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Brian Bosma’s Last Hurrah

Brian Bosma, the longest-serving House Speaker in Indiana history, steps down from that role when the legislative session draws to a close this month. A look back at some of the GOP powerhouse’s highlights and lowlights.

Bosma presided over some of Indiana’s biggest fights. He was speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives when Democrats fled the state over right-to-work legislation in 2011. He was also the guy wielding the gavel when Hoosiers fought over a proposed same-sex marriage ban, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the education-reform wars that turned Indiana into the state with the biggest school-voucher system in the country.

He did it by changing the way the Indiana General Assembly thought. Former Governor Mitch Daniels explains that, prior to his own election in 2004, the House tended to think of itself “as the initiator rather than the enactor” of new approaches to government, and “the Senate thought of itself as the adult in the room.” When Daniels, now Purdue University’s president, arrived with a new conservative playbook, “Brian was ready to go.” Bosma immediately saw the way Indiana government could be reshaped along conservative lines, and persuaded the Republican House caucus to go along, says Daniels. “He was the indispensable partner.”

Going into politics was like going into the family business. The Speaker’s father, Charles Bosma, served in the Indiana Senate from 1960 to 1980. Former Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Garton worked with both father and son. They were alike in one key way, Garton says. “When they formed an opinion, they stayed with it. Particularly if it was an issue they felt strongly about. There was no compromise.”

An important difference? “If I had a disagreement with Charlie, he would listen. He might still disagree, but he would listen,” Garton says. “He never had a closed mind. I don’t think I ever had that impression with Brian. Maybe he felt as Speaker, he couldn’t afford to listen.”

“He was the indispensable partner,” says former Governor Mitch Daniels of Brian BosmaImage courtesy Michael Conroy/AP

Like a good Republican, Bosma often touts the virtues of the private sector. But he’s been in the public sector for almost his entire adult life. Not long after earning his law degree in 1984, he began working as a legislative liaison. He was elected to the House in 1986 just a few days after his 29th birthday. By the time he leaves office for good, in May, he will have spent 35 of his 62 years drawing a government paycheck.

It was on Bosma’s watch that the GOP became a steamroller in the Indiana House. During much of his career, the House had been closely divided; Bosma and his chief rival, Democrat Pat Bauer, traded the speakership back and forth three times. With the help of some creative redistricting, Republicans have enjoyed a supermajority in the House for almost a decade. Without that edge, many of Bosma’s big triumphs—and missteps—couldn’t have happened.

The $44,000 question. For years, rumors circulated the Statehouse that Bosma had a sexual encounter in 1992 with a 20-year-old intern named Kandy Green. Bosma was 34 at the time, and married. The whispers never found their way into print until 2018, when The Indianapolis Star published Green’s accusations as part of a series on how Indiana government handles questions of sexual impropriety. Bosma had left a paper trail: He spent $44,000 of campaign funds hiring an attorney to “investigate” (Bosma’s description) or “intimidate” (Green’s choice of words) the intern’s story.

Bosma isn’t leaving many fingerprints. Daniels explains, “A lot of what he did, he did in sort of a quiet way.” Much of Bosma’s work was done behind closed doors. “I’ll never know all the skill it took,” says Daniels, to talk House Republicans into controversial programs such as Major Moves. “But he did it, and I think any fair-minded person would have to say he was one of the most influential and successful people ever to hold that office.”

Freelance writer John Krull became friends with Kurt Vonnegut in the last years of the Hoosier novelist’s life. “Talking with Kurt was like looking at the world through a different lens,” Krull says. “Revisiting Slaughterhouse-Five felt like resuming those conversations.” Krull is the host of WFYI’s No Limits radio program and director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism.
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