Indiana’s Statehouse is sometimes called “the people’s house,” but the men and women elected to serve there aren’t like typical Hoosiers.
For starters, General Assembly members are twice as likely as the rest of the state to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Legislators are overwhelmingly white. African-Americans are represented, but not one seat in either chamber is held by a Latino or Asian, two growing minorities.
Women are 51 percent of the populace but hold fewer than 20 percent of the seats.
State legislatures are more diverse, in terms of race and gender, than they were 40 years ago, but Democrats drove most of the change. In the future, Republicans will have the greatest influence on the demographic profile of the Statehouse because they now hold super-majorities of historic proportions.
Change could be slow to come. “Let’s be realistic,” Indiana Republican Party Chairman Tim Berry said. “When an incumbent runs for re-election, they tend to win.”
Political scientist Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, agrees. Voting districts in Indiana and across the country are more homogenous, he said, and that means competition will shift to the primary elections.
That could be intimidating for women, as well as for minorities like Asians, who lack a strong tradition of running for elected office, Downs said.
“Women often have had to be asked to run for office,” Downs said. “Now, you’re talking about trying to knock off one of your own [in a primary election].”
The 100-member Indiana House saw a net loss of two women in the last election cycle because two Republican incumbents were targeted in their primaries over social issues.
State Reps. Kathy Heuer and Rebecca Kubacki, who championed a daycare regulation bill, lost to Curt Nisly and Christopher Judy, who favor a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. While there are new female faces, both Republican and Democratic, their number stood at 20 after the general election.
The 50-member Senate saw a net gain of one woman with the 2014 election. Republican Liz Brown won election in a seat vacated by the retirement of Tom Wyss, and Erin Houchin defeated Democrat Richard Young.
Republican Sen. Sue Landske retired last year, and her seat was won by former state Rep. Rick Niemeyer.
To some degree, Republicans also have been a victim of their own success, as Secretary of State Connie Lawson and Auditor Suzanne Crouch were appointed from the Legislature to statewide office, Berry said.
Regardless of party, the presence of women makes a difference in the types of laws passed and style of debate.
States where women constitute more than 20 percent of the legislature place a higher priority on issues like education, health care and child care, said Amanda Friesen, political science professor at IUPUI. “There is this sort of critical mass where they feel comfortable introducing and sponsoring these types of bills,” she said.
Suburban melting pot
Democrats in Indianapolis and northwestern Indiana put most of the non-white faces in Indiana House and Senate seats for the past 20 years, but Republicans from a House district in Zionsville made a rush at diversity in one leap in 2014.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence appointed state Rep. Steve Braun as commissioner of the Department of Workforce Development, opening the seat to which he was re-elected in November to a GOP caucus election.
The roster of six candidates was more diverse than the entire Republican membership of both the House and Senate. Bidding for support from the party faithful were two Asian men, Balaraju “Raju” Chinthala and Alexander Sang-Il Choi, and one Hispanic woman, Susana Suarez.
Two more women, Elise Noe Nieshalla and Donna Schaibley, plus Keith Griffin, ran for the seat. Schaibley won it.
The last black Republican in the Legislature was the late Rep. James Vanleer of Muncie, who served from 1994 to 1996.
While political analysts slice and dice voting statistics like the celebrity chefs of demography, basic biographical information about elected representatives is difficult to obtain.
The House refused to share with IBJ the birth dates, ages or median age of its members. In denying a public-records request, General Counsel Jill Carnell cited a tradition of allowing members to decide whether to make their ages public.
The median age in the Senate is 57, a full 20 years older than most of Indiana, where the median age is 37.
The average age of all state-level lawmakers is also 57, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Even the NCSL, a member-driven organization, has trouble obtaining demographic information about legislators, policy analyst Morgan Cullen said. (The average age cited by NCSL is based on a sample of 3,700 of the country’s 7,383 state-level lawmakers.)•