GOP picks budget writer as next Indiana House speaker

Politics

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republicans who control the Indiana House picked a key state budget negotiator on Monday as the next speaker.

State Rep. Todd Huston, 47, of Fishers, won the private vote among GOP House members that was held 13 days after longtime House Speaker Brian Bosma announced he would retire after the 2020 legislative session.

Huston was first elected to the Legislature in 2012 representing a Hamilton County district in the fast-growing northern Indianapolis suburbs. Huston led the House Ways and Means Committee as the new two-year state budget was negotiated earlier this year after Bosma appointed him as co-chairman following a motorcycle accident that severely injured committee Chairman Tim Brown in October 2018.

Bosma said Huston was elected unanimously as he was the only candidate nominated as speaker-elect.

Huston said he has looked forward to following Bosma in the powerful position, which largely controls which proposals the House considers and appoints leaders of its some two dozen committees reviewing legislation.

“We’re going to be aggressive in moving the state forward,” Huston said during a news conference in the House chambers. “We’re going to do it in a way that brings honor to this building.”

Huston said education, energy costs and health care costs for families are important to him.

“I’d say health care costs and how do we manage health care costs are critical both to the state budget and to Hoosier families and employers.” Huston said.

Bosma said he’ll work closely with Huston during the upcoming session that begins in early January and is set to adjourn in mid-March. Huston will take over GOP caucus leadership heading into the November 2020 election, when all 100 House seats will be on the ballot and Republicans will be seeking to retain their two-thirds supermajority that allows them to take action even without any Democrats present.

“Todd is an invaluable member of our team and a respected leader, and I’m excited for him to take the reins and continue building on Indiana’s success story,” Bosma said in a statement. “Whether it’s serving as a tough budget hawk or finding common ground among differing viewpoints, he’s been a reliable, go-to legislator for our caucus time and time again. I firmly believe he will take hold of this opportunity with both hands, and bring the vision and energy needed to help keep Indiana on the right track.”

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb praised Huston’s selection.

“He has proven himself a strong leader and has touched so many facets of state government through the budget process,” Holcomb said.

Huston is a senior vice president of the College Board, the company that administers the SAT college admissions test and high school advance placement exams. He was the state Republican Party treasurer and was chief of staff for GOP former state schools superintendent Tony Bennett before winning election to the Legislature.

Huston was Bennett’s chief of staff in 2009 and 2010 as the state schools superintendent worked with then-Gov. Mitch Daniels on contentious education overhaul plans, including launch of the nation’s broadest private school voucher program, a merit pay system for teachers and pushing for state takeover of public schools with records of low student scores on standardized exams.

Much of that agenda won legislative approval after Republicans regained House control with the 2010 election, and Bosma took over as speaker. But Bennett became a lightning rod for teacher anger and lost his 2012 reelection bid.

Huston took active role in education issues when he first joined the House, including sponsoring a bill to expand eligibility for the private school voucher program. But he soon moved to the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee and focused more on fiscal-related issues.

Huston said he didn’t believe teachers should be worried about his expanded role in the Legislature.

“I think anybody that knows me knows the appreciation and gratitude I have for teachers and I wouldn’t anticipate that will ever change,” he said.

Huston was a top House negotiator on the new state budget approved by Republicans in April that boosted base school spending by 2.5% each of the next two years. Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders touted the plan as making strides toward improving teacher pay, but teacher unions and Democrats criticized it for not directing some of the state’s $2 billion in cash reserves toward schools.

Huston also sponsored the bill this year legalizing sports betting in the state and allowing construction of new casinos in Terre Haute and Gary.

Bosma has been the top House Republican as either speaker or minority leader since 2001. He was first speaker in 2005-2006, after which Democrats regained House control for four years, but Bosma has been speaker since 2011.

Huston’s rise represents another step in the turnover of legislative leadership after state Sen. Rodric Bray of Martinsville became the Indiana Senate’s top leader in November 2018. Bray, who was first elected to the Senate in 2012, took the place of Sen. David Long of Fort Wayne, who retired after 12 years as the Senate’s president pro tem.

The legislature resumes its 2020 session on Jan. 6. Huston will be sworn in before session ends March 14.

Statements

“I look forward to working with Speaker-elect Huston in making sure that the House conducts a healthy and vigorous debate on the issues that concern Hoosiers across our state. Indiana House Democrats are ready to serve Hoosiers first by making health care more accessible and affordable, providing children with quality care that their parents can afford, investing in public education, giving teachers the pay raise they deserve and ensuring that our children can go to school to learn in a safe environment.”

House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, a Democrat from Fort Wayne

“House Republicans have made a great choice in electing Rep. Todd Huston as their next Speaker. Over the years I’ve worked with Todd, I have come to know him as a dedicated public servant with vision and integrity. I look forward to working with both him and Speaker Bosma this session as they make the transition, and I have no doubt Rep. Huston and I will be able to work very well together as we craft policy for the State of Indiana.”

Senate President Pro Tem, Rodric Bray, a Republican from Martinsville

“Congratulations to Todd Huston on being selected Speaker-Elect. During his service in the House, Todd has demonstrated the dedicated, thoughtful and principled leadership needed to serve as speaker. Brian Bosma leaves behind a historic legacy of accomplishment that will continue with Todd Huston now at the helm.”

Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer

“Congratulations to House Speaker-elect, Todd Huston. I have had a great working relationship with Rep. Huston during my time in office and look forward to continued efforts between Indiana Senate and House leadership to make our state a great place to live, work and raise a family.”

State Sen. Mark Messmer, a Republican from Jasper

“As House Majority Floor Leader, I have enjoyed working under Speaker Bosma’s leadership and learned a lot from his years of experience. I have also witnessed Todd thrive as a state legislator, and now he can put his skills to use in this new and exciting role. Todd is principled, organized and humble, all qualities I value and our caucus values. With Speaker-elect Huston, we will continue to work with civility and bipartisanship as we build on the many policy accomplishments our caucus has achieved.”

State Rep. Matt Lehman, a Republican from Berne

“As the longest-serving speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, Brian will be leaving some very large shoes to fill. He has strived to make this transition seamless for Speaker-elect Huston and the entire caucus. I have worked closely with Todd and I am confident he will guide our caucus with a steady hand as we continue to work hard on behalf of all Hoosiers.”

State Rep. Greg Steuerwald, a Republican from Avon

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