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Democrat seeks chance to compete for House District 59 seat

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A Democrat with political experience in city and county government is seeking the local party’s nomination for District 59 state representative to challenge Republican incumbent Milo Smith in the November general election.

Rural Columbus resident Zack Ellison has asked the Bartholomew County Democratic Party to consider him as its nominee at the party’s caucus Saturday, when it will choose candidates to fill open positions on the ballot.

Ellison, 63, is vice chairman of the local Democratic Party and chairs the Bartholomew County Plan Commission and Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board. Ellison twice lost general elections for County Council District 4.

“We’ve been looking for someone (to challenge Smith). I eventually decided it was my calling,” Ellison said.

Smith, a Columbus resident, is seeking a fifth consecutive term in office.

Bartholomew County Democratic Party Chairwoman Priscilla Scalf said the party made it a priority to find an opponent for Smith.

“We’ve had a lot of voters that have been very unhappy with Milo Smith and his representation of his constituents,” she said.

Ellison noted in the media release announcing his candidacy that during Smith’s tenure in office:

Household incomes in Indiana have seen a steady decline, and more Hoosiers than ever before are working jobs that don’t pay enough to meet their needs.

Teachers are struggling as support is chipped away from the public education system.

Waves of pain pills, heroin and other drugs threaten the stability of Hoosier families and the future of the state’s children.

Indiana has the second-highest rate of sexual assaults in the nation.

Ellison claims Smith has given “lip service” to education and said prekindergarten education needs to be a priority. Also, he said Smith’s support for the proposed amendment to the Indiana Constitution banning gay marriage didn’t adequately represent the diverse Columbus community and the interests of businesses.

Smith said he had no comment about having a possible challenger in the general election.

He earned his party’s nomination by defeating Bartholomew County Council President Ryan Lauer 59 to 41 percent in the Republican primary in May — Smith’s first challenger within his party. Smith has been opposed in three of four general elections for the District 59 office and has won each comfortably.

“I don’t underestimate the challenge in front of me,” Ellison said.

However, Ellison said he thinks Lauer’s showing indicates there are Republicans who are looking for a change in representation. Ellison said he plans to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters and the Republican base to attract additional votes.

“You have to represent them because they are the majority of the population,” he said.

By law, the Bartholomew County Democratic Party can choose candidates by caucus for offices that had no Democratic candidate on the ballot for the primary. Besides District 59 state representative, the party has openings for county clerk, County Council District 2, County Council District 3, sheriff and Superior Court 2 judge.

Anyone chosen by caucus has until noon June 30 to file with the county’s Voter Registration Office to fill vacancies. The deadline is the same for the Libertarian Party and independent candidates, said Jay Phelps, supervisor of voter registration and elections.

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