INDIANAPOLIS — To use a well-worn-political phrase, is timing is everything. That may have prompted the latest change of the Republican guard at the Indiana Statehouse this past week where we saw State Rep. Todd Huston of Fishers take the House speaker’s gavel by acclamation from one of the strongest speakers in Hoosier history when Brian Bosma of Indianapolis decided to stand down.
Bosma spent two non-consecutive terms with the gavel in what is considered by many as the most powerful Statehouse office due to the Indiana’s constitutionally weak governorship, where a veto can be overridden by a simple majority vote. It follows a similar transition in the Indiana Senate a year ago, when Rod Bray of Martinsville took the helm from Senate President Pro Tem David Long of Fort Wayne, while on the fiscal side State Sen. Ryan Mishler of Bremen and Travis Holdman of Markel took the reins from Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley and Budget Chairman Brandt Hershman.
Informed and reliable sources tell me that House Ways & Means Chairman Tim Bown will seek reelection in 2020 after surviving critical injuries in a 2018 motorcycle accident at the Mackinaw Bridge in Michigan. Huston served as co-chair of that influential, budget-writing committee during the 2019 biennial session.
“I’m incredibly grateful for the support from our caucus and the tremendous opportunity to serve in this new leadership role. Indiana’s economic strength is largely rooted in strong, conservative leadership, and I’m honored to work alongside Speaker Bosma during his final legislative session and help continue our state’s momentum,” Speaker Huston said after his Organization Day ascension. Bosma added, “Todd is an invaluable member of our team and a respected leader, and I’m excited for him to take the reins and continue building on Indiana’s success story.” Whether it’s serving as a tough budget hawk or finding common ground among differing viewpoints, he’s been a reliable, go-to legislator for our caucus time and time again. I firmly believe he will take hold of this opportunity with both hands, and bring the vision and energy needed to help keep Indiana on the right track.”
Bosma’s first stint came with Gov. Mitch Daniels first two years in office during which he was instrumental in pushing through the $3.8 billion Major Moves Indiana Toll Road lease as well at Daylight Savings Time. The GOP lost its majority for four years during the next election. Republicans and Bosma returned to power in 2010, forging an unprecedented super majority era that commenced with the 2014 election. That 2012 class produced a future lieutenant governors in Sue Ellsperman. Bosma also launched an era of paramount transparency, with all General Assembly sessions and most committee sessions live-streamed via the World Wide Web.
Bosma briefly pursued the governorship when Gov. Mike Pence vacated his nomination to join Donald Trump on the national ticket, but quickly dropped out after finding little support on the Indiana Republican Central Committee, with whom he and Long had had a contentious relationship, particularly after Bosma allowed the infamous Religious Freedom Restoration Act to move out of the House. It subsequently blew up in Gov. Pence’s face, derailing an expected 2016 presidential run. Sources close to Bosma believe he harbors no gubernatorial aspirations in 2024, when Lt. Gov. Crouch is expected to seek to break Indiana’s gender glass ceiling.
Bosma’s return to the speakership in 2011, which opened up a key sequence for Todd Huston, then serving as chief of staff to controversial Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. Sensing a historic opening, former presidential advisor and Indiana Republican Chairman Al Hubbard, and long-time Daniels ally Mark Lubbers dined with Huston over Scotch whiskeys and fashioned the school voucher reforms of 2011. According to reporting by Pence biographer (“Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House”) and then Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco, Huston wrote in a Feb. 10, 2010 email, ”My thought would be that we can get the momentum going and let MD (Mitch Daniels) take the lead when he feels it is time. As soon as he takes ownership of it, whether it is (November) or May, it becomes his initiative. This would allow him to do it after the election but the work is being done prior to his taking ownership of it.”
Huston ran and won a House seat in 2014, the same year the GOP super majority era began.
As for the “timing is everything” notion, Huston takes the gavel with a potential political time bomb ticking. Thousands of Hoosier teachers filled the Statehouse on the day Bosma handed him the gavel, seeking pay raises. Bosma defeated Democrat Poonam Gill by just 3,726 votes, his closest election with a 55.55% plurality, and Huston defeated Democrat Aimee Rivera Cole by just 2,772 votes or 54.5%. Republicans experienced a wipe-out in Indianapolis and Democrats picked up city council seats in once crimon-red Fishers and Carmel this past November.
In this era of President Donald Trump, even Hoosier suburbs are gaining a purple hue. A sitting Indiana speaker hasn’t been upset since 1986. Bosma may have decided this calm before the storm may have a good time to get out of Dodge.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.