House Democrats pick Scott Pelath of Michigan City to take caucus in new direction

By Lesley Weidenbener
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Democrats in the Indiana House – who in this week’s election lost nine seats and the ability to prevent a quorum in the chamber – said Thursday they’re moving forward with a new leader, a new attitude and new energy.

Newly elected House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, and Minority Floor Leader Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, said Thursday that their caucus would have a new atittude and new energy when lawmakers returned to the Statehouse for their 2013 session. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, TheStatehouseFile.com

The caucus picked Rep. Scott Pelath of Michigan City to be the House minority leader, a position that had been held for years by Rep. Pat Bauer, whom Democrats ousted last summer after he led them on controversial walkouts two years in a row.

Rep. Linda Lawson of Hammond had served as the minority leader after the coup and through the election. On Thursday, the caucus made her the Democratic floor leader, the group’s second highest position. Rep. Vanessa Summers of Indianapolis will be the Democratic caucus chairwoman.

“The election a couple days ago – it was rough in many ways,” Pelath said. “But from it is going to spring many new opportunities for the Democratic Party.

“We are going to learn to work better. We’re going to learn to provide a true alternative vision for how this state should be led. We’re going to critique the majority party when they’re wrong,” Pelath said. “But when we think they’re right, we’re going to be prepared to help.”

He said the caucus goal will be to “work every day to form a new governing coalition in the state.”

One day earlier, House Republicans reelected Rep. Brian Bosma of Indianapolis to serve as their leader and he will therefore be reelected as the chamber’s speaker when lawmakers return to the Statehouse later this month.

Bosma called Pelath an “an honorable and thoughtful legislator.”

“I pledge to keep the lines of communication open and do my best to make him and his leadership team effective leaders of their caucus,” Bosma said.

But Republicans have the upper hand. On Wednesday, 68 other Republicans lined up behind Bosma for his leadership announcement. That’s the largest GOP caucus since 1974.

Democrats, meanwhile, had just 31 members when they met Thursday. That’s less than one third of the chamber’s 100 members and it means that even if Democrats choose to boycott business again, the Republicans can meet without them.

Still, Democrats said the mood in the caucus meeting on Thursday was not hopeless. Instead, Pelath said, lawmakers were excited about those Democrats who had fought tough battles and won their races.

“We came together and realized we’re a family,” Summers said.

Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Crothersville, was among the last Democrats to remain loyal to Bauer during last summer’s leadership struggle. But Goodin said on Thursday that he’s “100 percent” supportive of the new caucus leaders and looking forward to a new direction.

“There’s some new optimism and you have to have that,” Goodin said. “I think we’re going to focus on really trying to do things for the people.”

Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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