State Rep. Rita Fleming, D-Jeffersonville, retired from the Indiana General Assembly on Monday, concluding a six-year tenure in the Statehouse. (Photo/Indiana House Democrats)


Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information on Fleming’s endorsement for her replacement as representative of House District 71.

By Marilyn Odendahl

The Indiana Citizen

May 13, 2024


State Rep. Rita Fleming, D-Jeffersonville, announced her retirement from the Indiana General Assembly on Monday, effective immediately, creating vacancies for the Democrats to fill in the Statehouse and on the November ballot.


Fleming, a medical doctor, has represented Indiana House District 71, which includes portions of Clark and Floyd counties along the Ohio River, since 2018, when she won the election to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Steven Stemler. She won reelection in 2020, and in 2022, she narrowly defeated Jeffersonville city councilor Scott Hawkins, a Republican, winning just 50.6% of the vote in the general election.


Announcing her retirement, Fleming said she was leaving to have more time to spend with her family.


“I have 15 grandchildren, and they and the rest of my family are my priority,” Fleming said in a statement. “Legislative sessions are long up at the Statehouse in Indianapolis and it takes a lot of work to properly represent House District 71. It’s time for me to retire from my post as state representative and focus on my family.”


The Indiana Democratic Party confirmed a caucus will have to be held to fill Fleming’s seat in the legislature and her place on the ballot.


Since announcing her decision to step down, Fleming has endorsed Wendy Dant Chesser as her replacement. “While I have been able to accomplish several things for Hoosiers during my time representing District 71, moving forward, the constituents of this District deserve someone who can give them a full commitment to the work,” Fleming said in a statement released by the Indiana Democratic Party. “I am confident that Wendy Dant Chesser is that person.”


Dant Chesser, who lives in Jeffersonville, currently works as the chief director of corporate strategy and external affairs at the River Ridge Development Authority. Previously she worked as president and CEO of One Southern Indiana, the economic development organization and chamber of commerce serving Clark and Floyd counties.


Fleming, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, settled in Jeffersonville with her late husband and raised four children.  She had a long career in the medical profession, first working as a registered nurse and then as a nurse practitioner, before becoming an OB/GYN. On her campaign website, she said she delivered more than 7,000 babies at Louisville hospitals and Clark Memorial Hospital.


Prior to running for state representative, Fleming served on the Jeffersonville Planning Commission and zoning board. She was also active in Jeffersonville Main Street Inc., serving on the board and helping to refurbish several buildings in downtown Jeffersonville, according to her campaign website.


House Minority leader Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, credited Fleming with making Indiana better through her service.


“During her time at the House, Rep. Rita Fleming led with a spirit of bipartisanship and pragmatism that served District 71 and all Hoosiers incredibly well,” GiaQuinta said in a statement. “Much of her authored and co-authored laws all have one unifying principle in common: making pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood healthier and more dignified for Hoosier women.”


Contraceptive bill ignites controversy

Many of the bills Fleming authored and introduced into the legislature were focused on health care, but in the Republican-controlled Statehouse, most of her bills stalled in committee.


In 2023 and 2024, she and co-author Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, offered legislation that would have repealed straight-ticket voting and required county clerks to make available online campaign finance reports of local candidates. None of the bills received a hearing.


During the 2024, session, Fleming’s House Bill 1426, which required hospitals to offer new mothers on Medicaid the option of receiving a contraceptive implant, split the Democrats in the Statehouse. Fleming told The that many women she treated as an obstetrician wanted to receive birth control before leaving the hospital. “I took care of these women during their pregnancies and understood how distraught they were sometimes when they couldn’t get access to birth control and found themselves with a baby they couldn’t afford or couldn’t care for,” Fleming said in that story.


After the bill passed the House, Senate Republicans amended the bill to exclude IUDs, or intrauterine devices. The amendment ignited controversy among Senate Democrats and pro-choice advocates who saw the provision as caving to the notion that an IUD is an abortifacient and as giving indigent women fewer birth control options. Fleming worked to keep the bill on track by writing a letter to her Democratic colleagues in the upper chamber, explaining the limits of IUDs.


Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed HB 1426 into law on March 12.


In her retirement statement, Fleming said she had enjoyed serving in the General Assembly.


“I feel I’ve accomplished some things for moms, babies and overall better public health,” Fleming said. “I’ve worked to be bipartisan and benefit my district and generally improve life for the people of Indiana. I’ve made friends on both sides of the aisle and consider myself a better and more informed person for that. It’s been an honor being a state representative.”


Fighting to retain her seat

Fleming was the lone Democrat in the Statehouse from southeastern Indiana with all of the surrounding House and Senate districts held by Republicans.  She ran unopposed in the 2024 primary, but she would have faced Hawkins, again, in the November general election.


On election night in November 2022, Hawkins was leading by 35 votes and had declared victory in the race, but officials had not yet counted more than 1,000 absentee ballots from Clark County. Officials blamed a glitch in data from the voting machines not registering in the election totals.


Hawkins conceded to Fleming nearly two weeks after the election. In his statement, he said while he was “still unclear how the error occurred, I accept the results.”


However, Hawkins called for better administration of elections and said he was concerned Americans would lose faith in our elections. “Mistakes happen but we need to have confidence in the integrity of the election process,” he said in his statement. “Flawed and then delayed results, even for legitimate reasons, don’t give confidence to the voting public.”


In her retirement statement, Fleming did not mention the November election or indicate who she would like to replace her.


“This summer, I look forward to spending time with my grandchildren, growing an excellent vegetable garden and volunteering my time helping third graders learn to read,” Fleming said. “Thank you, Clarksville, Jeffersonville and New Albany, for placing your trust in me.”


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, and worked as a planner for other newspapers, including the Louisville Courier Journal.


The Indiana Citizen is a nonpartisan, nonprofit platform dedicated to increasing the number of informed and engaged Hoosier citizens. We are operated by the Indiana Citizen Education Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) public charity. For questions about the story, contact Marilyn Odendahl at



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