Rep. Cindy Ziemke, R-Batesville, during Organizational Day at the Indiana Statehouse on Nov. 20, 2018. Women represent obly one in four Hoosier lawmakers and just 20% of GOP legislators are women. CNHI News Indiana file photo by John P. Cleary
Rep. Cindy Ziemke, R-Batesville, during Organizational Day at the Indiana Statehouse on Nov. 20, 2018. Women represent obly one in four Hoosier lawmakers and just 20% of GOP legislators are women. CNHI News Indiana file photo by John P. Cleary
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s Legislature is just one-quarter female, has just one openly LGBTQ+ member and has no black Republicans.

While the General Assembly made history in the current session with the first-ever female-majority caucus (17 of 33 Democrats in the House Representatives), women still represent only one in four lawmakers. Just 20% of Republican legislators are women, and none are black.

Marshawn Wolley, director of community engagement at IUPUI’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, said the gender gap and other demographic disparities in the Legislature reflect an imbalance in Statehouse representation of Hoosiers.

“With any kind of democracy you want it to represent the people — to be of the people, by the people and for the people,” Wolley said, noting the increasingly diverse American population. “It’s important that all of those dynamics come to bear in the leadership of the government.”

Wolley said research shows that men and women approach problems differently, meaning that each could reach different outcomes.

Anne Hathaway, the executive director of the Lugar Series, said she sees the same difference at ground level, where her organization works to recruit and attract women to political office and campaign positions in the Republican Party. The Lugar Series, named after longtime U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, provides an overview of government — down to local school boards and commissions.

“Over the course of time, I’ve had the opportunity to go out and try to recruit candidates, both men and women, and men and women approach it very differently,” she said.

Generally, men would immediately go home to persuade their family to support their run while women would ask for time to think about the decision because they felt underqualified, according to Hathaway.

“This is beginning to change, but it has taken time for it to evolve,” she said. “Women are leaning in towards running.”

Self-doubt leads some women to ask more questions during policy discussions, Hathaway said, often addressing “the elephant in the room” that men might ignore.

“I think women tend to collect all the data and really think things through,” she said.

Hathaway attributed the scarcity of Republican women in the General Assembly to an “ebb and flow” while noting that women affiliated with the GOP are serving in five of the seven statewide elected positions: Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Secretary of State Connie Lawson, State Auditor Tera Klutz, State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick.

In 2000, the legislature had 27 women (13 Republicans and 14 Democrats) and 11 black lawmakers. The last black Republican to serve in the General Assembly, James Van Leer of Delaware County, lost his re-election bid in 1996.

‘SEEING CONNECTIONS

Programs such as The Lugar Series, and its Democratic counterpart, Hoosier Women Forward, encourage women to get involved in government and run for office.

For minorities, the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus unifies legislators and helps them work toward common objectives.

In the Statehouse, the 13 members of the Black Legislative Caucus focus on issues relevant to black Hoosiers — high maternal death rates, juvenile justice, soaring health care costs and other concerns.

“They’re thinking about issues that impact the black community, but often what you find is when you’re looking at one particular group, you see connections with others,” Wolley said.

When the caucus addresses food deserts, for example, it’s advocating for grocery access for rural Hoosiers, as well.

Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, said that the Black Legislative Caucus, which she chairs, has representatives from only Marion County and Lake County after state Rep. Joe Taylor of St. Joseph County left to take a job with the United Auto Workers International Union. Ross Deal, another Democrat, now has the District 7 seat.

Five counties in Indiana are more than 10% black, including Marion County, St. Joseph County, Lake County, LaPorte County and Allen County. The 13 black lawmakers make up 8.7% of the Legislature, while black Hoosiers comprise 9.8% of the state’s population and those who identify as more than one race account for 2.1%, according to 2019 U.S. Census estimates.

“We’re always trying to expand, especially in the areas that have a high African-American population,” Shackleford said. “It’s very hard to get other people to ... be a voice for our community. I think the best people to be that voice are the people that actually live and work in our communities that have the past experiences and can … bring those issues to the Statehouse and fight for those issues.”

Each year, the caucus releases a set of bills to prioritize. This year, the priority bills include testing for lead in Lake County and allowing police officers to issue a summons to appear for those charged with low-level offenses. Currently, officers have no option but to arrest the suspect in such cases.

Shackleford’s personal aim is to cap the cost of a 30-day supply of insulin at $100, helping thousands of diabetics in Indiana save money. She learned in a summer study commission that one in four diabetics share or improperly ration their insulin supply.

The biggest gap of representation in the General Assembly is among Latino Hoosiers, with just two members. Across the state, Latino Hoosiers comprise about 7.1% of the population.

State Rep. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago, is a member of both the Black Legislative Caucus and the National Association of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials. The Indiana legislature doesn’t have a Latino caucus. State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, a Latina Democrat, represents Munster.

‘BUSTING THROUGH THE DOOR’

The Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law estimates Indiana’s LGBTQ+ population to be 4.5%, similar to the rest of the country.

But J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, is the state’s first and only openly gay lawmaker.

Ford ran for office after he heard anti-LBGTQ+ comments from his senate predecessor, Mike Delph, at a town hall meeting.

Ford said a gay couple in the district asked Delph about previous comments against gay marriage.

“He basically just embarrassed them and said he didn’t believe what they believed,” Ford said. “I remember staying afterwards and talking to them. ‘Your elected official just embarrassed you in front of all these people … somebody should run against him.’”

Ford lost that first election by 2,000 votes, but he won the next election, on his 36th birthday, in 2018.

Ford relied heavily for campaign funding on the state’s Democratic Party and the Victory Fund, a Washington D.C.-based group that supports LGBTQ candidates.

“We’re kind of busting through the door in that regard because we were just elected and re-elected four open city-county council members in the City of Indianapolis. We elected our first transgender woman here in the state of Indiana,” Ford said. “If I was a younger member of the LGBTQ+ community, I now have role models that I can look up to.”

Indianapolis LGBTQ+ City-County Councilmembers include the re-elected Zach Adamson, whom Ford named as a key supporter in establishing his campaign, and the newly elected Alison Brown, Ethan Evans and Keith Potts. In November, Greencastle became the first Hoosier city to elect a transgender woman, Veronica Pejril, to city council.

Part of being an Indiana lawmaker means addressing the state’s past, including the controversial 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act that LBGTQ+ members said could be used to discriminate against them.

Despite that history, Ford said he’s received deep support as a state senator.

“It took me three weeks to dig out of congratulatory notes, not just from kids in Indiana but from kids all across the United States who had heard my story of losing and then working really hard to win,” he said. “A lot of those LBGTQ+ kids were like, ‘Finally, we can breathe a little easier knowing that someone’s going to be there to talk.’”

‘CORE VALUE’ DIVERSITY

Representation of race and sexual orientation remains limited to one side of the aisle in the General Assembly: the Democrats.

Wolley, the IUPUI professor, said that the Democratic Party in Indiana, which had been criticized in the past for a lack of diversity, has changed.

“The Democratic Party is definitely clear about diversity being a core value of its platform and how it approaches a lot of different issues. ... I think there’s a respect for diversity within the Republican Party, but I’m not sure you see it as necessarily a core value,” Wolley said.

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