Indiana Democrats make progress, but fail to offset Republican supermajorities

By Erica Irish
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Republicans will maintain their supermajority in both chambers of the Indiana Statehouse, leaving their Democratic counterparts to determine next steps and reorganize their efforts for the 2019 legislative session.

But that doesn’t mean Democratic efforts were useless.

Perhaps the most significant Democratic win of the evening was for 29th District Senate candidate J.D. Ford, an openly gay man who won out against long-time Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel. Ford is the first LGBT legislator to be open about his sexuality in the state’s history.

Democratic strongholds in Indiana are blue islands in a sea of Republican red. Source: Indiana Election Division.

Delph served the Senate for 13 years and is known for his tough, conservative stances on abortion, gay marriage and immigration reform. Ford’s far more progressive policies will offer a stark contrast to the chamber in 2019.

Laura Merrifield Wilson, an associate professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis, said Ford’s win could mean larger cultural changes for Indiana, even if Democrats remain in the minority.

“It’s funny to think that in 2018 this is new,” Wilson said in reference to Ford’s sexuality. “But it’s who we was competing against that makes this so significant. It shows there’s at least a change in the wind.”

Overall, however, Democrats remain Indiana’s legislative minority, though totals by the Associated Press showed House Democrats secured three seats on election night alongside Ford’s victory over Delph in the Senate. 

House District 26 saw Democrat Chris Campbell beat Rep. Sally Siegrist, R-West Lafayette, with 56 percent of the vote. Democrats Chris Chyung of District 15 and Lisa Beck of District 19 narrowly won over opponents Rep. Hal Slager, R-Shererville, and Rep. Julie Olthoff, R-Merrillville.

Democrats needed four seats, however, in order to break the Republican House supermajority.

House Democrats held an afternoon caucus meeting Wednesday and selected new leadership as their first step in the post-election cycle.

Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, will take over for Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, as House minority leader. Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, will serve as caucus chair and Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, was chosen as floor leader.  

Before he was deposed as minority leader, Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, told TheStatehouseFile.com the Democrats’ key strategy while in the minority is to garner more public awareness outside of election season.

“We’ll work hard and we’ll talk about issues people really care about,” Goodin said. “That’s why we get people’s attention.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma, before meeting with the Republican Caucus
Photo by Dionte Coleman, TheStatehouseFile.com

After Democrats met, House Speaker Rep. Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, extended his welcome to GiaQuinta as the new minority leader.

“Phil and I are friends and we will solve problems where we can and work in a bipartisan fashion to promote civility in the chamber and continue to move Indiana forward even when we disagree,” Bosma said.

This show of bipartisanship could be exactly what House Democrats need, according to Wilson. But bipartisanship, she added, will only work if Democrats echo the same enthusiasm.

“Republicans have the most to lose and the least to gain,” Wilson said. “Democrats have to focus on bipartisanship to get what they want in this state.”

Bosma added that much of the post-election cycle will be business as usual for House Republicans, even after losing a handful of seats to Democrats.

“We’ve had caucus ranging from 48 to 71 and it’s never changed our approach,” he said.

While life might continue normally for most Republican representatives, much weighs on Bosma himself following accusations that he had a sexual encounter with a House Democratic intern in the early 1990s and spent $40,000 of his campaign funds on a lawyer earlier this year to investigate the woman. 

Bosma denies the allegations, which were first reported by The Indianapolis Star earlier this fall, but said he will comply with any investigations by the House Statutory Committee on Ethics.

The six-member ethics committee includes representation from both parties. Bosma appointed Majority Caucus Leader Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, to serve as its chair.

“I have told the committee that I am going to cooperate in every way,” Bosma said. “They have some information in front of them and if they request more they will receive more. And we will see how it goes.”

Moving forward, Wilson said Democrats cannot be mediocre legislators if they intend to make an impact, particularly on issues as significant as a potential ethics investigation into Bosma’s past. Instead, she said, Democrats must band together and demand action.

“One thing is clear from this election,” Wilson said. “You have to stick with your base to win…and if [the Democrats] want to be successful as a minority, they need to be a vocal one.”

Dionte Coleman and Eddie Drews contributed to this report.

Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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