Noblesville’s Luke Kenley Reflects on 25 Years As Indiana Senator
Writer / Suzanne Huntzinger
Photographer / Jamie Sangar
All those voting on the retirement of Indiana Senator Luke Kenley said nay. But after 25 years of loyal service to his constituents, Kenley is stepping down at the end of September.
Kenley joined the Indiana Senate in 1992. The job wasn’t something he planned for or expected, but Republican leaders approached him and encouraged him to run. Kenley says he considers himself one of the lucky ones because people asked him to run. So, Kenley ran a successful campaign and won.
Through the years, Kenley served Indiana’s 20th district in Hamilton County faithfully and as the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee, making tough decisions where the budget is concerned.
Prior to becoming a Senator, Kenley had a little experience dealing with budgets. A hometown boy raised in Noblesville, Kenley returned to Noblesville after law school at Harvard and two years in the army. He finished the remainder of his law degree and began practicing law in Indianapolis. Kenley also stepped in to help run the family chain of grocery stores that his father started in 1940. That job also was not one Kenley planned but never considered doing otherwise.
He practiced law just two years before being appointed as Noblesville City Court Judge where he served for 15 years. Kenley fulfilled his judgeship responsibilities while simultaneously running the grocery stores. In 1992 when he won his first term in the Senate, he continued to manage Kenley’s groceries until they sold the stores to Marsh.
“I’ve always juggled multiple things,” Kenley says. “Besides, in Indiana, we’re traditionalists. People who serve in the Senate don’t quit their day jobs.”
During his term, Kenley was part of passing a bill that paved the way for a billion-dollar improvement on Indiana’s infrastructure and roads. The bill made it possible to move forward on the plan to widen the major crossroads leading out of Indianapolis to six lanes.
“That was a major victory a long time in the making,” he says. “The decision to retire is never easy, but knowing we accomplished that made the timing just right.”
Reflecting on his time serving Indiana, Kenley shares the things he’ll remember most about his old job. He calls Hoosiers the “nicest people in the world,” but says they weren’t aggressive enough with progress.
“Indiana now is the beneficiary of change,” Kenley says. “There was a time during economic turmoil when lawmakers worried that going forward, kids wouldn’t have the opportunities they need. But lawmakers have worked hard to make Indiana more aggressive and progressive.”
Now, Kenley says, Indiana is recognized as one of the best run state governments in the nation, providing for good education and opportunities. He credits the presence of companies like Lilly and Roche for creating huge opportunities in the bio sciences field with science and engineering careers.
“All of it makes Indiana a better place to live, work and raise a family,” Kenley says.
Sharing more of his perspective on the people of Indiana, he says he heard from his constituents quite often. Some were very opinionated in their lengthy emails, others left long voicemails. But Kenley says he replied to many of them, inviting some to call him back directly on his cell phone.
“For the most part, when I had the opportunity to discuss their concerns, people were reasonable when I gave them time to be reasonable,” he says. “I treat all people like they’re customers. Being a retailer and a grocer trained me how to be a good public servant. After all, I work for them.”
The people Kenley worked for made the job worthwhile, he says.
“The other day, I was at the Speedway station and a man approached me commenting about my retirement,” Kenley says. “He thanked me for my service. To me, that’s just as rewarding as passing an important piece of legislation.”
Besides the people, Kenley admits there’s something else he’ll miss. “I’ll miss being at the Statehouse and making a difference on the issue of the day. But democracy is about giving new people a chance to participate in that,” Kenley says.
One important piece of legislation he’ll be watching closely is Indiana’s Healthcare bill, HIP 2.0.
“I’m hopeful they’ll get something passed,” he says. “Indiana is fortunate that we’re not completely poverty stricken. But medical costs are astronomical. HIP 2.0 is a good plan, but we have to see what the Federal government does before we know if we can get it passed.”
Kenley says, overall, he’s very optimistic that the Senate will keep the momentum going after he leaves.
“I have lots of confidence in our leaders,” Kenley says. “We have great people, and we’ve been training them and grooming them.”
Among the great people is Senator Ryan Mishler who will step in and take Kenley’s place as the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Even after he leaves the Senate, Kenley will still go on juggling multiple projects. His plate is full with his property management company, through which he leases 150,000 square feet of retail space. He and his wife Sally are also very active on the Board of Directors of the Noblesville Boys and Girls Club where they just helped run a successful fundraising campaign for a new building that will be built on Conner Street.
Free time will be on Kenley’s agenda too.
“Free time is a good thing. It will be good to slow down the hectic pace,” he says.
First up on the list is family. Kenley will have more time to spend with his son, who lives locally and is a teacher. Kenley says he looks forward to visiting his other two children and grandchildren in Chicago and Seattle, too. The Kenleys will also continue to meet in the summer at their ranch home in Texas where he was born.
“Everyone in the family converges there and it gets a little chaotic,” Kenley says.
Now as Senator Kenley prepares to leave his post, he leaves behind some words of wisdom.
“Elected officials tend to talk a lot. The most effective approach would be to listen more,” Kenley says. “When we listen more, we can learn from our differences. It’s important to keep an open mind and spend more time listening rather than talking.”
Senator Kenley’s last day in office is September 30, 2017. You can wish him well on his Facebook page, or you can send him a personal message to his office at 1100 South 9th Street Room 18, Noblesville, IN 46060.