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Election preview: 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 continues 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.

None of the legislation introduced by Deal during his first two years made it out of committee. One of his proposed bills in 2019 was to allow same-day voter legislation in Indiana, and another would have established a tax credit to encourage training in clean-energy technology. In 2020, Deal authored a resolution which, though it didn’t carry the force of law, encouraged a legislative committee to study the feasibility of building an inn at Potato Creek State Park, which is located in the southern part of the district. The inn had been approved for construction under the Pence administration, but funding for it fell through as well as for several other projects tied to the celebration of the Indiana Bicentennial.

Though twice elected to the Mishawaka council, Deal will go before district voters for the first time in 2020, facing Republican Jake Teshka, also a Mishawaka Common Council member. 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. The former issue had also received consideration by Republican leaders as part of the 2021 state budget, at least until the coronavirus-triggered economic downturn clouded the state’s financial outlook. – Kevin Morgan

Learn more: South Bend Tribune: In ”tossup” race, GOP’s Jake Teshka looks to flip Indiana House seat held by Democrat Ross Deal