Commentary

Indiana’s congressional delegation is getting a much-needed shakeup

January 23, 2024 7:00 am

The U.S. Capitol rotunda. (Courtesy Architect of the Capitol)

Representative government in Indiana will look drastically different next year. Or will it?

Four of the state’s nine U.S. House members from Indiana will not seek reelection this year. Districts currently represented by Reps. Larry Bucshon, Jim Banks, Greg Pence, and Victoria Spartz will all get new House members next year. The question is: How will that matter?

Congressman Jim Banks (Official portrait)

None of these departing members spent any time, to quote “Hamilton,” in “The Room Where It Happens.” None chaired a committee or were on track to do so. I consume an abundance of national media on Washington politics, and only in the rarest of circumstances would any of these soon-to-be retirees appear there. 

Now, media appearance frequency is no way to measure value, but extended periods of radio silence should cause people back home to wonder: Is my representative representing me?

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The one exception here is Banks. He had been viewed as a reliably conservative voice from the beginning of his time in the House, and the state Senate before that. But his overt and abrupt decision to join the sycophancy of former President Donald Trump, was his strategy for brand growth. And it worked, sort of. 

Banks chaired the hyper-partisan Republican Study Committee, and then ran for the position of Majority Whip shortly after the GOP won control in the 2022 election. But he was narrowly defeated by Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota in his quest to get into “The Room.” 

U.S. Rep. Greg Pence, of Columbus. (Official portrait)

Talk about dodging a bullet! In the history of the U.S. House, there has never been a more inept example of leadership. All kinds of embarrassing “firsts” have occurred since the Kevin McCarthy era began. Banks’ presence would not have changed that. Leading this group is an impossible task. So, losing his quest allowed him to keep much of the slop from that pigsty off of his brand. 

But the slop that is now the feature of the Banks brand is grievance, particularly any Trump grievance. This is all he is now. He doesn’t have any other platform.

GOP advantage

All four of these “open” seats in Congress are in districts with maps that have been drawn to advantage Republican candidates. The most ethnically diverse district among them is the 5th, where merely 82% of the district is white. In that district, Republicans have an eleven-point advantage, before candidates even file to run. 

And this is the most competitive district among them. 

Spartz currently holds this seat. She announced last February that she would not run for reelection, though reports as recently as December indicate she is reconsidering, something she often does. But because of her announcement a year ago, there are nine Republican candidates and one Democrat who are campaigning for the seat. Good.

Congresswoman Victoria Spartz (Official portrait)

There is similar competition for Indiana’s 3rd District, the district Banks currently represents. There are nine Republicans and three Democrats running there. Good. 

But in Indiana’s 8th District, left open by Bucshon’s retirement, no Republican has filed to run yet. In Indiana’s 6th, being left open by Pence’s retirement, one Republican has filed, though it is hard to see that an actual campaign has begun. There are Democrat candidates in both districts, but again, these districts are near 20-point advantages for Republicans. 

The primary is what matters most in all four of these districts, three months from now. And in two of them, voters have no idea who is running in them. But again, I ask: How will it matter? 

Primary matters

My position is that it won’t. 

It has been a long time since Indiana sent someone to Congress who excelled at driving an important agenda. We have a school at Indiana University named after them: Rep. Lee Hamilton and Sen. Richard Lugar. Both chaired their chamber’s committees on foreign affairs, Hamilton in the 1990’s and Lugar in the 2000’s. Both were looked to for guidance on those issues before then and for long afterward. 

U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon (Official Congressional Portrait)

In the 1970’s, Indiana Senator Birch Bayh became the first person since James Madison to author more than one amendment to the U.S. Constitution, authoring both the 25th and 26th Amendments. 

Hoosier members of Congress don’t have to rise to prominence like these three statesmen did to “matter.” However, our members have been comfortably seated in the back row of the House for a long time now, and that is getting old. 

When the contest for representation only exists during a primary, the seat will only attract the most partisan candidates. It reduces campaigns to the foundational choice of being partisan or not. And in today’s congress that choice is synonymous with being either deranged or unelectable. 

Enjoy the May primaries in these four districts, Indiana. They are certain to be much ado about nothing. 

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Michael Leppert
Michael Leppert

Michael Leppert is an author, educator and a communication consultant in Indianapolis. He writes about government, politics and culture at MichaelLeppert.com.

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