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‘I feel like I’m the sane, moral person:’ Longshot Democrat waits on the sidelines as 2 GOP incumbents fight it out in primary

While limited-government Republican Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Milford, will be challenging mainstream candidate Rep. Craig Snow, R-Warsaw, for a spot on the ballot in next week’s primary election, Democratic candidate Dee Moore (above) will be on the sidelines advocating for environmental protection.

Moore is certain to win a spot on the ballot for the House District 22 race in the November election as the only candidate from her party, but she is very unlikely to prevail as the overall winner. House District 22 has been represented by a Republican since 1972, when it was redrawn to include much of the area it does today.

Yet Moore isn’t swayed in her resolve to campaign.

“People say, ‘Why are you running? It’s hopeless. You’re a Democrat. It’s all red, and there’s nothing you can do.’ But this is where I live,” said Moore. “We farm, so I can’t really move to where it suits me better. This is our home.”

Moore graduated from Purdue University with an art education degree. She had since worked as an artist, a crop-producing farmer and a substitute teacher. She is a longtime 4-H leader and has been an active chaperone in her local school’s Future Farmers of America chapter, driving them to competitions and conventions.

Moore said she first ran for a public office when she realized that many legislators are more interested in victories for their party on a national scale than the desires of their constituents. It’s no coincidence the same type of bills appear in multiple states at once, she said; it’s part of a national strategy. She said nationally rooted partisan competition detracts from the work legislators can do in their states.

In 2016, she was dismayed to discover that there was no Democrat running in House District 18—her district of residence prior to 2021 redistricting—so she decided to rise to the challenge herself. She lost.

She ran again in 2018 and lost but said she convinced another Democrat, Chad Harris, to run in 2020. He also lost.

Moore said Republicans drew Snow into Nisly’s district because Snow wasn’t conservative enough to suit his area. Now she’s been roped into the skirmish as well.

While the two of them duke it out over abortion and gun control, Moore said she will be a voice for the natural world.

The cost of progress

Moore grew up in Steuben County, which is a land of many lakes at the northeastern tip of the state. It’s changed a fair bit since she was a kid. Growing up, she said she used to drink the groundwater, but that’s unthinkable now. In fact, it’s no longer safe to swim in the water in some places in northern Indiana. She said it is recommended that nearby residents take a soap shower after prolonged contact.

Humans have altered the landscape of her home terrain significantly. Over the span of decades, she has watched the simplistic fishing cottages of her youth gradually give way to high-rise condominiums.

“I-69 took a lot of my family and extended family’s property,” Moore said. “I watched hills being taken away, and I learned very quickly that mankind could do anything they wanted to nature. Would nature ever push back? I thought it was inevitable at some point that we’d realize we’d gone too far.”

She paints Indiana landscapes and sells her work in local galleries. But the work is only partly for herself, she said.

“I paint them so they’ll be remembered when they’re gone.” Moore said.

Progress comes with consequences, Moore said, and climate change is a painful reminder of that reality.

“We just don’t know what we’re in for. We know it’s not going to be good,” Moore said. “We will see more and more destruction of the things that we took for granted.”

The issues of the district 

Nisly, one of her two incumbent opponents in the upcoming election, approaches environmental protection differently.

He said the government shouldn’t get involved because it messes up too often. Individuals can figure it out, he said.

“Farmers realized that if they change their practices some, they keep that nutrition and the fertilizer in their fields. If it doesn’t run off, their fields are going to be more healthy, so they have been able to adopt those new practices without the government coming in and saying they have to adopt those practices,” Nisly said.

Moore’s husband, Stan, is the supervisor of Kosciusko County Soil and Water District. He said the state’s Republican leadership has not funded conservation very well. Indiana has the dirtiest waterways of any U.S. state, according to a recent report by the Environmental Integrity Project.

He quoted bishop and theologian Desmond Tutu.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. The Republican supermajority in the Statehouse is the oppressor,” Stan said.

He said his wife isn’t in politics for victories. She does it to uplift dissident voices.

“If nobody speaks out, they think they’re speaking for everybody … Not everybody agrees with what they’ve been doing,” Stan said. “It’s the moral thing to do—to oppose horrific policies and publicly do so.”

Stan said his wife sees political campaigning as a way to serve God’s children.

“I don’t know, maybe we read the Bible too much,” he said.

When the couple climbs inside their gator that’s decked out with political signs and drives in a small-town parade, Stan said his wife is in her element.

“She always carries some Indiana flags and some little American flags that she’ll pass out,” Stan said. “We’ll go past the local American Legion, and she’ll get out and pass them out. Sometimes they’ll stand and clap when we go by. To me, that is moving because normally a lot of veterans vote Republican.”

In Moore’s ideal world, humans would sustain themselves in a smarter and less ecologically detrimental way. She doesn’t want humans to resort to growing crops in an artificial dome.

She wants her grandchildren to be able to go outside in the future. She said that’s all she’s asking.

“That seems like a relatively minor goal, but that’s a huge goal we have to work for,” Moore said. “I don’t feel like I’m the radical left winger. I feel like I’m the sane, moral person standing up for these issues.”

Isaac Gleitz is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.