March 29, 2024 at 6:19 p.m.

Horn, Leonhard seek nod in north district

Former office holder, longtime farmer running for commissioner


One Republican candidate is critical of current commissioners.

The other hopes to bring a new perspective to the group.

Mike Leonhard and Doug Horn will face off in the May primary for Republican nomination for commissioner in the north district.

The seat is currently held by Rex Journay, who decided not to run for a second term.

Horn, who turns 65 in April, is a lifelong farmer. A 1977 Jay County High School graduate, he formerly served as president of Jay County Farm Bureau and as a member of the Adams County Co-Op Board of Directors.

This is Horn’s first time running for office, but he has been involved with the Jay County Republican Party for at least 35 years. His first wife, Carla, who died in 2021, is a former chair for the Republican Party in Jay County. His daughter, Jenae Blasdel, currently serves as party chair.

Horn’s farming operations have slowed down, he explained, giving him more time to turn his attention toward a county office.

“I feel like I’ve got some time and maybe some experience to give something back to the county,” he said.

Leonhard is a 1966 Portland High School graduate and a Vietnam War veteran. At 76, he’s retired from contracting but still continues to do work on the side. Leonhard has served three previous terms as county commissioner, from 1997 through 2004 and again from 2017 through 2020. He served on Jay County Council in between his commissioner terms.

Leonhard lost to Journay in the 2020 Republican primary for commissioner in the north district.

He said he’s running because he disagrees with some decisions made by county officials in recent years, such as tabling funding requests previously approved by Jay County Council. Another concern, he said, is tension between Jay County Development Corporation and commissioners.

“JCDC is an avid asset to Jay County,” said Leonhard.

He spoke critically of county officials investing in consultants to determine how to spend money, as well as commissioners’ decision to contract for two years with East Central Indiana Regional Planning District at $100,000 annually.

“I think it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said. “If everybody knows me … I’m not afraid to open my mouth, and I’m not afraid to step on toes.”

Horn said he’s been trying to learn more about the conflict between JCDC and commissioners.

“They should have a feel for what’s needed, I would hope,” he said of JCDC.

He noted the contract with East Central Indiana Regional Planning District and said it appears as though the county has two groups doing similar jobs.

“I don’t know if I’m in it deep enough to make a (decision), but I know my philosophy is, local first, or do things in-house,” he said. “I would like to see (JCDC) stay as a good functioning unit that, you know, because I feel like they know what’s best for the county.”

Horn’s focus as a commissioner, he said, would be taking care of commissioners’ responsibilities first. (Commissioners serve as the executive body or the legislative body.) He mentioned employee retention and road maintenance as two examples.

“I want to make sure we take care of what we’re supposed to be taking care of first, and then see what we can do next,” said Horn.

He noted inflation’s impact on the country and talked about creating a long-term plan for incoming dollars, including one-time grants. He also advocated for having a farmer on the board to share their perspective.

Overall, Horn said he doesn’t have a specific agenda for change.

“I’m not here to knock anything anybody else’s done,” he said. “I just want to help the other two commissioners do a good job for the county.”

Addressing other issues, Leonhard spoke about the need for different types of housing. He criticized county officials for purchasing 68 acres on the west side of Portland for more than the initial asking price and agreeing to let the property owner continue to farm the land for the rest of the year at no cost. (The land is being considered as a means to attract housing development.) He also questioned whose responsibility — the city or county — it would be to build infrastructure for housing in the area, which is within Portland city limits.

Horn said he would like to learn more about the housing project before saying he is in favor or against the idea.

“It sounds great, if you could get development,” he said. “My one question would be, if we need housing … what makes that the great place to have it?”

He noted various buildings in municipalities that could be potentially revitalized for housing.

Jay County officials agreed in February to commit $3.9 million toward a project from Mainstream Fiber Networks to install 395 miles of fiberoptic or fixed wireless internet across the county.

Both Leonhard and Horn advocated for ensuring the company’s service will be adequate and worth the investment.

Leonhard said candidates should vote for him because he “works for the Jay County taxpayer.”

“I want to know what’s going to benefit Jay County,” he said. “And if I become a commissioner, 100%, don’t have to worry about a 40-hour a week job or anything like that. I’m on call 24 hours a day if I need to be.”

Horn advocated for his experience and long-time residency in Jay County.

“I’ve been here all my life,” Horn said. “I’m not leaving, and Jay County’s my home, and I want to do a good job for it … while I don’t know everything that’s going on right now in there, I think I can help make the decisions that will benefit the county.”

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