By Adrianna Pitrelli
INDIANAPOLIS — A new voice with a southern drawl will lead the House Democrats in the 2018 legislative session.
“I’m speechless and [the caucus] laughed at me and said, ‘You’ve never been speechless,’” said Rep. Terry Goodin after being elected as the new leader of Democrats in the Indiana House of Representatives.
Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, is the new House minority leader. Goodin will fill the position after Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, stepped down earlier in the month. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, The Statehouse File
The 30-member caucus elected the Austin Democrat Monday to fill the position of House minority leader, which was formerly held by Scott Pelath, who announced earlier in the month he would step down from leadership. Pelath, of Michigan City, said the decision was made partly so he and his family could spend more time together.
“Immediately after the past election, I confided to many of you that I was not going to do this forever,” Pelath said in a letter to the caucus. “And after several months of repressed doubts, soul-searching, and discussions with my family that time has come – as it does for most of us.”
Pelath and his wife recently had a baby.
As leader of the House Democrats, Goodin said he will focus on bettering lives of the constituents by listening to their concerns.
“We’re going to be very focused as we move forward because the constituents that we represent have been very clear with us, ‘Here’s what we’d like the state of Indiana to become to make our lives easier and more importantly allow our children to have better lives than what we have,’” Goodin said.
As the legislative session draws near, Goodin said the House Democrats will work through their top priorities. One of those priorities is expected to be gerrymandering as Goodin has echoed the message that voters should be able to choose their lawmakers, rather than lawmakers choosing the voters.
“That’s got to be the message that goes across the state,” Goodin said. “It is a real issue, not just in Indiana, but nationwide.”
A 2014 study by the Social Science Research Network said Indiana’s House districts are some of the most gerrymandered in the country. The districts are redrawn every 10 years by whichever party holds the majority, allowing them to draw the lines in a way that reduces competitive elections and often guarantees incumbents victory.
The Republicans control the House of Representatives 70-30, but Goodin said he is ready to work across the aisle.
“We will be able to reach across the aisle, shake hands and disagree when we disagree and when we agree, we will move forward,” he said.
Goodin is more socially conservative compared to most of his Democratic colleagues.
He voted to ban same-sex marriage in 2011, and when the issue came up again in 2014, he was excused and didn’t vote on the bill. He also recently encouraged drug testing for people receiving welfare and coauthored a law that allows victims of domestic violence to carry a gun without a permit, which most Democrats didn’t support.
Goodin, 50, has represented portions of the southeastern part of the state since 2000. He is also superintendent of Crothersville Community Schools and raises cattle on his family farm. Goodin will continue to serve at superintendent of the school system, which has fewer than 1,000 students.
Meanwhile, Goodin said he is looking forward to the upcoming session and helping Hoosiers.
“This could be a very eventful session and I hope it is because the more events that happen, the better off the people of Indiana are going to be,” Goodin said.
Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.