Roughly one year ago, Brian Hasler began forming an organization he believes is the first of its kind at the state level anywhere in the country.
Hasler and the 130 members of his newly established group have one thing in common: They have all served as representatives or senators in the Indiana General Assembly.
The Association of Retired Members of the Indiana General Assembly, known as ARMIGA, brings together former legislators from across the state who have left the state legislature – either willingly or due to an election loss.
Hasler said he got the idea for the group from both a desire to see his former colleagues on a more consistent basis and from a similar institution on the national level.
“The farther you are away from the legislature, the less contact you have with your former colleagues (so) I thought it would be useful,” Hasler said. “I thought it would help the community and I was also aware of a retired association of legislators for Congress.”
So far the group has met only once, but plans on meeting several times a year as the organization continues to grow.
“We are a group in its infancy right now,” Hasler said.
While the organization currently has less than 150 members, there are at least 200 more potential members ARMIGA is attempting to contact.
“A big step has been trying to reach out to others to try to find out how to contact other (former) legislators and get them involved,” said board member Jeff Linder, the associate vice president for public affairs and government relations at Indiana University.
Linder, who served in the Indiana House of Representatives from 1990-2000 representing House District 57, is one of the founding members of ARMIGA and said he will be directly involved in some of the day-to-day processes of the group.
One of Hasler’s first orders of business has been contacting a few individuals he knew could play a big role in helping the group grow.
Along with Linder, Hasler enlisted the help of Dale Grubb, a member of the Indiana House of Representatives from 1988-2012 and former majority caucus chairman, and Bob Garton, a state senator from 1970-2006 who served as the Senate president pro tem for a record 26 years. All three men have been actively involved in the process of growing the organization and establishing programs for the group to begin in the near future.
To date, roughly 6,700 Hoosiers have served in the Indiana General Assembly – a number that continues to increase with each legislative retirement and lost election.
Hasler said the goal is to reach out to as many former state legislators as possible so that they might the opportunity to interact with former colleagues as well as those who have served either before or after their time in the General Assembly.
“First and foremost it is a way to stay connected,” Hasler said.
Several of the former legislators whom Hasler has enlisted have said they have had an interest in forming a similar type of group and expressed appreciation that he has taken the initiative to set those plans into motion.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Hasler said. “It is amazing to see that a lot of these folks have thought about doing this before.”
The organization now boasts members from each decade dating back to the 1940s. Elmer Hoehn, a native of Clark County and the lone representative of the 1940s in ARMIGA, served in the Indiana House of Representatives for two terms in 1945 and 1947.
ARMIGA’s first meeting – a luncheon for its members at the Indiana State Fairgrounds – took place in September and saw 56 retired legislators and 40 spouses and guests in attendance.
“I think people were very pleased with this,” Linder said. “We had a really good turnout for the event and the people who were there were thrilled with it and they seem to have more intention to get involved. I am proud to have been a part of it.”
Lisa Hays, an attorney and the daughter of long-time state Rep. John “Jeff” Hays, was asked by Hasler to attend ARMGIA’s first event in the memory of her father. Hays volunteered to check in the retired legislators and greet them as they entered the event for lunch.
“I just felt so proud to be there representing him (her father),” Hays said. “He would’ve been (a member of ARMIGA) in a heartbeat and I know he would’ve been happy I was there.”
Hasler also invited Ryan Mangus, the son of former state Rep. Richard “Dick” Mangus, to attend on behalf of his deceased father.
“It was good to see some of the faces my dad used to talk about,” Mangus said. “I grew up here. My dad ran in 1973 and I was born in 1972, so I remember coming down here and being a page or coming to visit him ever since I was born.
“A lot of these people (ARMIGA members) remember me when I was a little baby, some even babysat me they told me.”
Dick Mangus served until 2003 and passed away in 2008.
Hays also said she enjoyed being present at the event and having a chance to witness the camaraderie among the retired legislators.
“A lot of these guys and gals who leave, they go back to their own lives … after they leave they are gone,” Hays said. “You can just tell by their presence that they very much want to be a public servant. I can see that helpful energy.”
Hays said she is excited the group has come together and has plans in the works to make an impact on the state.
“This is a resource that is untapped,” Hays said. “I commend Brian for putting this together… and I can see it becoming something bigger than what it has started out as and maybe other states could even emulate it.
“I think the sky is the limit of what this group could do. I was (really) just thrilled to be there and observe.”
Both Hasler and Linder said the group intends to speak with current legislative leaders of the Indiana General Assembly to see if there is anything their group might be able to assist them with.
Also, one of the group’s plans is to establish a civility award that will be given out to legislators in each chamber who reflect and display a bipartisan nature and willingness to work with each party.
ARMIGA board members have established a panel to evaluate candidates for the proposed award. Most members on the panel are either current or former members of the media. The group plans to distribute the award annually.
Linder said much thought was put into deciding who would be on the board of the newly established organization. The intent, he said, is to have an equal number of board members who are Republicans and Democrats and who represent the House and the Senate.
In some senses, the civility award that is planned to be distributed by ARMIGA is a reflection of the group’s own bipartisan nature.
“I think it (ARMIGA) is very bipartisan,” Ryan Mangus said. “There is no politics in this, I don’t think.”
He said the first meeting even included former lawmakers who defeated other former lawmakers who were also in attendance.
Along with a civility award, Hasler said there have also been talks of establishing a monthly newsletter and even creating a bicentennial project to honor all of the legislators who have served the state of Indiana throughout the years.
The proposed project would involve a display for the Indiana State Museum that would contain campaign buttons from legislative members and place them in the shape of the Hoosier state.
Hasler also has plans to establish a Friend of the Association of Retired Members of the Indiana General Assembly.
“My favorite thing about this group is that it has been so warmly embraced by everyone,” Hasler said. “Clearly there was a need for this and I’m glad we tapped into that.
“I also enjoy hearing all of the stories,” he said. “All of the sacrifices and things that were done for the betterment of the state and even all of these hilarious stories about things that took place during the General Assembly. I think this is just a great way to bring people together to support one another.”
Jacob Rund is an assistant editor at TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.