JEFFERSONVILLE — The recently closed 2019 legislative session for the Indiana General Assembly was business as usual for many of Southern Indiana's more seasoned lawmakers.
For OBGYN-turned-politician Rep. Rita Fleming, D-Jeffersonville, it was her first shot at tackling the legislative process. In November 2018, Fleming won a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives serving District 71, replacing longtime representative Steve Stemler.
Prior to making her way to Indianapolis, Fleming did her best to get a feel for how business was conducted. Much of the process, she discovered, is learned through interactions with other lawmakers from around the state.
“I’ve never run for office before, so this was a new experience," Fleming said. "I did a lot of homework to learn the process and protocols. I talked to people who were in office before to learn how things were done at the state level. I have to say, it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of research, it’s a lot of reading bills, and it’s a lot of making friends and forming liaisons. You have to find out what people have in common and what is different in areas of our state. Talking to people from rural parts of the state helped me understand what they could have in common with my mostly urban district."
Through these interactions, Fleming was able to build bridges between the different cultures found throughout the state. This allowed her to hit on issues that would not only be beneficial for residents of her district, but for all Hoosiers.
In order for anything productive to come out of these relationships, however, Fleming acknowledged that politics plays a significant role.
“When I have an idea for a bill, I need to get support for that early on from both sides of the aisle," Fleming said. "As Democrats, we are minority members. Being a Democrat, it’s hard to get your bill heard in committee. I’m going to work with committee chairs. We’re only allowed to submit five bills in the shortened session, so I’m going to be selective. I’m going to find people that agree with me on issues that are positive for the state overall and for our district."
Additionally, Fleming learned much about what makes her district stand out compared to other regions of the state.
“I consider myself to be very lucky to represent our area," Fleming said. "I think we do things well, but you can always improve. Our growth is great, and our people are friendly. People don’t only want to chat with us, but people want to come and live here with us."
What makes this part of the state so special, Fleming recognized, is the people. Moving forward, Fleming said she is going to take time to listen to her constituents on the issues that matter most to them and, in turn, fight for them at the state level.
“Looking back, I need to talk to people in the community and learn what’s on their mind and how they think I did," Fleming said. "Ultimately, it’s those people that I’m representing, so I should be listening to them about how I can best serve them."