It’s been a tough two years for Democrats in the Indiana House.
With Republicans in firm control in both houses, Democrats have been able to do little else but watch and get steamed-rolled as nearly every GOP initiative gets passed.
Patrick Bauer, a Democrat from South Bend, led his Democratic House Caucus for the last decade, with six of those years as House Speaker.
When Republicans tried fast-tracking legislation to make Indiana the Midwest’s first right-to-work state and allow taxpayer dollars to go to private schools, Bauer orchestrated walk-outs by his caucus. But those walkouts proved futile and only delayed passage of Republican-backed divisive bills.
Bauer’s leadership style also seemed to turn off some in his own caucus. So at a meeting in Lafayette, the caucus removed Bauer as its leader. His replacement is Linda Lawson, a longtime state representative who is a former detective in the gritty Northwest Indiana city of Hammond, Chicago’s neighbor.
“The majority of our members have spoken,” Lawson said in a written statement.
Lawson, who served as floor leader for the past two years, added “We met, discussed, and decided to take steps to move our party forward, including making a change in our leadership. After serving Indiana House District 1 since 1998, I’m honored to be placed in this position at such a critical time for our party.”
Fellow State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon (D-Munster) said Lawson’s leadership skill will set her apart from Bauer.
“Linda has the qualities that will lend themselves to the kind of leadership this generation and this group of people has been asking Pat Bauer to do for quite some time,” Reardon told WBEZ.
Reardon says Bauer often did not appreciate the leader or guidance that others in the caucus brought.
“We’re all natural leaders. We wouldn’t be in this job if we weren’t,” Reardon said. “Linda will be able to recognize the talent of each caucus person and bring them into the circle of decision making.”
In capturing the coveted roll, Lawson also provides some leadership in the Indiana Statehouse from Northwest Indiana, the second most populous area of Indiana. Northwest Indiana is often left out due in part to in-fighting among the region’s delegation and its reputation for corruption.
“It lessens the perception that people have that we are not respected around the state,” Reardon said. “Linda was elected by a majority of this caucus to fill this role. We’ve been given an opportunity to shine and I know Linda will do a great job.”
Bauer, meanwhile, tried to block his removal.
In a statement, Bauer said although he does not support his removal, he thinks Lawson is a great leader and will do a fine job.
Lawson, a 24-year veteran of the Hammond Police Department, became the first female captain to serve in the department after working as a patrol officer and a member of the sex crimes and domestic violence divisions.
Lawson currently serves on several committees of the Indiana House, including: Statutory Committee on Ethics, Select Committee on Government Reduction, and Public Policy.
“Pat has done many positive things over the course of his leadership term, doing a great job of securing funding for schools and leading efforts to assist many of the underprivileged and undeserved around the state,” Lawson said. “I don’t want to take anything away from his successes, but when the members of our caucus look for leadership, they have decided to go in a different, more positive direction.”