The Journal Gazette
Sunday, December 06, 2020 1:00 am

Political notebook

Preteen books mayor as her podcast guest

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

Mayor Tom Henry recently sat down for a virtual one-on-one with an unlikely interviewer – Sammie Vance, the Fort Wayne girl known for collecting plastic bottle caps and lids for Buddy Benches.

The 12-year-old invited Henry to join her on Sammie Smiles, her weekly podcast that aims to leave her guests and listeners with a smile. The mayor is featured in her sixth episode.

Sammie is quick to let listeners know that she's rubbed elbows with the mayor on multiple occasions.

They first met in 2018, when she was 9 and visited his office after getting Buddy Benches for her school.

For the podcast, Sammie asks Henry about his role and accomplishments as mayor and gets his advice for running for office.

Search “Sammie Smiles” on YouTube; the podcast also is available on Apple Podcast and Spotify.

Bidding Brian adieu

This week marks the end of Brian Francisco's 42-year journalism career – or as you know him, the other half of Political Notebook for almost a decade.

An Indiana University alum, Francisco's first newspaper job was in his hometown of New Castle, at the Henry County News Republican. He worked at the Muncie Star and the Star Press for 20 years, covering the General Assembly, business and politics, including Mike Pence's first two unsuccessful campaigns for Congress in 1988 and 1990.

He joined The Journal Gazette in 2000 and succeeded Sylvia Smith as Washington editor in 2011, covering federal government issues on occasional trips to D.C., but mostly from Fort Wayne.

A federal lawmaker's staffer recently praised him for asking hard questions and noted that “no one in the state does the thorough, consistent job” he does, writing that the lawmaker, prepping for press calls, always asks “What will Francisco ask me today?”

House chairs set

House Speaker Todd Huston recently announced chairmen of legislative committees for the 2021 General Assembly session.

Northeast Indiana is well represented:

• Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne – Financial Institutions and Insurance.

• Rep. Denny Zent, R-Angola – Local Government.

• Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn – Public Policy.

• Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne – Commerce, Small Business and Economic Development.

• Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington – Rules and Legislative Procedures.

The majority floor leader is Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne.

Bills advance

Federal lawmakers recently advanced two pieces of legislation pushed by Indiana's U.S. senators.

Both the Senate and the House have approved a bipartisan bill that would update the Environmental Sensitivity Index maps of the Great Lakes. Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Todd Young, R-Ind., introduced the legislation.

Young and Peters said in a statement that the bill would provide more accurate assessments of risks to the lakes' endangered and threatened species, sensitive shoreline habitats and community resources such as beaches, parks and boat ramps. They said Great Lakes environmental mapping has not been updated in more than two decades.

“Hoosier families treasure our coastline along Lake Michigan and our close proximity to all the Great Lakes and it's in all of our interests to robustly protect them,” Young said.

The Senate last week approved legislation introduced by Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., that would require the Department of the Interior to issue yearly reports on land purchases by the Bureau of Land Management. Braun's office said the Government Accountability Office noted in May 2019 that the bureau was often unable to identify lands it had bought through the Land and Water Conservation Fund because of improper recordkeeping.

“Federal agencies must do their part in maintaining sufficient records about what land they own, as well as why and how it was purchased, and this bill implements commonsense accountability in federal conservation – a bipartisan priority,” Braun said Thursday in a statement.

Ashley Sloboda of The Journal Gazette contributed to this column.

To reach Political Notebook by email, contact Niki Kelly at An expanded Political Notebook can be found as a daily blog at

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