For nearly three decades, Senate District 31 -- taking in a range of suburban affluence in northeastern Marion and southeastern Hamilton counties -- was represented by Jim Merritt, a scion of the Ross & Babcock travel agency family who was in his early 30s when he was elected to the Senate in 1991. The district was reliably Republican and Merritt's seat was secure as he rose through the Senate ranks to leadership positions in the majority caucus and key committee chairmanships such as Utilities. But as the political realignment of Marion County crept into its northern suburbs, his winning margins became closer and by 2019, when Merritt was the Republican nominee against first-term Democratic Mayor Joe Hogsett, he managed only 27% of the general election vote. He resigned his Senate seat about a year after that galling loss, halfway through his eighth term.
Merritt's successor, chosen by a party caucus, was Kyle Walker, a consultant and former chair of the Marion County Republican Party; he was in charge the last time a Republican won an Indianapolis mayoral election, Greg Ballard's reelection to a second term in 2011. Despite the Democratic takeover of Indianapolis city government in the years since, Walker found himself in a Marion County Senate delegation still controlled by Republicans, and he generally aligned himself with the home team during his first term, for example in co-authoring legislation with his fellow Marion County Republicans widely seen an an attempt to exert legislative control over the Indianapolis police department, Marion County prosecutor's office and courts system. But as the 2022 special session on abortion law approached -- along with his first appearance on a general election ballot in an increasingly less reliably Republican District 31 -- Walker became the first in his caucus to break from leadership, announcing that he would vote against the draft legislation that imposed a near-total ban in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, saying, "I believe we must strike a balance for pregnant women to make their own health decisions in the first trimester of pregnancy and also provide protections for an unborn baby as it progresses toward viability outside the womb, while making exceptions for rape, incest, health of the mother and cases of fatal fetal anomaly.'' He voted with leadership in opposing attempts to remove rape and incest as exceptions to the ban, and was among nine Senate Republicans to vote against the ban on its final passage -- but one of only a few who opposed the bill because they felt that it went too far, rather than not far enough. -- Kevin Morgan