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home : most recent : statewide implications November 13, 2018

3/9/2018 12:58:00 PM
COMMENTARY: Indiana, U.S. on the brink of a growing-up moment

Mark Bennett, Tribune-Star

Years ago, family and friends told me that having a daughter would change my outlook on the world.

They were right.

I was already a father of two adventurous boys when my daughter was born in springtime 1996. As she grew up, I paid closer attention to balancing my inclination to protect her and to encourage her independence. I learned to braid hair. I realized, usually after a nod from my wife, that a talk with dad isn’t always the best first-response when tears flow. I saw a little girl unafraid to wrestle against boys, and a decade later looking lovely on her high school’s homecoming court. Smart like her mom, she can talk politics, Cincinnati Reds baseball and Mel Brooks.

Turns out, I grew up right alongside my daughter.

As International Women’s Day arrived Thursday, amid Women’s History Month, there appeared to be a real possibility that the government of Indiana and the United States might be on the brink of a growing-up moment, too. Record numbers of women are running for state and federal elected offices in the 2018 midterm elections.

That increase in women candidates, alone, raises awareness of issues, and strategies, from their viewpoint. If a significant number of them win party nominations in the primaries, including Indiana’s on May 8, and then the November election, bigger changes are possible.

Eighty-nine women are on the ballot in state and congressional races in Indiana, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal, including 27 Republicans and 62 Democrats. That’s an overall increase of 35 percent from 2016’s total of 66 female candidates.

Nationwide, the number of women who have filed or announced candidacy for state and U.S. offices stands at 431, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, which the IBJ report cited. That’s a hefty jump from the record of 298.

Of course, candidate filings and announcements aren’t the same as ballot-box victories. Seventy-four percent of Indiana’s state and federal candidates are men. And many are incumbents in districts heavily populated by voters of one party or the other.

“If the female candidates are all representing the minority party on the ballot, there might not be many victories,” Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW in Fort Wayne, explained Thursday.

Gerrymandering — the age-old practice of the majority party drawing political boundaries to preserve its dominance — deserves a lot of blame for those lopsided territories.

Women, who hold only 30 of Indiana’s 150 legislative seats, can narrow but not erase the gender imbalance in the General Assembly this year.

In the past, men generally have been more inclined to seek public office, Downs pointed out. But once women make the decision to run, voters are open to supporting them.

“There is also research that shows that women are approximately just as likely to win as men,” Downs stated. “I think that means that we are likely to see many more women on the ballot in the fall, and for more women to win in the fall.”

Hints of that eventuality emerged from Tuesday’s Texas primary. More than half of the 50 women running for Congress in the Lone Star State won their primaries or qualified for runoff elections (when no candidate receives a majority of the votes), CNBC reported. Three of the runoffs also pit two women against each other.

The surge in women candidates is frequently attributed to the Women’s March in January 2017, a pushback to the election of Donald Trump as president, as well as the #MeToo movement to promote awareness and prevention of sexual harassment and violence. If so, they’re raising concerns the entire country should address, including federal, state and local government.

More women are motivated to force those issues to move up the priorities list, though voting and seeking public office. Many attended “prepare to run” sessions conducted last year by both major parties in Indiana.

Victories by women in Tuesday’s Texas primary could be replicated in the Hoosier state, another traditionally conservative stronghold, said Christina Hale, the 2016 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. She and runningmate John Gregg lost to Republicans Eric Holcomb and Suzanne Crouch that year.

“Here in Indiana, we feel this same momentum, reflected in the extremely active and engaged first-time women candidates all around our state,” Hale stated Thursday. “You’d better believe that they will run through that tape in November. And they are running to win.”

If so, the Statehouse in Indianapolis will look, and seemingly act, more like all of Indiana, and Capitol Hill in Washington will more accurately reflect all of America, too. The sensibilities of more mothers, daughters and sisters in public office will influence the decisions of fathers, sons and brothers serving alongside them in those public offices. For the better.

#YYYY# Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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