INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana became a state 207 years ago. All of our governors and U.S. senators have been white guys. So have all our House speakers, Senate presidents, House Ways & Means and Senate Finance and Appropriation committee chairs.
In the 1932 Democrat New Deal election wave, Virginia E. Jenckes of Terre Haute became the first Hoosier woman elected to Congress, serving for three terms. In 1983, Virginia Dill McCarty was the first female to run for governor, six years after she was the first of her gender to serve as a U.S. District Attorney. A year later, Democrat Ann DeLaney became the first woman nominated for lieutenant governor in a race she would lose. Nine years hence, DeLaney became the first female to chair one of our two major political parties.
In 2003, Gov. Joe Kernan named Democrat Kathy Davis as the first female lieutenant governor. In 2008, Democrat Jill Long Thompson was the first woman to win a gubernatorial nomination, ultimately losing to Gov. Mitch Daniels. Six years later, Gov. Mike Pence named Associate Justice Loretta Rush to become the first of her gender to serve as chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.
Gradually, the gender barriers are bending and breaking, though Indiana is one of 18 states never to have elected a woman as governor. This means that for more than two centuries, half of our population has been politically fenced away from true power. In next May’s gubernatorial primaries, Democrat Jennifer McCormick is expected to be nominated, while Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch is one of five Republicans expected to qualify for the ballot.
Last August, Republican political operative Anne Hathaway’s phone lit up with a call from Gov. Eric Holcomb. Nearly a quarter-century before, Hathaway had recruited the future governor to run for an Indiana House seat in the only race he lost.
With the resignation of Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer in hand, Holcomb asked Hathaway to become the first female to lead the GOP. For the past 15 years, Hathaway had led the Lugar Series of Public Excellence, an organization inspired by U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar and was subsequently created by Teresa Lubbers and Judy Singleton to develop a gender bench for the GOP. Since its inception 34 years ago, more than 85% of Lugar Series’ graduates have significantly increased their level of participation in government and politics. Six years ago, Indiana Democrats launched the Hoosier Women Forward organization with the same mission as the Lugar Series.
“I encourage women every day to take a risk, be willing to lose, go out of their comfort zones and run for office or serve on a board or commission,” said Hathaway as she recounted the call from Holcomb during an exclusive Howey Politics/State Affairs interview. “I couldn’t continue to do that unless I was willing to do that myself, willing to take the risk, willing to lead by example.
“When the call came for me, I jumped,” Hathaway said. “Yeah, I’m in. Let’s go.”
Hathaway’s roots are in the tiny Illinois town of Galva just north of Peoria. After graduating from high school (her guidance counselor advised her she couldn’t make a career in politics, calling it a “hobby”), and then from the University of Illinois, she decided to spend a year in Washington where she began as a typist at the Department of Treasury.
Following Hathaway’s resume is a lesson in stewardship and power. At Treasury, she garnered the attention of a legendary DC operative — Secretary James A. Baker — which led to jobs with Vice President Dan Quayle, and his wife Marilyn. Along the way, she would work with Lugar and U.S. Sen. Dan Coats.
“Sen. Lugar would be more excited about me being state chair than I am just because,” Hathaway said toward the end of our 45-minute conversation.
Earlier on the day of this interview, Holcomb had appointed Elise Nieshalla as the new state comptroller. During her first three months as state chair, Hathaway presided over Senate District 36 caucus which elected Cyndi Carrasco to fill the seat of deceased Sen. Jack Sandlin. And there is U.S. Rep. Erin Houchin, all alums of the Lugar Series.
“It’s all part of the process and it’s a validation that we were doing the right thing,” Hathaway said of the Lugar Series.
She now helms the party at (or nearing) its historic apex. The Indiana GOP holds all the state constitutional offices, nine of 11 congressional seats, maintains General Assembly super majorities, more than 90% of county offices, and as of the municipal elections earlier this month, 76 mayors. If a Republican is elected governor in 11 months, it will increase its historic dominance to five consecutive terms.
Hathaway will lead the party through the five-way gubernatorial primary. Following next June’s Indiana Republican Convention, she will head to Milwaukee, where Republican National Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tabbed her to head its Arrangements Committee.
“I push women every day to take risks, understand that they don’t need to know everything about everything, and to engage and lead,” Hathaway said. “I try to be a good listener and hear what I am listening to. I think I’m a problem solver. I’m a good team builder. I’m focused not on my success, but making success for people, building leaders. This is the same opportunity.”
Perhaps there’s a young Hoosier girl who will read this, and aspire to lead our great state.
Brian Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.