Republican legislators from NWI help bridge the gap to the rest of the state
By Matt Mikus email@example.com March 17, 2013 11:59PM
Matt Mikus, Post-Tribune reporter. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 29, 2013 4:04PM
Both freshman State Reps. Hal Slager of Schererville and Rick Niemeyer of Lowell ran on a platform in 2012 of being able to help bring issues of Northwest Indiana to a Republican majority.
It depends on who you ask, but the consensus is both are holding up to their campaign promise.
Through redistricting districts 15 and 11, Republicans found an opportunity to break up a Democratic stronghold in Lake County. While it is a blow to the left side of the aisle, the region may see some benefit.
Now that the race is over, and after years of political turmoil at the Statehouse, a number of representatives note that the atmosphere is much friendlier.
New Reps on the block
Both Niemeyer and Slager feel their presence helps.
“I’m really able to communicate a description of Lake County that’s more accurate,” Slager said. “A lot of people downstate have no idea.”
At the same time, he said he serves as a moderator to issues, and can help to push for items like funding for Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
Another item Slager is considering is the potential trauma center in Gary. He sees it as a way to push for jobs, but he’s looking beyond this session to what would happen next.
“The next obvious question, how are we going to pay for it? That’s something I’m starting to explore, and I hope to be a part of that,” he said.
Niemeyer said he hasn’t had a number of opportunities, but has been willing to help when issues reach the House floor.
“Being a Republican, we don’t always agree on how it should be done,” he said, “But I think it probably has helped.”
What the neighbors think
Though the atmosphere is more civil, State Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, sees no new opportunities emerging.
“We’re trying to mend personal relationship across the aisle,” she said. “But as far as us being able to legislate more fairly, that’s still a big no.”
Hammond State Rep. Linda Lawson, and Portage State Rep. Chuck Moseley recognize that the new Republicans in the General Assembly have been a welcome addition to the Northwest Indiana legislature, but there have been very few opportunities to bridge understanding between here and Indianapolis.
“There has been some good work by the freshman legislators,” Moseley said.
Lawson agreed, but, “There hasn’t been a lot of Northwest Indiana bills being offered out there,” she said.
Democrats Charlie Brown and Mara Candelaria Reardon feel that having local legislators on the other side of the aisle can have its advantages. Reardon cosponsored legislation that could help Griffith move out of Calumet Township with Slager. She feels she has a working relationship with members of the GOP.
“But having somebody from the Republican caucus,” she added, “who can demystify Northwest Indiana for them is helpful.”
Brown sees the two as helpful to bring Senate Bill 585, which would offer a number of economic opportunities to Gary, as a prime example.
“They are both aware that we are treated differently than any other county” Brown said. “Both of them were quoted in the media as saying they want to bring things back to Lake County”
Both freshmen at one point cosponsored the bill. Niemeyer has since pulled his name from the bill, due to the Lake County taxing provision, which would place a county-wide income tax at 1 percent. But the other provisions, which include feasibility studies for a port, a trauma center, and improving the efficiency of the airport are items he supports.
“It’s still a good bill,” he said, “but it has the new income tax, and I don’t agree with that.”
Dine and discuss
On occasion, the Northwest Indiana legislators gather for an informal meeting over lunch on Wednesday. Their discussions focus on how legislation would affect the area, and if there are ways they can help solve issues.
“We still disagree,” Slager said, “but we don’t have to hit each other over the head. Personally, I’ve gotten to enjoy their company.”
He said he and other members from Lake and Porter counties have discussed the idea of hosting a legislative day, inviting lawmakers from across the state to learn about the region’s potential and strength as an economic driver.
Niemeyer said he is aware of those meetings, but has not been able to attend one due to his responsibilities on committees like the Transportation Committee. He has said if he has the opportunity to attend, he would.