Political Notebook

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No. 2 Democrat defies caucus, gets demoted

A leadership shakeup rocked the House Democratic caucus last week as Rep. Chet Dobis, D-Merrillville, lost his post after refusing to fall in line on a vote.

Interestingly, one of Dobis’ biggest defenders in the aftermath is Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The issue at hand was a transportation bill that would affect an important road project in Dobis’ district. But he was kept out of the loop on the bill and resented a provision that would jeopardize his project.

So he refused to go along with the Democratic caucus on the bill, which then died.

House Speaker Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, took away Dobis’ position as speaker pro tempore – the No. 2 role in the House – within just a few days and added Rep. Trent Van Haaften of Mount Vernon to the leadership team instead.

“He knew the minute he took an action that was not part of the leadership description,” Bauer said of Dobis’ demotion.

But he also said that Dobis would retain his front-row seat in the chamber and his office.

“His seniority and good service deserve that,” Bauer said.

Dobis has been in the legislature since 1970.

The turn of events puts the Democratic caucus in a precarious situation. Democrats hold a 52-48 majority but one member has missed the entire session with an illness. That means if Dobis strays on future votes, the Democrats could not pass bills without Republican help.

Daniels called it a “strange situation” and said that Dobis was trying to create jobs in his district and another legislator from central Indiana wrote a bill trying to dictate terms to him.

Bump in the night

Gov. Mitch Daniels was sporting a black eye last week at the Statehouse and opened his weekly meeting with reporters by immediately clearing up any rumors floating around.

“Absolutely no drama about this. It has nothing to do with motorcycles, it’s not spousal abuse. I want to defend Cheri on this,” he said, referring to first lady Cheri Daniels.

“I was in an unfamiliar house in the dark, and I banged into a protruding box off of a bathroom door that I didn’t know was there.”

Daniels said the accident happened while he was visiting friends in Arizona.

Pence for prez?

Anytime a politician takes a trip to Iowa or New Hampshire, bells go off because the two states conduct the first tests of presidential candidates. So there’s quite a clanging noise around the news that Rep. Mike Pence, R-6th, will be the headliner at a Republican dinner March 19 in New Hampshire.

The Hillsborough County Republican Committee is charging $125 a head for the Lincoln-Reagan Gala that features Pence, who’s No. 3 in the House GOP leadership.

It’s not the first time that Pence’s travel schedule sparked speculation about his 2012 presidential ambitions. He visited Iowa last summer and also has appeared before GOP groups in Ohio, South Carolina, Florida, North Carolina, Kentucky and Nebraska.

Journal Gazette Washington Editor Sylvia A. Smith contributed to this column.

To reach Political Notebook by e-mail, contact Benjamin Lanka at blanka@jg.net or Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. To discuss this entry of Political Notebook or others, go to the Political Notebook topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net.

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