The ‘Victory’ metaphor eludes Hoosier GOP women


INDIANAPOLIS — Almost 300 feet above the skyline in the center of our state stands Victory, a classic Greek-inspired sculpture envisioned to be the Hoosier version of Nike, the goddess of war. In flowing robes, standing astride a star-studded ball with her hair in a 19th-century style bun, she hoists a torch of enlightenment, while gripping a sword by her side after a mythical battle triumph.

Victory has been above us since 1902, some 122 years before Caitlin Clark arrived, and she could serve as a metaphor for Hoosier women, but the stark reality is that power has been dominated in this state by White guys for more than two centuries.

Indiana is one of 18 states to have never elected a woman governor. The Hoosier State has had four female lieutenant governors in its 207-year history, but Suzanne Crouch is the only one to steer a gubernatorial campaign into the primary election homestretch. U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks came close in July 2016, losing a Republican Central Committee caucus gubernatorial nomination (after Gov. Mike Pence resigned to run for vice president) by a single vote to then-Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, only 24 Hoosier women have held statewide elective executive branch positions in over two centuries, and seven were appointed.

Indiana ranks 40th in the nation in women in the General Assembly (40 out of 150 seats for 26.7%, well below their 50% population status). Only Sen. Vi Simpson has led a General Assembly party caucus. There has yet to be a female House speaker, Senate president pro tempore or chair of the House Ways and Means, Senate Finance or Senate Appropriations committees, where the real financial clout is wielded.

Only nine Hoosier women have been elected to Congress in more than two centuries, and none to the U.S. Senate.

Indiana’s two major political parties have only been chaired by two women, Democrat Ann DeLaney in the 1990s and current Republican Chair Anne Hathaway. She also heads the Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series, designed to prepare Hoosier women to run for political office. Though a number of Lugar Series graduates have been elected to Congress, the Statehouse constitutional offices, the General Assembly and local positions, the governorship and positions of true power have eluded them.

Indiana’s two major political parties are moving in opposite directions when it comes to gender power inclusion.

Last week, Fort Wayne Democrats elected Councilwoman Sharon Tucker to become the city’s second female mayor (and first Black) following the death of Tom Henry. Prior to her upset victory of House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta and six others, she told precinct officials, “Today you had the opportunity to make history by electing the first 5-foot-3 mayor.”

Last November, Democrat Black female candidates excelled. Vanderburgh County Councilwoman Stephanie Terry won the open seat in Evansville to become the first female mayor, while Councilwoman Angie Nelson Deuitch defeated Republican Michigan City Mayor Duane Parry with 60% of the vote the same day. In Lawrence, Councilwoman Deb Whitfield topped Republican Deputy Mayor David Hofmann.

On May 7, Hoosier Democrats are expected to nominate Jennifer McCormick to become their second female standard-bearer (Jill Long Thompson was nominated and lost to Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2008).

For Lt. Gov. Crouch, the Indiana Republican Party is proving to be difficult territory for a female candidate for governor. In a State Affairs/Howey Politics Indiana poll released April 11, Crouch received just 10% support from likely Republican and Republican-leaning independent female voters, compared with 38% for U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, 9% for Eric Doden, 7% for Brad Chambers and 2% for Curtis Hill. The other woman in the GOP primary race, Jamie Reitenour, received zero support from surveyed female voters.

Crouch was viewed as 20% unfavorable among women, compared to 22% for Braun. But the last data point may be determinative: 58% of female respondents said they were unfamiliar with the seven-year lieutenant governor, compared with just 23% for Braun.

And we’ve seen this scenario play out before. In 1999, Sue Anne Gilroy in Indianapolis and Linda Buskirk in Fort Wayne lost mayoral races, in part, due to a lack of support from female Republican voters.

Am I suggesting that voters use a litmus test, and vote for a candidate simply because they are Black or a woman? No. I’m just pointing out historical trends.

I’ve known Suzanne Crouch for years. In 2009, she flagged the deaths of people unable to navigate a new computer-driven welfare system, prompting Gov. Daniels to regroup and forge a new hybrid model that is still functioning well today. I included her in my 2019 “Indiana Profiles in Courage” feature.

She has collaborated with then-Mayor Lloyd Winnecke to revamp downtown Evansville with a cornerstone multi-university medical campus, designed to meet the healthcare needs of Southwestern Indiana. She has been an advocate for the mentally ill, the addicted, and families with disabled children who have lost benefits.

Following the final debate earlier this week, Crouch was frustrated that her story and resume weren’t finding traction. “When I travel the state, I’m just disappointed and discouraged by the lack of interest, the lack of enthusiasm and probably the lack of participation in the first competitive Republican race that many of us have seen in our lifetime,” she said.

The Indiana GOP has long been gender-inclusive in their party hierarchy: If there’s a male county chair, then there’s a female vice chair.

When will that extend to the actual warrens of power?


Brian Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs. Rory Appleton of State Affairs contributed to this column. Find Howey on Facebook and X @hwypol. State Affairs reporter Jarred Meeks contributed to this column.