House Speaker Brian Bosma used the ceremonial opening of Indiana's legislative session Tuesday to call for bipartisanship, even though Republicans now enjoy a supermajority that largely allows them to circumvent Democrats to push through their plans.
The GOP speaker cited his father, Charles Bosma, working across the aisle with Democratic U.S. Rep. Andre Carson's grandmother, Julia Carson, and delivering services for the disabled when they served together in the state Senate in the late 1970s and 1980s. Those two were known as they "odd couple," and Bosma said he'd like to see that concept revived in the current session.
He then ticked off a list of priorities, including funding early childhood education, approving performance-based pay for teachers and schools, and training more science and math teachers.
"Where is the odd couple in this room that will set political differences aside, and concentrate on giving Hoosier families that want early childhood education but can't afford it, the opportunity that most of us in this room enjoy?" he asked the group.
Lawmakers took care of some official business during the informal opening known as "organization day," although the major work won't begin until they return on Jan. 7. The Legislature must draw up a new biennial budget, ponder options with the federal health care law, adjust to a new governor for the first time in eight years and balance all other issues ranging from education to gay marriage.
Indiana's state senators met earlier Tuesday afternoon for a brief session marked by the swearing in of four new members and the formal re-election of Fort Wayne Republican David Long as Senate president pro tem.
The 2012 elections dealt House Republicans a powerful hand, granting them enough seats to push through legislation even if Democrats walk out, as they did in the last two sessions. Since the election Bosma, and the newly-elected Democratic House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, have stuck to a collegial tone.
"Politics is a very difficult business, and the best metaphor is family. Sometimes families bicker, sometimes families argue, sometimes families hurt each other's feelings. But we are a family and we share a vision for Indiana that we're going to articulate," Pelath said.
Just below the surface of Tuesday's celebratory and light-hearted atmosphere were some signs that more bickering is on its way. Education is likely to be a flashpoint again, two years after Republicans approved sweeping changes to the state's education system.
Bosma's introduction Tuesday of families sitting in the House gallery which had received school vouchers prompted hearty applause from Republican lawmakers sitting on one side of the chamber, and silence from Democrats sitting on the other side.
Pelath pointed out that Democrat Glenda Ritz's stunning victory over Republican Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett was a call from voters to hit the brakes on school vouchers, merit pay and other changes. But some Republicans, including Gov.-elect Mike Pence, have argued the decision to turn Bennett out of office had nothing to do with those policies. More than 9,300 families signed up for vouchers for the 2012-13 school year.
"Certainly we would like from the majority party some reflection on the changes that have been made, some realization that the public has not been entirely sold on some of their recent cuts to traditional public schools," Pelath said.