INDIANAPOLIS | State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, was chosen Thursday to lead the Indiana House Democrats as they try to regain control of the Republican-dominated chamber.
A majority of the 40 House Democrats voted to make the 14-year state representative and former Hammond police captain their leader at a party meeting in Lafayette. Lawson replaces state Rep. Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, who has served 42 years in the House and led the caucus for the past decade, including six years as House speaker.
Lawson said in a statement she is "honored to be placed in this position at such a critical time for our party."
House Democrats got steamrolled during the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions by the 60 Republican representatives in the 100-member House. Right-to-work, private school vouchers and dozens of other measures Democrats opposed are now state law.
State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, said House Democrats have to work together to grow their membership and that meant breaking away from Bauer's top-down leadership structure.
"It's time to rebuild the caucus, put a new face on the caucus, and we needed to do it sooner rather than later," Candelaria Reardon said. "It's going to be a very different governing style ... it's going to very inclusive of the rest of the talent we have within the caucus."
State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said it wasn't an easy decision to remove Bauer as leader but it was the right decision.
"No one is happy about having to do, this but this is the will of a majority of the caucus members," Brown said. "It was a vote of confidence in Linda being able to carry us through these rough times, especially these campaigns coming up."
After suggesting Wednesday that he would try to remain House Democratic leader no matter what the caucus decided, Bauer said following the vote that he would step aside.
"Despite the fact that I don’t agree with today's outcome, I think Rep. Lawson is a great leader," Bauer said. "She has a great background, particularly in standing up for working people."
Perhaps the only person nearly as disappointed as Bauer about his removal was Eric Holcomb, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party.
Holcomb, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and other Republicans have used Bauer in campaign ads for years, portraying him, and by extension all Democrats, as irresponsible and slightly unhinged.
"If this stands, we're sorry to see Pat Bauer go," Holcomb said.