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November 1, 2012

Indiana Republicans seeking ‘super majority’ in House

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Republicans are hoping to score a rare kind of victory this November: winning enough seats to claim a “super majority” in both the House and Senate while taking the governor’s office as well.

Holding that kind of one-party power hasn’t happened in Indiana since 1964, when Democrats took control of the Statehouse in numbers large enough that they didn’t need a single member from the other party to cast a vote. They wielded their power in a big way by making Indiana the first state in the nation to repeal a “right to work” law — the one that Republicans had wrestled into place just a few years earlier. But two years later, when voters went back to the polls for the 1966 mid-term election, the Democrats’ control of 78 seats in the 100-seat state House plunged to just 34.

The super-duper super majority was gone.

“No one can hang on to that kind of power for very long,” said political scientist Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Indiana Republicans want to give it a shot. With Tuesday’s election, they’re counting on hanging on to the super majority they’ve long enjoyed in the state Senate and predicting with confidence (based on polling) they’ll keep the governor’s office as well. To get total control, they need to up their numbers in the Indiana House. They won majority control in 2010 by taking 60 of the 100 House seats, giving them power to push some major legislation including the new “right to work” law that bans mandatory labor contracts for employees.

Their goal is to get 67 seats this time around to get a quorum-proof super majority. With that, they could keep doing business even if House Democrats walked out like they did in 2010 and 2011 — bringing the Legislature to a stall.

Downs, who has tracked the numbers back to 1850, said there have been few times in Indiana history when one party has had that kind of super-control over another party. This could be one of those times, Downs said, though he also called it “a pretty tall order.”

Brian Howey, editor of Howey Politics Indiana and a longtime chronicler of state politics, predicted back in July that Republicans were in a good position to increase their majority and called a House GOP super majority “not out of the question.”

That’s due to several factors, including 19 open seats that were created either by redistricting of legislative districts after the 2010 census or by the high number of Democratic legislators who decided to retire.

It helps that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence are polling well in Indiana. But that’s not enough, said Ed Feigenbaum, editor and publisher of the Indiana Legislative Insight newsletter.

Feigenbaum doesn’t think this is “top-down” kind of year for the state legislative races.

Downs agrees: “In Indiana, we’re happy to split our ticket.”

In Feigenbaum’s most recent analysis of the state House races, he says Republicans are within “striking range” of winning 67 seats next Tuesday. But he also likens the countdown to the election to a football game. “You need to execute each play, each series, each quarter, each half and each game before looking ahead to the Super Bowl.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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