While the 2012 legislative session still has a few weeks to run (despite a decision by leadership to allow members, battered and bruised from the right-to-work battle, to head home a week earlier than the calendar originally dictated), it feels like the 2013 session—or at least jockeying over its direction—already has begun.
Much activity beyond the all-consuming right-to-work debate occurred largely out of the public eye before the Super Bowl-timed mid-session break. Almost 110 bills moved from the House to the Senate, and 140 were sent by the Senate to the House—virtually all of them with some degree of bipartisan support.
But with right-to-work now part of Indiana’s statutory law and some of the initial high-profile issues—such as the central Indiana mass transit referendum package—removed from the agenda, there was a palpable sense soon after lawmakers returned for the second half of the session that there simply wasn’t a great deal of critical work left this year.
However, that perception didn’t mean there wasn’t a considerable amount of important work ahead—far ahead.
The Feb. 10 filing deadline for legislators seeking re-nomination and re-election passed with an exceptionally high number of lawmakers hanging up their House cleats. As we head into the May primary elections, 12 Democrats and eight Republicans certainly will not return in the fall, and one Democrat and one Republican will face off in the same district in November, ensuring at least 21 new members.
By way of comparison, that figure tops even the amazing influx of freshmen from the 2010 elections. Several incumbents face serious May primary challenges, and others will undoubtedly be knocked out in November. So House turnover since the 2010 election undoubtedly will be the highest in any four-year cycle since front-engine cars ruled the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the two-handed set shot was standard fare on the Hoosier hardwood.
Committee chairmanships in the Senate will open in Energy and Environmental Affairs and in Judiciary, and how they are filled may unleash a cascade of musical chairs in other committees as well.
With the retirements of veteran Reps. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, and Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, the House loses a collective 80 years of seniority and service, and the top Republican and Democratic slots on the Committee on Ways and Means will open. At least two other House committee chairs will not return as well. Hopefuls are already seeking to impress leaders and colleagues in the final weeks of the session to aid their respective climbs up the food chain.
At the same time, there is a recognition within the House and its two party caucuses that the composition of both will change.
Indianapolis will lose Democratic members with some 90 years of House experience, and redistricting should allow Republicans to reduce urban influence in Lake, Marion and St. Joseph counties with increased suburban clout. Party caucuses will change, too, likely precipitating new members of the leadership team, and talk already is rampant about which internal blocs will control the balance of power within each caucus.
Perhaps most indicative of the impact of retiring lawmakers—including two Republican senators—is that none are championing any “one last piece of legislation” that will validate their respective years of service or leave a legacy.
They’ve already done so.
None of the departing veteran legislators has been a “show horse,” and they’ve each performed their work over the decades, gently leaving cumulative marks in each session, and this one is no different.
Even Espich has been tirelessly chairing a string of lengthy Ways and Means meetings, methodically cranking through largely technical and boring legislation—some new, some back for seemingly the umpteenth time—but all contributing to the body of law that is the stuff of government.
The sense of ennui is enlivened a bit by sub rosa maneuvering for position in the 2013 session, tactics not limited to the perquisites of personal advancement. Over the next two weeks, you should see solons seek to keep measures alive in the public spotlight and nudge some forward a bit on the 2013 session agenda by advocating for their inclusion in interim study committees this summer.
While it may seem the next few weeks will be devoid of major public policy debates you’re accustomed to expect as sessions wind down, rest assured that activity below the surface is already paving the way for intriguing major action in 2013.•
Feigenbaum publishes Indiana Legislative Insight. His column appears weekly when the General Assembly is in session. He can be reached at email@example.com.