Victoria Spartz, the Republican candidate for Indiana’s 5th Congressional District, answered some IndyStar questions, July 17, 2020.
Ask Indiana’s 5th Congressional District Republican candidate Victoria Spartz why she is running for Congress and she’ll reference her childhood in Soviet-controlled Ukraine.
In one of her primary campaign ads entitled “Stop Socialism,” Spartz, who immigrated to the U.S. in 2000, can be seen staring out a window as images of a red flag with Vladimir Lenin’s face on it and people waiting in long lines for food flash on the screen.
“Born in the Soviet Union,” a voiceover says, “Victoria Spartz knows the misery of socialism.”
And it’s more than a campaign message.
In conversations, she’ll tell the story of how her grandfather watched as his dad had to leave the small farm he owned as Soviet Union leaders stole families’ grain, forced people to give up their private property and join collective farms. He would tell her of how he went hungry during the Ukraine man-made famine in the 1930s and had to eat potato peels.
“He always told me, ‘Victoria, you always have to be free from the government,’” Spartz told IndyStar, “‘because the government brings a lot of destruction.’”
Spartz’s upbringing in the Soviet Union at least in part formed her belief that government involvement is inherently bad and ineffective and should only be used as a tool to incentivize society’s betterment. Those values — and the financial wherewithal to get her message out in a slew of campaign ads — led her to win by a wide margin in the crowded Republican 5th District primary in June, leaving political experts surprised.
But it’s those same beliefs and hyper-focus on individual rights that may haveturned away some constituents during her tenure as a state senator — and may put her at risk in the 5th District general election.
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In November she faces Democrat Christina Hale, a former state lawmaker, and Libertarian Ken Tucker in a district that stretches from the northern part of Marion County up to the city of Marion and includes Hamilton County.
For more than two decades, Republicans have had little trouble winning the 5th District. But now, with Congresswoman Susan Brooks’ retirement and other similar suburban districts turning more blue, pundits think there’s a chance a Democrat could win.Local political science experts, however, still give Spartz the upper hand.
If Spartz wins in November, Brooks, who leads recruitment for the House Republicans and supports Spartz in the general election, said Spartz would be the first Republican female immigrant to ever be elected in the United States.
“Talk about the American dream,” Brooks said. “She left her country and has truly pursued and epitomizes the American dream story.”
Spartz, 41, spent her childhood in the Soviet Union as the daughter of two local government transportation department engineers. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the Soviet Union collapsed, giving Ukraine its independence.
She received her Bachelor’s degree in international economics and master’s degree in business administration from the National University of Economics in Ukraine. Back then, she said, half of academia was focused on communist and socialist polices and half was based on capitalism.
Before she moved to the United States, she had never even visited. But the picture she had painted in her head was of a beautiful place where people were truly free. She was inspired.
Plus, she added, she was young and adventurous. When her husband, Jason, an American she met in college, asked to marry her and move to the United States, she said yes.
“I felt this is just a country of such wonderful opportunities and freedoms,” Spartz said. “I love what I learned about the country when I was in school.”
Once here, she said she realized no one valued her Ukrainian degree, so she knew she would have to work her way up. She started as a bank teller before she went back to school for her professional accountancy master’s degree from Indiana University Indianapolis.
She spent time as a certified public accountant, knowledge she would use later as a state lawmaker, before eventually pulling back to spend more time with her two daughters, and instead started focusing on purchasing, farming and developing land in Hamilton County.
Whether by design or not, the same woman who grew emotional when talking about the loss of her family’s farm land ended up marrying into a family that had made a business of owning land.
Her in-laws own Westbrook Village, a mobile home park in Noblesville, and the land around it — the type of project Spartz said she would love to tackle by herself eventually.
Spartz herself owns farmland in Sheridan that they lease to other farmers, and her and her husband grow primarily winter wheat and soybeans on other property in Westfield and Noblesville.
Her husband used to own property on the corner of Promise Road and 146th Street which at the time was an auto salvage business. Noblesville had to provide incentives to encourage a developer to purchase the land and clean up the lot filled with old cars. It’s now being transformed into a 22-acre business park and 16-acre commercial and retail area.
Spartz’s immigration to the United States gave her a different perspective and love for America that stood out to those who know her. Pete Simmons, a friend and doctor who lives in the district, has witnessed the impact of immigrating from eastern Europe both through Spartz and his wife, a Romanian immigrant.
“I think that story of immigrating here, making her way, making a difference, is something to be proud of,” Simmons said. “Those values that you learn and the challenges you face immigrating here, I think serve immigrants very well when they’re here.”
As Spartz became involved with her and her family’s small businesses, she noticed what seemed like an excessive amount of rules and regulations. Likewise, she thought the country was heading in the wrong direction.
“I was born in a country that doesn’t exist anymore, for good reason,” Spartz told IndyStar. “Unfortunately there are a lot of socialistic trends in our country and it breaks my heart, because that’s not what makes our country the greatest in the world.”
So she turned to politics. First it was behind-the-scenes work. She helped with Brooks’ initial primary campaign, became the Hamilton County Republican Women chair and later was vice-chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party. She regularly brings her daughters to political events, Brooks said.
In 2017, she got her shot at moving to a political office after being chosen by a caucus of precinct officials to serve out the remainder of retiring Sen. Luke Kenley’s term in Senate District 20, which covers Noblesville and Westfield, plus parts of Carmel and Fishers. She wasn’t the favorite to win: Kenley had backed a different candidate.
Instead of running for reelection this year, she turned her sights toward Congress, where she has poured more than $1 million into her own campaign, and has not ruled out spending more.
This is Spartz’s first general election campaign.
Spartz boasts that during her three sessions in the Statehouse, she made strides in helping make health care pricing more transparent — she was a coauthor or cosponsor of a handful of related bills that passed this last session, but not the lead author on any that passed— and focused on government transparency.
Altogether, she was involved with roughly 50 bills that became law in the Statehouse, and was the primary author on eight.
She spent much of her time advocating for deregulation at all levels of government and protecting first and second amendment rights, rights that didn’t exist when she was growing up. Earlier this year she pushed for a bill that gave property owners more rights when authorities condemn private property, because of her belief in the right to own property.
At times, her ideology earned her criticism from her constituents and others.
During the 2020 legislative session, Spartz drafted Senate Bill 229, which removed state oversight of certain wetlands near what are called regulated drains.
It fit neatly in Spartz’s goal of deregulation, but both the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Hoosier Environmental Council opposed the legislation, saying it could have ramifications on water control. Plus there was a personal connection that Spartz never disclosed, which some experts found concerning.
In 2007, Spartz’s family planned a multi-million project to develop a Super Target in Noblesville. IDEM halted the project after the family bulldozed and filled in wetlands without obtaining state and federal permissions. It delayed the project, which later ended up falling through.
Spartz also ruffled the feathers of some Hamilton County leaders when she became involved with a 2019 bill that would have determined how much County Option Income Tax (COIT) money each city gets, a contentious debate in Hamilton County.
But probably nothing tested Spartz’s popularity more than when the 2018 Noblesville school shooting left a student and teacher injured in her own district.
In the aftermath of the shooting, some parents formed a group called Noblesville Stands Together to advocate for changes to keep students safer. Parents from that group said Spartz didn’t help them, and instead stood in their way even as they received help from Republican lawmakers outside of their district.
In January 2020, Spartz spoke on the Senate floor against Senate Bill 16, which would have prevented juveniles who used a gun in a violent crime from being able to possess a gun when they turn 18 years old. Spartz, who boasted of her NRA endorsement in the primary, had concerns about the constitutionality of the bill, including the fact that it was retroactive and could impose longer restrictions for juveniles than if they were charged in adult court.
Only five other Republicans voted against it.
Mindy Swift and other parents in Noblesville Stands Together were disappointed. During the primary, 19 members penned an op-ed encouraging their neighbors not to vote for Spartz.
Swift said she is a Republican, but “can’t wait” to vote for Hale in November. She also won’t be voting for President Donald Trump.
“For her to argue against these bills and to represent Hamilton County is appalling,” Swift said. “My opinion is that she is running for Congress because she felt like she was going to be beat in the senate.”
Originally, Spartz had announced in November that she was running for a second term in the State Senate. But less than two months later, she suspended her Senate campaign and said she was considering a run for the 5th District. She ended up being one of the last of the 15 Republican candidates to enter.
Four days later, Scott Baldwin filed to run for her Statehouse seat and had already accumulated the support of most Republican leaders in Noblesville and Fishers.
Some Noblesville and Fishers leaders also backed Spartz’s opponents financially in the 5th District primary.
Certainly, Spartz still has advocates in the district, such as Fishers Council President Cecilia Coble, Brooks herself and Simmons, her friend and doctor who lives in the district.
“She’s fiscally conservative, but she’s reasonable,” said Simmons, who considers himself a moderate Republican but isn’t going to be voting for Trump in November. “She’s going to stand up to anyone she disagrees with.”
And she appears to have an appeal to a broad Republican base. In a 15-way race that experts expected to be close due to the large field, Spartz walked away with 39.7% of the vote, 22 percentage points higher than the candidate with the next highest percentage of votes, Beth Henderson.
On the Democratic side, Hale walked away with a 13.4 percentage point lead.
“Victoria is just somebody who is the real deal,” Coble said. “She’s going to go up there and get things done. She has a proven track record; she has an inspirational story.”
A changing district
Whether or not Spartz can win in the 5th District depends largely on how much the district has actually changed — and potentially if she can sell herself as a moderate.
Brooks says the district has never been straight red.
Still, there are some signs that the district is shifting. While Brooks didn’t come close to losing her election in 2018, it was her closest to date. She beat Democrat Dee Thornton by 13.6 percentage points.
During the 2019 municipal elections there was more proof of change: Democrats were elected to their respective city councils in Fishers and Carmel, the first time since either entity became a city. Likewise, historically Republican Zionsville elected its first Democratic mayor.
Down in Marion County, Democrats picked up six seats, four of which at least partially sit in the 5th District.
Across the country, suburbs have started to trend more blue, which in part gave Democrats control over the U.S. House in 2018.
Political experts say the 5th is no longer a safe Republican seat. This summer, two well-known political analysis groups Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Cook Political Report announced they now consider the race a toss-up.
Both Spartz and Brooks argued it doesn’t matter whether someone is labeled as “moderate enough.” It matters what their stances are on the issues that people care about.
“I think she’s viewed as someone who studies the issues seriously, she’s incredibly smart and someone who works also incredibly hard,” Brooks said. “She’s fairly independent. She’s thoughtful, she’s constructive, and I think she will want to find common ground.”
Spartz said she has a better message and proven results, so she is not worried.
For the most part, Spartz has voted in lock-step with her colleagues in the Statehouse. She referenced her pro-Trump attitude in her primary ads, but so did most of the other Republicans in her district. In 2019, she also voted for the controversial amendment to a bias crime bill that watered down the legislation, but again, that vote put her on the same side as the majority of Republicans in the Senate.
Likewise, Spartz will say coronavirus has been too politicized and was against Gov. Eric Holcomb’s original plan to implement criminal penalties for not wearing a mask.
She will have too run a different race than she did in the primary.
“Spartz occupies a challenging position, ideologically, because of the crowded primary of contenders she faced in June,” said Laura Merrifield Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Indianapolis. “Unlike Christina Hale, who seemed to easily take a quick lead well before the election, Spartz was clamoring among a field of competitors to prove she was conservative enough to capture the Republican Party support.”
In an interview with IndyStar following the primary, Spartz emphasized her ability to work with others.
Still, it’s clear there is one thing upon which she does not compromise: Her core belief that government exists to provide freedom, not to solve problems through regulation.
“I just have very little faith in the government, that it can be great,” Spartz said. “Government has never been a solution, never will be, but it could be a good tool with good policies that have the right incentives.”
Education: Bachelor’s degree in international economics and master’s degree in business administration from the National University of Economics in Ukraine, professional accountancy master’s degree from Indiana University Indianapolis.
Occupation: Business owner, commercial farming and real estate; state senator.
Previous work experience: Certified public accountant and auditor.
Family: Husband, Jason, and two daughters.
Call IndyStar reporter Kaitlin Lange at 317-432-9270. Follow her on Twitter: @kaitlin_lange.
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