Jennifer Wagner Chartier: Retirements, resignations offer fresh perspectives

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Jennifer Wagner“Should I stay, or should I go now?”

That seems to be the song lyric on the minds of so many elected officials these days.

Four out of nine members of Indiana’s congressional delegation are not seeking reelection this year.

Nearly a dozen elected officials at the Statehouse have announced they’re calling it quits, some leaving before the end of their terms.

A few of these folks are not actually leaving politics; they want to run for something else, and they have to step out of their current roles to seek new ones.

But for those who are leaving for real, a question presents itself: Is it a positive or a negative to have so much political turnover?

On one hand, there’s an argument to be made that the longer someone is in office, the more they understand how the system works and can advocate successfully for their constituents back home.

If you’ve spent any time working in government, you know it can sometimes feel like stepping through the looking glass. You’ve got to get to know the people, the protocol and the power structure. Things aren’t always as you think they would or should be.

Seasoned lawmakers possess a deep understanding of the legislative process, historical context and the intricacies of policy issues. Their departure can create a void that might take time for newer members to fill, potentially leading to a less-effective and less-efficient legislative body.

There is a certain level of machine-like consistency that accompanies longevity. That said, unless they are redesigned, machines make the same thing over and over.

The average time served in the current Congress is 8.5 years in the U.S. House and 11.2 years in the U.S. Senate, but that’s just the average. There are members who’ve been there a whole lot longer. And the same is true at the state level.

When I got started as a reporter, the House speaker at the time was someone first elected a decade before I was born. He served a total of 50 years in office.

Beyond time served, consider that, according to analysis by FiveThirtyEight, the median age of the 118th Congress is 59. The average age in the U.S. House is 58. The average age in the U.S. Senate is 65.

The average ages of House and Senate leaders at the state level are slightly lower, but there historically hasn’t been a lot of room at the table for younger folks in state and federal elected office.

Legislator retirements can pave the way for fresh perspectives and new ideas. Turnover allows for the introduction of diverse viewpoints and potentially a more dynamic and innovative legislative body.

Younger politicians entering the fray might bring a different set of experiences and priorities, fostering a more responsive government that reflects evolving societal views and values.

Regardless of the reason, political departures create a void that takes time to fill and might disrupt established networks and relationships. In an ideal world, incoming politicians will be aware of that potential loss and work to connect with their peers to connect where they are able.

The bottom line: Whenever there’s a vacancy on the ballot or via caucus, there’s an opportunity for someone new to step in. You might think that’s a great thing. Or you might yearn for the days of yore when politicians stayed in their roles for life. Either way, there will be a lot of doors opening in 2024—and potentially beyond—for those looking to get in the Hoosier political game.•

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Chartier is a lifelong Indianapolis resident and owner of Mass Ave Public Relations. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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