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Candidate Profile: Woody Burton, Republican incumbent legislator, District 58

It's ok, you can hug him if you want to.
It's ok, you can hug him if you want to.
Photo courtesy of Thanks!!

When the idea of a republic was first conceptualized back in Roman times, everyone with a stake in society’s success gathered in the political center of the city and served as their own advocate for the solutions and ideas they would like implemented. As this form of government evolved into the representative democracy in which we live today, the people’s voices were replaced with the voice of one person from their own ranks whom they elect to advocate on their behalf.

The ideal representative is someone who can not only generate solutions for problems facing his constituents, but look to those constituents for guidance and fight for their ideas. After all, the elected representative should be the sum of the voice of the people who put him in office.

Indiana state legislative district 58 is fortunate to have a man who works with those guiding principles in mind. That man is Woody Burton.

On Tuesday, May 4th, the people must decide if Woody deserves to remain in that role as the people’s voice.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Burton in his beautiful Whiteland home for a while to find out why he thinks he should serve two more years as state representative for district 58.

Too Experienced to do the Job?

Sounds ridiculous, right? The notion that someone should be fired because they have done the job too long and are too experienced at it is precisely the philosophy behind the idea of term limits. Woody’s opponent, Ron West, is running on a platform that stands almost entirely upon the idea that Woody has been in office “too long.”

West told the Indianapolis Star, “I just think after 20 or 30 years of being in the same office, they think it's their inherent right to be there."

He ‘thinks’ that ‘they think’… Mr. West has served on Johnson County since 2000, how does he decide that 20 years is “too long” for Woody, but 10 years is appropriate for him? He is not stepping down from county council, he is challenging for the district 58 seat during the off year between his elections for his at-large seat. How do you quantify exactly when a career of effective and experienced service becomes ‘too long?’

I asked Woody for this thoughts on term limits and why, after 22 years, he feels like he deserves two more.

Woody’s Stance
Mr. Burton told me a story about a town hall meeting he was having where the question of term limits came up. He said that he drew an analogy between his job as a state lawmaker and the job of a machinist or factory worker. Would it make sense to fire a factory worker who was still performing as expected simply because they had met some imaginary threshold of time in service? Certainly not.

He said that every two years the people of district 58 have to reaffirm that he is doing his job and serving as an effective voice for them at the statehouse. As long as he is being effective and the people want him to continue in his service, they should have that option.

Woody added that if he could no longer effectively serve district 58, he would quit.

“Living by the Laws I Help Make.”

Indiana has a part-time “citizen’s legislature.” In terms of time spent in session and compensation, Indiana is in the bottom quarter of the country. Some people applaud this arrangement because they think it epitomizes what ‘representative government’ was meant to be, while others believe that running a state requires a ‘professional legislature’ that can only be achieved with more time in session and a bigger paycheck.

Woody’s Stance
It should come as no surprise that Woody is a fan of the ‘citizen’s legislature.” He said that the more full-time state legislatures end up “too far removed from the people.”

He enjoys the fact that he lives a similar life to those he represents and that he lives in the same community as his constituents and that he lives by the laws that he helps make. This constant exposure keeps him grounded and also serves as frequent inspiration for legislative ideas.

By driving the same roads, being governed by same laws and sending his kids to the same schools as the people he represents, Woody can spot problems early on and fix them. He also deals with the same economic factors and faces the same challenges in his private job as a realtor.

Looking at the bigger picture, Woody thinks the setup is good for Indiana as a whole. He said that being in session longer would likely result in more needless spending. “People would find a way to spend more money if they had more time to do it,” he predicted. For evidence of the benefits of the part-time set-up, Mr. Burton points out that Indiana is “one of the few states that isn’t broke.”

Woody may only be in session in Indianapolis for a few months each year, but he never quits working. He hold 15 – 20 town halls every year and is constantly seeking feedback from his constituents so he can serve their interests and solve their problems.

Immigration Reform
Arizona recently took initiative to pass a state law which makes it a state crime to violate federal immigration law. Contrary to the hyperbole coming out of the state-controlled media and our shamelessly clueless president, this law does not promote racial profiling or create some fascist “show me your papers” environment. It simply empowers police to enforce the immigration laws already on the books.

I wanted to know what Woody thought about the law, and if he thought that Indiana could explore something similar down the road.

Woody’s Stance
The Arizona law is a positive step if for no other reason than it gets the nation talking about immigration reform and will hopefully wake the federal government up and inspire them to do their job of enforcing the nation’s borders. Woody expects that other states will follow suit and put even more pressure on the federal government.

He made it very clear that he does not begrudge immigrants who want to make their lives better by coming to America, he just insists that they do it legally. Woody said he would like to see a “streamlined immigration system” to allow people to come here legally within a reasonable amount of time at without excessive financial burdens; after we fix the borders of course.

As far as Indiana taking up an issue like this; remember that our citizen legislators do not open a new session until January. Hopefully by then there have been a lot of changes in Washington D.C.

Education and Vouchers
Indiana spends almost 50% of its general revenue on education but only 60 cents of every dollar make it into the classroom. The other 40 cents go to cover overhead, administrators' compensation and other similar expenses. Our per-pupil spending on K-12 education is over $9,000 annually. Private schools manage to provide generally better education for sometimes as little as half what public schools get per student.

Clearly there is a problem with public education.

Woody’s Stance
The problem with today’s education system can be traced back to parental involvement. In private schools and charter schools there are clear rules for the students to obey and there are usually consequences for the parents if the rules are not followed.

Woody thinks that we should find a way to increase parental involvement and accountability. Another solution is to give schools an incentive to be more efficient and effective. Public schools are not concerned about competing for children because kids are condemned to the school whose district they live in. If the schools had to compete for students, and only got paid for the students that elected to go there, they would be incentivized to perform better.

“The money should follow the student, period,” Woody said. He cited school choice programs in Cleveland and Milwaukee that have been successful to varying degrees. In fact, in Milwaukee, students in the school choice program have an 18% higher graduation rate than those who are forced into the closest public school.

While he did not have time to lay out a specific plan, he said he would like to see a school choice program that used vouchers or tax credits and attached the money that schools received in their budget to the students who actually attended. He said that if this is done properly it will motivate the schools and the parents to take a more active role in seeing their students succeed.

In God We Trust
The legislative brainchild of Woody Burton that you are probably most familiar with is the ‘In God We Trust’ license plate that has been selected by Hoosiers for over 2 million vehicles. The impetus behind the bill sponsoring the plate was a ruling by an activist judge that the Indiana House of Representatives could not open with a prayer if it made Christian specific references. Now, thanks to Woody Burton and judge David Hamilton, Hoosiers can display their allegiance to God and Country for no extra charge. 

Woody’s Stance
So, tired of constant assaults on people of faith, Woody came up with this legislative idea. He was initially met with resistance from his own party, with the republican leader of the senate refusing to allow the bill to the floor.

After a change of heart, the bill was finally debated. One of the hold-ups on the bill was the selection of a  recipient for the extra fees that are usually associated with “vanity plates.” Displaying your love of the environment, for instance, requires an extra fee which goes to a state trust to buy land for conservation and recreational purposes.

The solution to this problem was to require the BMV to charge the same for the ‘In God We Trust” plate as it does for the standard plate. According to Woody, "this is not a special interest plate, it is our country’s national motto and our flag.” Once the bill was finally signed, the public got to vote on their favorite design. He said they expected about 500,000 takers on the plate but they passed that threshold after only a few months.

The bill faced a legal challenge from the ACLU but the bill came out ahead, then it won again when the ACLU appealed.

The Bottom Line
Woody used the analogy of being fired from a job for having too much experience when talking about term limits. I like to look at it differently; if you have an employee who is good at their job and performs to your standards, would you fire him just because some other guy came along and said, “he has been doing that too long, it is my turn?”

Most people, if they are being intellectually honest with themselves, will answer ‘no.’ That is precisely what Ron West is asking you to do; fire Woody Burton because West wants his ‘turn.’

Ladies and gentlemen, we are running a state government, not working the Tilt-a-whirl at the state fair.  People do not get kicked out for the next person in line anymore than you would want your boss to fire you simply to give someone else their ‘turn.’

Ron West talked about the feeling of entitlement that “he thinks” people get after serving in public office for too long, yet as a 12 year politician, West seems to feel ‘entitled’ to a ‘turn’ as district 58 state representative.

I can tell you without a doubt that Woody Burton feels no personal sense of entitlement, only a sense of obligation. An obligation to serve as the voice of his constituents and neighbors. An obligation to listen to feedback from the voters before casting a vote on their behalf. An obligation to work hard to make the lives of District 58 residents, and all Hoosiers, just a little bit easier.

Do not be seduced by the populist rhetoric about term limits from an opportunistic long-time politicians. Take a good look at the facts and at what 22 years of service from Woody has done for you. Then I ask you to vote for Woody Burton on Tuesday, May 4th.

And for the next two years tell him what you think and hold him accountable. It is your feedback that motivates him.

After all, he works for you.

This article is an endorsement of Woody Burton by you humble Indianapolis Conservative Examiner. This article contains my assessments, opinions and paraphrases of statements made by Woody Burton. This is not a paid ad and is not endorsed or approved by Woody Burton. The opinions expressed in italicized text are solely my own. I am responsible for any factual errors or misrepresentations.

In the coming weeks I will be reaching out to candidates from both parties to do candidate profiles for the November election. If you are a candidate for any elected office in Indiana, or the representative of any such candidate, and would like to be featured, please email me at the posted contact email.

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