By Ken de la Bastide
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — After her first year as a member of the U.S. House, Rep. Susan Brooks expressed surprise at the pace and the amount of homework required before voting on legislation.
Brooks, R-5th Dist., was elected in 2012 to fill the seat left vacant when long-time Republican Dan Burton announced his retirement.
“The pace at which we’re asked to vote on things is a very fast pace,” Brooks said during an interview with The Herald Bulletin regarding her first year in office. “We never know until the morning of each day what we’re going to be voting that day.”
Another surprise during her first year has been the amount of reading and homework required at night.
“I take things home to read,” she said. “Whether it’s getting prepared for hearings or information about the bills. The pace is much faster than I thought it would be.”
Brooks said a pleasant surprise was in finding her colleagues, from both political parties, to be smart, hard working, prepared and patriotic.
As in any new position with a steep learning curve, Brooks has been assigned a mentor, Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C. She also talks regularly with Rep. John Kline, R-Minn, and Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, also a Republican.
“The Indiana delegation works well together,” Brooks said. “I talk every day with members of the delegation.”
Mike McDonald, a member of the core group with the Madison County Tea Party, said most of the membership like Brooks and comments have been mostly positive.
“She is a freshman,” McDonald said. “She has less authority and is still learning the ropes. She will continue to learn.”
“Overall, she is a conservative and believes in Constitutional values,” he said.
Tea Party activists were concerned about her votes on the federal budget and government shutdown, McDonald said.
“It didn’t accomplish anything,” he said. “It just kicked the can down the road. It didn’t balance the budget or reduce the debt.”
McDonald said the group doesn’t consider Brooks to be a “Rhino,” a Republican in name only.
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said he has worked with Brooks on a number of issues.
“She’s willing to listen,” he said of Brooks. “The overall view is favorable.”
A disappointment, Brooks said, is that Congress has not been able to reach compromises on major reform issues. As examples, she mentioned tax reform, immigration and entitlement programs.
Brooks voted in favor of legislation that ended the shutdown of the federal government last October, the compromise budget and appropriations bills.
The shutdown and compromise votes have drawn criticism from David Stockdale, a Carmel businessman who is running against Brooks in the May primary. Stockdale said Brooks' votes reflect an allegiance to the Republican party.
"She originally wanted a shutdown ... She just reversed her position," Stockdale said. "When she started the process and voted to fight and defund Obamacare. ... When the President refused to budge on that, she finally voted to end the shutdown and fund Obamacare."
Stockdale was recently in Anderson, where he said he would have voted against the budget deal.
Brooks said, “I respect people’s opinions."
She added, “Both of those votes didn’t have everything in those bills we wanted them to have. As we described during the shutdown ‘the train was off the track.’ The votes at least put the train back on the track and moving in the right direction."
“Things have been passed in the House and are still sitting in the Senate,” she said. “We have passed bills in a bipartisan way.”
Brooks said at first she didn’t see cooperation between the Republican and Democrat parties and the House and Senate until the last few months of 2013.
“That gives me optimism for 2014,” she said. “We passed the appropriation bill, which is the first time in over four years that the House and Senate have re-prioritized spending.”
She said the 2012 freshmen class in the U.S. House got the message from the American people that they wanted Congress to work out their differences.
“They want us to not give up on our principles, but find some common ground,” Brooks said. “The freshmen are having more meetings than in the past and trying to find some legislation to work on together. Those areas are more government efficiency.”
Follow Ken de la Bastide @KendelaBastide on Twitter, or call 640-4863.