Sit down in Sean Keefer’s Indiana Statehouse office, and you can’t help but notice a book entitled, Egypt, Greece and Rome, laying on his desk. When questioned about his literary choice, Keefer called it “a great book…my lunchtime reading.” Not exactly light reading, mind you, but it certainly defines the buttoned-down Fishers resident to a T. Public policy and state governance have dominated his professional career since graduating from Hillsdale College, then Indiana University with a master’s degree in Western European Studies.
Keefer, 36, has played key roles in the administrations of Governors Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence, including stints with the Departments of Labor and Health and the Secretary of State’s office. He was directly involved in Gov. Daniels’ “Major Moves” highway initiative, and while health department chief of staff, Keefer set about modernizing the agency’s record keeping.
In September, the governor moved Keefer from his position as commissioner of the Indiana Department of Labor to his current role as Pence’s legislative director. His primary responsibility now is shepherding the governor’s legislative goals through the Indiana General Assembly. “I work with [the administration’s] policy director on the governor’s agenda and then promote the agenda vigorously to move Indiana forward,” said Keefer, who also keeps an eye on the administration’s operational issues.
Promoting the governor and his agenda was an oft-repeated theme during Townepost’s visit with Keefer, who is nothing if not the quintessential political team player. When asked what a good day in the office is, he skillfully turned the focus back to his boss. “To be a resource and problem solver and advance the governor’s agenda,” he explained.
One would expect nothing less from someone watching the political theater (Greek theater?) that plays out in the General Assembly and then is tasked with crafting a functional strategy that is palatable to both Republicans and Democrats. “My approach is not a strong partisan mindset,” he said, acknowledging the presence and value of different policy perspectives. “Our approach is what the governor calls servant leadership….Politics is always contentious, but [the administration] put a strong emphasis on the values we agree with.”
As a senior staff member, Keefer is among the governor’s chief advisors, working directly with Gov. Pence several hours each week on important decisions. In January, Keefer enters his first General Assembly as gubernatorial legislative director but hardly as a political novice.
He described himself as a longtime friend of House Speaker Brian Bosma. A Fort Wayne native, Keefer knows Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long’s family. And Keefer said he has key contacts among Indiana Democratic leadership. “I’ve always had a good relationship in the past and am looking forward to developing [those relationships]. We all need to work together. The key is no surprises.”
While wholly Hoosier, Keefer does have an international flare about him. After college, the bilingual (Spanish) Keefer spent nine months in Spain. He met his wife, Gaby, while living and working in Argentina. They have two children, Santiago and Ramiro, and have lived in Fishers’ Meadowbrook Village since 2007.
An avid tennis player, the lefty recently won a tournament. That’s the only thing “left” about Keefer who clearly and unapologetically espouses conservative, Republican values. One gets the sense, however, that he’s open to alternative approaches when confronting the state’s challenges. “[There are] a lot of big issues [that can be] processed in different ways,” he said, noting that many states would like to be in Indiana’s position discussing how to spend a budget surplus.
Keefer called Fishers a community that is figuring out its identity. “There’s a lot going on in Fishers. The town is at a good crossroads,” he told Townepost. “Great people, great environment. I’m excited to see Fishers grow.”
With a first mayoral election looming, perhaps Fishers’ political leadership should thumb through Keefer’s desktop tome about ancient civilizations. There’s bound to be a few lessons learned about good governance in there.