The Indiana Citizen

The Crossroads of Civic Engagement

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TONYA PFAFF

Democratic Birth Date:

It used to be said that if you wanted an early signal on the likely winner of a presidential election, keep an eye on Terre Haute as vote totals start to come in. In 2020, when the city went for Donald Trump, it ended a streak of 68 years in which it hadn’t picked a loser. Political scientists were never sure why, although one of the more frequent guesses was that the four colleges in Terre Haute provide a sizable student population that leans Democratic, balancing rural and working-class communities that otherwise would keep the city as Republican as the rest of western Indiana.

The mix has favored Democrats in House District 43, which takes in most of the city of Terre Haute and rural areas to its north; the only exception in the past 40 years was a Republican elected to a single term in the GOP tidal wave of 1994.

District 43 is represented by Tonya Pfaff, a high school math teacher who won reelection to a second term in 2020 with 57% of the vote. She is an heiress of sorts to the legacy of Birch Bayh, who began his storied legislative career representing the same area in the Indiana House. Pfaff, whose father was an aide to Bayh, paid tribute to him on the floor of the House hours after his death in 2019, noting that it was through his authorship of the landmark Title IX that she was awarded a basketball scholarship to West Point. She later transferred to hometown St. Mary-of-the-Woods.

As a legislator, Pfaff is focused on education. Of the five bills she authored during her first term, one passed and was signed into law, a relatively rare feat for a freshman legislator in the minority caucus. The law requires the state to send information to special needs students on how to earn a high school diploma if they leave high school without one. – Kevin Morgan

CONTACT INFORMATION

EDUCATION

  • St. Mary-of-the-Woods (BA).
  • University of Oklahoma (MA).

KEY VOTES

SB 198-2019 (Sentencing, bias crimes). Allowed longer sentences in crimes based on personal characteristics, stripped of references to sexual orientation, gender identity and race. No

SB 516-2019 (Regulation of hemp). Allowed cultivation and regulation of hemp products in Indiana, did not change marijuana laws. Yes

HB 1001-2019 (State budget). Set funding for state agencies and services, including 2.5% annual increases for education, though not directly for teacher salaries. No

HB 1004-2019 (School safety). Increased access to funding for security systems and resource officers, was stripped of provisions for mental health screening. Yes

HB 1015-2019 (Various gaming matters). Allowed sports betting statewide and table games in more casinos, relocated a casino in Gary and authorizing a new one in Terre Haute. Yes

SB 1-2020 (Tobacco and vaping). Raised from 18 to 21 the legal age to buy tobacco or vaping products in Indiana. Yes

SB 148-2020 (Zoning and housing matters). Was amended to overrule local tenant protection measures like those in Indianapolis, Bloomington and Merrillville. Vetoed by governor. No

HB 1004-2020 (Health matters). Controlled surprise billing for out-of-network and other costs. No

HB 1070-2020 (Distracted driving). Made it an infraction to handle a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle. Yes

HB 1414-2020 (Electric generation). Prohibited utilities from closing coal-fired generating plants without permission from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. No

PROFESSIONAL CAREER

Math teacher, Terre Haute Vigo North High School.

DISTRICT

Population: 65,037

Race/Ethnic Origin: 87.4% white, 7.5% black, 1.4% Asian, 1.1% other, 2.7% two or more; 86.2% white non-Hispanic, 2% Hispanic.