INDIANAPOLIS — Newly-elected Republican Sen. Jeff Raatz of Centerville isn’t just a politician – he’s also a small business owner and long time educator. With 15 years of educational work under his belt, he has learned to serve people by recognizing individual financial and academic struggles.
“In the 25 years that I’ve been out of school and working in both industry and education, I’ve gotten some hands-on experience,” Raatz said.
Raatz is replacing Allen Paul, R-Richmond, as senator for District 27. The district, located on the east side of the state, is comprised of Randolph, Wayne and Union counties as well as portions of Fayette, Franklin and Dearborn counties.
He sat down with TheStatehouseFile.com during his first week in the Senate to discuss his motivation for taking the position and his goals for the 2015 session.
Question: What motivated you to become a senator? Why now?
Answer: “I’ve been involved in politics for probably 25 years or so and worked with the local Republican party in Wayne County for about six or seven years. I thought very seriously about running for a House seat several years ago, and then this seat came up. The incumbent was retiring, so it was an open seat, and that made it a little easier to take a seat. I didn’t run to become a senator for the title or anything like that. I just have a sincere interest in people and doing this right.”
Q: How has the transition from business owner to politician been so far?
A: “It’s been a little bit difficult wrapping up a few loose ends in business consulting. Spending four months here and essentially not having any time to spend with those guys, I did my best to tie it up. [During a committee meeting] the seriousness of the things that we do kind of raised some awareness for me. We’re looking at laws that affect 6.5 million people in the state of Indiana. On the other hand, in the opening ceremonies and with the prayer service, I was there last year. I really pinched myself and thought this is pretty cool that now I’m sitting here as a senator.”
Q: How will your experience as a board member on numerous boards, working in education and owning your own business help you represent the people of District 27?
A: “I believe that it gives me some practical understanding. It’s not just a concept – it’s something I’ve had hands-on and have had the ability to learn, experience and grow in dealing with people and assisting them to essentially become better. I think that will work really well.”
Q: What is your major goal for your first session?
A: “[My major goal is] to learn. There are a lot of things that are unspoken; ways that are not necessarily written. Figuring that out and moving forward would be a goal in the first year. I’d like to pass a bill … as well as establish relationships for the future, whether it be in the Senate or in the House or others in the exterior who are influential in the system that will help me be effective in the district for the years to come.”
Q: What issues are you passionate about in District 27?
A: “[I am] certainly [passionate about] the economic problems. On the east side of the state, there’s a lack of jobs and economic growth. In fact, we’re kind of going backwards. The unemployment rate is up again in the county that I live in. The economy is huge in our district, from top to bottom. It’s heavily rural and largely farming. Over the years, there was a lot of automotive industry that has moved out and so it’s had a devastating effect. Assisting with those economic development groups within the district is certainly top [priority].”
Q: What about in the state?
A: “Education [in my district], just like the rest of the state, is an issue. Whether it be curriculum or classroom, foes or misinformation surrounding common core, positive or negative, as well as funding for K-12.”
Q: Are there any particular issues you’re going to push the hardest for?
A: “Education is going to stay at the top. And having spent 11 years in manufacturing, I think part of that will be to stand alongside the governor in vocational training for students who may not be college bound while in high school. There’s a big concern in my district about qualifications of workers.”
Ashley Shuler is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.