Two decades ago, the boy wonder of South Bend political circles was not the one who would come to mind today. Ryan Dvorak, only a few years out of Notre Dame, was senior aide to a U.S. congressman and would soon be elected in his own right to the Indiana House representing District 8. In 2011, after rolling up impressive reelection totals, Dvorak ran for mayor of South Bend, and in the Democratic primary he ran headlong into a younger and somewhat lesser known opponent, Pete Buttigieg.
The national focus was on the grittier side of South Bend and its Rust Belt economy as former Mayor Buttigieg ran for president. But House District 8, still represented by Dvorak, centers more on the affluent suburbs and campus environs to the north as well as rural areas west of South Bend.
Dvorak enjoyed three terms in Democratic majorities during his first decade in the House. An attorney, he was named soon after his election as chair of the Courts and Criminal Code Committee, on which his father also had served during seven previous terms. One of the first bills he carried, expanding the use of interlock ignition devices to prevent drunken driving, was signed into law. From the minority, he has been most vocal on environmental and utility issues.
Getting his bills out of committee appears no easier for Dvorak than for most of the badly outnumbered House Democrats – for him, it hasn’t happened in more than 10 years – and he usually comes in under the bill-filing limit placed on legislators. But he is among the most active on his side of the aisle in at least trying to obstruct legislation that he sees as unfriendly to the environment. He led the charge in 2020 against House Bill 1414 authored by Republican Ed Soliday, which slowed down the shutdown of Indiana’s remaining coal-fired utilities to ensure there were enough alternative energy sources to keep the lights on. The bill, also opposed by business groups and the utility industry itself, passed the House but with seven Republicans in opposition; it later passed the Senate and has been signed into law
At 46, Dvorak is one of the more senior House Democrats and, though he no longer holds a leadership position, is point man for the caucus on parliamentary matters. The Dvoraks have never lost an election in House District 8 – a streak that, including his father’s tenure, goes all the way back to 1984. Despite the mix of suburban and rural that often make districts competitive, he ran unopposed in 2018 and had no Republicans file in the primary in 2020. Republicans added a candidate to the general election ballot ahead of the June 30 deadline; Dvorak won by about 4,000 votes. – Kevin Morgan