By Wade Coggeshall
— Hendricks County Republicans rode the wave that returned Indiana to a red state in the general election.
Matt Whetstone survived a challenge from Democrat Nicholas Schmutte to replace Eric Wathen on the Hendricks County Board of Commissioners.
Whetstone, who is executive director of governmental affairs for the Indianapolis-based Krieg DeVault law firm, won a Republican caucus in August to replace Wathen on the ballot. Wathen announced he wouldn't seek re-election because he's moving out of his district.
Whetstone previously served on the Brownsburg Town Council and represented Hendricks and Morgan counties in the Indiana House of Representatives from 1996 to 2007. He said Tuesday evening that he only left the legislature to earn more income for his family.
"This gave me the opportunity to come back in at the local level and participate Ñ provide some of those skills that I have in helping people," Whetstone said. "For me, it's just a passion for service. I think you're either born with it or you're not."
He admits he has big shoes to fill in replacing Wathen on the commission. In fact, when Whetstone heard he was resigning after his current term, he urged him not to.
"I don't think we've seen the last of Eric," he said. "We'll hate to lose him for now, but he'll be back."
Whetstone isn't a new face in local politics, but Caleb Brown is. The Brownsburg resident earned an at-large seat on the County Council, along with incumbents Larry Hesson and Richard Thompson. They defeated Democratic challengers Adam Kilbride, Karen O'Brien, and Greg Reynolds.
"We definitely put quite an effort in this spring and fall," Brown said of his campaign.
A native of Hendricks County, he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Indiana University's Kelley School of Business in 2005. His background is in the construction materials industry, and currently he's an account and credit manager for U.S. Aggregates Inc.
"I've always enjoyed politics," Brown said of his decision to seek public office. "I've always wanted to be involved to make a positive difference. This was a good way for me to start. The council seems like a good fit for me."
He hopes to offer a young, fresh perspective to the council.
"Our county's fortunate to be in a good situation, but things can always be looked at from a different perspective, to make sure we haven't gotten complacent," Brown said.
He considers Hendricks County's main challenge to be keeping up with population growth. It's projected that Hendricks will add 40,000 to 50,000 residents by the next Census.
"A county that's well maintained will continue to grow and succeed," Brown said. "A county that isn't won't, which can cause people to leave and business to stagnant."
Whetstone also sees infrastructure and planning as a top priority.
"For me, it's a challenge of are we more visionary or are we managing by the seat of our pants and following the wave," he said. "Those are the things I'm anxious to talk to (current Commissioners) Bob (Gentry) and Phyllis (Palmer) about. I don't like to sit still."
Hendricks County GOP Chairman Mike O'Brien was pleased with what he saw at the precincts on Tuesday.
"They were packed all day," he said as party members gathered at the Prestwick Country Club Tuesday evening to watch election results.
Early numbers were showing 70 to 75 percent voter turnout in the county. That includes the more than 13,000 citizens who voted early. Two precincts in Plainfield still had people waiting in line to vote at 8:30 p.m. Other than long wait times, no other issues arose.
"It shows we're fired up in Hendricks County," O'Brien said.
It helped that Republican gubernatorial nominee Mike Pence had a constant presence here. Avon served as a regional campaign headquarters for him, where get-out-the-vote efforts throughout west central Indiana were conducted.
"We spent months knocking on doors every weekend and making calls six days a week, 12 hours a day," O'Brien said. "This is a reflection of that effort. We have a bunch of great volunteers."
While Hendricks has done as well as can be expected in weathering the still-sluggish economy, "It doesn't diminish the anxiety of what's happened at the federal level, with spending and a senate that's been unable to set a better trajectory for the country from a budgetary and economic standpoint," O'Brien said. "You're seeing high turnout that's a result from that angst. If you look at Hendricks County, maybe we're doing OK, but we're in a state that's tracking along with the national unemployment rate and shares those concerns."
He believes a Romney presidency would usher in a federal government that's serious about addressing these fiscal issues.
"The direction of the country from a budget standpoint is unsustainable," O'Brien said. "We need a guy like Mitt Romney to be honest with people about where we're at and the appropriate role for the federal government in interacting with the economy. We need predictability with tax rates and health care costs Ñ all the things that have sustained this recession far longer than historical accounts. I think that's what you'd see over the next four years, and beyond that, hopefully some pretty good economic growth."
As O'Brien says this, the room breaks out in applause when it's announced on TV that Romney has won Indiana.
"One down and a lot more to go," he said in response.
All of the election results announced Tuesday evening were preliminary. Final results will not be certified until the day after the election, and provisional ballots will not be counted for another week.