INDIANAPOLIS | Northwest Indiana's newest state representatives, both Lake County Republicans, took their oaths of office Tuesday as the Indiana General Assembly convened for its annual one-day organizational meeting.
State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, and state Rep. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, raised their right arms alongside their 98 House colleagues and repeated the oath as directed by Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson, a Hobart native. Across the rotunda, Dickson also swore the state's 50 senators into office.
Slager, a former Schererville town councilman, said he's excited to be a member of the 118th Indiana General Assembly.
"There's just a lot of energy in the air," Slager said. "The new members on both sides have a lot of talent, a lot of business experience; I'm really looking forward to working with them because I think it's going to be a tremendously talented group to be a part of."
A certified public accountant by training, Slager said when daily legislative sessions begin Jan. 7, he hopes to land a spot on the House Ways and Means Committee, where he can put his numbers experience to work on the state budget.
Slager said he'd like to restore education funding cut in prior years but realizes Indiana faces new expenses as the federal health law is implemented.
"That's going to be quite a balancing act," Slager said.
Sitting two rows behind Slager on the Republican side of the chamber, Niemeyer said he's eager to get to work.
"It's a new day for me; it's another challenge, and I'm looking forward to it," Niemeyer said. "I'm looking forward to doing what I can for our area and the state of Indiana."
The former Lake County councilman and the owner of realty and auction companies said he plans to focus on local government issues, jobs and taxation, including finding a way to eliminate the cap on Lake County's property tax levy imposed by an earlier Legislature as punishment for the county's refusal to collect a local income tax.
"If you have growth in your area, you have businesses coming in, you're increasing your assessed value, you should be able to create more tax dollars off that assessed value for infrastructure and services that your community needs," Niemeyer said.
Both Slager and Niemeyer expect Northwest Indiana issues will get more attention this year from the 69-member House Republican majority now that it includes two Lake County Republicans.
"What Lake County needed most was a Republican to work with this majority so that we might be able to get our message heard a little bit better and maybe moderate the message," Slager said.
Niemeyer said having been in the minority party for so long in Democratic-dominated Lake County government he knows it's worthwhile to cooperate with everyone wherever possible.
"I'm really willing to work with the other representatives on the Democratic side," Niemeyer said. "I think we all have the same values and the same goals about making Lake County work."
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, sounded a similar message of bipartisanship.
"We know that we have an obligation to work together for the people that we serve and certainly I know that all the members on this side of aisle are looking forward to doing that," Pelath said. "Having different perspectives is, many times, helpful."