INDIANAPOLIS — The 30 Indiana House Democrats will be without a leader until at least next week, after state Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, officially stepped down from the post Tuesday and the caucus did not immediately elect anyone to replace him.
Several Democratic representatives said following a one-hour closed-door meeting that state Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, and state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, are the most likely successors, though state Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, also is in the mix.
House Democrats are due to meet again Monday to possibly select a replacement for Pelath, who announced Sunday that following the recent birth of his son he wants to spend more time with his family. Pelath also said he won't seek re-election in 2018.
The 10-term lawmaker told The Times that he's staying out of the debate over who should replace him as leader of the House minority party, because "there's a lot of good people and they're all my friends — it's just that simple."
"I don't want to endorse someone and then they don't win and the new leader doesn't feel comfortable coming to me for advice. I want to be a resource for that person," Pelath said.
He explained the position is "overwhelming" at times, because you're expected to manage the political interests of all the Democratic representatives, craft a legislative agenda and travel the state recruiting candidates and raising money, while simultaneously working a nonlegislative job and being home with your family.
"I knew that when I took the job there would be a day when I would know it was time not to do it anymore," Pelath said. "I wasn't sure exactly when that would be, but it certainly was the right juncture for me."
Organization Day, call for more civility
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, likewise seemed fed up with one aspect of his leadership position as he convened Tuesday's organizational meeting of the 2018 General Assembly, which begins daily sessions Jan. 3.
In his annual opening speech, Bosma called for greater civility among Hoosiers, both in-person and online, after he said his mother's memorial website was defaced with comments calling him, among other things, "a liar," "a pathetic excuse for a Christian" and comparing him to Nazis.
The speaker later confirmed that he was referring, in part, to attacks spurred by Hoosiers for Life, a strident anti-abortion interest group based in northeast Indiana.
In recent days, Hoosiers for Life repeatedly has condemned Bosma for preventing the House from considering their proposal to entirely ban abortion in Indiana as a test case for overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
Bosma said he agrees with the group's overall goal, but no legislation has yet been filed for 2018 and therefore the group's claim is false.
He also believes personal attacks on "the most pro-life speaker in at least the last 40 years" are absolutely the wrong way to achieve the goal.
Moreover, Bosma warned representatives to tread carefully if they choose to participate "in the long spiral of uncivil conduct in political life."
"Some of you, here in the building, encourage incivility, you encourage misrepresentation, you participate in the vilification of others, you are insensitive to those who are hurting and those who are misunderstood, and I would only encourage you to stop," he said.
State Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Goshen, sponsor of the "Protection at Conception" legislation championed by Hoosiers for Life, said he was unaware of the context that led Bosma to condemn incivility in political life.
"I don't know who that was directed at," Nisly said.
Bosma admitted his civility concerns go beyond Hoosiers for Life and cover "a wide gamut of folks" who have used social media to reach "a new low."
"The cowardly practice of remotely saying something that's totally misrepresentative of others is so untoward, and it isn't good for democracy," Bosma said.