Political Notebook

  • Indiana House sets leaders for session
    The Indiana House has tapped leadership and committee chairs for the 2015 General Assembly.
  • Charity wins on Organization Day
    Area House members joined Tuesday in donating linens, gift cards and various supplies to the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence at the Indiana Statehouse.
  • Coats, Donnelly support pipeline
    Sens. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., spoke Tuesday in support of legislation to complete construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Pence’s aide pick draws effusive praise

Major policy announcements or the appointments of agency heads or statewide officials often are followed by a flood of statements from varying officials.

But the reaction was a little unexpected when Gov. Mike Pence tapped a new chief of staff last week.

It seems everyone wanted to weigh in on Jim Atterholt’s new job – a position that’s usually behind the scenes and low-key.

Several legislators commented on the amiable Atterholt – a former lawmaker himself, serving two terms in the Indiana House.

The Fort Wayne native most recently has chaired the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission since 2010 and before that was on the State Insurance Commission for four years.

“I am very pleased that Jim Atterholt has been selected as Gov. Pence’s next chief of staff.,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma. “I have personally known Jim for many years, and after serving with him in the legislature, I know he is a man of integrity and high moral character.

“Through his service as the chairman of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, Jim continued to display the qualities necessary to lead his team honorably and successfully,” Bosma said.

Next came a statement from Indiana Republican Party Chairman Tim Berry, saying: “Jim’s breadth of experience working with state agencies and the Indiana General Assembly will serve him well as chief of staff to Gov. Mike Pence. His career is reflective of his commitment to public service and an added value to the governor’s team.”

Heck, even Attorney General Greg Zoeller got in on the act.

“Credibility, confidence and a calm demeanor are the qualities that Jim Atterholt has brought to all his previous public service assignments,” Zoeller said. “Having known Jim for many years, I commend Gov. Pence for appointing such a highly qualified and respected Hoosier to this important post in our state government,” he said.

No pressure, Jim.

Military suicide bill draws support

Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., says he has collected endorsements from 10 organizations for his legislation to help curb military suicides.

Donnelly announced last week that his proposal, which would require yearly in-person mental health screenings for all members of the military, has the backing of the National Guard Association, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Association of the U.S. Navy, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America, the Reserve Officers Association, the Brain Injury Association of America, Resurrecting Lives Foundation, Honor for All and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, of which Donnelly is a member, is scheduled to begin consideration of a fiscal 2015 defense authorization bill Tuesday.

Donnelly said he will try to have the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., incorporated into the defense bill.

Donnelly’s legislation is named for a National Guardsman from Randolph County who fatally shot himself in a Muncie movie theater in 2009 while on leave from Afghanistan. Donnelly told reporters recently that the military reported nearly 1,000 suicides in 2012 and 2013.

Public stint short for women’s advocate

Anti-abortion-rights advocate Sue Swayze has returned to the private sector after working for the state of Indiana for less than a year.

Swayze was communications director for the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency. But she left the position and has been hired by Susan B. Anthony List, based in Washington, D.C., and Indiana Right to Life. Swayze will serve Susan B. Anthony List as its national women’s pro-life caucus coordinator and Indiana Right to Life as its vice president of public affairs.

In Susan B. Anthony List’s newly created position, Swayze will be responsible for implementing the program’s mission of advancing women lawmakers who are dedicated to ending abortion and protecting women’s health through legislation.

At Indiana Right to Life, Swayze will assist in public policy and organizational development strategies. She will also serve as the organization’s primary lobbyist and media spokeswoman.

Swayze previously worked for the Indiana Family Institute and Indiana Right to Life.

“We’re thrilled to have Sue back on board advocating for Hoosier women and children,” said Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life. “Her skillset will allow Indiana Right to Life to more actively pursue its mission of protecting life in Indiana.”

Swayze said in a news release that she is happy to be back in the pro-life movement full time.

Councilmen feel city workers’ wrath

There was a lot of discussion Tuesday over a proposal by Fort Wayne City Councilmen John Crawford, R-at large, and Russ Jehl, R-2nd, to dramatically curtail or end outright city workers’ collective bargaining rights.

And when we say “a lot of discussion,” we mean there were raised voices, impassioned speeches and adamant stances. And that was before public comment began.

But when public comment did begin, things really got passionate, especially when Parks Department employee Charla Hilton came to the table.

Jehl had the misfortune of sitting next to the microphone where the public came to speak, and Hilton made sure he felt the full force of her wrath over statements made that union workers are paid too much.

“And you,” she said, pointing directly at Jehl. “How much money do you make a year?” Hilton then pointed at other Council members around the table: “How much do you make? And you and you and you and you? All of you?”

By then, the crowd was not just applauding but shouting encouragement, and she stood and waved.

“I make under $30,000 a year! I bet you make more than that,” she said, pointing again at Jehl. “I bet every one of you do.”

Council member salaries were $21,842 in 2013, which is a decent addition to the wages they earn in their private lives. Jehl is a commercial real estate agent; Crawford is a radiology oncologist.

But as council members stoically listened to city employees yelling at them for nearly an hour, you could hardly blame them if some thought to themselves that, at least on that night, they had earned every penny of it.

Dan Stockman of The Journal Gazette contributed to this column.

To reach Political Notebook by email, contact Brian Francisco at bfrancisco@jg.net or Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. An expanded Political Notebook can also be found as a daily blog at www.journalgazette.net/politicalnotebook.