Dillon says his view on government has changed during his tenure

Gary "Doc" Dillon.
Photo provided.

Originally published April 15, 2010.

Twelve years in the Indiana General Assembly has provided Sen. Gary "Doc" Dillon (R-Columbia City) a wealth of opportunity to serve the people of Indiana's 17th Senate District, and has also given him new insight into the political process.

Now, the veteran legislator is retiring from public office, vacating a seat that is being sought by Tom Wall (R-Huntington) and Jim Banks (R-Columbia City).

Being in the General Assembly "has changed my view of the whole process," Dillon says. "I had a rather negative view of politics and bureaucracy, but the vast majority of the people I worked with try to do what they think is right."

Dillon, a dermatologist by trade, first hit the political scene in the Indiana House of Representatives in 1998. In 2002, Dillon ran for the Senate District 17 seat, which he holds through the end of this year.

Dillon's district includes all of Huntington and Whitley counties, as well as parts of Wabash, Allen, Grant and Kosciusko counties.

Dillon has served on numerous Senate committees, including Energy and Environmental Affairs, Appropriations, Tax and Fiscal Policy and Ethics, of which he chairs. He has previously served on House and Senate committees dealing with education and health, which were aided by Dillon's past experience as both president of the Whitley County School Board and president of the Whitley County Health Department.

"Probably 70 percent of the state budget is health care and education, so that experience has been helpful," he says.

Dillon notes his biggest achievements while in the state legislature have been property tax reform and ethics reform.

"We worked a lot on property tax and debt reform," he says. "We got a system set up so that some property tax money will go to other things. It was complicated getting it figured out and passed."

Dillon co-authored Senate Bill 114, also known as the Ethics Reform bill, which was passed by the Senate unanimously in February and went on to pass the House in March. The new law regulates interactions lobbyists can have with representatives and senators, prohibits government officials from accepting awards for appearances and speeches related to legislative matters and limits legislators from using his or her name in media advertisements with state-appropriated money unless permission is granted from State Budget Committee and State Budget Agency.

Dillon notes that while he observed no ethical wrongdoing in the statehouse, he fully supported the bill.

"Ethics reform is a sign people feel there's a problem," Dillon says. "One of the good reasons to have something like the ethics bill is that we want people to have confidence in their government."

Dillon attributes some of the negative public view of politicians and the political process to inefficiencies on the federal level and controversies in other states.
"I'm impressed with (legislators') work ethic and competence," Dillon says. "I can walk away with a much better view. By and large, Indiana is well-served by the people we elect."

Dillon's own Senate resume supports that claim. He has repeatedly been recognized for his consistently high voting record, evidenced by his presence for 99.4 percent of votes in the 2010 session and 99.8 percent of votes in the 2009 session.

In addition to completing projects on a state level, Dillon has assisted in bringing funding to District 17. Grants for infrastructure and for projects like the Mt. Etna Fire Station and road improvements throughout the area have all been aided by Dillon, who has also used his ability as a lawmaker to assist local communities.

"The city of Wabash needed a law changed to be able to build an industrial park, so I was able to do that," he says.

Lately, Dillon has been working with other legislators to help build a business-friendly atmosphere to improve the state economy.

"I really think that the most important thing we can all do is to make Indiana as a whole as competitive as we can make it," Dillon says. "As we create a climate for job creation ... we're really doing our jobs. I have to work with my constituents, but also do what's best for the state as a whole. We're all in this together."

The hard work of Dillon and his coworkers is paying off. Indiana has been ranked as one of the most business-friendly environments in recent years, and the state has a balanced budget. And for the first time in 17 months, the revenue forecast has exceeded expenditures, indicating that the Indiana economy is on the rise.

Dillon still remains impressed with the quality of people he has worked and developed relationships with over the years.

"It takes a large number of people working together to get things done," he says. "There's much more willingness to work together in Indiana."

Dillon notes that party lines are much less important in Indianapolis than Washington, DC.

"Both sides want the state to do well, but they just have different visions for how to do that," Dillon says.
But after the years of work, Dillon says its time to wrap it up.

"First, I'll be 67 in May, and teaching and Senate are more than I wanted to do," he says, noting his teaching position at Indiana University.

Dillon also wants to spend more time with his four children, who are scattered across the globe in Indiana, California, Montana and Switzerland. He is a self-described avid reader, and will more than likely have more time to enjoy that hobby, in addition to learning German, which he took up after his daughter moved to Switzerland.

But despite his impending retirement and the end of the 2010 legislative session, Dillon still holds office until the incumbent is sworn in, and is here to help those who he represents. He says his office still takes concerns and questions on an almost daily basis, and he can also connect people with appropriate services if his office does not have an answer.

"I've enjoyed helping solve some of the problems," Dillon says, reflecting on his political career.
As for the next person to fill the District 17 seat, Dillon offers some advice:

"The most important thing is to do your homework and try to do what you think is right," he says. "Regardless of what happens, you can sleep much better."