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Grand dame of politics calls it quits

State Senator Earline Rogers

Earline Rogers announces retirement after 34 years in the State Legislature

State Senator Earline Rogers is retiring after serving decades in public office. The Gary native said she has been in the state legislature longer than she had initially expected, having served her 34th year with eight years in the House of Representatives and 25 years in the Senate.

“So I thought this would be a good time for me to exit,” stated Rogers.

Rogers said during the last session she was able to put a period or a bow on some of the interests she had been pursuing, including securing land-based casinos—an effort she started 25 years ago.

She also ensured that the Gary Public Schools were able to remove themselves from the fiscal dilemma in which they found themselves, as well as receive services from a financial consultant at the expense of the state’s Distressed Unit Appeals Board.

“Mainly, I thought at this time I had done as much as I could do as it relates to the welfare of the city and the welfare of the School Corporation, which have been my two major efforts since I’ve been in the legislature.”

The senator’s political career began as a member of the Gary Common Council representing the 3rd District. She held the position from 1980 to 1982, and was the first woman to be elected president of the Gary City Council; the first Black woman to serve as vice chair of the Indiana State Democratic Party; and the first Black woman to serve as the assistant Minority Leader of the Senate. She now serves as the Minority Whip of the Senate.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson released the following statement regarding Senator Roger’s announcement of her retirement:

“Today, Senator Rogers announced her retirement. I would like to join the citizens of this city in thanking her for exemplary service, as evidenced by her involvement in pivotal legislation at the state level and ordinances at the local level. Her ability to get things done in a General Assembly that often considers Gary a foreign land is noteworthy and the high regard that her colleagues in the General Assembly have for her mirrors the appreciation and gratitude from the citizens of our community.

“I want to take this time to personally thank Senator Rogers for sowing seeds of wisdom into my life. I will always be personally grateful for her encouragement to me as a woman of color who sought to serve our community during a time when public office was not the likely path of choice.”

Congressman Pete Visclosky also released a statement in response to Rogers’ retirement:

“I have been profoundly inspired by Sen. Earline Rogers’ steadfast devotion to the service of others. She has accrued inestimable accomplishments as a legislator while always displaying unwavering kindness. Northwest Indiana and the City of Gary will forever be thankful for her tireless efforts. I wish Earline the best of luck and wellness in her retirement.”

The senator said her first plans in retirement are to become a snowbird—a term for people who travel south for the winter.

She said, “My son and all of my grandchildren live in Arizona, and for the past few years, we’ve gone there for Christmas, but I’ve always had to come back for the Legislature that starts in January. I keep saying I can go south and turn west and be in Arizona and I can stay longer. I’ll do that for a while.”

When she was in Arizona this past Christmas, Rogers said she was offered a job teaching government in one of the schools there. She has experience having taught school in the Gary school system for 38 years. “I’m a teacher by profession, so I might take up teaching again. I’m not certain what my future will be even at the age of 81. The only thing I do know is that I’ll have the opportunity to pursue some different interests.”

At this point, the senator shared there isn’t anyone in particular she would like to see take her place in the Legislature. “With filing just opening at this point in time, I’m going to take a look at those who have filed and see if there is anyone I would like to endorse. I did see Eddie Melton who has expressed an interest. I’ve watched him as he’s moved around talking to people, and there are a lot of people that he knows already and they all have a lot of respect for him. From what I’ve seen, he certainly would be an excellent candidate for the job, but I’m going to wait and see who else gets in the race before I make a decision.”

Rogers said what she will miss most will be helping her constituents solve their problems. “I’ve had success with big items, such as Joe Joe’s Law, which came as a result of an 18-passenger van that was transporting nursery school children in Gary in which there was an accident and Joe Joe died. I was able to pass a law that said that you couldn’t transport children in 18-passenger vans anymore, but in vehicles that had passed National Safety.”

Another case was the Paula Cooper case. At the time, she was scheduled to be executed at 15- years-old. Indiana had a law that stated you could be executed at the age of 10.

“I was able to get a law passed to get it raised to age 16, and you had to take into consideration their age through 18. As a result of that law passing, they changed Paula Cooper’s sentence from a death sentence to serving so many years in prison. That legislation helped to save someone’s life, but she took her own life. The Pope in Italy became involved in that one, and there were even monks that came down when the bill passed that came and congratulated me. Those bills were the ones that saved lives, and the most important and gratifying to get done.”

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