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Local politics


New delegation readies for Congress

Donnelly, Brooks hope to foster cooperation in DC

– Indiana will have a new senator and three new House members for the 113th Congress. But they will face the same old problem as their predecessors: partisan gridlock.

Two members of the Hoosier congressional delegation say they will try to alleviate the politically driven impasse.

“You have people on the left and people on the right who are ready to go to battle on every single moment of every single issue,” Democratic Sen.-elect Joe Donnelly said. “And really what we should be doing is trying to build bridges together to get things accomplished.

“What I’m going to continue to try to do is be part of a group in the middle of the Senate that works together to get things done,” said Donnelly, who for the past six years has represented Indiana’s 2nd District in the House.

“I definitely heard from the electorate that they were looking for candidates who had a history of working across the aisle and finding common ground,” said Rep.-elect Susan Brooks, R-5th. “And I have been doing that my whole career.”

Brooks, a Fort Wayne native who lives in Carmel, has been an Indianapolis deputy mayor, a U.S. district attorney and counsel for Ivy Tech Community College.

“Like a freshman going off to college, I’m going to have some crash courses in legislating,” she said.

A lot of legislation has crashed in the last two years as the Republican-led House and Democratic-directed Senate have fought almost nonstop over fiscal and social issues.

Brooks said that during three weeks of freshman orientation and policy discussions, “both sides have been given, I think, a message loud and clear: We need to figure out how to work together.”

During his campaign, Donnelly pledged to be a moderate in the mold of the lawmaker he is replacing, six-term Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. Conservative groups are sure to be tracking his every vote.

“That’s OK,” Donnelly said. “My only concern is doing what’s right for the people of Indiana. That’s how I served in the House; that’s how I plan to serve in the United States Senate.”

In the House, the Granger resident split with his party in supporting the Keystone XL oil pipeline, opposing cap-and-trade legislation for reducing air pollution and favoring the repeal of the medical device tax, among other votes.

Donnelly said he has worked closely in the past on legislation with two Republican representatives – Todd Platts of Pennsylvania and Fred Upton of Michigan. Brooks said she expects to join Rep. André Carson, D-7th, to work on matters pertinent to Marion County, which is divided between their districts.

Brooks said Indiana’s seven Republican members of the House – they include fellow incoming freshmen Jackie Walorski in the 2nd District and Luke Messer in the 6th District and four lawmakers elected in 2010 – have met a couple of times. One session was convened by Messer’s predecessor, Gov.-elect Mike Pence.

Brooks is a 1978 graduate of Homestead High School. At 52, she is the oldest of the Hoosier Republicans in the House. The most senior member – by a matter of weeks because he filled a vacant seat – is Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, who is 36.

Stutzman’s slight edge in experience gives him “the opportunity to communicate with (Republican) leadership about our delegation,” he said. “… And letting them know our wishes and our desires and where we want to participate and be engaged.”

Brooks has been named to the House Ethics Committee and is expected to also join the Education and Workforce Committee and the Homeland Security Committee. She plans to introduce legislation that would require people who receive long-term unemployment benefits to either acquire new skills or perform community service.

“I want to make sure people are either continuing to improve or give back while they are on unemployment,” she said.

Donnelly, 57, will be a member of the Senate Agriculture, Armed Forces and Aging committees. He said he is going to push to prioritize workforce training funds, improve veterans assistance programs and “make progress to bring troops home from Afghanistan.”

Donnelly spent four years in the majority party in the House, then two years in the minority. Now he’s back in the majority as a senator.

“What this enables you to do is have ideas and legislation heard a little more easily,” he said about being in the majority caucus.

But getting them heard by the other chamber’s majority party is another matter.