His constituents and their views on some issues have changed over the years, but Indiana District 18 State. Rep. Dave Wolkins feels he still has the pulse of the communities he serves.
After being diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma – an uncommon cancer, which was found in one of his ears – in late 2015, Wolkins had decided that his re-election in 2016 would be his last. But circumstances changed, and in September he announced he would run again in 2018.
“I was worried about my health situation. I don’t want to be carried out of that place, and this year I’ve had very good MRIs. I had one a month ago and everything, I’m still cancer free. I’ve been very, very fortunate in that way,” Wolkins said.
“If you are not healthy, you can’t be representing the people very well down there, you’ve got too many other things on your mind,” he said.
Being cancer free, that worry is no longer on his mind.
“Probably the biggest thing that made a difference was, I had four different reps, and it wasn’t a concerted effort, just different times, new young ones that came up and asked me why I was quitting,” he recalled. He told them he was worried about his health, but those representatives asked him to stay on.
“They said, ‘You don’t say much, but when you do we like to listen to you.’ Kind of the old sage type thing. I don’t get real excited about things, and things get pretty heated down there. I don’t get involved in every discussion, but when I do feel like something needs to be said, I’ll say it. Obviously, they appreciated that and they asked me to consider running again.”
Wolkins, husband of Candace, and father of one and grandfather of two, has served in the Indiana House since 1988 and calls it a “tremendous” experience.
“I am so lucky to be able to represent this community. It’s a neat community, good people, and pretty much we’re all pretty much on the same page, conservative wise, so I think I’ve got the pulse of the community down, and it’s just been an enjoyable experience. I’ve loved working with the people of this district, and I decided I’d like to continue a couple more years,” he said.
When Wolkins began serving District 18, it included Kosciusko County north up to Goshen. “It literally started at my house and went north. Now, my district literally starts at my house and goes south to Marion,” he said. It includes all of Wabash County and parts of Kosciusko, Miami and Grant counties.
He said the areas are pretty similar, though Wabash doesn’t have the manufacturing and its economy isn’t as robust as Kosciusko’s, but “those people down there are tremendous. They have a sense of community I really, really appreciate. I really feel comfortable.” He said he goes to most events in Wabash and North Manchester.
“I feel very comfortable. They’re good people, hard working, and conservative, the majority of them, with the exception of Manchester College, but I feel very comfortable representing those folks. They’re good people,” Wolkins indicated.
His main committee down at the House has been the Environmental Affairs, which he’s been chair or vice chair of for much of his tenure.
“I’ve pretty much been the gate keeper, whenever the Republicans are in charge, to what happens environmentally,” he said.
This past year, he was vice chairman on the Select Committee on Government Reduction, which looks at ways of getting rid of obsolete rules and regulations. Chairman was Doug Gutwein, who Wolkins said put the word out that if a city or county elected official had something on the books that didn’t make sense to let the Committee know and they’d look at repealing it.
“Our first year, when I was chairing it, we got rid of around 150 committees that had been set up to study or do something and they had never gone away,” Wolkins said. “Some of them, there was no real reasons to have them, so we got rid of a ton of those,” Wolkins recalled.
On the Local Government Committee, Wolkins said he was a thorn because the mayors never liked him since he often called the mayors a bunch of whiners and never gave them enough support. Since Wolkins had previously served on the Winona Lake Town Board, the mayors thought he should have been a little more on their side, but he said he was on the side of taxpayers.
One of the things Wolkins has noticed in his 30 years in the House is people’s attitudes have changed on some issues.
As an example, he points to constitutional carry, the belief that a person shouldn’t have to have a permit to carry a handgun. It’s a proposal that came up last year and will come up again in the next session.
“I thought that would be a slam dunk because this county – anything the NRA wants in this state, they get it,” Wolkins said. “I put it on my survey last year and almost 65 percent said ‘No.’ I was shocked because I thought it would be 70 percent ‘Yes, do away with all those licenses and so forth.’”
He has breakfast at McDonald’s every morning with about 15 guys, 10 of whom probably carry a gun every day. “They said no, we need to have some kind of screening set up for it, and so the attitudes of the public have changed on that,” he said.
“It’ll be a big discussion this year. I’m not sure whether it’ll pass or not.”
Another issue he says people’s attitudes are changing on is hate crimes laws. Hate crime laws are intended to protect people against hate crimes motivated by a person’s characteristics such as race, religion, ethnicity, gender, etc.
Indiana is one of five states that does not allow judges to impose harsher sentences for hate crimes.
“And that’s just happened in the last three to four years. I would imagine we’ll have a pretty robust discussion on that this year. I still think overall our district will oppose it. We already have a number of enhance penalties. We give the judges quite a bit of freedom and if it is an honest-to-goodness hate crime, there’s some extenuating things they could do. It’ll be a good discussion this year,” Wolkins said.
Medical marijuana bills could pop up down at the legislature, he predicted.
“It’s a big issue, and that one I find myself changing my attitude. I’ve been anti-drug, anti-smoking, anti-everything but I’ve had a chance to talk to some people with their kids that have seizures. That’s the only thing that helps them,” Wolkins said.
The problem has been that no state has been able to keep medical marijuana out of the hands of the recreational users, he said.
“If there’s anyway you could, in fact, (limit it to) those people that actually need it, I think I would support it, but no one’s been able to do that yet and I’m not sure why, but medical marijuana will be a big issue this time.”
Alcohol issues “probably will be put off until next year,” he said, but that’s another area where attitudes have changed. “We will have Sunday sales either after this session or the next session. It’s going to happen,” he said. “Our alcohol laws make no sense whatsoever.”