Experience

Brooks tells students to get involved

Jan Garrison
 

Best way to learn the political process

 

April 14, 2022

Former U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks believes if you want to know how the government operates, become a part of it.

She told the students in Culver Academies’ AP Government and AP U.S. History classes Tuesday they should consider serving as interns for their state legislators or their congressmen or senators. In Indiana, state representatives and state senators have short unpaid internships for high school students while members of congress and the senate have paid internships for college students over the summer and during the academic year.

It is an opportunity for students interested in government and politics to get an inside look at the day-to-day operations of government, she said. It is best to start with the legislator or congressional representative from your district. Another option is to apply for an internship with an elected official who attended your college or high school.

During her two class sessions, Brooks talked about her experience in Congress, running for office, and what she did before serving in Washington, D.C. Casey Collins ’22 (Carmel, Indiana) served as the moderator.

Congressional staffs are lean operations, she said. Her staff consisted of seven to eight people in the Washington office and seven people in the district office. The Washington staff primarily kept track of what bills were coming up for votes, doing research on legislation, and writing overviews for her to read. The district staff primarily handled constituent services, such as requests for assistance and meeting with people on legislative matters.

When it came time for a vote, Brooks said she would meet with the staff members handling that issue to listen to their thoughts and discuss the matter. She would also take into consideration how the constituents in the district felt about the issue based on their emails and letters.

As a Republican, she would generally vote with the party on fiscal issues, but would sometimes break from the party line when it came to social issues. She called the fifth a “purple district” because it contained the northeastern part of Indianapolis, the suburban area of Boone and Hamilton counties, and the rural areas of Grant and Howard counties. Districts are drawn to contain a minimum of 750,000 people, she explained.

Brooks came to politics after serving as a criminal defense attorney. She joined the staff of Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith as a deputy mayor and oversaw the police department. And, Brooks said, there were “some knock-down, drag-out” arguments with the police chief over some civil rights issues. But her work there and as a U.S. attorney “gave me some cred” with law enforcement officials when she ran for congress.

 

Former U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks

 

During her time as a deputy mayor and U.S. attorney, Brooks said the major crimes involved the drug trade. She did see the shift of drugs go from cocaine to opioids and heroin. She added she saw so many innocent people who were impacted by the opioid crisis. That included high school athletes who were prescribed OxyContin for pain relief following surgery and became addicted. And she did prosecute one doctor for writing so many prescriptions.

As all these cases began to appear across the country, Brooks said, her biggest question was “Where was the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) in all of this?”

Brooks told the students that she was originally recruited to run for congress, which is the case for most women. The seat was held by a Republican, Dan Burton, who had been in office for 30 years. In the primary, there were eight people running on the Republican side. She won by one percent, or 1,010 votes.

Her first campaign cost approximately $1 million in 2012, she said, and the average now is probably closer to $1.5 to $2 million. The highest campaign contribution an individual can make to a congressional candidate is $2,900, but most of the donations max out at $100 to $200, with the occasional $500 check, which would bring cheers in the campaign office, she said.

Brooks said every time someone gives you a donation, “they have invested in you.” That means they will support you in the election and believe in what you are doing. Political Action Committees (PACs) most often run the television attack ads against your opposition, she explained. They cannot directly support a candidate’s campaign.

A believer in term limits, Brooks said she made the decision not to run again in 2020, which would give her eight years in office. When she made the announcement in 2019, she had already been chosen by house Republicans to handle the 2020 candidate recruitment campaign. She thought the party may want someone else, but the Republicans still wanted her to handle the process. And she made her primary objective was to get more women to run on the Republican side.

Brooks said the number of women in congress has increased since she was first elected. But she does have a concern that some of the most extreme views being expressed on both sides of the aisle are coming from women. That may have an impact on those numbers in the future.

Getting more women, and young people in general, to run for office at all levels is important. From city councils and country councils to state legislative seats to the House and Senate, more women, people of color, and the younger generation need to come forward and participate.

The most important role for anyone, Brooks said, is to be involved.

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