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Who is Marlin Stutzman?

Is the GOP candidate for Indiana’s 3rd district a new conservative voice, or just a younger one?

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2010-08-08


Congressman Mark Souder’s sudden resignation on May 18, just weeks after he had won the Republican primary, roused over a dozen conservative contenders from their post-primary slump, all eager to nab the GOP’s nomination as the candidate for Indiana’s 3rd district in the US House of Representatives.

The list of names was a long one. Back for a second shot at the seat were Phil Troyer (at least initially; he dropped out later); car dealership-owner Bob Thomas, hoping to capitalize on his own fairly strong showing in the primary; and Greg Dickman. Rachel Grubb from Auburn returned (and this time, she meant it!). Also on the roster were Liz Brown from Fort Wayne’s City Council; Ryan Elijah from Indiana’s News Center; local business owner Bob Morris; and State Representative Randy Borror.

We could go on, but suffice it to say the hundreds of Republican precinct committee people who caucused on June 12 did not lack for choices. Yet despite the sizeable roster of candidates, the caucus was over in just three rounds, with State Senator Marlin Stutzman (District 13) from Howe emerging as the clear winner.

In fact, it wasn’t even close. Though you might expect that in such a crowded race, the victor would have to extend a few olive branches, Stutzman claims that hasn’t been the case. “As Republicans, we’re all on the same team,” he says. “We have people that are very supportive of us who were in the caucus. Times occur when there are bad feelings between folks, but you try to work through those as best as you can. For the most part, there’s no major faction out there. Everybody is on board and excited.”

Stutzman’s victory was a surprise to… well, almost no one who had followed the build-up to the caucus. Despite the narrative we’ve all heard this year — that the 2010 mid-term elections will be driven by populist anger (especially on the conservative side) and fuelled by the perception that the government is more beholden to special interests and cronyism than its constituents — the reality in Indiana, and our corner of it, doesn’t really jibe with all that anti-establishment rhetoric. The Republican nominee for Senator is Dan Coats, a guy who was already Senator and returned to run again after a stint in Washington as a lobbyist.

And as we all know, Stutzman is replacing Mark Souder; in all the turmoil surrounding Souder’s sudden resignation and the caucus to choose a candidate, it’s easy to forget that the Congressman from Grabill won the primary in early May. In other words, if he hadn’t resigned, Representative Souder would be gearing up for a campaign that could have made him Indiana’s 3rd district US representative for a 9th term.

So, maybe voters in Indiana do want to throw the bums out… as long as they’re not our bums. But Stutzman seems to fit comfortably in both “camps” — the Republicans and conservatives who want a candidate with a little experience (and who has a shot at winning); and a more vaguely defined faction that believes incumbents are part of the problem, and that their conservative leadership is just not being conservative enough. Over the past year, we’ve interviewed a few candidate hopefuls from the latter side, and Stutzman’s language when talking about some of the problems facing government is very similar. “I tell people this all the time: people have hijacked our government and made it an employment agency,” he says. “They’ve made it a resource for contracts and work, and that’s not what our government is for.”

Stutzman has spent a significant amount of time in the Indiana legislature. First elected in 2002 to the Indiana House of Representatives for District 52 (at the ripe old age of 26), Stutzman went on to become the State Senator for District 13 in 2009, winning the Republican caucus on that occasion after incumbent Bob Meeks resigned due to health concerns.

Last summer, Stutzman announced his intention to run for Democrat Evan Bayh’s senate seat. “We thought we saw a vulnerability there, and we thought we could take advantage of that,” he says.

Unfortunately for Stutzman, a lot of people thought Bayh was vulnerable, maybe even the junior Senator himself — in February he announced he would not seek reelection in 2010, citing the stridently partisan atmosphere on Congress as one of the reasons. By then, Stutzman’s primary challengers included former senator Dan Coats, who eventually won the nomination. “Our call was the right call early on, we just didn’t have the resources, or probably enough time, to accomplish what we needed to,” Stutzman says. “Running a state-wide race is a full-time job, and you have to raise a lot of money just to reach the people that actually vote. We did a lot of grassroots work and went to events and met a lot of people all over the state, but campaigning that way, it’s just really difficult to reach that many people to make the difference. But I feel proud of what we were able to get done.”

Indeed, though he lost in the crowded primary field, Stutzman got a big boost from the race, garnering endorsements from a lot of conservative opinion makers. “It definitely put us in the driver’s seat for the caucus,” he says. “No one expected that to happen, so we felt like sometimes there’s providential guidance. You did one thing expecting this, and all of a sudden, here you are.”

Stutzman is aware that many people have tried to tag him with the “establishment” charge, but says that’s simply not him. “Being in office has given me experience, but at the same time, what is ‘establishment’, what is an ‘insider’? Is it the person who goes along to get along?” he says. “I know what’s going on in the inside. I see what’s going on, and there’re things I don’t like.”

One of these dislikes is abuse of government contracts through favoritism. “It can happen whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat,” Stutzman says. “Maybe Republicans don’t do it as badly or often as Democrats, but it’s not right.”

“First of all, it always starts with the system,” he adds. “The system is only as good as the people who are in it. If someone wants to take advantage of the system, they can. Obviously, there are services that have to happen and somebody has to do it. But it shouldn’t be so easy to step out of bounds. Everybody has a responsibility to do what is best for the tax payer at the end of the day.”

But if Stutzman’s time in the state legislature and his association with Congressman Souder (he was an assistant to Souder from 2005-2008) might have raised a few eyebrows among the more grassroots members of the GOP, he seems to have plenty of other conservative credentials to make up for it. On social issues, Stutzman’s campaign touts his involvement in pro-life and Second Amendment legislation — with the latter, he helped author and pass the “Lifetime Handgun Permit” law, which grants a lifetime permit to carry a handgun to any gun owner who passes the exam.

In 2009, Stutzman co-hosted a dinner with State Representative Cindy Noe (R-87) at the annual Creation Evidence Expo, an Indianapolis organization that seeks to “make current scientific evidence that supports the conclusion that God created man.” Stutzman says that he and Noe (who is on the Education Committee in the Indiana House) were asked by the group to host the dinner, to which many legislators were invited. “The information they had there was good information,” he says. “We had some very good conversations with the folks at the Expo, just getting to know them, over the last couple of years. They wanted to raise awareness of their issue, and wanted to meet as many folks who are willing to support their organization and also make those who are in the legislature aware of their issue as well.”

But it’s Stutzman’s position as a fiscal conservative and a business owner that seems to really strike a chord with conservatives. He co-owns the 4,000 acre Stutzman Farms with his father, and also owns Stutzman Farms Trucking; he says his experience as a small business owner inspired him to get into politics. “I grew up on a farm in a Mennonite home,” he says. “I wanted to be a business guy. And I still am a business guy — I was just out this morning taking care of irrigation on some of our seed corn. That’s something that makes me different from most politicians. I’m still out working and providing for my family. But being in business, I had a couple experiences of what government did to small businesses, particularly a business just starting out, like myself. I thought ‘who is looking out for small businesses? Who is looking out for families?’”

As a Republican who is a strident believer in limited government, Stutzman has been criticized for taking farm subsidies for his business. “Yeah, we still do (take subsidies), and we have to by law,” he explains. “I don’t think it’s right, but by law the producer has to take the farm subsidies. We’re mandated to take them if we’re going to farm certain properties that are owned by other landlords.”

Make no mistake: Stutzman is very much a “government is the problem, not the solution” kinda guy. “My position has always been, let people fix their own problems first before the government running in,” he says. “Unfortunately, we depend on the federal government way too much as a society.”

“I’m a big fan of what Governor Daniels has done here in the state in limiting the size and scope of our state government,” he adds.

As Stutzman sees it, one of the biggest problems facing Northeast Indiana is its decimated manufacturing base, something which Stutzman believes is exacerbated by the federal government’s lack of an energy policy and excessive regulation, including healthcare (while running for the US Senate, Stutzman signed a pledge to work toward repeal of the healthcare bill). “I think our jobs and our way of life are very much under attack by the federal government’s policies,” Stutzman says. He would like to see “an energy policy that favors our own natural resources, whether it’s our own coal, our own wind power in West Central Indiana, natural gas… I also think ethanol is part of the solution… All of this should be on the table, including nuclear. It’s safe. We have a plant over in Bridgman Michigan that produces energy for Northwest Indiana.”

“I think we should look at all of those energy resources, and let technology find the answers rather than government mandating answers. Energy is such a big issue — not only a national defense issue, it’s also quality of life, jobs, and an economic issue as well.”

Stutzman thinks we need to do more to encourage research and development in this field. “Right now the economy is sitting tight because they’re afraid of higher taxes and more regulation, and I think you have to back off on both of those,” says Stutzman. “We’re one of the most responsible nations in the world; we don’t just go throw down a coal-burning facility on any river or lake without due diligence, to make sure it’s an appropriate place for that. But I think we’ve gone overboard and we’ve tightened regulations so much, our standards are so high, that the cost of doing business for the government has increased the cost of doing business for any particular business. So when those dollars are going to pay for government regulation and bureaucracy instead of research and development, that’s why were not making the advances we should be making.”

Stutzman will face Democrat Dr. Tom Hayhurst, a former member of Fort Wayne’s City Council, in the campaign this fall. Hayhurst lost to Souder back in 2006, but he made a strong showing, capturing some 46% of the vote; Souder himself later said it was his toughest political race. Stutzman has a great deal of respect for Souder, but thinks some of the backlash the former congressman saw from conservatives in the last several years was due to the fact that Souder wasn’t conservative enough. “He made some votes that caused people on the conservative side to raise their eyebrows — they caused me to raise my eyebrows — with the bailout and going back all the way to his impeachment votes. I think there was this sense of frustration with incumbents all together, whether it was with earmarks or votes that folks didn’t feel were on the conservative line. I think Congressman Souder worked very hard in knowing the issues, but I think the district is probably more conservative than the way he voted.”

“Not conservative enough” is probably not an issue Stutzman will have to contend with, for now at least. “This is not about a career for me,” he says. “I know some people try to stick that on me, but I don’t plan on being in Washington when I’m 65. That’s not me. I’ve got a lot of other things I want to do with my life, but right now I think it’s crucial for strong conservatives to be involved in office, and I’ve had that opportunity and I’m very humbled to be a part of it.”

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