As a Democrat, you’ll be severely outnumbered in the Indiana Senate if you’re elected. What do you hope your role will be?
My roles as a teacher, principal, and parent have prepared me well to be in situations where I’m with folks who I don’t always agree with. At the end of the day, we have to come to a consensus to get anything done. So I feel like the work I’ve done in the past has prepared me for that. The other thing is that the majority of the Republicans come from smaller cities and rural communities. Well, I’m originally from Fort Wayne, and I have family who live in smaller towns nearby. I also did student teaching in Martinsville and Columbus, so I feel like I’m confident in my ability to build relationships in those areas. We want a lot of the same things. We want our women and babies to be healthy. We want strong schools and well-paying jobs. I’ll make it my job to build relationships and find common ground.
What specific sorts of legislation would you like to work toward, both long and short term?
Let’s talk about long term first, because I’m planning on being there for a while. I see my role as one that Black women in politics do well, which is building consensus and shaking up stagnant systems. That, and turning out voters. But it takes time to pull out voters in places where turnout is low. I see my long-term goal as being one that supports Democrats winning at the top of the ticket again. I’m doing the work to pull out voters here on the ground in Marion County and across the state.
So that’s your long game. What about the short term?
I would like to get some work done around the issue of pedestrian deaths. That’s something I’m very passionate about. Here in Marion County, we have had more pedestrian deaths so far this year than we did in all of last year. It’s a major issue. I’ve been researching what other states and municipalities do to decrease the number of pedestrian deaths at intersections. Also, making sure we have well-funded schools is important to me. The legislation we put forth about education needs to help us recruit and retain teachers.
I understand that, if you’re elected, you’ll keep working for Indianapolis Public Schools?
I’m not a principal anymore, but I still plan on working for IPS in more of a strategic-planning role. During the legislative session, I’ll have the opportunity to go part time with the school district.
How will being a legislator differ from watching over a bunch of schoolkids?
If you’re trying to get me to say that some of my colleagues might act like kindergartners, I’m not going to say that. What I will say is that there’s a lot of overlap between what I’ve done in my prior role and building community and consensus.
Do you see a way for Democrats to win back a legislative majority in this polarized political climate?
I certainly see a path for Democrats to have a stronger voice in the state legislature. I think we’re on that path right now, because folks want to make sure that the issues they care about, like women’s health and strong schools, are protected and not taken away. And they’re seeing that the party that’s supporting them is the Democratic Party. When elected officials are not voting the will of the people, voters notice and will start to vote differently.
Do you think support for abortion rights might increase the Democratic Party’s power in Indiana?
I think it has been noticed that our Indiana Legislature has proven they are more willing to create legislation that takes away freedoms rather than protects them. The women’s healthcare issue—and abortion is healthcare—is definitely a wakeup call for the people of Indiana.
Was there a particular moment when the idea of a political career clicked for you?
I think it has always been in my DNA. In high school, I was voted most likely to become the first woman president. I’ve always wanted to help make laws. Then life intervened, and I had my school job and family. But politics was always in the back of my mind. At a conference I attended, the speaker asked every woman in the audience to run, and it was really powerful. At that moment, I thought, I need to get serious about this. I started working on other campaigns and volunteering, then I reached out to other elected officials and asked them to mentor me. When the newly redistricted maps came out, I knew that was the moment to jump in. Because when I saw the map, I saw that these were my people—these were the families I’d been serving.
Usually, a Democratic Party candidate is endorsed for each district, and then the other competitors bow out. But when you weren’t selected, neither you nor three other candidates for this district left the field. Why?
Isn’t it wonderful when our democratic process is truly democratic? I was principal of an international school where we talked about civic engagement, and I thought, How could I say that I’m going to drop out of a race and not give the people an opportunity to vote, and then go to work the next day and talk to kids about the importance of civic engagement and voting—especially if I didn’t agree with the way it was being done? The other candidates and I just felt that it was important to allow the will of the people to be heard. And the people spoke.
Anything in particular about your campaign strategy that set you apart?
I could get very nerdy, running into the weeds and talking all day about our strategy. In a nutshell, we targeted specific voters in various specific precincts. We had, say, our top 150 voters in each precinct, and we wanted to make sure we had seven “touches” with each one, through mail, phone calls, targeted social media ads, personalized postcards, and knocking on their doors.
I understand you pounded on a lot of doors yourself. Was there ever a point when you wondered if it might be easier just to go home?
I had quotas of how many doors I wanted to hit each day. I would go out with a partner during the day, and whatever doors I didn’t get to during the day, I would go back after dinner and visit. One evening, my 13-year-old daughter came along. I had like 40 more doors to knock on, and the rain started to pour. I could tell my daughter was miserable, and I just wanted to get in the car and go home. I looked at her, and she said, “We can do it. We can do hard things.” And we hit those last doors. I think that only three people were home, but we had some really good conversations with people on their porches. But my 13-year-old kept me going that day. My goodness, it was hard.
You’ve been called the future of the Democratic Party. How does that sit with you?
It’s kind, but also just too much. Every single day I’m with the children and the families who are the future of the Democratic Party. I’m just one person who has an army of people behind her. The future of the Democratic Party in Indiana is every single person coming out and working together.
Do you have any aspirations to be more than a state legislator?
I feel really blessed that the first office that I’m running for is the office that I aspire to be in. I’ve always said that I want to be in the Statehouse because the issues I care the most about are state issues. I think this is the job for me. Now, if President Obama had called and asked me to be Secretary of Education, I would have taken that. But that’s the only other job I would have accepted.