Walk into the Democratic caucus of the Indiana House or Senate and you’ll most likely find yourself among a professional class populated by attorneys and increasingly public school teachers. David Niezgodski is a throwback to the days when unions and the trades were a larger presence. In his second term in the Senate after 10 years in the House and a long career in St. Joseph County politics, the South Bend LaSalle High School grad began his career at 18, in the family plumbing business, which he now owns. Niezgodski represents Indiana Senate District 10, which covers heavily populated northern St. Joseph County.
Moving from the House to the Senate in 2017, Niezgodski stressed his working class roots in an interview, saying, “I’ve always been very passionate about issues that pertain to working men and women. I’ve been a very strong advocate for those causes, and that’s pretty much why I call myself a Democrat.’’ He was one of the House’s most outspoken critics of right-to-work legislation passed in 2012.
With only 10 Senate members, its Democratic caucus is particularly fragile, but Niezgodski occasionally has broken with leadership to vote with Republicans, most recently on the 2019 binennial budget – criticized by the rest of his caucus as shorting social services and public education – and 2020 legislation that allowed the state, instead of issuing debt, to use $291 million in surplus funds to pay for capital projects and Indiana colleges and universities – money since pulled back due to the coronavirus-triggered downturn in state revenues. Other Senate Democrats had pushed for the money to go toward teacher pay raises.
In 2020, four of the bills authored by Niezgodski dealt with worker issues, including one that renewed his efforts to reestablish the prevailing wage in Indiana; also known as common construction wage, the law requiring minimum pay rates for public works projects was repealed in 2015. It as well as two others – to withhold tax credits and other state incentives from companies that move their call centers overseas, and to reinstate unemployment benefits for education workers – died in committee. The fourth, to create a system to report when companies reclassify their employees as contractors without paid benefits, passed the Senate with 20 Republican votes but died in the House amid opposition from the small business lobby.
Niezgodski’s former House district is a mix of blue and red precincts. He managed to win by comfortable margins, even running without Republican opposition for his last term. Democrats have struggled to hang on to the seat since. His Senate seat has been held by Democrats for decades, and he faced no opposition for reelection in 2020. – Kevin Morgan