QA: Congress’ second-most bipartisan senator shares keys for working across the aisle


Sen. Joe Donnelly has been ranked as one of the most bipartisan senators in Congress by the Lugar Center. The Indiana democrat shared how he successfully works across the aisle and what he sees as top issues for Hoosiers in an exclusive interview with Current.

You’re known for working with Republicans, but many legislators seem less willing to cooperate with the other party. How do you deal with that? 

Joe Donnelly

There’s a lot more wisdom in Hamilton County than in Washington, D.C. In Hamilton County, when people get together to solve problems, they don’t always agree on everything, but they figure out a path forward (knowing) that 70 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing. And we need to start finding paths forward in Washington like we do in Hamilton County.

I have a lot of very close Republican friends. Republican and Democrat (titles don’t) matter, but good solutions are what matters. I think you’re going to see more of that as we move forward. You’re going to see solutions crafted by Democrats and Republicans getting together to try and make sure we have good, decent health care, that we continue with job growth and we move our nation forward.

How do you decide what issues are important for Hoosiers?

It comes down to what’s important to our families. What can make it so that mom and dad can get a better job with a bigger paycheck? What can make it so mom and dad can be sure that their kids’ schools are better and stronger, and that their quality of life is stronger as well? That’s pretty much the box I work out of.

When I look at an issue, I look at it in a way that’s not Democrat or Republican, but does it make our nation stronger? Does it make our families stronger? That’s how I try to decide. I look at a mom and dad in Carmel or Avon or Terre Haute or Richmond and say, ‘What makes sense for these families?’

What are the top issues facing Hoosiers right now?

No. 1 is that everybody has a chance to get a really good job with a really good paycheck, because what that does is that stabilizes the family.

Second is, we have a real challenge – not only in our state but in our country – with opioids and with heroin, and I’m working nonstop to try to end this. The damage these drugs cause can destroy families.

Is the opioid epidemic a problem throughout the state?

It is a problem everywhere. The most important thing mom and dad can do is talk to their kids about it, because we’re not in the basement the entire time that party is going on. We don’t know when the kids are getting together somewhere else. Our children need to understand that the best friend they have is the friend who’s willing to look them in the eye and say, ‘We’re leaving right now, because they’re bringing these opioids out.’ I’ve seen too many parents who have been destroyed by this. This scourge knows no economic boundary and knows no neighborhood boundary.

What are your thoughts on simplifying the tax code?

I think that would be great, and I think it’s very possible. We just need to make sure in simplifying the tax code we don’t wind up increasing the deficit at all, because it’s not fair to our families and it’s not fair to our children to increase the debt burden and to make it so that the next generation has to pay for today’s deficits.

How is it different working in politics locally than nationally?

It doesn’t change really at all. People are people, and what you want to try to do is find folks who want to get things done, who want to listen to common sense. I talk about Hoosier common sense, and I think you find a whole big dose for that throughout our state, and so we can get a lot of things done when we worry about how does this make life better for everybody as opposed to how does this affect us politically.

The situation in Charlottesville has led to many discussions about whether Confederate statues and symbols have a place in our culture. What do you think? 

My focus is actually on the issue itself, which is that there’s no place for the KKK. There’s no place for Nazis. There’s no place for racism. We are so much stronger when we are together.

We’re a big melting pot. All you have to do is go to our high schools to see what a melting pot we are. When you’re in our high schools you see our kids respect one another, care for one another, have each other’s backs. It’s the same way throughout or communities. I find here in Indiana that we’re more about how can we look out and make lives better for one another than what separates us.

How is it different working in Congress under President Trump than it was with President Obama?

I don’t work for any president. I work with presidents, but I work for the people of Indiana, so they’re the executive branch, I’m the legislative branch, and my bosses are everyone back home here in our state. So for all of them when the president is right and has a policy that makes sense for our state, count me in. When I look at something and say I don’t think this helps either our state or our country, I’ll pass. It’s of no interest to me whether they’re Democrat or Republican.

What do you see as the strengths of Hamilton and Boone counties?

Hamilton and Boone are both really family-friendly counties and places that folks look at and and go, ‘Gosh we’d love to live there.’ I think that’s a real strength.