INDIANAPOLIS — U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., once again is the most bipartisan member of Indiana's congressional delegation, though new U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., also is winning plaudits for working across party lines.
Donnelly ranked second among the nation's 100 senators on the recently released 2016 Bipartisan Index, a measure created by The Lugar Center, led by former U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., and Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy.
It rates bipartisanship based on how often a member of Congress co-sponsors legislation introduced by a lawmaker of the opposite party, as well as the frequency with which a member's proposals attract early supporters from the other side of the aisle.
"By shining a bright light on members' bipartisan activity — or lack thereof — we hope to encourage them to work together when writing or co-sponsoring legislation, and to raise the level of cooperation and civility," said Lugar and Edward Montgomery, dean of the public policy school.
Donnelly consistently has come in either second or third for Senate bipartisanship through the first four years of his six-year term, something he said Hoosiers rightfully expect.
"Good ideas aren't exclusive to one party or the other," Donnelly said. "As the hired help for Hoosiers, my job is to work in a bipartisan way to get things done for the hard-working people of Indiana."
"I believe that we achieve more when we work together, and I will continue to work with anyone willing to partner with me to make progress for Hoosiers and the American people."
A new partner
Donnelly said Young, who took office in January, has become a key ally in his efforts to solve problems vexing Indiana and the nation.
For example, the Senate last week unanimously voted to advance to the House their jointly sponsored Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act.
If eventually signed into law, it would provide federal grants and other resources for local police officers seeking peer mentoring or other mental health assistance for job-related issues.
"During National Police Week we honor the men and women in blue who literally answer the call to serve and protect our communities every day," Young said. "Passage of this bill will help ensure that they have access to the services they need to remain ready to serve."
LaPorte County Sheriff John Boyd agreed the measure will provide meaningful support to unsung heroes in communities throughout the Region and the state.
"It is common knowledge that a policeman's life expectancy is shorter than the average due to the extreme stress they face," Boyd said. "We appreciate the efforts of Sen. Donnelly and Sen. Young in guiding this bill through the Senate and encourage the same action in the House."
The two Hoosier senators also have worked together to secure federal aid for East Chicago families displaced by the city's lead contamination crisis, as well as jointly collaborated with U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, to advance South Shore Line improvements.
"Sen. Young is demonstrating that a strong work ethic, a desire to solve problems, and a willingness to candidly communicate and collaborate with others regardless of their political affiliation can produce positive results for the people of our state and nation," Visclosky said.
"I look forward to continuing to find opportunities where we can work together to create jobs and transform the economy of Northwest Indiana and our state."
Will bipartisanship survive?
Young replaced U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., who chose not to seek re-election last year and recently was appointed by President Donald Trump to be U.S. Director of National Intelligence.
Coats was among the senators least likely to work across the aisle, ranking 82nd out of 100 on the Bipartisan Index.
In contrast, Young's willingness to collaborate with Democrats extends back to his House service where he scored roughly in the top quarter of the 435 representatives for bipartisanship.
Visclosky ranked just one slot below Young at 121st.
The two Indiana congressmen expected to compete next year in a Republican primary for the right to challenge Donnelly were considerably more partisan in their legislative behavior.
U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Brownsburg, was 278th in the Lugar rankings, while U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Shelbyville, came in 309th — making him the least bipartisan current member of the Indiana delegation.
Lugar acknowledged that there's nothing wrong with members of Congress sponsoring some legislation that appeals only to members of one political party.
But he said those lawmakers who consistently see their work through a partisan lens are failing to live up to the standard of cooperation expected by the nation's founders and still needed today to solve the country's problems.