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Focused opposition challenges supermajority

For many Indiana House Democrats, we have entered into a brave new world in the political arena.

The last two elections have seen the House turn from an evenly divided chamber into one controlled by one party by a substantial margin.

As House Democrats, these circumstances require us to look ahead and recognize our obligations to the people of Indiana.

As I said on the House floor last week, we must make sure that the power of government does not shift far from the center. The House majority has the duty not to misinterpret the reasons it was elected, and I would hope it would show enlightened restraint in its goals.

As for House Democrats? We offer three proposals for consideration.

Help the middle class first.

The economic engine of this state is our working men and women – the ones who plow our streets, protect our homes, and work in our factories and small shops. They are the reason the lights remain on at local businesses. They also haven’t done as well as others.

According to the most recent Census Bureau figures, Indiana’s median household income lags the rest of the nation by more than $4,000. The median value of our owner-occupied housing units is more than $60,000 lower than the country as a whole. We have been lagging the nation for years in these areas without making progress.

Even if you believe there is no government solution to this problem, we still can take pressure off the middle class and the folks working to get into the middle class.

There will be discussions this session about revenue. We should keep it simple: No tax giveaways for people who don’t need them.

Our new governor campaigned on an individual income tax cut, and I trust his proposal will be given respectful consideration by the General Assembly.

But I also offer some advice.

If tax cuts are in order, focus them on the workers who create the profits in our state. Otherwise, remember that our middle class is being squeezed everywhere, and the costs of health care, education and meeting our everyday obligations cause stress for all families.

Next, we know many people don’t like the Affordable Care Act, but the law is reality and we want to make it work.

Hundreds of thousands of middle class workers should not be forced to use the emergency room as their only health care option. The rest of the middle class cannot afford to keep sending them there.

Finally, we need to stop putting downward pressure on wages. The answer to every economic problem cannot be passing laws such as right to work that hold down wages on the middle class. That’s a clear path to having no one left to spend money at the very businesses we try to support.

We live in a dynamic world economy. That means middle class workers must adapt to new jobs quickly and garner the skills needed to fill the jobs we expect to be open soon.

No one should face decades of debt simply because he or she seeks the skills demanded by employers in the electronic age. While this problem cannot be fixed overnight, we believe that this session affords us the chance to make it easier for people to obtain higher education and gain new skills.

By mentioning education, we must make the next, obvious recommendation.

We must fix the mistakes made by outgoing Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and reinforce traditional public schools.

Last November, the people of Indiana made it clear they do not want our children to be experiments or science projects. They want a solid education for their children with safe schools, small class sizes and a place where struggling students get a little extra help.

We need to restore the budgeted investments that have been promised to classrooms throughout Indiana. We must embrace the long-standing recognition that we need to provide extra help for the child who struggles even to get to school. And we must bolster investments with taxpayer value, such as full-day kindergarten and early childhood learning.

At the same time, we should not forget about those children who are afraid to go home from school for fear of being beaten or abused. The Department of Child Services should have all the resources available to protect our children, and House Democrats intend to help lead a shared effort to protect the smallest and weakest among us.

Finally, Indiana House Democrats believe there needs to be a two-year moratorium on “social issues.”

Our state and nation are deeply divided on these deeply sensitive matters affecting who loves whom, human reproduction and women’s health.

People deserve a break from the political exploitation of their fears and emotions as we work to rebuild our economy.

For some, the answers to these questions are easy. For many, they are not.

We ask that the people be given the time to form a new, prevailing consensus on social matters before trying to divide our constituents on moral, spiritual and cultural grounds. They need a break.

Since the election, Speaker Brian Bosma and other House Republican leaders have stressed the need for cooperation and their willingness to make sure the House minority is involved.

We intend to take them at their word and lend a hand to do what is best for the people of our state.

When we believe the Republicans are doing what is best, we will help them.

When we believe they are misguided or misinformed, we will critique them.

When we believe they are leading the state in the wrong direction, we will offer the people of Indiana some alternatives to consider.

Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, is the Indiana House Democratic leader. He wrote this for Indiana newspapers.