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Southern Indiana Dems select Wendy Dant Chesser for House District 71 seat

Wendy Dant Chesser, right, hugs Rita Fleming following a Democratic caucus Wednesday in Jeffersonville. Dant Chesser was selected to fill the remainder of Fleming's term as representative for Indiana House District 71. She'll also be on the ballot in November.
Aprile Rickert
Wendy Dant Chesser, right, hugs Rita Fleming following a Democratic caucus Wednesday in Jeffersonville. Dant Chesser was selected to fill the remainder of Fleming's term as representative for Indiana House District 71.

Southern Indiana Democrats have chosen business leader Wendy Dant Chesser to be the next state representative for House District 71, which includes all of Clarksville and Jeffersonville and part of New Albany.

Wendy Dant Chesser, a longtime business leader, will be the next Democratic representative from Southern Indiana. District 71 precinct members selected her unanimously in a caucus Wednesday night.

She will finish the term for Rita Fleming, who announced her immediate retirement earlier this month after running unopposed in the primary.

Dant Chesser also got the nomination for the general election in November. She was the only candidate to put her name in for the office opening and ballot vacancy.

“On day one, it's going to be very important that District 71 send someone [to the Statehouse] that is going to help create and protect the reputation of Southern Indiana,” Dant Chesser said at a news conference before the vote. “And I feel I'm the most qualified to do that.”

Dant Chesser previously president and CEO at One Southern Indiana (1si), the region's chamber of commerce and economic development organization, for more than a decade. In that role, she helped with the economic expansion of more than 100 companies, which committed to bringing in close to 10,000 jobs, according to a news release. Dant Chesser was recently named as chief director for corporate strategy and external affairs for the River Ridge Development Authority.

“I've been working for the last 12 years trying to establish credibility for Clark County, putting plans together, going to the statehouse [and] explaining that we in Southern Indiana are worth investing in,” she said.

In the five months left in this term, she said she will work to represent and preserve what Clark County and District 71 stand for, while talking with voters on what issues are most important to them.

She noted that Clark County, along the Ohio River across from Louisville, has long been “best known for a city we’re not, in a state we’re not a part of.”

She said she feels Southern Indiana is very family-focused, that residents care about education and providing opportunities for the future, and demand accountability and transparency.

“Those are the things that I see,” she said. “But I'm going to spend a lot of time listening to what the voters think is important as well.”

Dant Chesser said she also wants to help support public education funding and the economic strength of the area.

Indiana Democratic Party Chair Mike Schmuhl led Wednesday’s meeting. He thanked Fleming for her work and called Dant Chesser a “fantastic public servant” to lead District 71.

Carey Hamilton, the Democratic House caucus chair, said it’s important to have Dant Chesser along as a strong candidate heading into the general election.

“House Democrats have one main goal this year, and that is to break the [Republican] supermajority,” she said, adding that to do that, they need to keep every House seat and gain four.

“It's time to change the story at the Statehouse. And it starts with keeping seats including district 71.”

Fleming, a retired OB-GYN, was first elected in 2018. She previously told LPM News her decision to step down was based on the need to spend time with her family, including her 15 grandchildren.

“It was wonderful to deliver 7,000 babies, and I was lucky my husband was such a great dad,” she said. “But I missed out on a lot. And I don't want to keep missing out on these kinds of things.”

She added that she’s enjoyed being a legislator.

“And I like a good fight too,” she said. “And I had some really good fights. And I had some wins, some impactful wins for the state of Indiana.”

She said Dant Chesser has her support to continue trying to improve Hoosiers’ lives.

“I think we're so lucky that we just caucused in someone who does have the ability, the experience, the intelligence and the the ability to work with people and do great things for the state of Indiana,” Fleming said. “She's proven that in her previous jobs.”

Republican Scott Hawkins will also be on the ballot in November. Fleming narrowly defeated him in 2022.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec Inc., the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation, and the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County. 

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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