By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – 2021 is an off-year in the election cycle, but Wednesday’s fish fry hosted by the Kosciusko County Republicans felt like a campaign kick-off.
While there have already been a handful of announcements for election plans in 2022, others became apparent at the county fairgrounds Wednesday.
To recap, the 2022 election will include many county races and township trustee races, along with two Congressional races and numerous statewide races.
Announcements involving two local races have already been made, but the filing deadline is still months away. More are likey in the next few weeks.
Sheriff Kyle Dukes will face a primary challenge from Deputy Jim Smith. Smith already has campaign shirts and other campaign merchandise. He attended and Dukes was seen helping with the drive-through line.
In the county commissioner race, southern district incumbent Bob Conley has announced his re-election bid and will face former county deputy Don Wiesehan, who now works with Parkview Hospital Police.
County Chair Mike Ragan said there are lots of discussions going on with party leaders as candidates gear up for 2022.
“This is the typical time when campaigns get going,” Ragan said, as several hundred people socialized while enjoying their fish dinners.
U.S. District Congresswoman Jackie Walorski dropped in for about an hour at the fish fry and State Auditor Tera Klutz also attended.
Possibly the biggest development is that two candidates have surfaced and are seeking the county council seat held by Ernie Wiggins, the former mayor of Warsaw.
Two people have informally announced plans to seek Wiggins’s seat.
Wiggins, who currently serves as council president, has told both candidates that he plans to retire from county council.
County Coroner Tony Ciriello quietly announced he’ll run for the seat by placing placards saying he plans to run for District 3. He declined to comment further but said plans are in the works for an announcement on Oct. 21.
Businessman Scott Clay said he also plans to run for the seat and attended Wednesday’s fish fry.
Clay works as a regional marketing manager for NAPA Auto Parts. He’s a member of the Warsaw Breakfast Optimist Club and an ambassador for the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce.
Clay said he’s been involved with the community for a few years and wants to get more involved.
“This is just a good way for me to carry the torch for Kosciusko County,” he said.
A more formal announcement is planned in the future, he said.
Wednesday’s political gathering comes just days after Gov. Eric Holcomb signed legislation for the new redistricting maps that affect Congress and state lawmakers.
State Rep. Curt Nisly, who currently represents State House District 22, attended the fish fry – as did State Rep. Craig Snow, the current District 18 representative.
As a result of redistricting, Snow now lives in the re-aligned District 22 and will be thrust into a primary challenge with fellow colleague Nisly in the May primary.
The instant pairing is one of six in the state house races as a result of redistricting.
The new District 22 includes all but Turkey Creek and Tippecanoe Townships, plus one township in Wabash County.
About 40 percent of the new District 22 is new.
Both candidates like how the district is more Kosciusko-centric.
“It’s an honor to represent the bulk of Kosciusko County,” Nisly said.
“It’s a new district so I’m looking forward to going out and meeting the new voters in the new part of the district. I’m going to go out and do what I’ve always done – go out and meet the voters,” Nisly said.
Nisly hasn’t formally announced his re-election bid but will have a fundraiser featuring Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie on Oct. 16 at the Tippy Creek Winery in Leesburg.
Snow said he likes how the new district lines up.
“Truth be told, I’m really excited about the new district,” Snow said.
“I respect Curt. He’s a nice guy. I know he’ll work hard” in the campaign, he said.
Redistricting also strongly changed District 82, which is represented by David Abbott.
He was at the fish fry to get acquainted with his future constituents.
District 82, which has been east of Kosciusko County, has been significantly transformed.
For starters, the district will be known as District 17.
District 82 had included all of Noble County, as well as some of Elkhart, Lagrange, Whitley and Allen Counties.
The new District 17 no longer includes any part of Lagrange and Allen Counties and also removes two townships in Noble County. It will include more of Whitley County plus Turkey Creek and Tippecanoe townships in Kosciusko County.
Abbott replaced Rep. David Ober, who resigned in 2018 and was re-elected in 2020.
He and his wife have five adult children and live on Sylvan Lake in Rome City, which is northwest of Kendallville.
“I got a lot of work to do to get the name recognition so they know who I am,” Abbott said. “It feels like my first election again.”