Last year, Indiana House Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, became a new
voice for some residents of the Duneland area in the statehouse.
Now, for the 118th General Assembly, he will be the loudest voice for the
House Democratic caucus, ascending to the rank of minority leader.
But Pelath is not letting the spotlight go to his head. It means longer days
and more gusto to articulate the message of the 31 Democrats in the
“The role of a minority leader is a very important one,” Pelath told the
Chesterton Tribune. “It’s our job to help the governing majority for the
good of the state. It’s our essential role to critique the work of the
majority so their policies improve. Mainly it’s our job to articulate and
provide alternatives. I take that work very seriously.”
Although the Dems will frequently debate the bills proposed by their GOP
counterparts, Pelath said reaching across the aisle is just as important. “I
always say to those in my party if the Republicans have a good idea that’s
going to benefit Indiana, than we need to help with it. When there is a
glowing need for bipartisanship, we will be able to execute it.”
Pelath moved into the spot of house minority leader after the position was
held for many years by Pat Bauer, D-South Bend. He will work closely with
Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, on finding common ground
on the issues.
Instead of serving on committees, Pelath said it is his responsibility as
minority leader to make committee appointments for his Democratic members.
Much of his time will be spent amending pieces of legislation and
coordinating activities among committee members.
A focus on
middle class jobs
When the Assembly officially kicks into action on Jan. 7, Pelath said he is
ready to state his main points – creating job opportunities for those
wanting to join the middle class and revamp the school funding formula to
restore programs that have been cut in recent years.
According to Pelath, the Democrat approach to growing jobs will be to
introduce laws that would service the needs of middle class workers rather
than just “to do nice things for the guys in the board rooms.”
“We need to do a better job with growing the middle class because they are
the real economic engine of Indiana,” said Pelath.
He will advocate for bills that would provide access to training to achieve
the skills needed for jobs that are readily available. Other bills fitting
into this agenda are investment in infrastructure and transportation.
Pelath has mentioned the money from the Major Moves initiative will run out
this year in the state’s budget and lawmakers will now have to look for
creative ways to keep goods and services moving in the state’s burgeoning
regions like Northwest Indiana.
He hopes the Assembly will also support the gaming industry in the region,
which he said creates thousands of jobs and revenue.
Having a substantial surplus in the budget means a lot of needs have gone
unfilled, Pelath said. The item he and his party members feel most strongly
about in need of restoration is the more than $300 million in cuts made to
education since 2010.
Pelath said the Dems will look to make changes to legislation implemented by
former Indiana Superintendent of Education Tony Bennett. The party’s goal is
to “slow down” the changes made by Bennett.
“I think people have had enough of experimentation. They have had enough of
depleted school budgets and staff being laid off,” Pelath said. “We would
like to see that many of those cuts to public schools are restored and
schools be given the chance to succeed and not be made the scapegoat of any
Bennett was defeated in November’s General Election by Democrat Glenda Ritz
who Pelath said will be “a sober voice for education.”
Public schools in Indiana now have their general funds paid for by a formula
through a state sales tax based on a calculation of average daily
Pelath contends the funding formula system “needs to be revamped” to be more
fair and equitable. He said the formula is particularly unfair to schools in
Northwest Indiana while more funding is flowing to the wealthier schools in
Other likely matters to be discussed again this year are adult education and
free full day kindergarten.
Pelath said given the events of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, there
will likely be a push for funding mental health programs in schools which
has had its budget slashed in recent years.
“I think it would be very foolish not to make mental health a priority,” he
Last year’s Assembly saw what was likely the most contentious piece of
legislation to be introduced in the history of the statehouse – HB 1001
Right-to-Work– overwhelming opposed by the Democrats.
Pelath said he does not expect a repeal of Right-to-Work will be attempted
this year given the smaller number of Democratic representatives but he
believes it could happen one day if the Democrats are ever in the majority.
“It will be a goal for many years to come,” he said.
Looking to what
direction the state will move on its many issues will be an open-ended
question until mid January when Governor-elect Mike Pence, a five-term U.S.
Congressman, will give his State of the State Address, Pelath said. “That is
when we are going to know what his priorities are.”