By DAN SPALDING
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — On a recent snowy Saturday, nine state lawmakers had been invited to attend a legislative update at Indiana University, South Bend.
But bad weather helped reduce the number to four — Tim Wesco, the lone Republican — and three Democrats, including former House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, the current minority party leader.
In the opening remarks, Wesco spoke last and was interrupted by Bauer, who was soon cut off by the moderator. Minutes later, Wesco criticized Bauer for the interruption, which soon led Bauer to complain about getting a “lecture” by somebody in their first term of office.
Bauer tried to argue that interruptions are part of the process.
So what did Wesco do?
He interrupted Bauer.
“Excuse me I’d like to address that,” Wesco shouted. “I disagree.”
Wesco’s theatrics and sarcasm, capped by with a wide grin, set the tone that day that let colleagues and the audience of about 50 people — many of whom were union members — know he wasn’t going to be bullied.
For nearly two hours, much of the conversation focused on the ultra-divisive right-to-work legislation and Wesco found himself on the defensive. Afterward, he attracted a collection of union members who continued to argue their opposition to right to work.
If he was intimidated, it didn’t show.
“I look at it as a privilege and an honor,” Wesco said afterward, “to be able to represent the Republican-conservative perspective on the issue.”
One of the first things he learned about the job, Wesco said, was that he can’t please everyone.
“Ultimately, there are going to be people who oppose my final position and I’ve just learned to accept that and not take it personally,” he said.
At the age of 25, Wesco is the youngest lawmaker in the General Assembly and is among the youngest to ever serve.
Unlike the majority of grizzled lawmakers who often are established businessmen or lawyers before deciding to run, Wesco had a desire to serve that began to fester when most young people are thinking more about dating and acne.
“He’s an outstanding young man,” said House Speaker Pro-Tempore Eric Turner who has served as a mentor for the freshman legislator. “He has a lot of maturity for somebody so young coming into the General Assembly.”
“Tim walks the talk. He certainly votes the way he believes and he’s the same person in Indianapolis as the way he is back home. That’s not always true with members of the General Assembly,” Turner said.
Wesco, represents Indiana’s District 21, grew up in Mishawaka and is one of 10 children. His father is a pastor and his mother homeschooled all of the children.
“I really inherited my love for my country and my desire to be civically involved from my parents, particularly my mother,” Wesco said. “She always followed current events.”
He attended a theological school based out of a Grace Brethren Church in Mishawaka for five years. During that time he became a volunteer fireman with Penn Township and worked on the production line for two recreational vehicle manufacturers.
In 2007, he began working on a mayoral campaign in South Bend and helped establish a Young Republicans Club in St. Joseph County that became involved in other campaign efforts.
Later that year, he began working for State Rep. Jackie Walorski in the district that he would later end up representing. The work involved writing and collecting petitions on property tax issues. It was that interaction with constituents, he said, that first sparked an interest in public office.
In the meantime, he saved enough money to purchase a home without the need for a mortgage, a goal his parents had encouraged.
“I’m fiscally conservative myself and think the government could be much better than it is,” Wesco said. “The national debt weighs very heavily on me.”
When Walorski chose to run for Congress and vacate her seat, she encouraged Wesco to run. He campaigned on both the policies of right to life and right to work. In the primary, he won 68 percent of the vote against Dave Wood, who later became mayor of Mishawaka. In the general election, he amassed 65 percent against Democrat Dwight Fish.
Wesco continues to offer the same conservative outlook as his predecessor. Both are staunch conservatives.
“I’ve always admired Jackie Walorski for her outspoken stands on conservative issues,” he said, adding that they don’t always agree on all issues.
Aside from right to work, Wesco has authored several notable bills including government reform involving townships. He supports a compromise in which townships would be eliminated in urban areas.
He’s also authored a bill that would shorten the duration of contracts school districts must offer superintendents. Another bill would help discourage frivolous lawsuits.
Wesco said he’s been disappointed with the impasse created by Democrats over right to work in the past two sessions, but said he thinks the delays have allowed him to learn about the legislative process at a slower pace.
“It’s been a tremendous learning curve for me over the last year,” he said, “but that’s kind of the way I learn best — by jumping in and doing it.”
While he’s eager to debate issues, Wesco is still learning the nuances of public interaction. Twice during the public meeting in South Bend, he started arguing, but then backed off after being corrected on facts. In one instance, he admitted that he’s sometimes overly eager to engage crowds in hypothetical questions.
Turner said he’s impressed with Wesco’s maturity and his “measured” interaction with lawmakers.
“Many (lawmakers) probably expected him to be like one of their kids where they’d have to scold them or teach them,” Turner said.
He’s also gained a reputation for his use of social media, including Facebook and Twitter.
“Although he’s 25 years old,” Turner said, “he’s probably communicating more with his constituents in a variety of ways than any other member of the General Assembly.”