BY MAUREEN HAYDEN
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ “freight train of change” appears to be back on track, thanks to major victories that have put Republicans back in control of the Indiana Statehouse.
A day after Indiana voters put the GOP in charge of the House and Senate, Republican leaders vowed to help Daniels deliver on an agenda of sweeping reforms to education and state and local government, deliver a balanced budget without a tax increase and do it with what the new House leader called “unprecedented civility.”
“Buckle up, you’re going to see some things you’ve never seen before,” House Speaker-elect Brian Bosma said at a news conference in the Statehouse on Wednesday.
Delivering a balanced budget won’t be easy, given a projected $1 billion deficit that will face legislators when they convene in January to carve out a two-year budget.
“This is an occasion of both joy and gravity,” Bosma said, acknowledging the work ahead.
“These are great challenges; perhaps the most significant faced in recent generations, but out of great challenges come great opportunities. House Republicans heard what the voters had to say. We pledge to restore open debate, transparency and bipartisan cooperation to the process.”
That last pledge — bipartisan cooperation — might not be easy to deliver on. Bosma’s comments at the news conference were laced with criticism of Democrats, who up until Tuesday controlled the House with a 54-46 majority.
Tuesday’s election flipped the power in the House, with 59 of the 100 seats going to Republicans. The election also gave Republicans a two-thirds “super majority” in the Senate, meaning they can carry on business even if Democrats don’t show up.
Bosma and Daniels have been critical of Democratic leadership, in particular House Speaker Patrick Bauer. They’ve blamed him for blocking his fellow Democrats from working with Republicans on major issues, including the budget.
But during a caucus meeting of the surviving and newly elected Democrats on Wednesday, Bauer was chosen as the House minority leader, returning him to the position of nemesis to the Republicans.
The shift in power is expected to clear the way for Daniels to continue on a path of change launched six years ago when Republicans controlled the Statehouse.
That’s when he created the Major Moves leasing of the Indiana Toll Road and pushed the state onto daylight-saving time.
This time around, his plans for education reform — including merit pay for teachers — are expected to receive support from Republicans in the Statehouse who signed a pre-election pact promising, among other things, performance pay for high-performing teachers.
Social issues — including a proposed ban on same-sex marriage and more limits on abortion — took a back seat Wednesday, but Bosma acknowledged that those issues might arise in the next session.
“We’ve pledged to let the democratic process work,” he said.
— Maureen Hayden is statehouse bureau chief for CNHI’s Indiana newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org