Big upset: Garton concedes to Walker

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May 3, 2006 - It was a somber mood after a stunning defeat at the Garton campaign headquarters Tuesday night. After 36 years in the state Senate and a record 26 years as its leader, Senate President Pro Tem Robert Garton is out in Senate District 41.

His longtime leadership ended with a phone call. "Greg, this is Bob Garton. I just called to congratulate you. It appears that you have won. I congratulate you on your victory," he told opponent Greg Walker.

Walker, dressed in blue jeans and a plaid shirt, took the call from Garton amid excitement at his campaign headquarters. "Thank you, senator. I appreciate that. Bye-bye," Walker replied to the senator over the phone.

"That was Senator Garton conceding," Walker explained calmly. His statement was followed by enthusiastic cheers from his supporters.

Garton conceded the primary to political newcomer Greg Walker after three hours of watching results come in against him.

"It wasn't our organization," Garton said with a smile. "I'm convinced that organizations win elections. Candidates lose them. And this candidate lost it."

Predicted to be a toss-up, it was Garton's first primary challenge since he was first elected in 1970.

"I'm very proud to have served this state and this district and I've been the longest-serving pro tem in the history of this state and that's been a privilege," he said.

"I'm gonna miss Senator Garton's leadership. He has done a terrific job in his 36 years - longest-serving pro tem in the country, not just the state, and we counted on winning. So I don't think it occurred to anybody what was gonna happen after tonight because everybody expected to win," said Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis).

Walker criticized Garton for backing special pension and health benefits and said he had been in the Legislature too long. He campaigned in a 1970 Plymouth Valiant to drive home his point that voters should trade in the long-time incumbent.

Walker started his campaign in January and managed to unseat the most powerful man in the Indiana Senate. "I wanna thank my wife for not throwing me out of her home," Walker said.

The senior accountant can also thank the pro-life movement, which was upset with Garton for stalling its legislative agenda.

"This is a win for righteousness and standing for the unborn," a man in the Walker camp said, leading the group in prayer.

It was also a challenge to entrenched power. They pointed to lifetime health benefits for lawmakers.

"They were incensed that there should be this moneygrab from part-time legislators," said one Walker supporter.

"It is my hope and purpose to work together in unity and humility towards a brighter future for Indiana," Walker told his suppoters.

"Greg stands for a lot of things that other people stand for. It's just that their voice hasn't been heard," said another Walker supporter.

Congressional race results

All nine of Indiana's congressional incumbents breezed through the primary. Congresswoman Julia Carson won the 7th District Democratic primary, while Republicans Mike Sodrel in the 9th, Dan Burton in the 5th, Mark Souder in the 3rd, Mike Pence in the 6th and Steve Buyer in the 4th District all advanced as did GOP incumbent Chris Chocola.

Congressman Peter Visclosky, a Democrat in the 1st District, and Congressman John Hostettler, a Republican in the 8th District, did not have challengers in the primary.

Major Moves casualty?

A northern Indiana lawmaker who supported Governor Daniels' plan to lease the Indiana Toll Road to a private foreign consortium was defeated.

Republican Representative Mary Kay Budak of LaPorte, a lawmaker for 26 years, lost to sales representative and LaPorte Community Schools Board member Tom Dermody in District 20. Budak was considered vulnerable for supporting the governor's "Major Moves" highway plan and its pending lease of the toll road to a private Spanish-Australian consortium.

With 64 percent of precincts reporting, Dermody had 70 percent of the vote, to Budak's 30 percent.

A statewide poll by The Indianapolis Star in March showed that 60 percent of 501 people surveyed opposed the toll lease, and many lawmakers from toll road counties in northern Indiana have said constituents are angry over the deal.