanding industrial base a century ago. Some older neighborhoods along the eastern edge of the district in Fort Wayne are decaying — not far from many of the city’s grandest prewar and midcentury homes. Working farms abound, as do expanding suburban developments, shopping centers and office parks. The assembly plant where General Motors builds full-size pickups is only a 10-minute drive from an 800-acre wetland preserve on the city’s southwest side.

The district had been represented for 21 years by David Long, who had held the position of president pro tempore of the Senate for 12 years before his resignation in 2018. His replacement, chosen by a caucus of Republican officials in the district, was Justin Busch; though Busch’s election in his own right in 2020 was the first time that he had faced voters, he had been deeply involved in politics for many years. He was a White House intern during the first term of President George W. Bush, then a field director in Michigan during the president’s 2004 reelection campaign. He was deputy political director for former U.S. Sen. Dan Coats during his 2010 campaign, press secretary and advisor for Fort Wayne mayoral candidate Paula Hughes in 2011, and campaign manager for Don Bates, one of the contenders for the 6th District congressional seat in Indiana, in the 2012 primary. He also worked for the late Sen. Richard Lugar as director of his regional office and for a Fort Wayne advertising agency, directing its public-affairs division.

During the 2020 General Assembly session, Busch filed only four bills. All were passed in the Senate, but failed to make it out of committee in the House. “I’m not one who wants to expand the codebook. I don’t max out how many bills I can file,” he told The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne. Indeed, the bills he filed addressed specific problems or opportunities, rather than attempting dramatic change. For example, one would have created a post of film commissioner and established incentives to encourage film and other media production in the state. Another would have made it easier for charity gaming operations to accept credit-card payments. – Bob Caylor