Nov. 6 was Election Day, and J.D. Ford’s 36th birthday. He was in for quite a present.
Ford ousted incumbent Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, who had represented District 29 in the Indiana Senate since 2005.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting to the Indiana Secretary of State’s office, Ford came away with 56.7 percent, 31,880 votes, to Delph’s 43.3 percent, 24,373 votes.
“This is a dream come true for me. I feel like I’ve hit the lottery,” he said during an interview at NUVO just days later. “I’m just honored to have them vote for me.”
Ford is now the first openly LGBTQ person ever elected to the Indiana General Assembly.
Indiana was one of the few states in the nation to have never elected an openly LGBTQ person to its state legislature. Currently, just four openly LGBTQ elected officials serve in the entire state.
Nationwide, Ford’s win was also a part of a “Rainbow Wave,” which saw over 150 LGBT candidates elected during the midterm election, the most ever recorded.
What makes Ford’s accomplishment all the more remarkable is how long he worked for it, where it happened, and who he was up against.
FIRST RUN IN 2014
Public service runs in Ford’s family. His maternal grandfather was a city councilman and his paternal grandmother was a city auditor.
“I remember people coming up to them all the time and saying, ‘Thank you so much,’” he said. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, that’s a really cool job that you get to be in your community and help people.’”
When he attended the University of Akron to study pre-law and conflict management, Ford became the first person in his family to attend college. He later attended Purdue University to pursue his master’s degree in education with an emphasis in human services.
Meanwhile, Mike Delph was making a name for himself as one of the most prominent and polarizing conservative Republican lawmakers in Indiana. Among other things, Delph worked for years against same-sex marriage. In 2014, he pursued a procedural move to try to put a ban on civil unions back into a constitutional marriage amendment.
It was around that time that Ford attended one of Delph’s town halls.
“There was a gay couple...and they basically said, ‘We pay our taxes. We don’t give you any grief. We’ve lived in our house for so many years. So, what’s the point? Why are you always railing on us, on our community?’” said Ford. “The way that Sen. Delph carried himself, I was just not happy about what I was seeing.
“I remember talking to that gentleman afterwards and I said, ‘I am so sorry that that happened to you. You must have been mortified.’ And they were. At that point I was like, ‘Well, somebody needs to run against him.’”
Friends and family convinced Ford he should be that somebody.
“I knew that it would be an uphill battle,” he said. “I knew that it would be tough, but I was going to try. If not me, then who, right?”
When the ballots were counted Election Day 2014, Delph won re-election 54.3 percent, 15,140 votes, to Ford’s 45.7 percent, 12,744.
But, Ford had a plan for next time.
SAME MATCH-UP, DIFFERENT RESULT
Nov. 7, the day after Election Day 2018, Delph posted on Facebook thanking supporters, congratulating Ford, and blaming his loss on “mindless straight party protest vote driven by disdain for our President.”
Ford said he didn’t see it that way.
“We didn’t go out there and say negative things about the Republican Party,” he said.
Ford and his volunteers began knocking on doors in July 2017, and following up with handwritten, issue-oriented notes later.
“This time for me was a lot easier because I knew the people,” he said. “I knew when to get started.”
Ford said the key to his success was connecting personally with voters. Ford, who substitute taught throughout his campaign, said education issues will be among his top priorities as he begins his work.
“Particularly with school funding, how we’re treating our teachers, and how anxious our students are getting about taking these tests,” he said.
Ford’s victory was one of the few rays of hope for Indiana Democrats this year. He said his advice to other candidates in his party was to emphasize solutions.
“I wanted to make sure that we were standing for something,” he said.