House speaker, ex-health chairman clash over demotion

The former chairman of the Indiana House health committee blames his removal from the position on his policy differences with fellow Republicans, a claim the GOP House speaker disputes.

Speaker Brian Bosma said he demoted Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany because of "rudeness" in his dealings with committee members and others. Bosma announced last week that Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer of Indianapolis was replacing Clere as the committee's leader.

Clere said he's proud of his work as chairman and called Bosma's explanation a "character assassination."

Clere was the main sponsor of the bill allowing county needle-exchange programs for intravenous drug users approved by the Legislature this year following an HIV outbreak in rural southern Indiana. Gov. Mike Pence initially didn't support the move. Clere had previously pushed for an expansion of Indiana's Medicaid program that was opposed by Pence and many Republican legislators.

Clere said Bosma called him last week to warn him about his demotion.

"He told me that he and other members of the House Republican caucus were upset with me about a number of controversial issues and my stance on those issues," Clere told the News and Tribune.

Bosma said the decision had nothing to do with Clere's position on issues but with how he treated other legislators, Pence administration officials and the public.

"I have had more complaints about how a chairman deals with those entities …. about Ed than I have about any other committee chairman or ranking member than I have appointed in my 15 years as the Republican leader," Bosma said.

Bosma also said he didn't want to talk publicly about Clere's removal but changed his mind "since Ed has chosen to paint a different picture."

Clere, who was health chairman for three years, also sponsored a bill that would've established goals for increasing vaccination rates among Indiana teenagers for the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV, that's blamed for causing most cases of cervical cancer. That bill failed after facing opposition from the Pence administration and social conservatives.

IBJ reported Nov. 17 that's Clere's removal as health chairman could give a boost to proposed legislation that would make prescriptions necessary to obtain some cold medicines in an effort to fight a growing meth problem. Clere opposed such legislation in the past, but Bosma recently changed his position on the issue.

Beth Meyerson, co-director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention for the Indiana University School of Public Health, said she worked closely with Clere on the needle exchange and HPV vaccination bills.

"He really worked very hard to make sure the science was clear so his colleagues would know how to make decisions," Meyerson said.

She called Bosma's decision to remove Clere a vendetta for not marching to an "ideological drum."

"He is a great public health leader. We were so lucky to have him as chair," Meyerson said. "I am absolutely flummoxed and deeply disappointed."

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