House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said Thursday he’s to blame – not President Barack Obama or the Indiana Democratic Party – for losses on Election Day that let his caucus slide to just 29 out of 100 members in the chamber.
Pelath didn’t offer specifics, saying simply that it’s “my responsibility.” And despite his self-effacing comments, the House Democratic caucus reelected him to be its leader. Afterwards, the Michigan City lawmaker pledged that the next election will be different.
“Not every election goes as we would like,” Pelath said. But “we feel very good about the course we have set for the Indiana Democratic party. You know, 2016 is going to be a very, very different election.”
He predicted that Hillary Clinton would lead the ticket as a presidential nominee with candidates for governor and U.S. Senate on the ballot as well. This year, the secretary of state’s race was the top battle.
“It will be an entirely different universe of voters,” Pelath said. “And we’re well positioned to appeal to the center of this state for a new direction.”
The smaller caucus – which as recently as 2010 controlled the chamber – met Thursday for the first time since Democrats were walloped nationwide in Tuesday’s election. Pelath said that given the “carnage” across the country, the Indiana outcome could have been worse.
On Thursday, the caucus made one leadership change, electing Rep. John Bartlett of Indianapolis to serve as the minority caucus chair. Rep. Linda Lawson of Hammond returns as the minority floor leader.
Pelath promised that despite losing two seats this week, the caucus will remain relevant. He said Democrats will continue to look for divisions within the Republican majority and exploit them to stop the most conservative members of the House from prevailing on legislation involving social and other issues.
He pointed to legislation passed last year to authorize tax increases for mass transit in central Indiana, something he said would have failed if not for Democratic support. And he said Hoosiers would have been voting Tuesday on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage had Democrats not worked with moderate Republicans to keep it off the ballot this year.
Pelath acknowledged that Democrats in Indiana might have fared better had they let the marriage proposal pass as written because it would likely have boosted turnout among Democrats, moderates and younger voters. But he said that would have been inappropriate and cynical.
Pelath also said that despite differences between the parties, he expects to work with House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, on several key issues, including ethics reform legislation that’s expected to require more financial disclose by lawmakers.
The larger Republican caucus met Wednesday and reelected Bosma as its leader. The speaker said he doesn’t plan to reduce the number of Democrats serving on committees or their staff, even though the margins would allow it. But the GOP supermajority means Republicans can make a quorum even if Democrats don’t show up in the chamber, which strips more power from the minority caucus.
Bosma urged his members to “tread lightly” with Democrats.
“While it was a substantial win for Republicans last evening, I’ve been on both sides of these caucus wins,” Bosma said on Wednesday. “And there were some good people that weren’t reelected and that’s not easy.”