Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Is Merritt In Or Out?

Sen. James Merritt's (R-Indianapolis) Democratic opponent wants to know whether he is running for re-election or not. Russell Brown, the Democrat candidate for Senate District 31 issued a press release today, which read:

Recent media reports have created significant uncertainty as to whether myopponent, State Senator James Merritt, Jr., will seek re-election to theIndiana State Senate this fall. While Sen. Merritt contemplates his future, I want to reassure the residents of District 31 that I am fully committed to this race. I believe that Sen. Merritt owes it to the people of Indianapolis' east and northeast side to publicly clarify his intentions on seeking re-election this fall.

According to the Howey Political Report online, Merritt is not only seeking re-election, but he will also seek to replace Bob Garton as President Pro Tem if he is re-elected. Howey reported just last week that Sen. Merritt had expressed frustration to local GOP leaders and signaled that he might drop his re-election bid. Even the Daniels' backed blog, Frugal Hoosiers, speculated Merritt might drop out. On June 2, Frugal Hoosiers wrote:

Word around the statehouse this week is that Sen. Jim Merritt won't be seeking reelection, though he's already filed and running in the 31st district in Indianapolis. Merritt has an opponent, which we think might be new to him as we can't recall him having a tough fight at any point in the past. So what's next for Merritt? A run for mayor? Or a full time return to the private sector to dedicate his time to his family run travel agency? Any other word on this out there?

Merritt, who is the Majority Caucus Chairperson, has generally been perceived as a steady and calming force in the Senate. It seemed completely out of his character first to signal he might seek the Senate's top post, then suddenly switch course completely and tell party leaders he would be leaving the Senate out of frustration, particularly in the middle of an election.

Merritt has easily won election to his district in the past, which covers portions of eastern and northeastern Marion Co. It is, however, a district that could be won by a strong Democratic candidate. Merritt is tainted by his steadfast support for the Senate's health insurance for life legislative perk as part of Garton's leadership team. There was some speculation that Merritt feared he might meet the same fate that Garton and long-time Senate Finance Committee Chairman Larry Borst met when their opponents clobbered them over the issue. Brown raised the issue in a recent letter-to-the-editor expressing support for the Senate Democrat's universal heath care plan. Brown said, "More importantly, the Senate Republicans insisted on protecting their lifetime legislator health care perk rather than listening to our health care needs here in Marion County and throughout Indiana."

Brown seems to be running a credible campaign at this point. Brown worked under both the O'Bannon and Kernan administrations. He is currently pursuing his law degree at Indiana University in Indianapolis and is employed by the law firm of Fillenwarth Dennerline Groth & Towe. Brown lives in the city of Lawrence with his wife of seven years, Emily, an English teacher at Warren Central High School. According to campaign finance reports filed with the Election Division, Brown had cash on hand of $14,085.65 as of April 7, 2006, having raised more than $16,000 to date. His largest campaign contribution was a $2,000 contribution from Bren Simon. His contributor list reads like a who's who of Indianapolis Democrats.

Speculation about Merritt's commitment to seeking re-election will certainly not aid his re-election, if he is truly in it to stay as Howey reports. And it is apparently of his own making. If voters are as frustrated as they appeared in the May primary, voters in Merritt's district might just take their frustration out on him.

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