Indiana's Most Conservative Senator, Afghan War Vet to run for Congress

Just weeks after returning from a deployment to Afghanistan, Jim Banks, a state senator and U.S. Navy officer, is poised to announce his candidacy for Congress in Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District. The seat, which is strongly Republican, is currently held by [mc_name name=’Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’S001188′ ], who earned props here on RedState for standing up to House GOP leadership in 2013 and opposing the farm bill, and was the most conservative GOP member of Congress to run for majority whip in the wake of [mc_name name=’Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’C001046′ ]’s historic defeat in 2014.

Stutzman announced on Saturday that he is running for U.S. Senate to replace retiring Sen. Dan Coats (R).

Banks was first elected to the Indiana Senate in 2010, and since taking office he’s earned the reputation of being a leader among the chamber’s conservatives. In 2013, Banks was the only Indiana Senator to earn a 100% score from the American Conservative Union. Additionally, Banks was the highest scoring member of the entire 140-member state legislature on Americans for Prosperity – Indiana’s most recent economic freedom scorecard.

In 2013, Gov. Mike Pence (R) vetoed legislation that retroactively approved higher tax rates for two Indiana counties that for years had incorrectly charged residents a higher-than-authorized tax rate. “It would approve, after the fact, the collection of taxes that were not owed,” Pence said of the legislation. “While there are valuable elements of this legislation, retroactive approval of taxes collected is not the best remedy, and for that reason I vetoed this legislation.”

Despite being under the overwhelming control of Republicans, the legislature had, in bipartisan fashion, approved the after-the-fact tax hike. The only “no” vote on the measure came from Sen. Jim Banks.

It’s not the only time Banks has voted “no” on legislation favored by his fellow Republicans. But for all of his “no” votes, Banks isn’t a raving crank of the sort liberals would find an easy target to pick apart. He’s conservative, but he’s even keeled, and in a speech to CPAC last year before his deployment, he ticked off a list of conservative accomplishments in Indiana in a measured, firm tone.

While Banks served in Afghanistan, he was re-elected to his senate seat. When the legislature convened after the election, however, it was his wife – Amanda – who went to Indianapolis while he was gone. Indiana law allows a sitting elected official to temporarily resign their post if they are called to active duty military service, and a caucus of local leaders selects a temporary replacement until the elected official returns. Local Republicans picked Banks’ wife, a savvy conservative in her own right. She and Jim met after he worked for Congressman John Hostettler (R-IN) and while they both worked for conservative public policy organizations.

During the heated fight over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the subsequent “fix” promoted by establishment GOP types, Amanda helped lead the fight for the RFRA in the Senate, and then cast one of the few GOP votes against the “fix” as Republicans backed away from the legislation.

Banks will almost certainly face a primary in his bid for Congress. Liz Brown, a fellow GOP state senator and former Ft. Wayne City Council member, appears likely to throw her hat into the ring. The difference between Brown’s record and Banks’ record could hardly be more stark.

Banks has led the fight to repeal Indiana’s inheritance tax, but at the local level Brown has joined Democrats in supporting tax increases. In a 2011 op-ed in which she endorsed a Republican candidate for mayor of Ft. Wayne, Brown blamed the incumbent Democratic mayor for her vote to hike taxes. “I believed in him, I trusted in him and I voted to raise your taxes,” she wrote.

Ironically, earlier that year, Brown was running for mayor herself (before a primary knocked her out) and she told the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette, “I think it’s an easy pledge to make. I can promise not to raise taxes.”

Never mind that tax increase she voted for.

In full disclosure, Jim Banks is a friend of mine – I used to work for him causing trouble for establishment types years ago before he ran for office. Personal feelings aside, however, as a strong conservative and well-known state senator, he’s well positioned to be the next member of Congress from Indiana.