Woman Governor Imminent



It won't be long now before a woman is elected governor of Indiana and it's about darn time. There is no novelty in women running for high political office, though that wasn't the case when I started covering politics shortly after Ann DeLaney made her 1984 bid for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Wayne Townsend.

Still, it's worth noting that recent events have ensured Indiana's next lieutenant governor will be a woman, extending a decade-long string that includes Kathy Davis and Becky Skillman. Sue Ellspermann has joined Mike Pence on the Republican ticket and they will face Vi Simpson, whom John Gregg selected to round out the Democrat ticket.

Best of all, neither pick is a "gender" selection that panders to female voters. Both women have distinguished themselves in multiple roles, from mother to professional to politician. Either woman will make a fine lieutenant governor.

The lack of drama is exactly why this is noteworthy. The news here is that change is inevitable and the sooner we Hoosiers adapt the sooner we'll realize the strength that comes from having all hands (and minds) on deck.

So what do we have in Ellspermann and Simpson? They are accomplished women who see the world from decidedly different political perspectives.

Ellspermann is an engineer who founded a consultancy before taking the reins of the Center for Applied Research at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. She's active in the local Chamber of Commerce and sits on the boards of several local non-profits, including a community support initiative in her hometown of Ferdinand.

At left, Rep. Sue Ellspermann, R-Ferdinand, will be the lieutenant governor pick for Repblicans, while Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville, will be the pick for Democrats.

She shocked many in the Statehouse with her 2010 win against Rep. Russ Stillwell, a popular field director for the United Mine Workers who had been the Democrats' floor leader. Southwest Indiana has long been a base of power for House Democrats, so Ellspermann's win chipped away at that base.

Her tenure turned heads, too. Ellspermann snagged the No. 2 slot on the Employment Labor and Pensions Committee and played a role in getting the Republicans' top legislative initiative--the Right To Work Bill--through the General Assembly. Another sign of the high regard for Ellspermann was her appointment to the Election and Apportionment Committee, a choice seat for a freshman since it was the one year in 10 when legislative maps are redrawn.

Though Democrats have long held sway in southwest Indiana, the area is considered very conservative and Ellspermann reflects that. She has supported efforts to limit abortion and gay marriage, just like Pence and Gregg. The three of them, on social issues at least, hold very similar views.

While Pence chose a running mate with similar political views, Gregg did not. Sen. Vi Simpson has a long record of supporting greater access to abortion and pushing for equal rights for women, minorities and gay people. Simpson hails from the Bloomington area and has represented a diverse district since 1984.

Simpson is a lawyer who began her political career 32 years ago as Monroe County auditor. She won election to the Senate in 1984 and steadily rose through the ranks. She helped lead a caucus that was within two seats of winning a majority in 1994, which for a generation of Statehouse denizens is hard to imagine because Republicans currently hold a quorum-proof majority.

Simpson rose to leadership of her caucus with particular expertise in budgetary matters. She has found a balance between often challenging the majority while maintaining respect across the aisle--an increasingly rare set of skills.

Simpson's a member of the Ellettsville and Bloomington chambers of commerce, the Indiana State Bar Association and in 2009 won the Indiana Chamber's Small Business Champion Award.

Voters will make choices from among highly qualified candidates in November, which is the basis for my confidence that it won't be long before a woman leads the ticket and wins.

Now if the governor can just appoint a woman to the state Supreme Court....

John Ketzenberger is president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, a non-partisan not-for-profit that provides unbiased research on the state's budget and taxes. He also is a regular panelist on public television's "Indiana Week in Review" program. You can reach him at jketzenberger@indianafiscal.org.


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