Ind. state senator wants wife to sit in for him during military stint
By BARB BERGGOETZ | The Indianapolis Star | Published: July 9, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — An Indiana state senator is facing a most unusual scenario before the November election.
Sen. Jim Banks won’t be in the country for the Nov. 4 election or even when he’s sworn into office — he’s running unopposed — likely the next day. That will be done via Skype.
And the Columbia City Republican, first elected in 2010, will miss the full 2015 legislative session.
But he and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long say they know the best possible replacement: Banks’ wife, Amanda.
All this is happening because the legislator is employing a little-used 2004 state law allowing him to take a leave of absence from the Senate for military service.
Banks said Tuesday he is scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan this fall and will have to miss the session that begins in January.
His wife is seriously considering a bid to fill his seat while he’s gone. He said she would have an announcement about her plans soon. The replacement will be officially chosen at a meeting in November of about 100 precinct committee members in Senate District 17, a heavily Republican area in northeastern Indiana.
Banks, who has served in the U.S. Navy Reserve since 2012 and holds the rank of lieutenant junior grade, is to report for active duty Sept. 5. He will head to Afghanistan sometime this fall and is projected to return in early May.
He and Long, R-Fort Wayne, laid out a number of actions allowing him to run for election and be sworn in from Afghanistan via Skype, likely on Nov. 5. A justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, which has approved the process without Banks being present, would administer the oath of office.
Afterward, Banks would submit a formal request for his leave to Long. Then, the state Republican chairman would call a caucus of precinct committee members in his district to select a new senator, who would be sworn in Nov. 18, the legislature’s organization day.
Banks, 34, said his wife is “eminently qualified” to become his replacement and has been involved in Republican Party politics since college and as a volunteer. They met through politics at Indiana University, where he was president of the College Republicans and she was vice president.
Amanda Banks, 34, who stays at home with the couple’s three daughters, ages 4, 2 and 1, previously was a communications manager for the Red Cross in Fort Wayne and before that was a federal policy analyst at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The decision, Long said, will be up to the precinct committee members, but he said he “couldn’t think of a better person than Amanda to step in for Jim.”
Asked at a news conference Tuesday whether he delayed making his announcement until after the filing deadline for the Senate seat, Banks said that was not true.
He said he has known for weeks about his deployment and was prepared to leave the Senate until he found out about the state law. Then he had to contact relatives and friends and make plans for a leave from his job, as a licensed commercial real estate broker for NAI Harding Dahm, before announcing his Senate seat plans.
“The political considerations really didn’t matter at all,” Banks said.
In Afghanistan, Banks said, he will work as a Navy supply corps officer, handling logistics, contracting and financial matters, largely involved in bringing U.S. troops home.
Long said the law was passed specifically to allow state and local government officials and school board members to serve in the military without giving up their government positions.
To date, the law hasn’t been used by a state legislator, but South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a Democrat, used it when he was deployed to Afghanistan in February. In that case, he selected former City Controller Mark Neal as his deputy mayor to serve in his absence.