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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, May 06, 2018 1:00 am

Why caucuses seat many state lawmakers

NIKI KELLY and BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

When state lawmakers come back May 14 for their special session, 29 of the 150 serving will have come into office by caucus instead of an election, according to an analysis by a Republican insider on a legislative history blog.

That 19 percent is essentially the same as a study The Journal Gazette did in 2013.

But Trevor Foughty, a former campaign aide and Indiana University's government relations and communications director, dug deeper into the stats on his Capitol & Washington political blog.

Some background: Indiana's original Constitution gave the governor the ability to call for a special election to fill state legislative vacancies. But that was rarely done because the General Assembly met only two months every other year and there wasn't much urgency.

In 1972 – after lawmakers had started meeting every year – Hoosier voters approved a constitutional amendment that allowed the General Assembly to set the method for filling vacancies.

Ultimately, that was the start of caucuses, where precinct members from a district choose a successor to fill an unexpired term within 30 days. That process led to the average time of vacancy plummeting to just 20 days in both chambers, Foughty found.

He identified the non-political reasons for vacancies as death, leaving to assume another elected office and appointment to a non-elected post. 

The latter two reasons have driven up vacancies.

“It's worth noting, however, that those numbers can be slightly misleading: While 27 vacancies have been created by a member assuming another elected office, 12 of those were from House members winning caucuses for Senate vacancies (and 10 of those 12 first came into the General Assembly at the ballot box; only Sens. Dennis Kruse and Vaneeta Becker have gone into both chambers by caucus),” Foughty said on his blog.

“So rather than members leaving the General Assembly for greener pastures, members simply switching chambers is the most common reason for this sort of vacancy: Only six were vacated by members heading to Congress; five from members winning local elections; two from members being elected Lt. Governor; and two from members being appointed to statewide office.”

Foughty has posted a running list of vacancies and caucuses at www.capitolandwashington.com.

Election watch

The Allen County Democratic and Republican parties will gather – at separate sites, of course – Tuesday in Fort Wayne to watch returns from the primary elections.

Democrats will have a watch party from 6 to 10 p.m. at Bergstaff Place, 2020 E. Washington Blvd. Sandwiches, snacks, and a cash bar will be available.

Republicans will have a watch party beginning at 5:30 p.m. at GOP headquarters, 135 W. Main St., Fort Wayne. Snacks and a cash bar will be available.

Republicans will have their traditional post-election Coney dog lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at GOP headquarters.

Dancing the day away

At a recent voter education event in Fort Wayne, a group of children got into a dance-off with some local politicians.

We don't have to tell you who won.

The Voter Education Picnic at Packard Park on April 28 featured Democrat Jim Harper, who seeks the Democratic nomination for Indiana secretary of state at the party's state convention in June, as well as Democrat Jorge Fernandez, a House District 50 candidate.

Harper, in a puffy coat and glasses, tried unsuccessfully to keep up with the kids. In a Facebook live video, the announcer says, “The kids vs. the politicians. She's breaking it down on Jim Harper.”

State Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, joins in, but his dancing can only be described as bouncing and kicking.

It didn't seem to matter to the kids, though, who enjoyed the event.

You can find the video at www.facebook.com/roderick.parker.3762/videos/1974509452878008/.

To reach Political Notebook by email, contact Brian Francisco at bfrancisco@jg.net or Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. An expanded Political Notebook can be found as a daily blog at www.journalgazette.net/politicalnotebook.