Voters in the northern third of Jay County will be voting for someone new to potentially represent them in the Indiana House of Representatives.

Following redistricting in the fall, Wabash, Bearcreek, Jackson and Penn townships in Jay County now fall in District 79, which also includes all of Adams County and most of Wells County. (Those townships previously were in District 33 along with the rest of the county.) In the Republican primary for the seat, incumbent Matt Lehman of Berne is facing a challenge from Russ Mounsey of Bluffton.

Lehman, who is seeking his eighth term at the Statehouse, is an agent and part-owner of Bixler Insurance. A Berne native, he is a graduate of South Adams High School who earned a degree in aviation technology from Vincennes University.

Mounsey, an officer for Ossian Police Department, is a Wells County native who graduated from Southern Wells High School and attended Ivy Tech Community College. He graduated from Indiana Law Enforcement Academy and has been a police officer for 17 years.

Among the major issues Lehman said he’d like to address is rural broadband. He said he wants the state legislature to get involved to make faster progress.

“Being someone from a rural district, it’s a little frustrating for me yet that Indiana has not really hit the gas pedal on that,” he said. “I’ve pushed for years now for expansion …

“With e-learning that got ramped up during COVID, with many small businesses operating out of homes, we’ve really got to make broadband a top priority.”

Lehman, who serves as the majority floor leader in the Indiana House, also pointed to the budget — the General Assembly writes a two-year budget during odd-numbered years — noting that education makes up more than 50% of spending. He said he’s a believer in public schools, adding that he believes funding for wage increases will be in the next budget as they were in the last, but that he is also supportive of vouchers and charter schools.

Referencing tax cuts passed this year, he said he feels they were done in a responsible way, giving some money back to the taxpayers but also making sure there is enough of a cushion remaining for the state to be able to weather any potential economic downturn.

Mounsey, who is making his first run for public office, said when it comes to the budget the legislature needs to get control of spending. He expressed his opinion that too many new bills are introduced and considered each year, leading to new appropriations of funding. He said he believes things need to be scaled back and that legislators should meet, address huge issues and go home.

In the area of education, Mounsey focused on cultural issues, saying that some have agendas and are turning schools into places to teach alternative lifestyles. He said he is against teaching Critical Race Theory and “pornography” in schools.

“We have to support our teachers in positive ways,” he said. “We have a lot of counter-culture things, alternative lifestyle type things, explicit material issues in schools. I think we need to really listen to the citizens …

“Raising kids should be the parents’ job, not the school’s job. The schools need to stick to educating the children in reading, writing, arithmetic, kind of the basics, and leave morality issues to the parents.”

He added that he believes in school choice, noting that his older children attended public schools but that he and his wife have mostly home-schooled.

When asked about what he feels is the most important issue facing the state legislature, he focused on election integrity. He said many are concerned that the 2020 election was not fair and that if citizens aren’t confident in elections “we have basically lost our freedoms completely.” He supports requiring a government-issued ID for mail-in voting and expresses criticism that no comprehensive voter fraud investigations were done in Indiana.

Both candidates discussed abortion, with Lehman saying he expects the legislature to return to session this summer to address the issue if the Supreme Court alters current federal law through the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health out of Mississippi. He indicated that he is strongly pro-life.

Mounsey also said he is pro-life and he thinks the legislature has not done enough on the abortion issue. He said the state should pass a comprehensive bill that “protects children from conception” and bring the issue to the forefront.

He also expressed concerns about rules that were put in place during the pandemic, such as closing businesses and churches.

“I am not a politician,” said Mounsey. “I am just a regular person. The House of Representatives, back in the day, used to be the … house of the common people. I don’t have aspirations of climbing the political ladder. I just want to bring common-sense conservative values to the Indiana Statehouse and protect the Constitutional rights of the citizens.”

Lehman said he’s proud of the bill passed this session to eliminate the requirement to have a permit in order to carry a gun in public. He also indicated that he would continue to push for ways to improve facilities such as Ouabache State Park in Wells County and address other areas of need with infrastructure and waterways in the district.

“I look at myself as a common-sense guy,” he said. “I don’t believe in pendulum swings. I don’t like things that shift really far in one direction or the other.

“I believe politics has a level of compromise. I don’t compromise my core beliefs, but I think we have to work together to get through some of the issues …

“I listen. I try to take in as much information as I can. And I think if people meet me they will find I’m a pretty logical, even-keel person.”