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Cyndi Carrasco hugs Indianapolis FOP president Rick Snyder after her victory at the Republican Party caucus to fill the late  Sen. Jack Sandlin’s seat in the legislature. (Photo/Marilyn Odendahl)

By Marilyn Odendahl

The Indiana Citizen

October 18, 2023

Describing the late state Sen. Jack Sandlin as a friend and “true leader,” Cyndi Carrasco, Republican candidate for Marion County prosecutor in 2022, won the GOP party caucus on Wednesday evening to fill the seat left vacant by the lawmaker’s unexpected death.

Carrasco won a decisive victory, trouncing her caucus opponent, former State Rep. John Jacob, by winning 53 of the 58 votes cast. She will now serve the remainder of Sandlin’s term, which ends in 2024.

“I have to thank each and every single one of you for being here today,” Carrasco said to the precinct committee members after she was declared the winner.  She thanked them for taking the time to talk to her during the caucus campaign and for all they do for their community. “You’re here because you care. You care about your community. You care about making a difference. I promise you, I will not let you down.”

The caucus was held at the Atrium Banquet and Conference Center on the south side of Indianapolis. As they entered the large room where the caucus was held, the precinct committee members greeted and talked to each other. Most of the precinct members had filled the chairs and several others were standing in the back by the time the caucus was called to order.

Outside the building, about 50 Jacob supporters were gathered. Standing near the entrance and flowing into the parking lot, they held big red signs printed with Jacob’s name to try to persuade the precinct members to vote for their friend.

After the vote, Nathaniel Mervar, who had traveled from Fort Wayne to participate in the parking lot rally, said he was “definitely disappointed” by the loss but said he was grateful for the people who came that evening to show their support for Jacob.

Carrasco, vice president and general counsel for the University of Indianapolis, had support from Rick Snyder, president of the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police, and Sandlin’s widow, Lydia, who sat in the front row next to Carrasco’s daughter and husband.

Introducing Carrasco, Snyder said Sandlin had died “far too early,” but he said Carrasco would carry the “baton of servant leadership.”

“Our collective law enforcement profession in Indianapolis, alongside our state Fraternal Order of Police president and the sheriff of Johnson County, have full confidence that Cyndi can hit the ground running,” Snyder said. “We look forward to seeing her name on bills to close the revolving door of criminal justice.”

Speaking to the precinct members, Carrasco echoed the message from her unsuccessful run for prosecutor a year ago.

“Public safety has and always will be one of my top priorities,” Carrasco said. “We must always fully support law enforcement and their mission to keep our families and our community safe and hold criminals accountable. I will always have their backs in the General Assembly.”

Jacob, who served one term in the Indiana House of Representatives ending in 2022, emphasized his experience in the legislature. He pointed out the issues he had championed that eventually became law, including constitutional carry and defunding the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. Also he continued to advocate for a ban on all abortions.

“We have a Republican supermajority, yet so many times we just go along to get along and as a result, we the people suffer,” Jacob said. “We continue to get weak legislation. We’ve all seen that the left continues to advance their agenda, dragging us into their black abyss. The only way to counteract this huge spike to the left is with a stronger pull to the right.”

Since 2000, 13 Indiana lawmakers, including Sandlin, have died in office, according to the Capitol & Washington political blog.

Joe Elsener, executive director of the Indiana Republican Party, said Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, had done a lot for the community and several of the precinct members were encouraged to get involved in the GOP party because of him.

“We know he’s watching down and he’s here,” Elsener said. “I’m sure he’s excited for Cyndi and he’ll be with us every step of the way. We’ll just always be very appreciative of his service.”

Experience and connections

This was the fifth caucus the Indiana Republican Party convened this year. Four previous ones filled vacancies  created when Reps. Ann Vermilion and Randy Frye along with Sens. Chip Perfect and Jon Ford all exited before their terms ended.

Elsener said predicting how many will run in a caucus is always difficult, but he speculated others were deterred from running for Sandlin’s seat once Carrasco announced her bid. He said Carrasco ran “such a good campaign for prosecutor” and established relationships, getting to know many of the precinct committee members, that other potential opponents likely saw her as too formidable of a candidate.

Carrasco arrived at the caucus before the room was even half full and she spent the time hugging friends, introducing her daughter and conversing with precinct members.

Speaking to The Indiana Citizen after the caucus, Carrasco said the victory was bittersweet. She recalled the support and encouragement Sandlin had given her during the prosecutor’s race.

“He’s been very important,” Carrasco said of Sandlin. “I feel like I didn’t have the opportunity to thank him properly for his support, for taking a chance on me, and I plan to do so as a state senator.”

Of the new legislators caucused in this year, Carrasco and Alex Zimmerman, who replaced Frye, are both attorneys and graduates of the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Also, both have experience working in state government.

Carrasco was executive director of the Indiana State Ethics Commission and the first female inspector general for Indiana. She worked for Gov. Eric Holcomb, assisting in the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and serving as policy director and liaison for multiple state agencies.

In addition, Carrasco met some legislators during her run for prosecutor and did some work in the General Assembly this past session. She said she is confident going into the Indiana Senate and “excited about the ability to get together with my colleagues and make a difference.”

Carrasco said she will now be shifting her focus from campaigning for the caucus to preparing for the 2024 legislative session.

“I will be having lots of conversations because that’s the one thing that I kept telling the precinct committeemen, I want to be a strong voice that makes change for our district,” Carrasco told The Indiana Citizen. “The only way to do that is to really connect with the folks in the district and find out what their priorities are.”

Uncertain future for Jacob

A visibly dejected Jacob stayed after the caucus and thanked the precinct members. He saw his loss as a sign that God did not want him to join the State Senate, but he struggled to explain why he wanted to return to the legislature, conceding his previous tenure in the legislature had been challenging.

He was labeled as an extremist for his views on abortion and none of the bills he authored ever got any traction. Jacob told The Indiana Citizen when he first arrived in the Indiana House, he resisted the Republican leadership telling him how to vote.

 “I was not trying to be rude to leadership. I was just saying that I was elected by the people in my district,” Jacob said. “I made an oath before God to uphold the U.S. and state constitutions and I know, all too often, that a lot of Republicans, they don’t stand with the U.S. and state constitutions. They don’t stand on what’s moral and right and just.”

Jacob’s supporters applauded his advocacy, especially his stance against abortion, and his unwillingness to compromise in the legislature. Mervar described Jacob as “one of our greatest liberty fighters,” and said he wanted the former lawmaker to go back to the legislature “to protect the preborn and (to bring) God back into our government.”

 In introducing Jacob to the caucus, Dan Stock, an Indiana physician who made widely discredited claims about COVID-19 and vaccines, acknowledged he had formed an unfavorable opinion of the lawmaker, seeing him as a “religious fanatic who wanted to burn abortion clinics.” A rally in Indianapolis in 2021 gave Stock had the opportunity to meet and work with Jacob.

“Far from being a blindly passionate fanatic, he was, instead, a very thoughtfully passionate patriot and his greatest passion was for representative Republican democracy,” Stock told the precinct members. ”Unlike most people in the capitol building, he has read both the Indiana and U.S. constitutions, understands the principles and, frankly, sees himself as the servant to that.”

Jacob was noncommittal about running for State Senate in 2024. He said he is busy running two small businesses, being involved in ministry and caring for his family, which includes six children and five grandchildren.

“These are all things that I approach prayerfully,” Jacob said of his plans for the future. “I ask God for direction and I really don’t feel like I have direction right now.”

Dwight Adams, a freelance editor and writer based in Indianapolis, edited this article. He is a former content editor, copy editor and digital producer at The Indianapolis Star and IndyStar.com, and worked as a planner for other newspapers, including the Louisville Courier Journal.

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