TownNews.com Content Exchange

CHESTERTON — Rodney Pol Jr. is committed to carrying on the work of retiring state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, when he takes her place in the Indiana Senate beginning Nov. 1.

Democratic precinct leaders for Senate District 4 selected the 37-year-old Chesterton attorney out of a field of five candidates Thursday night to finish the final year remaining in Tallian's term. Records show he prevailed in the second round of balloting.

On Friday, Pol told The Times being chosen to succeed Tallian in the Senate "is an amazing honor," because he's long been inspired by how hard she's worked for the district — which spans the northern third of Porter County and the northwestern corner of LaPorte County — and Northwest Indiana as a whole.

"I'm ready to get to work and do my best for District 4," Pol said.

Indeed, Pol will be getting right to work at the Statehouse. The General Assembly is due Nov. 16 to adjourn its 2021 session and begin its 2022 session during the Legislature's annual one-day organizational meeting.

Hoosier lawmakers are encouraging Northwest Indiana college students and recent graduates to apply to work as paid interns at the Statehouse during the 2022 General Assembly.

The 10-week regular legislative session then begins meeting daily in Indianapolis starting the first week of January and wrapping up for the year no later than mid-March. Pol also is planning to run in next year's elections for a full, four-year Senate term.

"It's a very short session, it's a very steep learning curve, and I'm hoping to see through some of the hard work that (Tallian) has already done," Pol said.

Specifically, Pol wants lawmakers to update the schedule of benefits for Indiana workers injured on the job that has not increased since 2016, even as the cost of just about everything has gone up over the past five years.

In March, Tallian won approval by the Senate to increase worker compensation benefits by 2% per year for three consecutive years, only to see Senate Bill 220 die in the Republican-controlled House without even receiving a committee hearing.

"Indiana's injured workers have nearly the lowest compensation for workplace injuries in the nation," Tallian said at the time. "I am disgusted with broken promises, and a lack of respect for hard working Hoosiers."

Pol said his other legislative priorities include continuing Tallian's efforts to legalize marijuana in the Hoosier State and finding ways to help public schools retain and recruit high quality teachers and secure sufficient funding from the state.

The senator-elect likely is more knowledgeable on this issue than many of his future colleagues since Pol's wife, Alayna Lightfoot Pol, is a school board member at the Duneland School Corp. in Chesterton and a teacher in the Michigan City Area Schools.

"I would love to be able to do anything I can to help our public school systems," Rodney Pol said. "I think it's a shame that our districts have to consistently go back and ask for referendum money from our taxpayers."

Pol was born into a Mexican-American and Puerto Rican family of union workers in East Chicago, grew up in Chesterton, earned his bachelor's degree at Indiana University in Bloomington, and a law degree at Indiana University in Indianapolis.

He's very familiar with the Statehouse after working as a legislative aide to his uncle, former state Rep. John Aguilera, D-East Chicago, as well as former state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, and spending four years as an attorney in the state public defender's office.

Pol has been city attorney for the city of Gary since 2014 and plans to continue in that role when he's not fulfilling his duties at the Statehouse.

"I love working with the city. It's a challenging job," he said. "It's never a dull moment, ever."

At the same time, Pol said his experience working in Lake County, living in Porter County, and representing a district that includes portions of Porter and LaPorte counties makes him will suited to lead at the Statehouse on issues affecting all of Northwest Indiana.

Join Cpl. Jerry Patrick, as he patrols the hallways of Lake Central and Kahler Middle School.

"I think you'd be hard pressed to find any particular legislation that really only benefits one district over another," Pol said. "I absolutely believe the Region needs to be more connected than it is."

Tallian said she's proud to pass the torch after 16 years of representing Senate District 4 in what she recently described as an increasingly unpleasant, Republican-dominated Senate where the 11 Democrats have little chance to influence policy outcomes in the 50-member chamber.

"I believe Rodney's experiences will be an asset to our community and the state Senate. He will serve Northwest Indiana well," Tallian said.

Mike Schmuhl, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said he's "excited to have another champion in the General Assembly fighting for a better future for Hoosier families."

"Pol will join Democrats in advocating for livable wage jobs for workers, affordable and accessible broadband internet, and fully-funding Indiana's public schools," Schmuhl said.

"Democrats are delivering solutions to today's problems for Hoosiers and I know Rodney is ready to get to work."

This article originally ran on nwitimes.com.