By BRIAN A. HOWEY

CARMEL – Having term-limited herself after seven years in Congress, U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks told Howey Politics Indiana there will be no more campaigns for public office.

“My political career is over,” Brooks said. This from a woman who came within a single Republican Central Committee vote of landing the 2016 gubernatorial nomination. She’s just the third Republican woman to be in Congress from the Hoosier State (along with Cecil Harden and Jackie Walorski). She’s had a long career with stints as deputy mayor and a U.S. attorney. Once her congressional term concludes in 2020, she plans to be a “coach and mentor” for a new generation of Republican leaders.

But this upcoming generation could very well be different from those that came before. There are now two generations who have gone through “active shooter” drills in their schools. She believes America is at or near a tipping point on “common sense” gun reforms such as the Jake Laird Law in Indiana, one of the most successful “red flag” laws in the nation.

Brooks is on the NRCC’s recruiting committee, but as she winds down her political career, the Republican House caucus is overwhelmingly full of white guys; she is one of only 13 women in the caucus. The lone African-American, Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, is joining Brooks in retirement.

In 2013, Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus’s 100-page “Growth and Opportunity Project,” also known as the 2012 “autopsy report” following Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama, called for a more inclusive GOP. It proposed an outreach to Latinos, other minorities and women. It proposed that Republicans “embrace and champion” immigration reform. Priebus would say, “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

Priebus, who served a brief stint as President Trump’s chief of staff in 2017, added, “I think it’s about being decent. I think it’s about dignity and respect that nobody deserves to have their dignity diminished or people don’t deserve to be disrespected.”

Three years later, the GOP retook the White House, but on very, very different terms. Donald Trump launched his campaign citing Mexican rapists and killers, proposed a Muslim travel ban, offended an array of minorities, and have been accused by at least two dozen women of sexual harassment or assault. President Trump has essentially wadded up, tossed away and stomped on the autopsy report both as a candidate and while serving in the Oval Office.

The America Brooks finds herself in as she prepares to exit Congress is a jittery nation. Trump’s rhetoric has been racially divisive, pitting rural American against urban American. Brooks’ 5th CD spans from bright red Grant County, to purple in southern Hamilton County and blue to bright blue in Indianapolis, a literal microcosm of the nation. It is the kind of district Democrats believe they can pick off as early as 2020.

She said polling in the 5th CD had her poised for a fifth term and believes the district will remain in the GOP column in November 2020 without her. Most of the Republicans who will seek her seat – former senator Mike Delph, Rev. Micah Beckwith, businessman Terry Henderson, former state legislator Steve Braun, State Sen. John Ruckelshaus and Treasurer Kelly Mitchell – have reached out and have sought her advice and imprimatur.

However, there is no doubt that Trump’s disdain for the Growth and Opportunity Project and the dozens of massacres have had an impact in the 5th CD and beyond. Brooks has denounced the cruder rhetoric from Trump and members of the Democrat House “Squad.” 

We conducted this HPI Interview in her district office in Carmel late Tuesday afternoon:

HPI: Is your political career over, or is this just the end of this current chapter?

Brooks: I decided when we made this announcement, and had been thinking about it for quite some time, my political career is over. I’m not planning on running for office again. I plan on being much more of a coach and mentor for others. I’ll still be involved in many ways, like I am right now in this recruitment role for the NRCC. I want to coach and mentor more than anything else. I want to bring new talent into the party and encourage, particularly girls and young women that are running for office. It’s something I will stay involved with. I will still be political. I have loved what I’ve done. I’ve loved serving the 5th District and Indiana and the country, but I think it’s time to pass the baton.

HPI: So where will you be a couple of years from now? Working with the Lugar Series, or creating your own organization to encourage up-and-coming Republicans to get involved?

Brooks: I really haven’t decided yet how to stay involved in that way. Members of Congress often have leadership PACs that we fundraise for and that is to support other candidates. In the last cycle, I probably supported with a couple of hundred thousand dollars that we raised and I pushed out to other candidates and so I want to try and find a way to engage and support people, but not just at the federal level. What is giving me such joy is that two of the newest members of the Statehouse are close friends of mine, Dollyne Sherman and Ann Vermillion.

HPI: I haven’t met Ann Vermillion yet, but having Dollyne in the General Assembly is a wonderful development.

Brooks: It still gives me a chill thinking about Dollyne, who has always been behind the scenes, supporting in a communications and policy role for so many people, going back to Gov. Orr. When she called and told me she was seriously thinking about this and let’s talk through this, she had been on my kitchen cabinet since I’ve gotten started. I was beyond excited knowing she was running. But knowing it was a caucus, that’s a very different kind of way to get in office than running in a primary and putting your name on the ballot. It’s a different political process. I’ve introduced Dollyne to Ann Vermillion. I’ve gotten to know Ann in my time in office. She was a leader at Marion General Hospital and really focused on the opioid crisis. So early on in my time in Congress, I’ve gotten to know Ann and I think she’s a rock star from Grant County. So I mentored her along the way and when (State Rep.) Kevin (Mahan) surprised us all when he decided to step down, she called me. I want to be helpful for people who consider running. That’s what I see myself doing. I’m not going to step away. I’m not going to focus just on women. I will stay involved in recruiting and coaching people.

HPI: In 2013, Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus issued a 100-page Growth and Opportunity Project report or the “Republican autopsy.” It seems to me, despite your efforts, the party under President Trump is doing the exact opposite.

Brooks: Can you share with me a little bit about what the report said?

HPI: It encouraged the party to be more tolerant and appeal to young people, Latinos, women and urged immigration reform. It seems to me that under President Trump, the party is doing the exact opposite of that. He kicked off his campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists” and then he followed that up with a proposed Muslim ban. The Republican House caucus just has 13 female members and you and Martha Robey are retiring and the lone African-American, Will Hurd, is also leaving. It’s becoming the party of old white guys.

Brooks: This last election cycle was very, very difficult for us. One statistic I love bringing up is in 2018, we had 52 females on the general election ballot (for Congress). It’s not that women didn’t run, it’s that we were not successful in those races. Thirteen of us won and that included only one new member, Carol Miller from West Virginia. The Democrats did an amazing job of bringing in a lot of women to the point where we have a historic number of women serving in the House. There was no question Democrats targeted a number of our women that were running because we had 52 on the ballot. (Rep.) Elise Stefanik of upstate New York ... helped recruit those 52 women and there were more who ran in the primaries. Fifty-two made it out and she decided to focus exclusively on recruiting women. This year we are recruiting everybody, men, women. She decided in this Congress to put much more focus on women. The thing I’m pretty thrilled about is right now we have 450 people who have reached out to the RNCC, saying “I’m considering running for office.” That’s much higher than in previous cycles. The last numbers I saw were 204 of those were women. A hundred of those folks are people of color.

HPI: That’s a bit of a change.

Brooks: We also have recruited 10 or 20 who are veterans. The Democrats also put a focus on veterans. We always have, but we’re doing it in a more concentrated way. So right now, I lead an effort with the NRCC where we divide the country up in different regions and members are helping me. Some are veterans, some are former mayors. Larry Bucshon is helping our team with people with medical backgrounds. We’re connecting recruits with people with similar backgrounds. We’re educating them about putting together teams, consultants, how to run grassroots operations, identifying potential voters, and turnout models. We’re trying to do a lot more coaching. We need to pick up 18 seats before the retirements, but we have to hold the seats we have like the 5th, like Will Hurd’s seat and a number of Texas members who have retired. 

HPI: Why are so many Republican Texans retiring?

Brooks: House Republicans and Democrats are very different. We put term limits on chairmanships. Democrats don’t. We have had a lot more churn within the Republican Party for decades now. We have more turnover now intentionally. When I came in 2012, I said, “I’m going to term limit myself” and I’m honoring that. A lot more of our members are doing that. 

HPI: Do you think that’s a good thing?

Brooks: I do think that’s a very good thing. It gives people an opportunity to move up and lead. There’s so much talent. We give people more opportunities and I think that’s part of the reason we see more retirements. Once you reach the top level of the committee you’re on, they say, “I’m done.” Being in public office like this is completely consuming in your life.

HPI: I ran into John Hiler a couple years after he was defeated and he said something like, “What was I thinking?” He was having a great time with his family and business after Congress. There’s definitely life after Congress.

Brooks: There is. I think a lot of people realize that they go there for several terms. I admire people who go for decades. We need them for the institution. They really help us protecting and strengthening the House. But some of my colleagues who have been there 20 or 30 years, who run every two years, it can really take a toll on your life, your health and so many things. I just decided eight years was enough. Our kids live across the globe. My son moved to Alaska; he’s a teacher there. It took me nine months to get up there to see him. Our daughter is living up in Minnesota. I just want to have more flexibility in my life to be much more engaged with my family. That is the reason I decided to step away.

HPI: This past summer we’re seeing some of most inflammatory rhetoric from President Trump. Was there any reticence about running on a ticket with him? Did that play in role in your decision?

Brooks: It didn’t. It wasn’t about the president. That wasn’t it. From the very beginning I made a conscious decision each off year to ask, “Am I going to continue to do this?” I did it during President Obama and I did it last cycle as well. Did I want to continue to serve in this way?” I decided, “Yes, let’s finish out four years with this Republican president and see what we can get done.” I thought we got a lot done in the last Congress. Obviously serving in the minority, I thought we’d get less done. But even though we were in the minority, one of my bills was the first bill to pass out of the House. It was the Pandemic All Hazard Preparedness Act. We got it out of the House and signed it into law this June. It doesn’t have to do with being in the minority, it doesn’t have anything to do with the president. It was all about personal life situation.

HPI: Are you concerned about the general level of rhetoric, whether it be from the president or one of your Democratic House colleagues like Rep. Omar?

Brooks: Yes. Obviously, I’m one of the few Republicans who have spoken out about it. 

HPI: Because you’re not running does that give you more license to speak out?

Brooks: Sure it does, but I do believe there are other instances where I have run in the past and spoken out as well. When candidate Trump made disparaging remarks about Judge Curiel from California, I’m like, “This Hoosier ... the president should not be disparaging this Hoosier.” (Judge Gonzalo Curiel was a native of East Chicago). So I have spoken out, particularly when it comes to racially divisive comments that I think are discriminatory. I have a pattern with that. I think that’s very important. I’m on the Modernization Committee in Congress and I’m trying to focus on civility. I’m trying to remind and get the country to be more focused on that responsibility, including our president.

HPI: It seems like the proponents of that kind of civility, Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, are the ones leaving Congress. 

Brooks: I hope there will continue to be leaders in both the House and Senate who continue to raise the issue and remind our leader about the importance of civility and not making racially charged comments. I’m sure there will be. With my departure and Corker’s departure and others there are still people who will be speaking out. It’s not just about the president. I’ve spoken out when members of Congress have done racially or ethnically charged comments.

HPI: Rep. Ilhan Omar?

Brooks: Rep. Omar. Exactly. There have been a number of anti-Semitic comments made by my colleagues in Congress. I’ve spoken out against those. Even though I voted with the Democrats and only a handful of Republicans to condemn what the president said about my colleagues, I also said the Democrats should have put in a resolution condemning those anti-Semitic comments. This isn’t just about the president. This is about members of Congress also.

HPI: You mentioned Rep. Ted Deutsch before we began the interview. You two have an unfortunate bond, representing districts where there has been a school shooting, though, obviously, the Parkland massacre was far worse than Noblesville West Middle School. Now we’re in a freaky, jittery scenario where a motorcycle backfiring on Times Square sets off a stampede, or a sign falling at a Utah mall sets off a panic. People are now anticipating massacres and this is an unfortunate change. What’s your message on this? After that terrible weekend, you tweeted that now is the time to act. Are we at the proverbial tipping point?

Brooks: I certainly hope so. I plan on continuing to go back after recess and work on it even harder. But I have been working on it in many ways since I got here. Just remember, I came to Congress after Sandy Hook in December 2012. I formed a School Safety Caucus with Rick Larsen from the state of Washington. We tried a couple of congresses ago to get much more attention and focus on school safety issues. Indiana has actually been a leader because of our School Safety Academies that we have here. I was U.S. attorney when Virginia Tech happened. We were doing a lot back in those days. I’ve also been involved in gun violence issue when I was in the mayor’s office in the 1990s. That’s how the majority of homicides occur in Indianapolis. But again, we always focus on the cause of those homicides. It’s the drug trafficking primarily and domestic violence. That’s typically the genesis of violence in our community. 

At some point after Parkland, Ted and I ... talked a lot about “red flag” laws. It might have prevented Parkland. I really studied our red flag law and I called Sgt. Tammy Koontz with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. She had done an amazing job of keeping statistics on Indiana’s red flag law. Sadly, I was U.S. attorney when Jake Laird was killed. I spoke at his funeral. I got to know his parents. Indiana passed the Jake Laird Law in 2005, a year after Jake was killed by a mentally ill man who shot five police officers. Law enforcement had taken him into custody a year before on an emergency detention order based on his mental challenges. When he got out, they had no legal way to keep his guns, so they had to return his weapons. A month later, he shot his mother who he lived with and was shooting up his neighborhood on the south side when IMPD rolled in. He shot Jake instantly and shot five officers during that shoot-out. The police department went to the General Assembly and said, “We have to have a legal means to take and hold guns of people with mental health challenges.” Our General Assembly, I think, unanimously passed the Jake Laird Law, which is one of the strongest red flag laws in the country.

HPI: My understanding is that it’s preventing more suicides than the mass shootings.

Brooks: Absolutely. It’s prevented hundreds of suicides. In fact, (researchers) studied it from 2006 to 2013 ... and I believe during that period of time it had been used over 450 times in Indianapolis. From the time I got engaged, from 2006-2014, it had been used 700 times in Indianapolis, and never legally challenged. Meaning it had never gone up to our Court of Appeals or Indiana Supreme Court to be overturned. That’s because our police departments and courts have done it in a constitutionally protected way. Even though law enforcement has been given the ability to remove guns prior to going to court, that’s what makes this effective. 

HPI: I’ve seen polling this week showing 70% of Americans would support an assault weapon ban and 90% favor universal background checks. So there’s considerable public support, yet they all seem to be DOA in Congress. After Sandy Hook, after Parkland there’s been speculation ... is this the tipping point? Is something going to change? Have we reached a tipping point? And if there is so much support, why is it so hard to get something passed? Why does anyone need an assault rifle and 100 rounds of ammo?

Brooks: I’d like to think we’re at the tipping point because of the hundreds of mass shootings we’ve had this past year. It’s my understanding there has been a couple hundred. I introduced the Jake Laird Law (in Congress) a month before Noblesville happened. It wasn’t a result of Noblesville. I introduced it with Ted in the last Congress. We reintroduced it again this year and Judiciary Committee is in a bipartisan way at least looking at red flag laws. I have a lot of hope we’re going to move something, whether it is the Jake Laird bill or a version of it. I think people will be willing to compromise.

HPI: When your colleagues see the panic we saw in Times Square, is it registering that we’ve crossed a crucible? There’s something different going on now. 

Brooks: I talk to a lot of young people and they share with me growing up with the active shooter drills.

HPI: We did tornado and fire drills. Our kids and grandkids are doing active shooter drills. 

Brooks: I’m glad they do the drills, but they are growing up with a very different point of view and an inherent fear of being shot. I think that is what is different. Young people are demanding it, are demanding we change some of our laws relative to guns. I think there will be some changes. I believe Leader (Mitch) McConnell and I actually believe the president wants to see changes. And the vice president. It’s my understanding over the past month the vice president has been leading in some ways for red flag laws. This might be the time. Of course, I thought it might be after Parkland. I talk with a lot of people across the district who say it’s time to make some changes.