Local GOP leader says he'll try to remove mayoral candidate from Republican ballot

EVANSVILLE — Caine Helmer said he is running for office because he believes someone honest, who has experienced the best and worst of Evansville, would make a great mayor.

His first run at public office is for the most important seat in the city, and he's dealing with a challenge to his candidacy from the Vanderburgh County Republican Party, which says Helmer isn't qualified to run under Indiana law.

Helmer, a front-end worker at Target, hasn't voted Republican in his last two primary elections, which makes this a valid challenge. But it's also possible for Vanderburgh GOP Chairman Mike Duckworth to sign off on Helmer running. It happened for the Vanderburgh County Democrats last year when now-sheriff Noah Robinson didn't qualify to run under that same law.

But Duckworth isn't doing that. He said an official challenge will come between the Feb. 3 candidate filing deadline and the Feb. 10 deadline for someone to remove themselves from the ballot.

"Because that could skew the race," Duckworth told the Courier & Press on why he doesn't want Helmer as a Republican candidate. "It may detract from one candidate or the other. I don't want someone representing the party that hasn't been involved in the party, hasn't participated in any of our events − especially for the highest office that we have to run here in the city. I'm very serious about who represents our party in that race."

Caine Helmer
Caine Helmer

Helmer would like to be on the ballot as a Republican, but says he'll run as an independent if he has to. Either way, he wants to run.

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Helmer's platform

Mental health issues

The 26-year-old Princeton, Indiana, native will be the youngest candidate in the race for mayor, but he's got a platform he's said is based on his life experiences.

Diagnosed as bipolar, Helmer was admitted to a local mental health facility as a child. During his teenage years, Helmer entered twice more. Between those times, he found not much had changed.

He said the same videotapes and therapy methods were being used, ones he didn't find to be helping much. They were focused on internal issues only, he said, not acknowledging the impact of outside factors.

During one session, Helmer felt he was helping the other kids more than the worker.

"I really want to get involved with the mental health institutions and reform them from the ground up," he said.

Affordable housing in Evansville

Helmer also has plans for the lack of affordable housing the city.

“The supply of housing is not increasing," he said. "But the supply of people who need housing is increasing.”

Helmer sees tax breaks as a possibility for the city to help facilitate growth in local housing. But that also means he would pause abatement for other projects.

Finish the ones in production, he said, but pause new builds, with funding put toward housing. If that isn't enough, Helmer said the city should step in.

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“I believe the city itself should step in to start buying properties, renovating them, constructing them, and making housing and then selling them cheaply," he said.

Helmer also wants to focus on educational opportunities in both high school and colleges, as well as create a leadership program championed by the city.

Running as a Republican

Helmer knows the local party will challenge his candidacy. They called to inform him of that, but he wishes they would have taken the time to hear his platform.

"They never reached out to see what my policies are, to see what kind of person I am," he said. "... Even if they don’t want to work with me, it’s fine."

He would prefer to run as a Republican because he identifies with aspects of the ideology. He said he believes in "family values" and he has more conservative financial views.

But if he has to, he'll set out to run as an independent.

"Yes, they’re the Republican party," he said, "but they don’t have a monopoly on Republicanism as an ideology."

This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Local GOP challenging new entry in Republican mayor's race