INDIANAPOLIS — A nine-term state representative from southeastern Indiana was chosen by House Democrats Monday to succeed state Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, as caucus leader.
State Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, said he was humbled and grateful to be elected by the 30 House Democrats to spearhead efforts to enact their legislative agenda and add to their seats in the 100-member chamber at the 2018 elections.
"I want to thank God for putting me in a position to be able to help others," Goodin said. "As we move forward, Democrats are going to have a new face and we're going to have a good message."
Goodin was coy about which specific issues, beyond eliminating partisan gerrymandering, Democrats will champion when the House convenes Jan. 3 for the 10-week legislative session.
"We're going to give the people in the state of Indiana their voice back, and that's going to be our No. 1 priority," Goodin said.
He also declined to reveal his strategy to get Democratic candidates elected in 2018 as nearly all Republicans in the General Assembly have "safe" seats, due in part to district boundaries that favor GOP candidates.
"If I told you all what it was today it wouldn't be considered a strategy," Goodin said.
Goodin is one of the few remaining Democratic state lawmakers hailing from southern Indiana — a region that once was a party stronghold.
He's known for voting with Republicans more often than most of his Democratic colleagues, particularly to expand access to guns and increase penalties for violent crime.
Though Goodin also has received help from successive Republican governors, and the Republican-controlled Legislature, for his home county, which was the center of a 2015 HIV outbreak tied to the repeated use of contaminated needles by drug addicts.
The new House Democratic leader said he doesn't mind crossing the aisle to work with Republicans because he's learned, "You always attract more bees with honey than you do with brine."
Goodin insisted the Democratic caucus is united behind him even though he only defeated state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, on a 15-14 leadership vote that Pelath did not participate in.
GiaQuinta said he was "a little disappointed" in the outcome, but he remains determined to work with Goodin to put forward an agenda House Democrats can be proud of and to help elect new members in 2018 and 2020.
Goodin said he doesn't know whether he'll be kept on as leader after the 2018 elections. In any case, he plans to remain superintendent of Crothersville Community Schools and continue operating his family farm.
Last week, Pelath announced he was stepping down as Democratic leader to spend more time at home with his family and newborn son. He also revealed that he won't seek re-election in 2018.
Goodin said he's proud to follow in Pelath's footsteps: "He's a great man, he did a wonderful job and I just hope I'm able to build on the successes that Scott built as we move forward."
"There's going be different voice, obviously with a little more southern twang to it, but we're going to have a unified voice," Goodin said.