A polarizing figure in the Indiana Senate will step down after the new year.
Republican Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek) will resign just before the legislative session gets underway, to follow his wife to Washington, D.C., where both are taking new jobs.
Hershman regularly advocated for conservative, business-first policies, including pushing for deregulation of the telecommunications industry. That led telecom leaders and their political action committees to donate tens of thousands of dollars to his campaign war chest in recent years and caused some to speculate he might be named to the Federal Communications Commission.
But those same laws also caused backlash, as when more than 100 Indiana municipalities wrote rules in the days after the 2017 legislative session to head off a Hershman bill which would have given cell phone providers nearly unlimited rights to install towers almost anywhere they wished, without municipal approval.
“It was actually one of my Republican friends that texted me and said ‘did you hear?’ I think he was actually like ‘Christmas came early,’” says Tippecanoe County Democratic Party Chairwoman Heather Maddox.
Maddox says she and Hershman didn’t agree on much politically, but had a cordial relationship. She adds losing an 18-year incumbent from the seat might make what’s been a safe GOP district easier for her party to win in 2020.
“We’ll see who they put in there, but it just makes some things a little easier when you’re trying to talk to potential candidates,” she says.
Mike O’Brien, the Indiana Republican State Committee's Fourth District Chair, says whoever fills the spot will largely have to sit out the 2018 lawmaking session.
“The session officially begin on January 3, but we’re months into the planning for the legislative session," O'Brien says. "They won’t have the opportunity to file legislation and kind of do the things regular members can do.”
Hershman, the head of the Indiana Senate’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, is the second fiscal leader to step down this year, after longtime Senate Budget Committee Chairman Luke Kenley announced in July his intention to retire.
Former Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute CEO John Ketzenberger says that leaves the state’s upper legislative chamber at something of a disadvantage.
“It means that the House, next year, when they write the budget would probably have more sway than usual, that House priorities will rule and that the Senate will have a period where it’s going to need to catch up,” Ketzenberger says.
A Republican caucus will elect a replacement from within the six counties represented, in part, by the Senate's Seventh District -- Boone, Carroll, Clinton, Jasper, Tippecanoe and White -- after Hershman officially steps down on January 2.