On my first day as an intern in the Indiana Senate — Organization Day 2003 — an experienced legislator stepped to the podium. He looked back at Kathy Davis, who was at the head of the Chamber in her first day as President of the Senate.
“Madam President,” he said, “it’s been a long time since we’ve seen someone wearing purple holding that gavel.”
Truth was, unless a female legislator was filling in, there was never a female leading the chamber. Now, twelve and a half years later, we’re on the verge of having a male Lieutenant Governor once again. So it’s appropriate to ask what that means for the state of gender in Indiana politics, what we’ve gotten used to and what we still need to work on.
Since Joe Kernan appointed Davis in 2003, there has been one male and one female on every major party ticket for governor of Indiana:
- Kernan/Davis vs. Mitch Daniels/Becky Skillman
- Daniels/Skillman vs. Jill Long Thompson/Denny Oxley*
- Mike Pence/Sue Ellspermann vs. John Gregg/Vi Simpson
The streak will end within a month when Eric Holcomb is confirmed and sworn in as Lt. Governor, but not everyone is happy about it. Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane decried the switch. He called the LG’s seat “a bully pulpit for women“. But is it?
I’m certain Davis, Skillman, and Ellspermann were proud to be the state’s highest-ranking female. Skillman, I know, was a promoter of the National Association of Woman Business Owners and the Girl Scouts, for example. But each of them focused on the success of all Hoosiers, not just women.
I am a strong advocate for women in elected office and have worked for many, but politicos and voters should not have a hard time with a ticket of two males. If we have a problem with two males on the ticket, we certainly will have a problem if and when two women are on the ticket together.
That should not be so. If Hillary Clinton wants to select Elizabeth Warren as her running mate, are we going to shout that her ticket isn’t diverse enough? I hope not!
Are women represented well in Indiana?
Here’s a look at the state of gender politics in Indiana government. In the charts, blue represents the percentage of males holding that office. Pink represents the number of women. Yeah, I picked those colors. Sue me.
Indiana is about average nationally in the House, Senate, and Congressional Delegation. The average is about 20 percent depending on the office, but it’s not good enough.
We’re completely flip-flopped on the statewide delegation, and women will still have a majority even after the LG changeover. But we are embarrassingly low in the ratio of males to females at the city level.
We should want a lot of women in the highest levels of state government, but that’s not the solution to the overall problem. The so-called “bully pulpit” that a female lieutenant governor has not had a trickle effect down the ballot. In fact, back in 2003 and 2004, the Indiana Senate had 13 female members and Indiana had more than twice as many female mayors.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the solution to the problem. It will involve more women saying “yes” to running at the city level. It will involve more Party leaders recruiting and cultivating that talent. It will probably take schlub husbands like me stepping up at home.
No matter what it takes, it will take more than a one-man one-woman governship.
I just hope that when Eric Holcomb takes the podium later this session, a female legislator steps to the microphone and says, “Mr. President, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen someone in a tie holding that gavel.”
*Hell, you can even throw in the short-lived John Waterman/Glenna Jehl flop in here if you want.