Updated: November 2, 2013 10:06PM
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Nearly a fifth of Indiana’s sitting lawmakers have taken office without ever waging a public campaign thanks to a party caucus system that critics charge is rigged toward those in the know about upcoming vacancies.
Twenty-eight of the state’s 150 sitting lawmakers were sent to the Statehouse by a political caucus held after a seat became vacant through resignation or death.
The process is being used with more frequency because of what Republican Sen. Sue Glick of LaGrange says is a more mobile society. Twenty of the lawmakers chosen through a caucus are filling seats that became available because of resignations.
“The whole caucus thing is interesting because I don’t think it was ever designed to be a routine way of filling vacancies,” Glick told The Journal Gazette. “It was supposed to be what we do when someone dies.
“But what we are finding is because our society is more mobile . there are more resignations than there used to be. They are in the office and give it up for whatever reason. So we have more of the caucuses.”
Former Rep. Matt Bell, who got his seat through a caucus, said he isn’t troubled by the increase in caucus appointees.
“Sometimes careers change. Sometimes family needs change,” he said. “I think that as long as the vast majority of the General Assembly has been elected popularly by the will of the people, then it can maintain its representative nature.”
But some question whether the system benefits those with insider knowledge of upcoming vacancies.
“Some of the resignations in recent years, you can draw your own conclusions,” GOP Fort Wayne businessman Ric Runestad said. “Anything that is closer to the will of the people is superior to political insiders picking representatives.”
Republican Randy Borror of Fort Wayne entered office by caucus. He left the Indiana House in July 2010, just months after winning an uncontested primary, to become a lobbyist.
He said the timing of his resignation was due solely to the opportunity that arose. He said he missed out the chance to say goodbye because of his decision to leave before his term ended.
“The opportunity presented itself, and I had to make a decision,” he said.
Borror said the caucus system “is a pretty fair way to ensure that people get representation as quickly as possible.”
The National Conference of State Legislatures says 25 states fill state legislative vacancies through appointment. The remaining states use special elections to fill the term.
“In the end, you still have to stand for re-election, so the public has the final say,” Long said.