The race for a Statehouse seat in District 45 seemed like a clear win for the Republican incumbent. But after redistricting and an address change, the primary has become a fight between two current legislators.
The redrawn House District 45 includes Greene, Sullivan, Daviess, Knox and Vigo counties. Incumbent Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, who is an Elvis impersonator in his free time, had been running for that office since 2002. He lost twice, on his first run and in 2012 against Democratic incumbent Kreg Battles, who ran in House District 45 after redistricting. He’s been the representative off and on for nearly 20 years.
Rep. Jeff Ellington, R-Bloomfield, was outspoken about his distaste for the effects of redistricting on his original district, District 62.
Prior to redistricting, House District 62 included a southwestern portion of Bloomington. Redistricting put all of Greene County in House District 45, Border’s district, and pushed House District 62 towards the center of the college town.
Ellington did not deny that House District 62 would be more difficult to be re-elected in because of the addition of more blue areas, but said he and his wife bought the property in the new House District 45 in 2018 without any knowledge of the new district lines. His Bloomfield home is an “old woolen mill,” mentioned in this 2012 blog post. His wife, Hope, commented on the post in 2019, letting the poster know they had purchased the building and begun renovating.
While he may not have bought the property knowing of the adjusted lines, Ellington did change his address with knowledge of the changes to his district. He announced it in a Facebook post.
In the post, Ellington said he was encouraged by Monroe County GOP Chairman William Ellis to make the shift after Statehouse leaders “ignored” their efforts to keep western Monroe and Greene counties in one district.
Ellington said he and his wife plan to convert the century-old building into his home and a condominium office building.
The residency debate
Borders challenged Ellington’s candidacy at the Election Commission hearing, stating that Ellington doesn’t actually live at the location listed as his District 45 address. The commission denied the appeal.
To this day, Borders still doesn’t believe Ellington lives on the second floor of the old Bloomfield factory building. Borders said Ellington’s new home “was a facade from the start” to put him in a safer district.
“He actually was carved out a map that was still a good map for him, and it was his home county of Monroe County, which is where I still believe that he lives at,” Borders said. “And so you know what he did is, he made up a story about moving into the old woolen factory.”
Colleagues compete for House District 45
With no Democrats on the ballot, the real race to represent the district will be in the Republican primary. After the primary, Democratic party officials will have the option of adding a candidate to the general election ballot.
The two Indiana General Assembly colleagues are now fighting for the seat with much to say about their opposing candidate.
“Jeff Ellington wants to come across as a conservative and basically paint me as a liberal, and nothing could be further from the truth,” Borders said. “The bottom line is that he’s willing to do or say anything to get elected. He doesn’t care.”
Ellington said Borders has been an “absentee landlord” to his constituents during his many years in office.
“I have spoken to people in Knox, Vigo and Sullivan counties that have not heard from Bruce Borders in five or 10 years. He’s been there for almost 20 years,” Ellington said. “He doesn’t answer his calls.”
Borders denied these claims, adding that Ellington accused him in a mailer of voting to “liberalize sentencing” and “put criminals back on the street” because he voted in favor of House Bill 1369. The bill would have given nonviolent inmates another opportunity to request a shortened sentence. Ellington also voted in favor of a version of the bill.
“He’s by far ran the dirtiest race I’ve ever seen,” Borders said. “Without a doubt.”
Ever since he was chosen by a Republican caucus to replace Matt Ubhelhor in 2015, Ellington said his focus has been economic development, tax cuts, and roads and bridges. He touted the completion of Interstate 69.
Ellington said a goal of his is to ensure rural, southwestern Indiana is represented at the Statehouse.
“I am not going to let the Establishment continue to treat rural and small towns in Southwest Indiana as ‘flyover country,’” he said. “We are just as important as the donut counties.”
This past session, Ellington authored legislation to decrease income tax and ensure officers don’t enforce gun regulations that are stricter than Indiana gun laws. None of his bills passed.
Borders said his main goals are to keep money in the pockets of constituents by keeping taxes low and to support the coal industry in the area.
“I’ve represented the people with honor and with godliness,” Borders said.
In the 2022 legislative session, Borders authored bills making it a misdemeanor for a biological man to enter a woman’s bathroom, eliminating income tax, requiring vaccine side effects to be reported, and prohibiting individuals from changing the sex on their birth certificates. None of these bills passed.
Both candidates have recently supported the Republican supermajority’s main pushes, like the landmark tax cut bill and the call for Gov. Eric Holcomb to allow for a special session if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court.
Taylor Wooten is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.