By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS  – Speaking in the well of the Indiana House just after he had passed the gavel to Speaker Todd Huston, Brian Bosma reflected on one of the key elements of his record tenure. “We have to have a long-term vision here,” Bosma said at the end of a historic 12 years as speaker, including the last 10. “We each need to think a decade away.”

He was speaking from experience. While Republicans have held the Indiana Senate for all but two years (1974-76) in the past half century, the Indiana House had swung back and forth between Republicans and Democrats regularly (along with two 50/50 splits), until 2010. Bosma was instrumental in the creation of the super majority House, and he held it as speaker for an unprecedented decade.

His first stint as speaker lasted a mere two years, from 2004 through the 2006 election, that served as a referendum on not only the Iraq War nationally, but on the passage of Daylight Saving Time and Gov. Mitch Daniels’ toll road lease via his Major Moves program. In 2004, Bosma helped create the 52-48 GOP majority that allowed Bosma to replace Democratic Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, with the defeat of Democrats Markt Lytle, Alan Chowning, John Frenz and Ron Herrell while using the Karl Rove-inspired anti-gay-marriage issue.

If there was a political failing in Gov. Daniels’ tenure, it was his inability to pull a Republican House majority with his 58% landslide reelection victory over Democrat Jill Long Thompson in 2008. That was the year Barack Obama became the first Democrat to carry Indiana’s 11 Electoral College votes since 1964 and Democrats were able to pick off Reps. Andy Thomas and Jon Elrod in a downtown Indianapolis district

That set the stage for what became the transformative 2010 election, when a nucleus of Susan Ellspermann, Mike Karickhoff, Kevin Mahan, Cindy Kirchhofer, Matt Ubelhor, Jim Baird and Rebecca Kubacki helped forge a 60-40 majority.

While Senate Presidents Pro Tem Robert Garton and then David Long had ruling tenures measured in decades (Garton from 1980 to 2006; Long from 2006 to 2018), Daniels, deputy chief of staff Eric Holcomb and Bosma created what would eventually become the super majority House in 2010. It was solidified by the 2012 (including the arrival of Todd Huston) and 2014 elections that crossed the super majority threshold.

Actually, Bosma began laying the political groundwork for a systemic approach after he became House minority leader back in 2001. “Starting in 2002, there wasn’t a cycle where he didn’t have an agenda,” explained Mike Gentry, who heads the House Republican Campaign Committee and the Mark It Red consulting group. “He always had an agenda that he would take into the cycle and then that would become the caucus policy agenda.”

Bosma traveled to Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa where he picked the brains of Republican speakers. He then traveled extensively across the state, recruiting candidates, often in their living rooms and kitchens. He would enlist the help of other local elected officials, and after Gov. Daniels took office, had help from above. On a recent trip to Lake County, Bosma noted that he had been there over 90 times.

“We used all that benchmarking information to create a system,” said Gentry. “We focused – with limited resources with the Democrat-drawn maps – on where we could win. We would say, ‘These are seats we thought we could win’, and then mustered resources. It was because of Brian setting out early on to put together a system, then having an agenda that pushed Indiana forward.”

“He was focused,” Gentry said.

Bosma worked even harder to develop this enduring House GOP majority. Gov. Mitch Daniels formed the Aiming Higher PAC that pumped more than $1 million into House races during the 2010 cycle. Daniels, Bosma, Holcomb and the Hoosiers for Economic Growth PAC began recruiting the class of 2010 (which also included the unsuccessful campaigns of current Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer, and former DLGF Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave) in 2009.

While 2010 was the transformative year, it was 2006 that may have been Bosma’s most influential year. Hoosier Republican U.S. Reps. Chris Chocola, John Hostettler and Mike Sodrel all lost in that Democratic wave that developed nationally due to the Iraq War. “We could have lost a corresponding 30 House seats,” Gentry said. Instead, House Republicans lost one seat held by Rep. Troy Woodruff. Not falling into a deep hole then set the stage for 2010 when Republicans retook the House and the driver’s seat when it came to drawing up the 2011 maps. The Republicans haven’t been in the minority since, with these maps the first in modern times when the Indiana House hasn’t shifted control to the Democrats.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels told HPI on Wednesday that the Aiming Higher PAC was actually formed to fund the 2004 transition team. “In 2006 it was revived as a PAC and it raised some money,” Daniels explained. “That year the money was given to Bosma’s committee, the House Republican Campaign Committee. We supported them, but they identified the candidates. And then it sat because in 2007 and 2008 we were campaigning for ourselves. 

“It was brought back for the 2010 cycle,” Daniels continued. “The difference there was we recruited the candidates ourselves and we chose which ones to support. We coordinated, we talked to Brian’s group all the time, but we didn’t just give them the money. We operated as an independent identity. We were looking for reform-minded people who not only would win elections, but would help us make reforms we had not yet made. In that cycle, we supported some people they thought couldn’t win. We ended up winning 60 seats. Even they didn’t imagine that. We supported some were too long of shots to back. We bet on some real long shots like Wendy McNamara down in the southwest corner, and Sue Ellspermann. Our critieria were a little different. We were looking for allies who would stand up for changes and reforms we wanted to advocate, not just get elected.”

Daniels added,  “We were certainly glad to see that majority. We wanted to finish strong. There were things we wanted to do. You heard me say lame ducks can still fly. We wanted to be as active as we could be  right to the end. We were able to deliver some of our biggest changes in year seven and year eight when you’re supposed to  be out of gas.”

Eric Holcomb, then Daniels’s deputy chief of staff, told HPI after the results had come in, “The 2010 elections put on stage, front and center stage, just how different the two major political parties are today. The Democrats chose a two-front strategy: One, demonize job creators by attacking local employers, and two, smear their opponents. Even when the going got tough, Republicans stayed disciplined and stayed on message talking instead about jobs, spending, and taxes.”

Holcomb added, “The Indiana Republican Party has become the ‘Party of Purpose’ while the Democrats, both national and state parties, have drifted away from their founding principles. This will be the single biggest reason Reagan Democrats defect in droves.”

“This was not about winning an election,” Bosma said on Election Night in November 2010. “That’s the easy part. Now, we are prepared to make the tough decisions to bring Indiana into the 21st Century all the way, to balance the budget without a tax increase, to prioritize the items that we’re going to have to deal with in education and job creation.

“So many different areas need our attention as Republicans to be innovative, reform-minded and conservative, and that’s what this team pledges to do and we’re going to do it with you,” Bosma continued.

After the middle four years of Gov. Daniels’ tenure with Speaker Bauer in the way, Bosma’s elevation ignited the 2011 education reforms. With Huston as Supt. Tony Bennett’s chief of staff and Bosma sponsoring legislation that expanded charter schools, allowed students to enroll in any district, and created the nation’s first voucher program, the pent-up Republican agenda barreled forth.

It also created SEA1, the teacher evaluation bill that Daniels and legislative leaders described as “landmark” and even “revolutionary.”

“The governor made the comment that this is no ordinary moment, this is no ordinary General Assembly,” Bennett said as Daniels, Bosma and Senate President David Long looked on. “This General Assembly and this governor have opened the door to honor Indiana’s truly inspired and inspiring teachers in no way like we’ve ever done before. This particular measure has the most direct impact on student performance in our schools, has the most direct impact on economic development for our state’s future and it has the most direct impact on making sure that we have a human capital system that carries forward a legacy of great instruction for this state.”

Bosma’s final speech

Bosma dispensed other advice during his final speech on Monday after handing the gavel to Huston. “This is an unbelievably wonderful institution,” Bosma said. “It is literally the crucible of democracy in this state and you must work hard to protect it.” 

He noted a weekend Wall Street Journal story: “Headline, Illinois races toward default. I went through the details of what Illinois has attempted to do and we have adopted the exact opposite path: Fully funding pensions, not raising expenditures as revenues plummet, not making promises to future pensioners that cannot be kept without future tax increases, and the likelihood of an Illinois bankruptcy. I don’t wish that on them. I wish we had 50 healthy states, but we don’t. This is a healthy state because of the institution of the legislature. Under Republican leadership and Democrats, it’s been the key.”

Bosma was extremely protective of nurturing his House majority. When Gov. Mike Pence sought an income tax cut in 2013 as checking off a box on a future presidential bid, Bosma and Long applied the brakes, giving Pence just a fraction of what he had originally sought. Bosma didn’t want to defend a future tax hike during the next recession.

“I want to tell you about what I want you to remember about this institution,” Bosma continued. “First of all, you younger legislators, you need to prepare yourself to lead. It doesn’t just happen. You need to study, you need to read bills and listen to the more senior members as they debate them, and you need to learn your area and find your area of expertise. As my team knows, you have to have a long-term vision here.

“My next admonition is, be courageous,” Bosma said. “Step out and be bold. I am confident in Speaker Huston’s ability to take the reins and hit the ground running, and I have no doubt his strong leadership and excitement for Indiana’s momentum will serve this chamber and our state well.”

A classic example of Bosma’s leadership as speaker came during the 2016 session when the state was racked by thousands of clandestine methamphetamine labs that were injuring first responders, were home to hundreds of children, and were contaminating hundreds of houses and motel rooms. For several years Indiana led the nation on meth labs. Health committee chairs Mike Young in the Senate and Cindy Kirchhofer in the House attempted to block the bills in February 2016, saying there wasn’t enough time on the schedule. This is when Bosma stepped in, signaling behind the scenes that the legislation needed to be heard on the House floor.

As HPI reported in 2016: “His clout was essential.” Within a year, the number of reported meth labs had fallen more than 70% in 2017 and the removal of children from such environs dropped 80%.

After he was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Mark Massa, Huston said, “My family has always stressed the importance of public service and conservative leadership, and I am honored and blessed to be placed in this position to help make sure Indiana stays on the right track. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate and Gov. Eric Holcomb to fuel Indiana’s economic engine, and make our state a destination for all.”