Huntington GOP Rep. Dan Leonard met with his likely new state legislator Friday – Lorissa Sweet defeated him in May, ending his 20-year legislative career.
But he wants to keep her in the loop on what might be a historic special session – the last votes he will take and ones he didn’t expect to be making.
“I don’t think I will approach the issue any differently than I would have had I been reelected as a candidate,” he said. “It’s just going to be a very contentious, very tense session. And I don’t know that I’m looking forward to it.”
Leonard is one of 17 lawmakers casting votes during Indiana’s upcoming special legislative session who will not return to the Statehouse in 2023.
Eleven of these lame-duck elected officials chose not to run for reelection. Another six lawmakers — all Republicans — lost their seats to primary challengers in May. The defeated legislators are especially in an interesting position because under the usual legislative schedule, no votes are taken after a primary election.
Delegate vs. trustee
Although Indiana’s GOP supermajority is likely to find consensus on anticipated bills targeting abortion and inflation relief, Andrew Downs, an associate professor of political science at Purdue University Fort Wayne, said those legislators who won’t be returning could help shape discourse around those issues “without having as much to lose.”
“The voters have spoken, and yes, elected officials continue to be elected officials until they are replaced,” he said. “But for some of these lawmakers, it begs the question, should you really be violating what the voters have told you they want or don’t want?”
Downs said these lawmakers whose last act as elected officials will play out during the special session will have to decide whether to act as trustees or delegates.
For delegates, that will mean doing what they “believe is right,” and banking on voters’ trust placed in them, he said: “You operate on, ‘vote me out of office when you no longer trust me.’”
Those opting for the trustee route will opt to advocate for what their districts want, “respecting and representing what the voters told you.”
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb initially called for legislators to convene for a special legislative session to consider a taxpayer refund on July 6 but leadership delayed the start date until July 25 to give themselves more time to craft anti-abortion legislation.
It’s uncertain where Republican lawmakers will land on abortion-related bills, but possible proposals include a full ban on the procedure. Holcomb has maintained that the legislature should green-light a second automatic taxpayer refund, which would see $1 billion distributed to Hoosier taxpayers via $225 checks.
What lawmakers have to say
Following a nearly 30-year career as a state lawmaker, Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, is retiring from his role as the state’s lead budget writer.
While Brown said he is not approaching the special session “any differently than any other session,” he noted that this time around, he doesn’t “have to run on what I ultimately decide and vote on.”
“Maybe I’m a little bit more bipartisan thinking in this,” he said, referring to bills on abortion and inflation that will be proposed in the special session. “We need to think of the state of Indiana as a whole. We need to come to a consensus.”
Leonard was unseated after 10 terms in the General Assembly by Wabash County Councilwomnan Sweet. And he thinks the abortion debate isn’t likely to end at the fall of the gavel in August.
“I will almost guarantee you that there will be changes in it in January,” he said, referring to abortion-restricting legislation being spearheaded by Republicans. “All the things that are coming — just one thing after another after another — it’s kind of overwhelming, and I don’t know how we can possibly pass a bill that will cover all aspects of this social issue.”
Retirement won’t change the approach
Rep. Doug Gutwein said he’s “kind of happy to be a part of what’s coming up,” though. The Republican from Francesville is retiring this year after fulfilling his current term as state representative.
“It’s a very important topic, and I know how I feel, and I want to be a voice, and I want to be heard,” Gutwein said. “The people I represent probably talk to me more about this topic in the last few weeks than in the 14 years I have been there.”
Gutwein added that his constituents “are on both sides of the issue – some more polite than others.”
“That’s okay. I’ve been around long enough. It’s a very interesting time in my life for sure. I think they are happy to have me speaking for them,” he said, noting that he’s “happy to cast a vote that is very important” and “about life.”
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.”