State Government and Elections and Politics and Government & Economic Development and Government

GOP sets sights on maintaining supermajorities

May 7, 2014

After most Indiana lawmakers survived their primary contests, Republicans turn their focus to November as they try to maintain majorities in the General Assembly that are so large even a Democratic walkout can't stop them from passing legislation.

Republicans, who control the House 69-31, hope to retain the supermajority they gained in 2012 that allows them to conduct business without any Democrats present. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, hope to build on a 37-13 supermajority. In the House, the Democrats would have to win at least three seats to break the supermajority and in the Senate they would have to win at least four seats.

House Democrats effectively filibustered debate on a divisive right-to-work measure by walking out in 2011 and 2012, denying Republicans the numbers of lawmakers needed to conduct business. But achieving a supermajority took away that threat from Democrats.

But in the GOP battle to keep the supermajorities, Democrats may have a slight edge heading into November, said Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne. Because so few Democratic candidates faced primary challenges Tuesday, they are able to focus their time and money squarely on November's general election, he said.

"I'd be willing to bet the Democrats are feeling somewhat optimistic because they actually have people who even today can be thinking about what they're doing for November," he said.

All nine congressional incumbents won their primaries Tuesday, as did most Statehouse veterans. But social conservatives' displeasure over votes that kept a constitutional ban on gay marriage off the November ballot helped tea party candidates oust Reps. Rebecca Kubacki of Syracuse and Kathy Heuer of Columbia City. State Sen. John Waterman also lost.

Compared to two years earlier, when U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar was ousted in the Republican primary, Tuesday's election was subdued, with low turnout reflecting the lack of statewide races on the ballot. Even the contentious battle over whether to amend the state's gay marriage ban into the constitution was silenced for this year, leaving voters more worried about the economy and jobs.

"We don't have any real new jobs. We haven't in how long? That doesn't mean we're not creating jobs. But jobs that actually pay enough for people to live off of," said Bruce Jones, 51, a stock broker who was voting in South Bend.

Republicans could turn their focus to bread-and-butter issues rather than social ones. Despite a grueling gay marriage battle at the Statehouse just a few months ago, the issue wasn't much of a factor in Tuesday's outcomes.

"It wasn't even important to me as long as my needs were met in terms of our young person and the safety of our city. Those trumped everything," said Willie Gupton, 49, of Indianapolis, executive director of Kaleidoscope Youth Center.

What did strike a chord was the need to make ends meet.

Indiana's unemployment rate has dropped sharply in the past year, something Gov. Mike Pence consistently points out. But the state's median income, a measure used to gauge how the middle class is performing, has also declined.

"There are jobs, but you've gotta have three or four jobs to make it," said Nina Whitsey, 74, of Indianapolis.

A study from the Tax Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C.-based think tank, found that the average tax burden for Hoosiers crept up from 2001-2011 while incomes dropped. Pence's staff says the numbers don't take into account tax cuts signed by the governor.

Republicans have won sizable gains inside the Statehouse in the last two cycles. They won back the House from Democrats in 2010 and built on that lead in 2012, achieving a supermajority for the first time in decades. The recipe for Republicans is to keep doing what they've been doing, said Pete Seat, an Indiana Republican operative and former party spokesman.

"First, you focus on and highlight the results of legislation that has been previously passed, the positive effects of those policies, and second is continuing offering ideas for the future," Seat said. "I think that's how Republicans have been successful in the past several cycles."

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