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Indiana House Democrats reflect on losses, ready for 2015 session

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INDIANAPOLIS — House Democratic leaders took stock of their losses Thursday and promised to press forward, even with their party's smallest group since 1973.

Despite fears they could lose their powerful supermajority, House Republicans added to their ranks Tuesday's elections and now control the chamber 71-29. Democrats, who at one point thought they might pick up seats in fairly Republican districts, including near Terre Haute, ended up losing a pair of seats that were thought to be fairly safe, in northwest Indiana.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, was fairly blunt Thursday in accepting his caucus' poor showing.

"It was my goal all along to try and make some progress, to pick up some seats and to show the people of Indiana that we're ready to govern," Pelath said Thursday afternoon. "Not every election goes like I would like."

The goal now, he said, is to find ways to work with Republicans on some issues and try to divide and block them on others. He cited Democrats' success in keeping a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage off the November ballot as one example of the minority's power. But the Republican supermajority prevents Democratic walkouts like one they used successfully in 2011 to block education and labor bills.

One area where the parties are likely to find common ground is on ethics reforms in the wake of the scandal involving state Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, who fought privately to defeat legislation that would have been disastrous to his family's nursing home business. But a top priority for Republicans, altering the school funding formula, will likely be one of the biggest partisan battles of the session.

Pelath also announced Thursday that Indianapolis Rep. John Bartlett had been selected as the minority caucus chair, taking over the role for Indianapolis Rep. Vanessa Summers.

Senate Democrats meanwhile, who saw their ranks drop from 13 to 10 out of 50 seats, blamed gerrymandering by Republicans for their woes.

"Indiana's non-right-wing, whether Democrats or (moderate) Republicans, have been packed into a few neat and tidy, fairly safe seats. Those of us left standing should be grateful. Some of us have a 90-percent support base," wrote Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, in an op-ed Thursday.

A day earlier, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, promised he would work closely with Democrats on bipartisan issues and said that he cautioned his caucus to "step lightly", because supermajorities can be easily lost in one election cycle.

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