Candidates vying to replace Visclosky in Congress clamor to win university student voter support in general election


Mrvan for Congress

Democratic nominee Frank Mrvan (second from left) talks with voters about issues concerning the agriculture industry.

After 35 years, Northwest Indiana will choose a new congressman to represent the 1st Congressional District of Indiana, which includes both PNW campuses.

Democratic Congressman Peter Visclosky will retire at the end of his term (Visclosky)

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, 71, will soon leave the future of the region he has shaped for more than the past three decades to one of three candidates: Democrat Frank Mrvan, Republican Mark Leyva or Libertarian Edward Mike Strauss.

The district is strongly Democratic. In his 18 congressional elections, Visclosky’s closest race was in 1994, when he defeated his Republican challenger by 12 points. On average, he has taken nearly 65% of the vote in his congressional elections.

Those who have most at stake in the congressional race may be young voters whose career plans have been hurt by high unemployment and who are attracting attention from the two leading candidates.

Republican candidate Mark Leyva says young people should be engaged in the political process.

“If the future generations don’t wake up to what’s at stake they will be paying dearly for the rest of their lives,” said Leyva, who unsuccessfully ran against Visclosky seven times and is hoping to become the first Republican to represent the district since 1931.

Leyva, promises to go to Washington and make government smaller and less intrusive on individuals to allow for more freedom. He said this will give students the ability to achieve the American dream in The Region.

Originally from East Chicago, Leyva won the Republican primary with 34.9% of the vote, defeating five challengers, and is a fan of President Donald Trump.

Earlier this month, Leyva was criticized by Republican Party leaders for posting an image of a white woman on his Facebook page with the phrase: “Know the warning signs of white supremacy.”

The post then lists the signs: “1. Full time employment, 2. Literacy, 3. Professional or technical degree, 4. Regular church/temple attendance, 5. Auto insurance, 6. Good credit rating, 7. No criminal record.”

Republican nominee Mark Leyva (left) poses with supporters at a fundraiser. (Mark Leyva)

He declined to respond when reporters from the Times of Northwest Indiana asked if it was an appropriate remark by a congressional candidate.

“The key for students is being able to have free speech, freedom of assembly and the ability to achieve the American dream,” he said. “I am very prepared to make sure that the younger generation, especially the college generation, has better opportunities by going to Congress and making sure we create a smaller government and put less regulations on businesses so they can create more jobs and have better pay, to be sure that when you get out of college there are more jobs for you to choose from.”

Democrat Frank Mrvan also has job creation on his agenda.

Mrvan was born and raised in Hammond and has served as North Township trustee for the last 16 years. He won 32.8% of votes in the crowded Democratic primary that had 14 candidates.

“We’ve targeted [young voters] through social media like Instagram and Facebook and have also been doing rallies with the Young Democrats, making sure that we’re talking about and have platforms on issues that are of concern,” said Mrvan. “Making sure we have jobs, tech jobs specifically, for our future generations here in Northwest Indiana, making sure we focus on the environment and that we’re putting together measures that allow for clean air and water and that we talk about climate change and the reduction of our carbon footprint.”

Mrvan also has plans for projects such as the double tracking of the South Shore Line train to reduce our carbon footprint by reducing the number of cars on the road.

Vital to Mrvan and NWI’s economy, is the utilization of American steel.

“Our steel industry is the economic engine in NWI and as a member of Congress I want to be able to protect and advance it… There’s a piece of legislation that we want to work on, the infrastructure bill, which is roads, bridges, waterways and airports and when we do that, we want to be sure there is a provision in that piece of legislation that utilizes American steel,”  said Mrvan.

“We want to be sure that we are utilizing and doing everything we can so that people who are graduating have access to those opportunities,” he said. “It’s all about attracting businesses to our area… and when you do that, then you have the workforce that would be needed.”

Last year, Mrvan worked with PNW’s sociology department and College of Nursing  on the No More Secrets campaign to educate young people about body safety, safety against predators and internet and phone safety.

“The No More Secrets campaign became state law … in June 2019,” said Mrvan. As a result, schools must teach a program to educate young people across the state.

Libertarian candidate Edward Mike Strauss did not respond to Pioneer inquiries, but has had several highly publicised run-ins.

After winning the Libertarian nomination in March, Strauss had a brush with the law. In July, East Chicago Police Officer K. Cook struck Strauss with a closed fist. Strauss took to Facebook to express his sentiments on the police in a comment online.

“Defunding yes, disbanding no,” wrote Strauss, “The police have a purpose in our society. Sticking to that role and handling professionally and with honor and respect is key.”

Strauss has been arrested several times on charges ranging from criminal trespassing to disorderly conduct to dissemination of harmful materials to minors. Several of these cases remain pending and Strauss continues to combat what he has said are unlawful arrests.

I get no enjoyment out of having to go and do all this,” he told the Times of Northwest Indiana. “I have to, in order to help my community (and) to help make sure stuff like this doesn’t happen to other people that don’t know how to defend themselves.”

Though the three candidates offer different visions for The Region, one offered advice to students facing an election decision:

“Be engaged,” said Mrvan. “Look up who the candidates are, vote for your future and your interests and find people who reflect what you believe in.”