Trio of lawmakers take statewide RV legislative tour
Getting to know each other and colleagues outside the legislative session
Reps. Tim O’Brien, left, and Steve Bartels toured the state in an RV with Rep. Doug Miller (not pictured) for two weeks, meeting with lawmakers in their district and encouraging them to sign their flag souvenir. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)
Three House Republicans teamed up for a two-week, 2,000-mile RV trip around the state, visiting fellow legislators, seeing local treasures and staying at Indiana’s state parks during a recent heat wave.
“If we do this again, we’d probably pick the fall,” said Rep. Tim O’Brien, of Evansville, laughing. “Because we picked the hottest two weeks of the year … but we got to spend a lot of time outside with our colleagues.”
O’Brien, along with Eckerty Rep. Steve Bartels and Elkhart Rep. Doug Miller, met with dozens of lawmakers in their districts — including Republicans and Democrats, representatives and senators — to learn about Indiana’s hidden corners and how to collaborate better in future legislative sessions.
Everyone the trio met signed an Indiana state flag, which held roughly 90 signatures by the end of their trip. O’Brien said they hoped to find a place to hang the flag in the Statehouse.
While the landscape and faces changed, each legislator had the same pride for their districts, Bartels said.
“During session, we talk about bills. You don’t talk about each other; we don’t talk about their families,” he said. “We got to go down to their districts and break bread with them. You let them take over and show you their district. It’s just a great way to build up those relationships.”
Bartels and O’Brien stopped the RV in Indianapolis on Monday during the final leg of their tour after leaving Miller at home in northern Indiana.
Seeing the sights
Across dozens of localities, the trio learned about hobbies — Rep. Matt Pierce of Bloomington is a ham radio operator — and favorite sweet treats. O’Brien grew up in Lake County and made sure to tour the Merrillville Albanese Confectionery, a Hoosier-owned, small-town business that crafts specialty candy — including the iconic gummy bear.
One must-see for the group was the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, which showcases historic cars and details Indiana’s continued role in car manufacturing.
“We went to Indiana Dunes National lakeshore, and when we went through Vincennes it was the George Rogers Clark Memorial, which is really cool to see if you have a chance,” O’Brien said. “And (President Abraham) Lincoln’s boyhood home. That’s one of the National Parks’ Historical (Landmarks). But there’s so much to see here and there’s so much to do.”
Though they spent each night in the RV at a different state park, the two-week trip wasn’t enough time to visit all 24 state parks. That number doesn’t even including satellite locations or reservoirs.
And Bartels said any Hoosier family contemplating the same shouldn’t take such a break-neck pace.
“We were in a state park every night so we didn’t get to really enjoy what each park had to offer,” Bartels said. “I would say you need a minimum of two nights at least to enjoy them.”
Much of the selfie-laden trip was documented on O’Brien’s Instagram and later uploaded to his official Flickr page.
Implications moving forward
One takeaway for the lawmakers was the importance of maintaining Indiana’s state parks, which Bartels said had plenty of out-of-state visitors when they stopped the RV to rest.
“Obviously there are upgrades that need to happen,” Bartels said. “But when (out-of-state) visitors go to our parks, I think we want people to say that Indiana has the best parks in the Midwest.”
“We’ve already got the natural resources,” O’Brien added. “We can improve the amenities.”
The trip’s timing allowed the three lawmakers to meet their newest colleague, Alex Zimmerman of North Vernon, but also create deeper relationships with other elected officials — especially those who’d served far longer.
But meeting others, learning local needs and finding common ground would help in January, when lawmakers will reconvene for the next legislative session, the legislators said.
“I got to find out the most interesting facts about our colleagues, which is difficult to do when you’re here,” Bartels said, gesturing toward the Indiana Statehouse. “… It takes 51 of us to make a decision, and this is what we have to do to have a relationship and get to know each district.”
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