By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Even though Republicans will be able to legislate at will when the General Assembly convenes in January, two local Democrat state lawmakers say that only makes their presence for debate more vital.
State Rep. Terri Austin overwhelmingly won re-election over Republican opponent James Lycan on Tuesday.
And Indiana Senate Democrats chose state Sen. Tim Lanane as their leader on Wednesday.
But with Republican supermajorities in both the Indiana Senate (37-13) and House of Representatives (69-31), will they simply be lone voices in the wilderness?
“It’s a pretty thin pancake that only has one side,” Lanane said on Friday. “On every issue there needs to be a debate. I think you have to do your duty as loyal opposition. I’ve challenged our members. Our numbers may be small, but that just means we have to work harder,” Lanane added.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said last week said the GOP would not overreach and focus on issues that matter to Hoosiers: education, jobs, and fiscal matters.
Lanane said he hopes Bosma lives up to that pledge and steers Republican lawmakers away from divisive social issues as the General Assembly prepares for its long session where the primary obligation is crafting a new state budget.
“We need to address the economy, education, public safety and infrastructure — which is a good way to create a lot of jobs — and the cost of higher education,” Lanane said. “These are the bread-and-butter issues I think people expect us to be working on.”
Austin said she believes one reason for the surge in Republican members is that this was the first election using new redistricting maps as a result of the 2010 census. Because Republicans were in the majority, “those maps were skillfully drawn,” to generally favor Republican candidates, she said.
Austin said she will take Bosma at his word and begin the session “with a clean slate, and we will work hand-in-hand,” with the majority.
She added that even though Republicans have a supermajority, that doesn’t mean everyone will agree. “They’ve got a very diverse group,” she said.
Large majorities also create the added prospect of factions developing within the caucus that can make it politically difficult to manage.
“We’ll see what kind of agenda they develop,” Austin said, “but our Democrat focus will be on jobs and economic development.”
She added that the supermajority the Republicans are enjoying now may be short-lived. In the mid-term election in two years, Democrats will likely target specific districts around the state in hopes of picking up more seats.
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