Inexperience will be as much a factor as Republican dominance in the next Indiana Legislature.
Election Day brought 24 new members to the House of Representatives. That huge freshman wave, plus the return of 18 reps who were newly elected in 2010, means 42 percent of the House will begin the 2013 session with two years of experience or less.
The 50-seat Senate has three new members joining five senators elected in 2010.
All those new faces present an opportunity—as well as a lot of work—for lobbyists, who play a large role in educating lawmakers on complex issues like the Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare, and highway funding.
“Leadership is going to be real important,” said Dennis Faulkenberg, transportation lobbyist and principal at Appian Advisors.
House Speaker Brian Bosma faces the task of corraling a super-majority of 69 Republican lawmakers. The 19 newcomers in his caucus won’t make the job any easier. As many legislative observers point out, freshmen are no longer willing to take a back seat.
“In days gone by, new legislators were likely to introduce fewer bills than veteran legislators,” said Jack Ross, who retired as executive director of the Legislative Services Agency after the Nov. 6 election. “That certainly has changed. Many of the new legislators are very anxious to introduce bills from day one.”
There were so many new faces in the House Republicans’ post-election caucus that Bosma had the members wear name tags.
“I feel like my job has moved from policy development to leadership development,” Bosma told IBJ.
The majority’s stated goals are to pass a balanced two-year budget, create jobs and improve education. Bosma also acknowledged that the Legislature is likely to see any number of bills addressing social issues.
The most prominent of those could be a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Advocates of the ban need both chambers of the Legislature to approve language, either in the upcoming session or the next, for a 2014 ballot issue.
Some of Indiana’s largest corporations—including Eli Lilly and Co., Cummins Inc. and WellPoint Inc.—have opposed a ban, which they fear would send a message of discrimination and make recruiting talent difficult.
Outgoing Democratic leader Vi Simpson, who gave up her Senate seat in an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor, said Republicans, who retained their super-majority in the Senate, have done a poor job of suppressing divisive social issues. She doesn’t expect the situation to improve.
“Sometimes, you have to be careful what you wish for,” Simpson said. “Leaders have to spend a lot of time protecting their leadership role and placating the extremes.”
Republicans aren’t divided on social issues alone. Gov.-elect Mike Pence’s signature campaign promise was to cut the state’s personal income-tax rate 10 percent. Bosma wants to hold that off because the state already is phasing out its inheritance tax and rolling back the corporate income tax.
Freshman lawmaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said he supports Pence’s tax cut, and he expects to be involved in a number of issues, including transportation and education.
As the former chief of staff to Tony Bennett, the ousted superintendent of public instruction, Huston said the state’s work on education reform isn’t finished, and he plans to file a couple of bills in that arena.
“The fact of the matter is, we have to be prepared to come in and help do the work,” Huston said. He believes those lawmakers who are ready to dig in will wield some influence.
Lobbyists didn’t wait for election results to start educating newcomers. Most of the freshmen from both parties were running unopposed or in partisan strongholds, after the 2011 redistricting prompted a wave of retirements.
Matt Norris, a Corydon Group lobbyist who works in favor of Sunday alcohol sales, said he’s already met with at least 20 lawmakers, and he found a lot of support in the 2012 class.
The new crop isn’t as interested as veterans in the historic turf battle between liquor stores, which oppose Sunday sales, and grocery and convenience retailers, Norris said.
“It’s a new set of eyes on these issues, a new thought process on these issues,” he said.
Lobbyists on more complex issues face an uphill battle. Opposition to President Obama’s massive health-insurance reform helped Indiana Republicans take the majority in the House in 2010, and the law remains hugely unpopular within the GOP.
Indiana will have to make big decisions about the reforms in the coming months, including whether to expand Medicaid coverage to low-income adults. While the law originally mandated the expansion in all states, the U.S. Supreme Court in June found the provision unconstitutional and gave states the right to opt out.
States also have the option of setting up their own health insurance exchanges, where many individuals and small businesses will shop for private coverage. The federal government will run the exchanges in states that don’t create their own.
Pence leans against expanding Medicaid, and doesn’t want Indiana to set up exchanges.
Insurers prefer states carry out the reforms, said Mike O’Brien, who lobbies for insurance companies at Bose Public Affairs Group. But he doubts the Legislature will get on board with that approach anytime soon.
O’Brien is still trying to build relationships.
“I spent a good chunk of summer traveling around the state, meeting candidates in some of these open seats,” he said. “So we try to start that process early.”
Republican Sen. Rodric Bray, who won the Morgan County seat vacated by his father, Richard Bray, said he’s met with a number of lobbyists throughout the campaign season. He saw the meetings as a way to start learning about issues.
A lawyer from Martinsville, Bray is interested in finding a solution to the shortage of road money. He’s also concerned about the Affordable Care Act and wants to advance the Republican majority’s goal of job creation.
But Bray has no idea where he’ll be assigned. “Wherever I land I’m going to be as productive and helpful as I can.”
Bosma lauded the wealth of business experience among House members, saying that makes them poised for job creation.
Two-thirds of the incoming reps are former or current business owners. That includes Steve Braun of Zionsville, who took his technology-consulting firm public in 1999 and now invests in startups and real estate.
Members of the central Indiana delegation also bring government experience—a background that can smooth out the learning curve for new members, Ross said.
Rep. John Price of Greenwood is a former chairman of the Johnson County Commission, a former county council member, and chief deputy of the sheriff’s department. He’s also president of JLP Enterprises and Irrigation Solutions.
Rep. Peggy Mayfield of Martinsville, who defeated Democrat Peggy Welch, is in her second term as Morgan County clerk. Her family also owns Mayfield Insurance.
Sen. Mike Crider, who won retiring Sen. Beverly Gard’s Hancock County seat, led the law-enforcement division at the state Department of Natural Resources.
Rep. Justin Moed, a Democrat who won the House district that Mary Ann Sullivan vacated in her unsuccessful bid to unseat Sen. Brent Waltz, is a former aide to ousted minority leader Rep. Pat Bauer. His top priority is to make a dent in the abandoned housing that plagues his south Indianapolis district.
“People are craving substance,” Moed said. He said that’s why his campaign literature included an eight-page plan.
Marion County Democrats gained two seats with the victories of Karlee Macer and Christina Hale, but the five-member contingent is entirely freshman.
Rep. Dan Forestal won in an east-side district long held by retiring Rep. John Day, and Robin Shackelford was unopposed after William Crawford, a longtime member of the Ways and Means Committee, opted to retire.
Republican Rep. Cindy Noe still has not conceded her north-side seat to Hale, who won by 44 votes, as she considers whether to request a recount. Assuming she keeps her victory, Hale, a former communications chief for Kiwanis International, said she’s undaunted by her lack of experience and the Republicans’ overwhelming majority.
Hale said she’s eager to work with Republicans on a mass-transit initiative and Pence’s plan for vocational education, which she supports.
“There’s a great deal of optimism in our class and certainly an ethic of working very hard,” Hale said. “We won our campaigns because of shoe leather and grass-roots, traditional politicking.”•