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home : most recent : statewide implications July 27, 2017

7/8/2017 1:04:00 PM
COMMENTARY: Luke Kenley, man behind the budgets, retires from Indiana Senate
In his last session with the General Assembly, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, was proud of the effort to get a gasoline tax approved to fund infrastructure improvements. CNHI New Indiana photo by Scott L. Miley
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In his last session with the General Assembly, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, was proud of the effort to get a gasoline tax approved to fund infrastructure improvements. CNHI New Indiana photo by Scott L. Miley

Scott L. Miley, Tribune-Star CNHI Statehouse Bureau

The common Hoosier political train of thought wouldn’t find friendship between a Republican state senator and a Democrat House member. Particularly when they dueled over funding bills.

But Sen. Luke Kenley, a Noblesville Republican, has nothing but praise for Rep. B. Patrick Bauer, a South Bend Democrat, despite the fact that they sparred numerous times in the past 25 years.

“I’m not a rural person, but I come from a small-town background in a heavily Republican area and I would say my relationship and ability and reach agreements with Pat Bauer was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had,” Kenley said. “I have a lot of respect for Pat.

“We had some pretty titanic debates, struggles, but we always came up with a good answer in the end.”

Last week, Kenley, 72, announced his retirement from the Senate effective Sept. 30. A caucus of precinct committeemen in his District 20 will meet to name a replacement.

As he reflected on his announcement, Kenley recalled that Bauer and former Sen. Larry Borst, who died in 2016, were among the legislators he admired during his 25 years in the Senate.

Bauer recalled legislative debates in 2005 when the Indianapolis Colts sought funding to help build what would become Lucas Oil Stadium. Lobbyists and stadium backers would often try to seek support from then-Gov. Mitch Daniels.

“They were all going to the governor,” Bauer said. “They weren’t going to the people that could put it together beginning with the chairman.

“I had to remind people that Luke Kenley was chairman of the finance committee,” Bauer said, laughing. The two hammered out an agreement that would lead to legislative approval.

“He was the voice of wisdom for that whole budget operation of the Senate, and basically once the Republicans took over, he was the voice of wisdom for the entire Legislature,” Bauer said.

“He was one of the greatest legislators of all time and right up there with one of the great budget people. He was right near the top, no, he was at the top.”

State Rep. Kathy Richardson, R-Noblesville, also had praise for Kenley and how he worked with Bauer. “They got along quite well,” said Richardson, who became a member of the General Assembly in 1992, the same year as Kenley. “To be successful and to get things passed ... you have to work with people whether it’s Republican or Democrat. He works hard at it.”

Born in Texas, Kenley’s family moved to Noblesville when he was 1. He spent summers going back to see his grandparents while his father ran a grocery business. He was raised and schooled in Noblesville before going to law school at Miami. An Army veteran, he served as Noblesville City Court judge from 1974 to 1989.

During the 2016 primary, Kenley had a challenger but won with 60 percent of the Republican vote. In November, Kenley garnered 48,651 votes compared to 19,043 for a Democrat and 3,392 for a Libertarian.

During forums, Kenley hinted it could be his last race. But he still had an agenda to pursue. One item was seeking a budget with an eye toward K-12 and higher education.

“The other thing was I thought maybe an old guy could help push through a needed road funding bill, which was going to require some courage on our part to vote for a gas tax increase and things like that,” he said. “I pushed really hard on that.

“The legislators responded tremendously. They understand that this is a huge benefit to the state and an important priority and one that has to be paid for, so I feel that I accomplished the major things and thought maybe it was time to move on and give somebody else a chance.”

When Kenley made his announcement on Wednesday, Gov. Eric Holcomb released a statement calling Kenley “an essential state-budget architect for years and years.”

The governor added, “Even though he won’t be in the Senate chamber come January, and he’ll have a little more time to spend at his ranch in Texas, he will continue to contribute to our state’s success in countless ways.”

But Kenley responded, “I’m pretty much a Noblesville boy. I like to go to Texas and I’ll probably go a little bit more, but I’ll probably be in Noblesville most of the time.”

To fill Kenley’s soon-to-be- vacated seat, Republican party officials in his District 20 will caucus.

He has reportedly suggested Noblesville City Council President Megan Wiles seek his seat. The district, which serves about 129,000 Hoosiers, is inside Hamilton County and includes parts of Clay, Delaware, Noblesville, Washington and Wayne townships; it reaches south of 216th Street to Fishers.

Kenley’s retirement is effective Sept. 30. His replacement as chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee is to be named by Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, before the 2018 Indiana General Assembly begins.

Currently, Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, is ranking member of the Appropriations Committee. Concerning a replacement as committee chair, Kenley said, “I feel confident that they’re probably going to take my work and do a better job than I ever did.”

Related Stories:
• Republican state Sen. Luke Kenley announces retirement after 25 years

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