INDIANAPOLIS — State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, was dressed all in black Wednesday for what turned out to be her last first-day-of-session in the House chamber that she's patrolled for the past 20 years.

Shortly before the speaker gaveled lawmakers to order, the 69-year-old state representative told The Times she will not seek re-election to an 11th term in November.

"It's just, it's time to move on," Lawson said, choking back tears in her tiny office near the chamber floor.

"I'm tired. I've been in public service 41 years," she added. "And I want 10 acres in Brown County with a big fence and lots of woods, and no mail and no phone and no email address."

Lawson said she's still grateful to represent Hammond and Whiting residents in House District 1, many of whom she also served during her 24 years as a Hammond police officer, where she was the first female officer and ultimately retired as a captain, as well as in her 12 years on the Hammond School Board.

But Lawson explained she no longer gets the same thrill from being in the Statehouse or seeing her name on the House vote board as she did when she started in 1998 — in part because the bipartisanship and camaraderie that she said once prevailed are gone.

"I feel like a stranger in this building, and it's not that I don't belong, it's that I don't fit here, anymore," Lawson said.

"(House Speaker) Brian Bosma's yammering about this collective lovefest, we all get along so well, we all work together — that's just not true, it's just not true; it doesn't happen."

She said her happiest time in the Legislature was the six years she served as chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, where she was able to put her stamp on dozens of criminal law and courts matters moving through the General Assembly.

But it wasn't the power that made her happy, Lawson said. It was how well she was able to work with the Republican leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the truly bipartisan measures they put together.

"It was such a collective good product, and we came out with some really good stuff," Lawson said. "And that's gone, there is none of that, anymore."

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She said things especially changed after the 2012 elections when Republicans won a supermajority that they've maintained ever since. It is so large that even if every Democrat refused to show up there still would be enough GOP representatives present to legally conduct business.

"The climate in the Statehouse is just toxic," said Lawson, who noted that her firsthand law enforcement experience routinely is ignored by lawmakers aggressively pushing for lax gun laws that she says will endanger the lives of Indiana police and women.

Nevertheless, Lawson insisted she's not giving up. She plans to fight over the next 10 weeks for legislation guaranteeing equal pay for Hoosier women in the workplace.

"It's not only important for women, it's important for families because there's so many single women out there raising children by themselves," Lawson said.

"If pay was equitable they would be able to afford the kinds of things that they need for their families. When you start talking about people who are working a full-time job but still are eligible for aid through welfare, they're not making a decent wage."

As for her all-black apparel, Lawson said it merely signified a moment of mourning before an exciting new beginning.

"I've had a lot of transitions in my life," she said. "This is just a new chapter. It's not anything bad whatsoever."

Lawson is the third-longest-serving Northwest Indiana lawmaker to announce in recent weeks that they will finish their current terms but not seek re-election.

Together Lawson, state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, and state Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, represent 76 years of combined Statehouse service for the Region.

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