Speaker Bosma’s reach across the aisle

Dobis was willing to work with Gov. Mitch Daniels on such issues as the Northwest Redevelopment Authority and the Illiana Expressway. He also broke ranks with B. Patrick Bauer last winter on a local issue, and was rebuked, losing his leadership position. He returned fire by calling Bauer “paranoid” and suggesting that the powerful Bauer had lost his way, particularly in his view of Gov. Mitch Daniels. “I think he must see him in his dreams because he’s always lurking in the shadows even when he’s not even around,” Dobis told the Times of Northwest Indiana’s Dan Carden. “You don’t get positive things done that way.”

The fact that Dobis comes from the most government-bloated and corrupt corner of Indiana suggested a shrewd twist in Bosma’s olive branch.

Daniels, in an e-mail from Japan, reacted by saying, “The Speaker has set the perfect tone for a session of enormous importance and promise. The best and most enduring reforms happen on a bipartisan basis. The two new Chairmen are outstanding members for whom I’ve come to have the highest regard. Great move.”

Bauer was unimpressed and grumpy, telling the Louisville Courier-Journal that the olive branch “had thorns.” Instead of seeing it as a reach across the aisle, Bauer saw it as a scheme to blame Democrats for a session that is crowded with gloomy fiscal realities and fraught with policy dangers to the status quo he so ardently defends. He also thought that he, not Bosma, should have selected the chairs from his caucus.

It’s easy to fathom such a mindset after watching a 52-48 Democratic majority obliterated in the Nov. 2 tidal wave. With a 60-member caucus – the largest since there were 62 Republicans that came out of the 1984 Reagan landslide – Bosma attempted to dramatically change the dynamic.

“To demonstrate my commitment to bipartisanship, for the first time – to my knowledge – in state history, a Speaker of the Indiana House will reach across the aisle and appoint two members of the minority party to serve as committee chairs,” Bosma said. 

Bosma told Howey Politics Indiana he decided to extend chairs to Democrats two months ago. “I’ve spoken with both Republicans and Democratic members of the House,” Bosma explained. “They said the model we’re currently operating under – the partisan model of secrecy and backroom decisions and notifying everyone else – just doesn’t work. I firmly believe the message sent by the public was not an endorsement of the Republicans or a condemnation of Democrats. It was a condemnation of the system. I am pledging to change this little piece of it in the Indiana House. I want to dramatically change what’s happened over the last three or four years.”

Both Democrats quickly accepted the posts. “It’s a daunting task obviously,” Dobis said after Bosma had described how Indiana code books had expanded from five and a half volumes in 1976 to 21 “in fine print that have buried employers, municipalities and schools.” 

This move, along with Gov. Daniels intent to analyze the state’s burgeoning criminal code that is quickly filling up jails and prisons could represent that most significant revamp of state government since Gov. Evan Bayh consolidated safety net agencies into FSSA and Gov. Paul McNutt worked to rein in the state’s mish-mash bureaucracy in 1933-34. Bosma wants Dobis and the committee to “take a look at the hundreds of commissions and boards” and determine whether their existence is justified.

“I am extremely excited about the Select Committee on Government Reduction,” Bosma said. “It will have the opportunity to put Indiana even more firmly on the economic development map if we undertake a strong, sincere effort to deregulate. It will capture the attention of the rest of the country.”

“It’s a pretty broad assignment,” said Dobis. “I’m hoping that some institutional history and experience … will allow me to make this a better place than when I got here.”

Bosma tweaked Bauer over what he called “bare knuckled” campaign methods aimed at his caucus members, including many freshmen who had been characterized as abortion pill pushers, polluting coal miners and womanizing prosecutors. Some Democrats, like State Rep. Scott Reske, D-Pendleton, were also the target of unseemly GOP mailers. Bosma described it as his “personal, top goal to make every effort to restore civility and respect for each other.”

This comes as Indiana’s jobless rate has hovered around 10 percent for more than two years, its Unemployment Trust fund is billions of dollars in the hole and there is a budget deficit that could go as high as $1.3 billion.

Worried Hoosiers expect Republicans and Democrats to spend the next year clearly focused on solving problems and not eyeing the 2012 elections.

We should hope that not only Bosma follows through on these early moves, but that lawmakers in Washington take heed.

(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com)

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