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What Does A Supermajority In Indiana Mean For State Policy?

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>>BOB ZALTSBERG: ...Edition. I'm your host Bob Zaltsberg cohosting with Sara Wittmeyer, WFIU's News bureau chief. Today, we're talking about election night which was Tuesday and following incoming results. And we're going to look at what the impact of the election will be on Hoosiers. We have four guests with us today. Laura Wilson is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Indianapolis. Brandon Smith is Indiana Public Media State House reporter. Senator Greg Taylor from District 33 is the leader of the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus and Senator Rodric Bray is from District 37. He's a Republican and he's the Senate president pro tem. You can follow us on Twitter at Noon Edition. You can send us questions there. You can also send us questions for the show at Thank you to the panel for joining us today. It should be a pretty lively conversation. I want to start by just asking each of you to give me a takeaway from this year's election. And I'm going to start with Laura Wilson from the University of Indianapolis. Laura? 

>>LAURA WILSON: Yeah. Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here. And thanks for picking me to go first because I get the easiest. There's so many things to talk about. I am going to take the easiest option. And I think the biggest takeaway on the whole is looking at voter turnout. And no doubt people were really invigorated, I think, in 2020 in terms of politics. Whether you were angry or excited, enthusiastic or perturbed, whatever it might have been, we saw great numbers in the polls. And I don't know that I wish 2020 to happen all over again, but the voter turnout numbers look great. The projections from The Washington Post estimate it might be as high as 66% which would be darn near record-breaking. Many states, including Indiana, were projected to exceed our 40-year records. You even had states like Wisconsin, for example, that had over 80% or close to 80% voter turnout. So just say one of the biggest takeaways I have is looking at that voter turnout, there's a lot of analysis we could do as to understanding why and how. But it seems obviously incredible numbers of voter turnout, a lot of people caring, a lot of people participating, which is always going to be good for democracy. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. I'm going to go next to Brandon Smith from Indiana Public Media. Brandon? 

>>BRANDON SMITH: Hey, thanks for having me on. The biggest takeaway from the election for me was what a disappointing result it was if you're a Democrat in Indiana. And this is not unique to Indiana. We saw this in a lot of places where Democrats, particularly, I think about the state House. Democrats looked to break the supermajority in the House, which they only technically needed to flip one seat net in order to do that. And instead, Republicans strengthened their supermajority by four seats. That's a really disappointing performance for Democrats going into the election when they thought they were going to make more progress. Now, they did chip away slightly at the supermajority in the Senate with them able to flip a Republican seat in the Indianapolis area. But overall, and if you look at the disappointing results for Democrats on a statewide level, with Dr. Woody Myers getting blown out in the governor's race with Jonathan Weinzapfel really not making it close and the attorney general's race. I think the biggest takeaway for me was how surprising it was to see how dismal, quite frankly - I don't know another word to use it - the performance was for Democrats in a lot of places across Indiana. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Senator Taylor, you're the leader of the Senate - the Indiana House Democratic Caucus. What were your takeaways? 

>>GREG TAYLOR: One, you know, like Laura said, first of all, I think it was great that we had higher voter turnout in the country, let alone the state of Indiana than we've ever had. That being said, I would have to also agree with Brandon that there was a performance that, as a Democrat, we probably need to rethink how we do our campaigns. But that being said, we have an opportunity as a state of Indiana that we're going to be redrawing the districts. One of the components of losing a district is the fact that we have districts that have been drawn that way. I'm not saying that Republicans were the only one to do it. Democrats did it in the past. And I think it's time for a new system to be put in place so that we do have some parity, and we do have ideas that can be heard from each side of the aisle. No one, and I mean no one, Democrat or Republican, should be able to make laws for the state of Indiana with no input from the other side of the aisle. And that's the situation that we're in. I've been in the Senate since 2008. And when I started, there were 17 Democrats in the Senate. At one point, we were down to nine. We chipped away at that. And we're down - we're up to 11 now. But, you know, until we take a serious look at how we draw maps in Indiana, you can expect this to continue for at least another decade. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Senator Bray, you're batting cleanup on this question. So what's... 

>>RODRIC BRAY: (Laughter) OK. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: ...Your key takeaway? 

>>RODRIC BRAY: Well, a couple observations and then maybe a comment on what Senator Taylor just said. But I want to also say thank you for having me on. I'm excited to be here and looking forward to the program. And just as Professor Wilson said, I, too, want to parrot the idea that the voter turnout, frankly, is exciting. You know, as a candidate, when you're out there and you're trying to get everyone's attention and hoping they'll come to vote for you, it's just nice to see the heavy turnout because people are paying attention. And this obviously is very, very important. I certainly am convinced that it is, so happy to see that turnout. I think one of the really interesting things - obviously, it was a pretty good year for Republicans here in the state of Indiana. And - but, you know, it's - we've seen this nationally. The polling is pretty tricky to follow these days. We did our own polling as a Senate in some of our local, more competitive seats. And as we did the polling, it looked like some of those races were very, very close. And at the election day, it turned out that they weren't really as close as we thought, some of them. Now, we lost one seat this year, obviously. But - so for whatever reason, nationally and locally here in the state of Indiana, that polling has been a little bit problematic. And there are probably a lot of different opinions on the reason for that. I'm not smart enough to know exactly what they are. But it was tricky to kind of figure out. And as you're trying to plan campaigns, that makes it a bit complicated. One thing that Senator Taylor indicated about the majority and the minority and the blaming that on the districts. And I don't know that that's entirely fair or quite fair at all, actually. When you look across the state of Indiana after this most recent election, there are almost 90% of the county commissioners in the counties across the state of Indiana that are Republican leaning, 10% are Democrat. Now, the Senate majority is about 80 to 20, just a little bit less than that at this point because the Democrats have 11. And when you look at all statewide officeholders are Republican, almost 90% of the county commissioners, I don't know what the percentage of county sheriffs across the state are but it's certainly over 80% that are Republican. And so you really can't blame those on districts because they're either statewide or county. And I think at some point you just have to realize that Indiana is a fairly red state. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, I want to get some other feedback to that. So Laura Wilson and Brandon Smith, both of you study politics. And how important is redistricting this year in terms of how Indiana is going to look for the next 10 years? Dr. Wilson, let's start with you. 

>>LAURA WILSON: Sure. Well, it is incredibly important. When you look at the redistricting, the drawing of the district lines, of course, part of it comes into question, who does that? There's also the question of the process. And I encourage, just as a sidebar for folks that are really into this, the National Conference of State Legislatures,, has great comparisons for all 50 states. And you can see how different states do it. In many states, it is the state legislature drawing the district lines. But you have states like Iowa where they have a nonpartisan commission. And yes, there are people from both parties that participate in it. But it's nonpartisan in that you also have people that aren't actually partisan, and it's comprised of a wider group of people. There is the question, of course, that who does it? But to the larger impact issue here, what does it matter? It matters quite a bit because we want to see competitive districts. In the ideal democracy, in the interest of elections, and I mentioned turnout earlier, people are going to be involved. People are going to be engaged if they think that their vote matters. And the reality is, if you have overwhelmingly red or blue districts - right? - and there's all different types of gerrymandering. We could talk about cracking and packing, splitting votes, diluting votes. But with any way you do this, if it's biasing one party or another, it's ultimately to the disadvantage of voters. Because if I live in a district that I know is overwhelmingly going to benefit one party - now, if I like that party, that's great. Cool. They're my party. But I'm also not going to be very inclined to vote because they don't need me, right? Why waste my time? I'll just enjoy my Tuesday. And likewise, on the other side, if it's the party I don't like - right? - well, that stinks. I don't like it. But also why be inclined to vote because it's not going to change things. So if you have those districts that aren't competitive, I think ultimately it's not even just that they depress voter turnout but the interest, right? And then there's the larger question too of are they representative of the constituents in that district? Yes, the district may be overwhelmingly red or blue. But is that truly representative of the people within the district and the state as a whole? And so I think there's so much - there's so many things that are important and worth considering here. The impact for the next 10 years - what our priorities, what our policies are? How much power do parties have? It really does impact, I think, almost every aspect really and truly of the election. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Brandon, do you think that there will be any significant change in how the state redistricts? Whether it seems like Senator Taylor, and he can certainly talk for himself, but it's not like he had some hopes of maybe we would switch up how we're doing this and there might be a different set of maps. 

>>BRANDON SMITH: Absolutely not. There is zero chance of that happening. This is something that Democrats and Republicans have been advocating for, for a long time. We saw a study, a two-year study commission on this topic about 1/2 decade ago. And the Republican members, some of the Republican members from the House on that commission, all the Democrats supported a sort of independent commission to oversee legislative map making. And Senate Republicans have generally been opposed to that. They think that the current method is fine. We have seen also House Republicans, kind of many House Republicans come on to that way of thinking the last 1/2 decade or so, so I don't see any change. It's also important to note that Indiana's constitution requires the state legislature to draw maps. Now, there's a way you could involve an independent group in that. But if you really wanted to take it out of the hands of the legislature, you'd need to change the Constitution. And obviously that cannot happen this year because that is a multi-year process, a three-step process in order for that to happen. But to go back to something Dr. Wilson said too, another thing to watch out for - two things I'm interested in seeing in this new round of map drawing is the continued population shifts in Indiana. What we think we know is that rural Indiana is getting less and less populous and that the population centers are sort of growing in size and reach. And so if that's true, when we get these census figures back, hopefully relatively early in 2021, it'll be really interesting to see if those shifts are taking place and how much more concentrated sort of the population is in Indiana. The other thing that I'll note, too, to the point that she made about competitive districts and competitive races. One thing you do see, if you have maps that generally benefit one party over the other, is that there are competitive races. But they're almost exclusively in the primary. And what ends up happening is oftentimes you have more polarized or at least the political sort of spectrum gets pushed further and further to the edges. Because if you're in a really safe Republican seat or a really safe Democratic seat, well, you don't need to appeal to moderate voters. You need to appeal to the most liberal or the most conservative people in your base because that's who's voting in the primary and that's who's going to be challenging you in a primary. And that's - I personally don't think that's necessarily a good thing because we always talk about this country as being one that the majority of people are more towards the center politically. And if that's true, those are the people getting left out when you don't have competitive general election races - instead, really competitive primary races. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Senator Taylor, before we leave this topic of redistricting, you know, you brought it up as a possible way to get - to improve things for the Democrats this year. And it doesn't sound like the other people on the panel think that you have much of a chance of doing that. So can you talk about how you think redistricting could be redone in a fair way, if you believe it's unfair the way it is? 

>>GREG TAYLOR: Well, let me give you my perspective on that. We have a history in the state of Indiana, and the precedent has been set, I think it was two legislative sessions ago, the Republican supermajority said that they would look at this issue. We kicked the can down the road, a next session. We - they said, we'll look at this issue. And here we are. Nothing has been done to change anything. So kind of consistent with Brandon said no. Until things equal out and people in the supermajority are not in the supermajority, there's not going to be a change. And I'm not actually, penal - I'm not - I wouldn't expect it if it was a Democrat supermajority. But here's the problem. The losers are the citizens of the state of Indiana. And I'll give you a perfect example of why redistricting needs to be looked at in the state. I benefit from gerrymandering the districts. I'm in a 78%, 76%, probably higher than that now, Democrat district. If I didn't feel it was necessary, I wouldn't have to campaign except for in the primary, as Brandon indicated. But who loses through that? It's the citizens and the people that I represent. One thing that I think we don't know and that we should realize is that demographic shifts are coming to central Indiana. I don't envy the Republicans for trying to draw districts in the city of Indianapolis and the surrounding suburban areas. Senator Bray talked about the fact that, you know, a lot of county councils are Republican. So it's consistent. Well, you know, we've got a Democratic mayor of Zionsville. We've got Democrats on the city council in Carmel. I'm going to predict that Avon, Greencastle, Plainfield, Fishers, we're going to see the same thing because people are moving. And rural Indiana is losing population. And if you look at that population, it's populations of color. People in the minority as far as ethnic minority are moving to central Indiana and it's changing the shift. So I think it's going to happen through natural progression with the migration of people to central Indiana. And once that happens, you know, I have no idea what we're going to be up against. But I can tell you this, we can't keep kicking the can down the road. We better do something soon. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Senator Bray, you did mention, you know, the fact that there is a huge majority, like 90% of the county commissioners in the state are Republicans. And the same with sheriffs offices. And so it's a - you know, county by county, there is a lot of Republican leadership. But again, I just have to mention, you know, from a redistricting standpoint, Monroe County is a very Democratic district. And yet we're represented here by seven different legislators, five of whom are Republicans, because of the way the maps were drawn. So I just want - I don't know if you can explain that or not and how that happens. But you can do that or not. You can move on to just another topic, which is, you know, what do you see as the biggest issues facing the state, you know, beyond, you know, this redistricting issue that we've already spent about 10 minutes on? 

>>RODRIC BRAY: Well, and I'll make one more comment on that and then look to talk about some of the big issues. But, you know, Brandon is, first, right. The Indiana constitution requires the legislature to redraw those districts. And so we'd have to change the Constitution if we wanted to change that. I don't know that we do want to change that. Accountability needs to be in the hand of the officeholder, and that's me and Senator Taylor and the rest of the General Assembly. And if you - you can say it's a nonpartisan board that you would appoint. But everybody comes to the poll or any position with some political interest. And the people that are going to appoint that nonpartisan person are probably going to have an interest in what that person's philosophy is either, whether it's publicly known or not. And so I would push back a little bit on the idea that there is - it's easy to get a nonpartisan board because it's probably very difficult. And then do you seed total control to that nonpartisan board or does the General Assembly have the ability to come back and kind of do a veto or an override of what they do? We would have to have something like that since the legislature constitutionally has to draw those districts. But if the legislature then overrode something they did, it would be very, very highly criticized, I would assume. But just the idea of pushing back, a nonpartisan board might not always be nonpartisan. I think that's important to recognize. With shifting gears a little bit then to some of the important pieces of what this legislation - this legislative year is going to look like. And you're going to find us spend most of our time on blocking and tackling. And that is passing a budget that is responsible and balanced and redistricting is a job we're going to have to do. It's going to be tricky to do. We're not - the general redistricting numbers for the state of Indiana are going to - supposed to come to us by the end of this year, December 31. But that's whole - those are whole cloth numbers. And that will tell us, for instance, whether we need a new U.S. congressman or we're going to lose a congressman. I really think we'll probably stay the same here. But it won't be granular in that we will not be able to start work on the specific districts in the state House of Representatives in the Indiana Senate. We're not supposed to get those numbers until about April the 1st. And we are currently scheduled to be done with session by April the 29th. So you may find that April is an absolutely frenetic month as we try to grapple with all that. Leading up to that, we're going to have some public hearings across the state to take input from people about communities of interest and where the population shifts and growth may be and things of that nature. So we have some of our work done before we get those numbers. But that's going to be a big challenge. Outside of those two issues, we're going to continue to work on the health care costs, which is a really big issue for the state of Indiana. And we're going to work on some issues pertaining to COVID-19. For instance, we're going to try to find ways that if a company and/or a charitable organization or even local government or school are taking their due diligence to make sure that the employees and customers and students are safe, then there is some liability protection for them in this COVID-19 world. We want to do that so that people can have some level of confidence that they can get back out and get back to work in a safe fashion. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, Sara? 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Speaking of that, we got a question from Ann wondering about the legislature and wearing masks this year. And her question for you is, what kind of example is it setting by not requiring masks in the middle of a pandemic? 

>>RODRIC BRAY: You're going to see me have a mask on every day, all day, and most of the others as well. When it comes to requiring a senator or a member of the House of Representatives to wear a mask, they are elected officials. And I can't make them leave the floor of the Senate. And so should I require something that I don't have the ability to enforce? I wonder about that. But the dialogue is going to be such that it is important. We want to make sure that our fellow colleagues are safe. We want to make sure, most importantly, that our employees that work so hard around us in the state Senate and the House of Representatives are safe. And that's why you're going to see us try to be distanced and wear a mask. We're taking lots of steps to make sure that all is the case. In fact, we're only putting 30 members of the Senate on the floor of the Senate. Twenty are going to be up to the balcony. We're going to have room, socially distanced, for the press to be in there as well because we want to make sure that everything that we do is as transparent as it always has been. And that means people are there being able to watch us but also being able to watch us as we stream both the committee hearings and the sessions on the floor. And so you're going to see us take a lot of precautions there, and you're going to see at least yours truly wear a mask. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. I should... 

>>GREG TAYLOR: Let me - can I please - can I jump in on that? 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Absolutely, Senator. 

>>GREG TAYLOR: You know, I respect my colleague for his opinion on whether or not he can enforce a mask mandate on the floor of the Senate. But respectfully, we have enforcement for decorum on the floor of the Senate. We've always had it. And that requires us to wear a suit jacket, a tie. We can't wear tennis shoes unless given an exemption from the rules. And there's never been a penalty, as far as I know, for not doing that. But unfortunately, we may find out if there is a penalty for that this year. With this pandemic, and I can only speak for our caucus, we have compromised people in the Indiana General Assembly. And far be it for me to endanger the lives of those individuals as even somebody who have been voted in the Senate. And I just don't want something to happen to one of my colleagues and then we look back and find out that we are the reason why they get sick. And that is paramount in my mind. So we do have rules associated with what we wear on the floor of the Senate. We can enforce those. We've enforced them for years. It's called decorum. And if we're not going to enforce a mask mandate and they - but we're going to be circulating air that people who are not wearing masks, not because they can't but because they don't want to, I think that's a terrible example. And, you know, we're going to require - we require elementary kids, elementary kids to wear masks. And from what I hear, they're doing it because they care about their neighbor. And I'm hoping we have some time. I'm hoping that Senator Bray and his colleagues will take a different approach to this and that we have a rule that you must wear your mask on the floor of the Senate no matter how far we are away from each other. And to me, the citizens of the state of Indiana deserve us to do that. It just - it's paramount. We are - if we become a super-spreader event, we're all going to regret it. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, that's Senator Greg Taylor. He's the leader of the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus. We're also joined today by Senator Rod Bray who's the Senate president pro tem. And he's a Republican. We have Laura Wilson, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Indianapolis and Brandon Smith, who's the Indiana Public Media Statehouse reporter. You can send us questions at Noon Edition on Twitter. You can also send us questions for the show at Dr. Wilson, I wanted to ask you about having supermajorities in a legislature or, you know, we don't have one in the Congress right now. But if we did, I mean, what kind of impact does that have on governance? 

>>LAURA WILSON: Well, that's a really great question. And it's one of the more challenging things to analyze from a research perspective because they don't happen that often. And so to have a great sample size - right? - to have a really robust sample to analyze is a lot harder. What we do know is divided government. Oftentimes you see that. Thirteen state legislatures right now across the country have a divided government. Of course, we're unified here in Indiana and that tells you - right? - the other 37 states do have some sort of unified government. We do know that with regards to power and partisanship, it's going to influence not only the kind of policies that are introduced but what really gets prioritized. And I think there is always this assumption that I like to challenge here that people make with unified government. And they certainly make it with supermajorities. And that is to say, oh, just because you have a supermajority for both political parties in the legislature and you have the same person leading in the governor's office in the same political party, oh, it's just going to make everything easy to slide through. Much like the assumption people make over a unified government, which is if you have at the federal level - right? - congress, presidency controlled by the same party, at the state level both chambers and the governorship controlled by the same party, oh, it makes everything easy to go through. And I challenge that assumption because what the research shows is there's still going to be difficulties. There's still legislative gridlock, right? Just because everyone shares a political party, it is not as monolithic a label that means everybody shares the same values. And so no doubt it's influential in the policies. It's influential on the priorities. Having a supermajority means the Republicans do have a significant amount of say, whereas the Democrats kind of have to huddle together in that minority position and hope that they can have an across-the-aisle bipartisanship to support their endeavors. But I also do think it's important to remember it doesn't mean everything just glides through. And we can think of recent examples in Indiana history where you may have had a governor that disagreed with the speaker of the House or members within the party itself that disagreed with other members. So it doesn't mean it's just going to naturally happen. I think you will still see dissension. We expect to see that. And all that said, Republicans do have that supermajority. They enjoy that and they'll benefit from it when you look at the policies and the priorities then in the state legislature. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I want to follow this thread for a minute because a couple of years ago, I wrote an editorial when I was a newspaper editor talking about how the legislators from Bloomington didn't have much of a say because of the supermajority. And I talked specifically about Mark Stoops - Senator Stoops who retired this year and is being followed by Shelley Yoder. But Senator Stoops took great umbrage to my thought that he was ineffective because he was a Democrat with a supermajority. Senator Taylor, I want, if you would, talk about what you can still get done as a Democratic senator, a Democratic House member, when there is a supermajority. Where are the places where you can make an impact? 

>>GREG TAYLOR: Well, one thing that I can tell you is that having been in the minority and now the superminority in the legislature, you can get things done. I would predict - and I haven't done the numbers - but 90% of the legislation that we passed is unanimous. We get a lot of bills passed that we all agree on. What you hear about in the media and everywhere else is the 10% of stuff that we don't. But the impact is very critical. And I'll give you a perfect example. The Republicans in the Senate, as well as in the House now can go to the floor without Democrats. Now, they don't do that. But they could. If we're sitting in caucus and we need some more time to discuss an issue, you know, the Senate Republicans can say, well, come down anyway. We're ready to go. Now, that doesn't happen. And I respect Senator Bray for not doing that. But it's got the potential. And with the, what I believe, the polarization of politics as a whole, my fear is that the citizens of the state of Indiana won't get what I call to be respectable debate on the floor if that ever happens. So the potential's there. I've never seen it happen. I don't expect it to happen with my friend Rod Bray. But the - that could happen. And in addition, let's remember, I keep saying this. We live in communities of interest. It's even considered part of redistricting. And communities of interest, if you take the city of Indianapolis, which is the largest community in the state of Indiana, we see this legislature - because of the supermajority, we see legislators who don't live in our communities taking advantage of the fact that they can pass legislation for the city of Indianapolis without doing it for their own community. We saw that last year, and it happens every session. I can tell you examples of taking away the right to vote for our judges, getting rid of the at-large members on the city council in Indianapolis. This one should shock everybody. The city council in Indianapolis passes an ordinance and the next day there's legislation to actually remove that ordinance from the ordinances - from the rules and the laws of the city of Indianapolis. Fortunately, the governor vetoed that bill. But it made it through the General Assembly. And that right there is why a supermajority is dangerous because you can do things that you would never think - I would never think of trying to rule out something that somebody would do, the City Council of Martinsville would do in Senator Bray's district without his understanding. But it happens all the time. So I just wish we would leave the locals to what the locals do. And that is something that I think we're going to have to be very cognizant of during this session. 


>>SARA WITTMEYER: One quick follow up to that, a question we just got from Patricia, and this is for you, Senator Bray, but just what should a Republican legislator say to people like me who feel like I'm abandoned and defeated because my concerns are not heard? Do I just move? 

>>RODRIC BRAY: Well, we certainly don't want you to move. And on this subject is a couple of thoughts that I have. And the first, I suppose, is to agree with what Professor Wilson said kind of early on a few minutes ago is that easy is not necessarily good when it comes to passing legislation. If you've got a Republican House, Senate and governor, maybe saying sail through. And that's not necessarily good. And some statistics might bear out the point I'm going to try to bring home here. And every year, and I've watched these as Senator Taylor referenced this, but I've watched these numbers very closely since I was elected in 2012. I can't speak to them before that because I didn't look at them very closely. But they are very, very similar every single year. We file about 1,200 bills and about 1/4 of those get passed. I was speaking to a high school one time and somebody asked, well, why can't you get more done? Why is it so hard to get more - is - why can't you get more passed? And my answer to them was you don't want us to pass more of those bills because there are some ideas there that are not good. There are some ideas that are not ripe or haven't been developed well enough, etc., etc. There's lots of reasons that the bill dies before it gets to the governor's desk. And so you don't want legislating to be easy because then things pass through that are not good for the state of Indiana. And so when you have a supermajority, it is a large responsibility because my friend and colleague, Senator Taylor, they're more challenged because, as he said, if they walk off the floor we can continue to do business or we can go down and they're still caucusing. But we always let them know when we're done and we communicate when if they need more time then we wait on them while they're still caucusing. And that's how we'll continue to conduct ourselves while I'm president pro tem of the Indiana Senate because it's the right way to do that. And I find that when we have - when we are pushed and challenged both by people in the Senate, sometimes it's Republicans but oftentimes by Democrats and also people at home or in the hallway, we make better legislation. And that's what we want to have happen. We've got to defend our ideas in the open market. And we'll do a better job of passing good legislation when we do that. And the other thing I want to say with regard to some of these numbers that Senator Taylor already referenced, I think, as I've watched since 2012, 65% of the bills, almost every year between 60 and 65% of the bills are unanimous with every member of the Senate voting yes for the bill. And over 90% - every year that I've been in the Indiana Senate, over 90% of the bills that have passed, usually is closer to 95% are bipartisan with one Republican and at least one Democrat voting for the bill, which leaves really amount of a number of bills that you can count almost on one hand as the ones that are passed along party lines. So it's pretty rare that it happens. And I think there's two reasons for that. One, the Democrats come every day bringing value and fighting and coming up with positions. And the other thing is that the Republicans don't ignore that. We want them at the table because we recognize we pass better legislation when we're being challenged. And we'll continue to do that while I'm president of the Senate. 


>>SARA WITTMEYER: Brandon, you want to chime in? And then I have a follow up to that, but go ahead. 

>>BRANDON SMITH: Yeah, I just wanted to add one thing. Both Senator Taylor and Senator Bray both pointed out something that I think is important to note is that the vast, vast, vast majority of bills passed every year by the General Assembly are bipartisan, at least in nature, with, as Senator Bray pointed out, a majority being unanimous. The biggest thing I think you see with supermajorities of either party, because those exist both in Democrat run states and Republican run states across the country, is that it's about the agenda. So it's not necessarily the bills that get passed but what bills never get a hearing. And that's I think a lot of times the biggest impact you might see is that if you're a Democrat in Indiana in either the House or the Senate, the chances of you getting legislation heard by a committee out of committee onto the floor are obviously much, much, much, much, much, much smaller than if you're a Republican, which is not to say it's impossible. We see Democratic - we see bills every session that are led by Democrats, co-sponsored usually by Republicans, but led by Democrats, advance through both chambers of the General Assembly. But the chances of that are much more remote when you're in a superminority as Democrats are in Indiana. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Sara (unintelligible). 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Yeah, so I want to really just ask you a follow up about that Brandon. And because we saw this year that the Indiana Black Caucus, which every year unveils its legislative agenda, but this year it was in August they unveiled this expansive justice reform plan. And it's something that really hasn't gained any traction in years past. Can you talk a little bit about that and whether that you anticipate that will be coming up this session? 

>>BRANDON SMITH: Yeah. I mean, we saw that grow out of the protests that took place over the summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd up in Minnesota as well as Breonna Taylor in Louisville and even folks here in Indianapolis. There's been a lot more focus on the relationship between the police and the community, the relation - police brutality, racial inequity, not just in the criminal justice system but broadly across society. Governor Holcomb had - took a few steps in this regard and promised to come up with more legislative plans during - you know, for the session. We haven't really seen that side of things yet. I do expect there to be a lot more attention paid to that agenda than in years past. I've been covering the - I've been here for nearly 10 years. This will be my 11th session in 2021. And I've been covering the Black Caucus's agenda every year. And almost none of those bills get hearings, let alone pass, which is what I just talked about, about agenda setting when you're in a superminority. But I think there will be more attention paid this year in part because there has been work behind the scenes. We haven't really seen it in public yet, but there has been work behind the scenes. For instance, we know that the representative, Greg Steuerwal on the House side who is a Republican, has been kind of talking and trying to put together an agenda that both parties can support when we look at things like police reform and racial inequality. We don't know what that will look like. We don't know what sort of success that will have. But it will definitely get more attention, more coverage, if you will, than in years past. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Senator Taylor, I want you to follow up on that. But also we really haven't given you an opportunity to talk about the Democratic agenda this year. Senator Bray talked about what he thought would be the big keys for the Republicans. But, you know, what kind of agenda will your caucus bring forward? 

>>GREG TAYLOR: OK, thank you. Well, let me talk about the Black Caucus agenda first because I think that just says a lot about the state of Indiana and where we're going. None of the suggestions - well, let me say this. When you look at that report in the suggestions, we've been - our leader, Representative Robert Shackelford and other leaders in prior years - have always gone to the governor. If it was Mitch Daniels, if it was Mike Pence, if it was Eric Holcomb, we've gone to - every session we have a sit-down with the governor's office about our agenda. If you remember, there was a thing called the Hate Crimes bill. And that was on my agenda and the Black Caucus agenda for seven years before it got a what I call a legitimate hearing. Of course, I can always bring it up on the floor as an amendment. But it didn't even get a discussion. So I want to use that as an example as to what I see coming down the road this session with the Black Caucus agenda with what's going on across this country. Until we are ready to sit down and deal with the facts, there's never going to be a change unless it happens to somebody that the supermajority cares about. That's what happened in the Bias Crimes bill. It wasn't until a synagogue in Carmel got vandalized did we even have a discussion about bias crimes in the state of Indiana. And then, if you look at the vote, which, by the way, there was no vote in the House, it was a floor amendment that passed, no member, zero members, of the Black Legislative Caucus voted for that bill because we understood that what we call a Bias Crimes bill in Indiana has no teeth in it at all. You can get charged with bias against somebody who wears glasses with the same penalty as if you get charged with somebody against somebody who's Black. That's terrible. And that's what we have in Indiana. So my fear, not only are we going to deny that it exists, but if we do put forth any legislation, it's not going to be beneficial to the communities that we want it to be beneficial to. I hope that changes. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Senator, can I just ask you? If I remember right, Governor Holcomb brought forward a bill that would have maybe been supported by the Black Caucus. But when it got into the legislative chambers, it was watered down quite a bit. Is that correct? 

>>GREG TAYLOR: I don't know. I never saw the governor's bill. I never saw it. But he signed the one that passed, which now he says we have a Bias Crimes bill. That's all I could do is speak to the facts of that. I have no idea. But let me talk about the Democratic Caucus agenda. First of all, we need to do something about education in Indiana. This pandemic has actually opened up and revealed where we are. We're going to have a considerable amount of schools that under our existing standards will be considered F schools, even schools that we traditionally believe are some of the most successful because of what we've gone through in this pandemic. The second thing, we have a situation in the state of Indiana where the skills that are needed for people to have good paying jobs where they can feed a family need to be rethought. And people need to be retrained in those areas. We have companies that are stepping up to the table, like Cook Group down in your area is building a facility and hiring people. But one thing that they're doing - and they're saying to their workers, hey, if you don't have a high school equivalency, we're going to - you're going to work for us part time and we're going to help you get your high school equivalency so that you can have the ability to go on and train and have a career. We have business people who are willing to step up and do and team with the state of Indiana. We have to do this. Here's the other thing. And this is going to sound strange coming from a Democrat from Marin County. What we also recognize is that we have an infrastructure problem - not just crumbling roads and bridges but a technology infrastructure problem. There are people in rural Indiana who can't get Wi-Fi speeds enough for those children to be at home while we're doing distance learning. That's terrible. And the state of Indiana should be working with communities in the federal government to develop a program to get Wi-Fi and fast Wi-Fi out to those rural areas. Those people deserve an opportunity, just like I have here in Indianapolis with my children having high speed Wi-Fi. So we've got a lot of work to do. Notice that none of that was about Democrat or Republican issues. None of that is about what we need to do from a left or right. That's Hoosiers. And if we can do those things, I think we'll make it better off for everybody else. So that's part of the Democrat agenda. We'll be unveiling that agenda sometime after the organization day, and we'll have more specifics. But that's the Democrat agenda. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Senator Bray, any common ground there? 

>>RODRIC BRAY: Absolutely. When you talk about some of these things, I mean, the - in particular, the infrastructure piece, I mean, the nice thing about where we are, we did kind of a gas tax a couple of years ago, and since that point in time we've been ranked number one nationally for our roads and bridges infrastructure. But Senator Taylor is exactly right with regard to broadband. It's been a constant and rapidly growing need. It still is today. We've done a few things to make it move in a good direction. A couple of years ago, we put out a hundred million dollars in grant money that has - we've got about 75, 76 million of that spent now. And it's a matching grant. So it's translated into hundreds of billions of dollars of investment across the state. And we did some legislation that would allow RENCs to hang fiber on their electric lines. And you'll see south central Indiana RENC and Jackson County and Orange County and places like that making multimillion dollar investments. But Senator Taylor is exactly right. We have a long way to go there. And it's as important today as trying to get a phone line to the last house on the road or electric power to the last house on the road, you know, decades ago. And it's never been highlighted more than in this 2020 because of the pandemic and kids trying to get to school via remote access and telehealth issues that we've - that have really been going fairly well. But we need more access there. So, yeah. And then trying to skill up our Hoosiers to reach - to meet the demand of the new jobs that are out there, so yeah, there's no doubt there's common ground in what he's just said. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. We only have a couple of minutes to go. I want to ask both Brandon and Laura one more question each. Laura, for you, we've seen a very divisive election. Do you think that we're going to be able to come together? Do you see any evidence we're going to be able to come together after we have President-elect Biden now and still a very strong majority in the Republican Party nationally for the Republicans nationally. Will we be able to come together? 

>>LAURA WILSON: I think we can. And I will say with the obligatory caveat, I am an optimist. So you should take that with a grain of salt. But I can say also, professionally speaking, I think a lot of times, unfortunately, our country appears more divided than we are. And it's not to say that polarization is a myth. I believe it is real. And it's evident in policies. It's certainly evident in many of these elections. But when you're only given two options, when you only have two political parties, you have to conform to red or blue. You have to be a Republican or a donkey. You have to be a Republican or a Democrat. There's not a lot of leeway to show off the diversity within the parties. They serve as these large coalitions. And there's a lot of diversity within them of people who vote for or affiliate or identify with the political party with lots of other people that may not agree on all those same issues. So I do think there's a way we can come together. Of course, bipartisanship is key. And I'll also say one other thing as just as a shout out and a recognition I think people often don't recognize. We've heard both Senator Taylor and Senator Rodric refer to each other as friends and colleagues in the most respectful ways that I think people often demonize politicians as trying to fan the flames, when, in fact, I think they are very much trying to be a part of the solution. So I do think it's possible to come together. Of course, 1/2 the country will be sad after any given election and 1/2 the country will be happy. But nonetheless, we recognize, we heal our own wounds, and we work on bipartisanship. We work on solutions. And I absolutely think that it's very possible for us to come together. It's my absolute hope for us, especially after what one can only characterize as a dumpster fire year of 2020. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Thank you. Brandon, I'm sorry we're out of time. I want to thank our guests today, Laura Wilson, Brandon Smith, Senator Greg Taylor and Senator Rod Bray. And for our co-host - my co-host Sara Wittmeyer, producer Bente Bouthier and engineer Mark Chilla, I'm Bob Zaltsberg. Thanks for listening. 

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The Indiana Statehouse

(Brandon Smith/IPB News)

Noon Edition airs on Fridays at noon on WFIU.

Last week, Republicans solidified a supermajority in both the Indiana House of Representatives and Senate.  

Republicans gained a supermajority in the 100-member House in 2012. On Tuesday night, their two-thirds hold increased by four seats bringing their majority to 71-29. 

Democrats gained one seat in the Senate when Fady Qaddoura (D), a former top aide to Mayor Hogsett, won against Republican Sen. John Ruckelshaus in a northern Indianapolis district. 

Republicans still hold a 39-11 majority in the Senate and have held a supermajority there since 2010. 

A supermajority means one party has enough members to conduct business even if no members of another party are present.

The 2021 session will be significant for setting policy landscape in Indiana, as the state’s budget for the next two years will be decided.

 There also will be impact on the next decade – in 2021 congressional and legislative districts will be redrawn after counts from the 2020 Census are made available. The legislature has the power to draw the districts and the governor has veto-power over any redistricting plan. The new lines will be good until 2031.

This week, we’re talking about what a supermajority means for the future of policy and politics in Indiana.

You can follow us on Twitter @NoonEdition or join us on the air by calling in at 812-855-0811 or toll-free at 1-877-285-9348. You can also send us questions for the show at

Note-This week of our guests and hosts will participate remotely to avoid risk of spreading infection. Because of this we will not be able to take callers live on-air.


Laura Wilson, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Indianapolis

Brandon Smith, IPBS Statehouse Reporter 

Senator Greg Taylor, District 33, Leader of the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus

Senator Rodric Bray, District 37, Senate President Pro Tem

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