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Representative style: Barranda challenges incumbent Morris for House seat

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The candidates

Bob Morris

Age: 38
Family: Married, seven children
Education: Bachelor's from Indiana University in telecommunications with a minor in business
Occupation: Owns and operates several businesses, including health supplements sales, fireworks sales and trucking
Political office: Incumbent state representative District 84, first elected in 2010; ran unsuccessfully for Fort Wayne City Council in 2007 Republican primary.
Website: votebobmorris.com

Michael Barranda

Age: 35

Family: Married, two children

Education: Bachelor's from Notre Dame; law degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Occupation: Attorney

Political office: Has not held elected office

Website: michaelbarranda.com

Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 12:01 am

In explaining why he wants to block Bob Morris’ drive to win a third election to the Indiana House, Michael Barranda brings up the word “reactionary” again and again.

He doesn’t use the word as some have, to say that Morris is an extremist, the right-wing equivalent of “radical.” Instead, he means that Morris “reacts” too quickly.

“Bob is still prone to reactionary actions,” Barranda said.

Above all else, Barranda refers to the Girl Scouts kerfluffle of 2012, when a memo Morris addressed to fellow Republicans, urging them not to vote for a resolution recognizing the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of America, was leaked. Morris’ warning about the “radicalized” agenda of the Girl Scouts was widely mocked, not least of all by Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, a fellow Republican, who showed his concern by handing out Girl Scout cookies to reporters as the story made headlines.

Two years later, Morris said he’s discouraged that the story has come up again in his campaign for Tuesday’s primary, but he doesn’t back away from it, other than to say that the memo was never intended to go beyond Republican colleagues, like discussion in a Republican caucus.

“I don’t agree with the organization,” Morris said of the Girl Scouts.

On the marquee issues of the right, Morris is reliably conservative. He supported moving the anti-gay-marriage amendment out of the General Assembly and on to a statewide referendum in the November election.

“My constituents wanted to see it. My constituents wanted to vote for it,” he said. “I think 6 million Hoosiers ought to decide.”

He said he was one of the earliest opponents of Common Core in the General Assembly, and now he supports the drive for a new national Constitutional Convention, the first since 1787, to “clearly define states’ rights.”

But when Morris talks about issues he’s most interested in pursuing as a legislator, he sounds clearly, even narrowly, focused. Two examples he offered:

*Gradually building up a small fund in Indiana to help tide over members of the National Guard, financially, if there’s ever another government shutdown.

*Working with a local task force to study whether “cigarillos” can be regulated more tightly. He believes that finding any way to reduce tobacco use will improve the state’s infant mortality rate.

Barranda says the biggest difference between him and Morris will be stylistic; that is, he is “someone who’s not going to be prone to reactionary” behavior.

On many issues, he says he’s just as conservative as Morris. For example, he says he also is strongly pro-life, and the Allen County Right to Life PAC agrees; that pro-life group endorsed both Morris and Barranda in this primary.

But there are differences. A noteworthy one between Barranda and Morris is the marriage amendment that preoccupied the General Assembly this year.

Barranda says legislators clearly made the right choice in stripping the second sentence from the amendment, which also restarted the clock on its passage.

Now the marriage amendment cannot go before voters as a ballot referendum until the fall of 2016.

The second sentence of the amendment, widely interpreted as banning civil unions and perhaps making it illegal for companies to provide insurance for the partners of gay or lesbian employees, “was unconstitutional.”

His legal training and experience better prepare him to write and to parse legislation, he said.

The most important broad issues facing the Legislature and the state’s top issues, too: economic development and education, he said. But he would not come to office with a personal agenda of solutions in mind, and he doesn’t have a to-do list of legislation to enact.

“I’m not a bullet-point kind of guy,” Barranda said.

On the campaign trail, Barranda realizes ousting an incumbent is a tall challenge.

“I thank the Lord signs don’t vote, because Bob’s going to kill me on signs,” he said.

The winner of this Republican primary will face Democrat Fred Haigh in the general election in November.