Southern Indiana

A Southern Indiana state senator is resigning one year before his term ends.

State Sen. Ron Grooms, a Republican from Jeffersonville, is leaving office Tuesday after serving for more than a decade. He still has one year left in his third term representing District 46. Earlier this summer, Grooms announced that he would not seek reelection in 2022.

His sudden resignation comes about three weeks after Indiana lawmakers eliminated the boundaries of the current District 46 during this year’s census redistricting process. Floyd and Clark counties will now be split between districts 45 and 47. Grooms was the only Republican to vote against the new maps.

Grooms declined to comment on his resignation, and a brief press release from his office offered no reasoning for his early exit.

“It’s been an incredible privilege serving the people of Senate District 46 for the last 10-plus years,” Grooms said in the statement. “I’ve had the distinct honor to work with a number of outstanding legislators who have worked tirelessly to move Indiana forward. Although I will miss the Statehouse, I look forward to pursuing new opportunities, spending more time with family, playing a bit more golf and relaxing with a good book. I leave knowing that I did my job and made a difference in my community.”

Republicans will appoint someone to finish Grooms’ term in the coming weeks. The choice could have implications for next year’s senate races, which were already complicated by the redistricting process.

Two Floyd County Republicans had announced bids for District 46 prior to the release of the new senate maps. Now that most of the county has been absorbed into District 47 alongside the more rural Harrison and Washington counties, the candidates have to compete with incumbent Sen. Erin Houchin, a Republican from Salem.

Kevin Boehnlein, whom Grooms endorsed to replace him before the districts were redrawn, filed paperwork for the District 46 caucus on Friday. He said he hopes to finish out Grooms’ term and continue to represent Floyd County in District 47 starting next year.

“It will be a very smooth and well-run process, we hope,” Boehnlein said. “Whoever comes out successful in this process, hopefully the other person will get behind the winner and we can move forward as a united community in this race and move forward.”

But Grooms’ early retirement has split the party, with some, like Floyd County Commissioners President Shawn Carruthers, questioning the motive behind it. Carruthers announced a bid for District 46 over the summer, but he hasn’t decided whether he will move forward with his campaign for District 47.

Carruthers said he’s “suspicious” the resignation could be a politically-motivated strategy to bolster a candidate ahead of next year’s election. He said Republicans should pick a person with “no political aspirations” to finish Grooms’ term, before the current District 46 is ultimately dissolved.

“I just don’t see the benefit of resigning at this point in time, other than for political reasons,” Carruthers said. “For me, I think it’s best for those that are interested in running for [District 47] to stay on the sidelines, and let’s run a fair campaign. … Let’s duke it out next year in the primaries, and let all the voters decide what candidate they want without trying to give any of the three of us any leg up.”

John Boyle is a reporter and editor at WFPL news focused on Southern Indiana. He is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.