Indiana Legislative Insight, a political newsletter, recently noted a milestone. With Rep. Ann Vermilion's selection by a Republican caucus, the General Assembly boasts a record number of women – 37.
Don't break out the champagne yet. At 24.7%, female representation in the legislature lags the national average by more than four percentage points. Indiana fares well compared with the number of female lawmakers in Mississippi, Alabama and a handful of other mostly southern states. But it is a long way from top-ranked Nevada, where women hold a 52.4% majority, or Colorado, at 47%.
Vermilion, a former Marion General Hospital administrator, was elected by GOP precinct committee members to replace Rep. Kevin Mahan. Dollyne Sherman, who served as Gov. Bob Orr's press secretary, was tapped by Republican party officials in June. She replaces Rep. David Frizzell. The 100-member House now has 28 women – 17 Democrats and 11 Republicans. The 50-member Indiana Senate has just nine women – two Democrats and seven Republicans. GOP officials will hold another caucus on Sept. 9 to replace Sen. Randall Head, who resigned to become a deputy prosecutor, but the candidates so far are two men.
Indiana now ranks 36th among the states for female representation in the General Assembly. That's down from 23rd in 1995. Indiana's percentage of female representation has improved since then, but not nearly as much as some other states.
The Indiana General Assembly also has a dearth of female Republican leaders. Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, assistant president pro tem of the Senate, is the only female to hold a leadership post in the GOP caucus. Just three of the 13 House GOP caucus leaders are female. Leadership in the House Democratic Caucus is evenly split between men and women, and two of the five Senate Democratic leaders are women.
“We don't have enough women in the Statehouse. We don't have enough women as mayors. We don't have enough women leading at other levels of government,” U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th, told participants of the Richard G. Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series last year. The series, established in 1990 to increase the number of Republican women in elected office, has succeeded in preparing scores of women for local, state and national office, but election to the General Assembly continues to be a hurdle for Indiana Republican women.
More female legislative candidates might emerge from Hoosier Women Forward. Now in its second year, it is Indiana Democrats' equivalent of the Lugar series. The newly announced class includes Misti Meehan, chair of the Allen County Democratic Party, and Faith Van Gilder, a co-founder of Advancing Voices of Women (AVOW).
AVOW recently held its own nonpartisan Women's Campaign Institute, the second such event designed to prepare women for election bids. This year's class included at least one participant weighing a run for a state Senate seat in 2020.
Women from both parties should step up to run. Statehouse policy arguably has the greatest effect on Hoosiers' lives. It should be shaped by more than men.