More than 20 state lawmakers will not seek re-election this year. The partisan atmosphere in the Statehouse has become too much for some of them. Combine that with the redistricting that made re-election tougher for others and you have an exodus.
Representative Jeff Espich of Uniondale will not seek re-election after serving 40 years in the General Assembly. Espich, a Republican, will give up his post as chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, in part, because the redistricting process threw him into the same district with a fellow Republican, but he also says the job has changed. “The right to work fight, I think, wore on a lot of us,” says Espich. “It certainly took any joy or pleasure out of being here.”
Retiring Democrat Dave Cheatham of North Vernon has a similar view. He says the legislature is much more partisan than it was when he first elected in the ’80′s. “So, it’s hard,” says Cheatham, “for someone who’s a moderate to find middle ground. Issues become more extreme.”
In all, 19 state Representatives will stay home after Election day, along with 2 state Senators, and others worry that their expertise and experience will be missed. “I think folks who believe in term limits really don’t understand how important some of that institutional knowledge can be,” says Rep. Jerry Torr (R-Carmel.)
Bob Kuzman, retired lawmaker turned lobbyist, says it could even cost taxpayers money. “Not saying that the work product will be bad,” he says, “but it will just take more time, I believe, to shape it.”
And there is more at stake every year. “The cost is higher,” says Espich, “the price is higher, the things we in government do have a bigger impact on people’s lives so our philosophies matter more.” Even so, Jeff Espich says he’ll miss it.
Two other lawmakers with a tenure of 40 years or more are also stepping down. Democrats Chet Dobis of Merrillville and Bill Crawford of Indianapolis won’t seek re-election. 12 of the 19 retiring members of the Indiana House are Democrats.