The last time a woman ran for governor in Indiana was the 2008 general election. Jill Long Thompson lost to Mitch Daniels by over 17 percent of the popular vote. The loss in that gubernatorial race was completely overshadowed by the joy Democrats experienced that year from the presidential race. Indiana was purple, thanks to Barack Obama narrowly carrying the state for a Democratic win, the first one since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
One woman declared
In 2016 the national and state climate will be different. And another woman has set her sights on the governor's office. Karen Tallian has been in the Senate chamber of the statehouse since 2005. She took over the last year of Rose Ann Antich-Carr. Carr vacated her seat after 15 years in office to become the clerk-treasurer of Merrillville. Tallian won re-election in 2006, 2010 and 2014. In that last election she was unopposed.
It was also after that last election in 2014 that she began to consider a different office in the statehouse.
"There was a time when John Gregg was saying that he was 'out' and no other person who was a viable choice had stepped up. Frankly, it seemed like an impossible road," said Tallian. "But I kept saying someone has to speak for at least 48 to 50 percent of the state of Indiana because I really did not believe that the entire state of Indiana was as right wing as Mike Pence is."
Following RFRA and a multitude of other blunders with Pence at the helm, that once impossible road has a new surface that could lead to change. Pence's approval rating is at an all-time low and members of the Republican Party have been very outspoken about supporting other candidates.
"I think there are a lot of people that sort of smell blood in the water now," she laughed.
The tide has shifted so much that 2012 candidate John Gregg is running again, even though he had indicated he probably would not following his loss to Pence. Others names like Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, have also circulated as possible contenders for governor.
Despite the potentially crowded primary field, Tallian believes because she is the right person at the right time because she represents the progressive voice in Indiana that exists but is underrepresented.
"It's got a long history – the progressive movement — starting back into the late 1800s and early 1900s," said Tallian. "They passed women's suffrage. They passed the direct election of senators. They passed income tax. They did a lot of grassroots organizing."
"Progressive" is a moniker Tallian wears proudly because it reflects who she is and what she is about: moving Indiana forward and making progress for the majority.
"I think "progressive" now is in contrast to the kind of Koch-brothers-big-business-rule ideas," said Tallian. "It gets back to what everyone is talking about in the 99 percent, which is the biggest population of the American public."
And she adds "progressive" can mean different things to different people based upon where they live and the challenges they face. For us in Indiana, where the political climate has moved so far to the right, being dead center is progressive.
And those are the Hoosiers she hopes to reach.
Tallian is looking forward to carrying her message across the state over the next year, attending gatherings and dinners to reach the Democratic base and utilizing social media to help collect the 500 signatures in each congressional district she will need to get her name on the ballot in 2016.
She also intends to roll out her agenda and plans for the state in the form of the bills she will file in the next legislative session.
"I have the advantage in that I will be in the middle of my current term as state senator next January," said Tallian. "I really have nothing to lose."
Other potentials in the field
Tallian is the only woman thus far to officially throw her hat into the gubernatorial ring, but hers isn't the only name to be discussed in either political circle.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has said she is considering her options as many have publicly encouraged her to run for governor. Ritz has had her battles with the current administration – from the highly reported conflicts with the State Board of Education to the head-to-head battles with the governor through the now defunct Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI), the department Pence created by executive order that directly challenged Ritz's authority. Ritz's supporters have always been quick to point out that Ritz was the lone Democrat in a field of Republicans to win a state title in 2012, and (to pour more salt in the wound) received more votes than Pence in that election.
On the opposite side of the aisle there is the potential for a women to step into the GOP's top leadership role. Tallian's observation that people smell blood in the water is accurate as many in the Republican Party have outwardly expressed their disappointment with Pence's performance over the last few months. A name like U.S. Congresswoman Susan Brooks pops up in conversation as an individual that could bring peace to a divided state party. While the odds of that happening are small, it does show a change in the attitude toward female leadership in Indiana.
So, is Indiana ready for a female governor?
Women in Hoosier politics
Indiana is still considered a conservative state, so it's not surprising that women are underrepresented in politics. Women have been serving in the Indiana General Assembly since 1920 and have represented Indiana in the U.S. Congress since 1923. But the numbers of representation have never reflected the 51 percent of the population that are women. And it wasn't until 2003 that Indiana saw a female lieutenant governor, when Joe Kernan selected Kathy Davis to be his second in command. Interestingly, Indiana has had a woman in the number two spot ever since. However, with the exception of Long Thompson's ill-fated run against a strong incumbent, no other woman has dared to strive for the big chair until now.
Dr. Laura Albright, assistant political science professor at the University of Indianapolis, says there are several reasons why women don't run for public office.
"There is no question that the cost of running for office is a huge issue," says Albright. "And women tend to overestimate how much it will cost and how much money they personally will have to invest in a campaign while men tend to underestimate those figures."
And in general, women aren't conditioned to being comfortable asking for money for themselves. Many researchers studying the gender wage gap have noted how women don't advocate for themselves when asking for pay raises. Albright says the same is true in politics. Fundraising is an integral part of campaigning and women typically are hesitant to seek out donor dollars as a candidate.
Albright says there is also the issue of how women are socialized to perceive themselves and the "social" aspect of politics.
"As a society we don't associate women with the 'ugly' side of politics and as a result women don't see themselves overcoming those things," says Albright.
The term politician is often considered a less-than-kind title associated with thievery, manipulation, and dishonesty. Women are glorified instead to be the antithesis of that as nurturers, homemakers, and childbearers.
Those social institutions are magnified even more when you throw race into the mix. Albright says the concerns of cost and social pressures are often magnified within the minority community for a woman.
"Women in general, and it's even more true for minority women, tend to show more awareness that political campaigns are not all fun," says Albright, "They are constantly looking beyond the glitz and glamour that is associated with life in public office."
However, Albright notes that nationally the larger trend is moving toward the disregard of gender in politics and a greater focus on the issues. High profile political figures like Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton are helping to change the image.
That trend could even affect a conservative state like Indiana.
And for a woman to be elected governor in the state of Indiana, from either political party, would send a message to the rest of the nation about the Hoosier state.
"It would show a sense of gender forwardness and a tolerance on issues pertinent to women in Indiana," says Albright.