Biggest update yet: 200+ years of state legislative history

Three years ago, while still working on Capitol Hill, I launched this website and regularly updated and refined the information in the database, explored new ways to present Indiana political history, and wrote posts for the blog. And then my House-member boss decided to run for the Senate. I came back to Indiana to manage his campaign, and the website sat dormant.

But it hasn’t been as quiet behind the scenes. Since I had the federal legislative offices and all state executive offices done, I always knew that the next thing I wanted to add was state legislative information. What I didn’t know was how ambitious that task was going to be. In April 2017, I started building a complete chronological history of the Indiana General Assembly. What I expected to take a month or two max ended up taking me ten months to finish. Why did it take so long? Because the modern General Assembly doesn’t look like the first General Assembly that convened in Corydon in 1816.  I discovered a lot of quirky and interesting history that I plan to write about soon (so stay tuned!), and much of it challenged the constraints of my database.  Here are some examples:

  • The first General Assembly had 10 Senators and 29 Representatives. More and more seats were added until we hit 50 and 100 in 1841.
  • The first General Assembly members were elected and met every year, with terms starting on the first day of the legislative session.  Most people only served one or two terms, and then went home; that high and constant turnover meant there were a lot of people to enter.  After the 1851 Constitution was adopted, elections were every other year, and sessions were every other year from 1853 to 1970–but turnover was still high.
  • From 1816 to 1996, Indiana’s legislative districts weren’t numbered.  Instead, districts were named by counties.  In the early days, this was easy as there were only a handful of counties, and there was typically one or two members per county.  As we added counties, this became more difficult.  Then we began overlapping district boundaries (e.g., Allen County would be one district, and a second district would combine Allen and Whitley Counties; meanwhile, Whitley County got no Whitley County-only district).  Until 1964, district lines at least respected county lines, so there were no partial-county districts–but it wasn’t until 1966 that we started numbering districts.  So how challenging was this? From 1816 to 1966, there were over 600 unique districts between the House and Senate.  Ultimately, I had to reconstruct the database to handle non-numbered districts.
  • It only got slightly easier in 1966.  We started numbering districts, but we also had several multi-member districts.  House District 1, for instance, was made up of Lake County only–but that district had 11 Representatives serving in Indianapolis.  While the Senate did away with multi-member districts at the next redistricting in 1972, the House kept them until 1992.  This presented another challenge as my database assumed one member per district, and led to the need for further changes.

But perhaps the biggest reason why this project took so long is the sheer number of entries I had to make.  To put it into perspective: Prior to this update, every person who ever served as Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer, Attorney General, Superintendent of Public Instruction, or in the U.S. House or U.S. Senate was included.  Every person who ever ran in the general election for those offices from 1888 to 2016 was also included (and everyone from 1816 to 2016 for Governor).  At that point, there were just over 2,500 people in the database.  Now? There are over 8,800 people in the database, which means I had to manually enter 6,300 new people, and add legislative info to the several hundred who served in other offices already in the database.  Yep, with one update, I’ve more than tripled the size of the thing.

Then, of course, there was the matter of displaying the info.  When you’ve got nine Congressional districts, it’s pretty easy to make a good-looking list of current office holders.  150 members at a time is another beast altogether.  But we’ve done it.  Among the ways you can currently view the information:

  • Session Rosters for all 120 Sessions of the Indiana General Assembly (technically there’s only been 119 sessions, but we’re on 120 thanks to a numbering error in the Civil War days). You can pick any session from 1-120 and see the dates for both regular and special sessions (and the ability to only see regular or special session members); every member who served that session and their party affiliation; the number from each party who served (with the ability to toggle on and off party colors to get a good visual representation of the balance of power); and the leadership for both chambers.  You can also sort the members alphabetically, by district number (after 1966), and by party.  This can also be accessed by clicking ‘Offices’ in the menu above, and then choosing the Session Rosters section of the page.
  • See all the current members of the General Assembly in a newly redesigned All Offices page.  Because 150 new rows on this page would be overwhelming, you have the ability to show and hide whichever chamber you’re interested in.  From there, you can click on a district and see all the people who had the district number back to 1966.  Here’s an example of District 57.
  • See a chronological list of all the presiding officers of the House and Senate by session.  This can also be accessed through the list on the All Offices page, but I wanted to point it out because I’m sure there will be some interest here.  And a quick teaser for an upcoming post: Until 1970, the Senate President Pro Tempore served the ceremonial role, while the Lt. Governor had the actual power to assign members and bills to committee, and run the Chamber. Phil Gutman changed that, but it was a change that had it’s roots nearly a century earlier in one of the most infamous events in State House history.

There are other tweaks I’ve made to the site to accommodate this info, and there are plenty more coming, but I encourage you to look around, play with what’s there, and send me feedback at tf@capitolandwashington.com for other features you’d like to see.

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