RICHMOND, Ind. — Sen. Mike Braun sat with a group of local leaders to share his ideas and listen to their concerns Wednesday.
As a bonus, he also met a relative
Braun learned he and Commissioner Jeff Plasterer are second cousins. Plasterer knew about the connection and enjoyed his visit with a relative, but also the opportunity to speak with a senator.
“I think it’s valuable for us to hear his perspective on things," Plasterer said. "Obviously I have a special interest there as a cousin, but it’s an opportunity to make sure that he understands the kinds of issues that are important to us as his constituents and for him to be able to share his perspective and his frustration, at times, about how things work in Washington."
Several times during the hour-plus that Braun spent with city, county and local Republican leaders in Firehouse BBQ & Blues he did share frustration with D.C. politics. As a longtime business owner, the Jasper native approaches government more like a business than some career politicians, he said, and Senate stalemates, with a 50-50 party split, hamper legislative efforts.
"It’s important to the future of our country to be able to work together," Plasterer said. "I certainly hope that they can.”
Melissa Vance, president and CEO of the Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce shoehorned meeting Braun into her busy Wednesday schedule, not wanting to miss the opportunity to speak with the senator.
“I think it’s very important that our elected officials get in touch with their constituents, and it’s very admirable that Senator Braun took time out of his schedule to come and sit down with us and hear what’s important to our community,” she said.
Vance asked about possible federal minimum wage legislation and about the Keystone XL pipeline. She hopes meetings such as Wednesday's influence Braun during his work.
"I have had the feeling from our elected officials at the state and the federal level that they truly do care, and I guess I would say more than ever this past year we’ve had more access to having conversations like this," Vance said. "It’s nice to see when you get to watch and see things passed that really matter to local lives of constituents.”
Braun said he's visiting all 92 Indiana counties and would have been in 56 by Wednesday's end. He said common concerns include federal spending and how federal partnerships will work at the local level.
“You saw the robust discussion, and I get that everywhere I go," said Braun, who was elected to the Senate in 2018. "People are concerned about what goes on at the federal level.
Hoosier values of hard work, enterprise, faith, family and community aren't as common in Washington, Braun said, and he tries to insert those values in governance, relying on his real-world experiences in contrast with the points of view of career politicians.
“I lived in Indiana my entire life other than two years, so I’ve got a pretty good idea of where we’re coming from.," he said. "I try to take those values there and take the blessings I’ve had of being able to run a business, be on a school board, be part of state government that puts me in a unique spot. You’ve got to remember most of my cohorts out there are career politicians that have been aspiring to get to D.C. from the day they got out of law school."
Braun did share his frustrations with how D.C. functions, saying it's different from how most would hope the highest level of government would be. His colleagues, he said, are not as interested in fixing issues in sustainable ways. Then, there's the spending.
"The part that bothers me the most is all the money we’re spending, and (we're) borrowing every penny of it," Braun said. "When you separate anything you want to do for government from how you’re going to pay for it, you’re really irresponsible, because you’re putting that burden on your kids and your grandkids. That’s what we do there."
Braun said he favors term limits
"You’d get people in there that have done something, that don’t go there and get nestled in and then become a different kind of person than what they were when they campaigned," he said.
Throughout the discussion, the senator favored local and state decision-making over federal, one-size-fits-all policies. One example is the discussion about defunding law enforcement.
“We’ve got actually one side of the aisle that wants to defund law enforcement in certain places and think that would work better," Braun said. "I don’t know how you have crazy thinking like that in places, mostly big cities that have been run by the same regimes for a long period of time. And now you have national politicians that want to come in and fix things that ought to be fixed at the local level and the state level."
Richmond Police Department Chief Mike Britt asked Braun about possible federal legislation that would impact law enforcement. Braun said he opposes a federal approach, preferring problem areas clean up their acts rather than homogenizing how law enforcement is handled
"Why would Richmond law enforcement be under the same guidelines that maybe Milwaukee needs?" Braun said.
He also said that Republicans would not give in to Democrats who want to eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement officers.
"That’s not going to fly on our side of the aisle," Braun said. "Period."
Minimum wage is another issue Braun said should not be handled federally, citing differences in cost of living and that a $15 minimum wage could cost jobs in some areas.
When Vance asked about the Keystone XL pipeline, Braun said he didn't understand why the pipeline would be shut down when the country had energy independence and the pipeline provided high-paying jobs.
“I mean that’s so stupid," he said. "Why we get ourselves into corners like that. Even when you’ve got a long-term goal that most of us agree with, you want the cleanest, least expensive fuel, but do it through the marketplace, don’t pick winners and losers.”
Braun expressed doubt the pipeline will be reopened under President Joe Biden.
“I don’t think it’ll be flipped back on until there’s someone else in the White House,” he said.
The senator said three top issues he consistently hears about are rural broadband, work force development and affordable housing. He said broadband now is considered infrastructure right along with roads, bridges, rail, air travel and internal waterways.
Braun said he lives a mile outside of Jasper and his family tried to download a movie "and it was two days later" the movie had downloaded. He said areas without fiber optics will struggle to attract residents and businesses.
Plasterer is part of the Wayne County Broadband Taskforce that is studying ways to improve broadband service within the county, recently receiving results from a county-wide broadband survey. Again, a solution might not be one-size-fits-all because of the population density differences between rural and urban areas.
“I think it’s encouraging to know that those conversations are taking place in Washington," he said. "Obviously, Sen. Braun being from a rural area of Indiana understands what other rural areas like eastern Indiana are facing. The hope is that there will be some national policy that allows for local solutions."
Plasterer also had a chance to discuss family. Plasterer's mother, Erma, who graduated from Jasper High School just like Braun did, is the daughter of Andrew, who was a brothers of Braun's grandfather. And, although Plasterer and Braun had never met, they have memories of relatives, such as their Aunt Esther, a sister of their grandfathers.
“His Aunt Esther is my Aunt Esther, and I remember frequently we would visit her or she would visit us," Plasterer said. “It was really cool to meet him and see him. It was fascinating to have that conversation with a United States senator."
They also talked about Jasper locations, such as the Schnitzelbank Restaurant, Hidostan Falls and Jug Rock.
"We chatted about all of those kind of things," Plasterer said. "It was fun. It was fun."