Saturday, March 02, 2019 1:00 am
Taking the Long view: Legislative vet advises newcomers
Twenty-seven percent of state legislators in the U.S. this year are in their first term, so the National Conference of State Legislatures tapped some veteran and newly retired lawmakers for advice. Former Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long was among the lawmakers asked to contribute to the organization's podcast.
His biggest surprise as a freshman legislator? The sheer volume of issues and information.
“I was a city councilman for eight years before I became a state senator, so I was used to working on local government issues,” Long told “Our American States” host Gene Rose. “But you're confronted with so much more. It's a steep learning curve. ... The key is to work hard and learn your trade and it will come to you; it will become more familiar in time. But it's a whole lot out of that fire hose at first and everyone goes through that.”
The state senator, who resigned mid-term to become a partner in Ice Miller's Public Affairs Group last year, pointed to an annexation law he sponsored as an early accomplishment.
“I had an annexation law in Indiana; it was kind of one-sided on the side of government and I had had some of those issues up in my district, very contentious,” he said, referring to the Aboite Township annexation battle. “So I attacked that law and in my third year, I probably had the biggest change in annexation law in the history of our state, and it was not without a real fight.”
Long said he learned never to accept the idea that something will “never happen.”
“I've seen an awful lot of change in my state with issues that people said would never change, you'll never get that done, or if you do, you'll get voted out of office,” he said. “And the reality is it's not true. You can tackle tough issues, but you have to work at it sometimes to get it accomplished.”
Long criticized Fort Wayne City Councilcolleagues in insisting “there are no slackers” in the General Assembly.
“There were three of us that ran a nine-person city council before,” he said. “That wasn't the case in the state legislature. Everyone can carry the water down there.”
On responding to constituents' concerns:
“They want a response to their email immediately, and they have access to you, and that's a good thing for the public. It's a tough thing for the legislator because it can overwhelm you. ... But you need to respond. And you can't ignore your constituents. If you do it's to your peril because they'll remember. So as much as it's an irritant sometimes when you feel swamped and overwhelmed, stay in touch with the people who brought you to the dance.”
On building relationships with colleagues:
“I made the mistake of walking in on an income tax law and talking to our finance chairman and telling him how dumb aspects of it were. He was generous enough to sit down with me and talk about it. I asked him who wrote the law and he said: I did. It took me a while to overcome that. He was not pleased with the whippersnapper coming in there and telling him how to do things.”
“Remember, lobbyists can be a very good source of information. It may be one-sided, but it is information, and it's up to you to sort through that.”
And, on the media:
“The modern legislator will not be facing as much media scrutiny as in the past because, simply, the media has changed and there's not as much coverage of statehouses as there used to be just because there aren't as many newspapers, TV stations, etc. (They) have lower/smaller budgets. It's a good and bad thing. But in its place comes the podcast, comes your Twitter account, comes your social media, your Facebook. So you have a little more control over the message. It's important to use those tools.”