UPDATE: Third Democrat joins Indiana governor’s race, with GOP backer

A Democratic state senator joined the Indiana governor’s race Tuesday night in Gary with an introduction from the state’s Republican schools chief.

First-term Sen. Eddie Melton of Gary said he’s running for governor because he’s heard from too many people who say they feel left behind by the Republican-controlled state government, especially in areas of education and health care.

Melton, 38, is the third Democrat seeking the party’s nomination to challenge Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Melton took aim at Holcomb during his remarks Tuesday night after bringing up the state’s poor ranking on issues such as infant mortality, teacher salaries and pre-kindergarten funding.

“At the same time, our current governor is campaigning on the slogan of ‘Putting People First,’” Melton said. “Did he put people first when he signed a budget deal that increased charter school funding 10%, vouchers by 5%…. Or did he put people first when he signed a watered-down hate crimes law?”

Holcomb’s campaign released a statement following Melton’s announcement that touted the governor’s “record of results.”

“He’s helped lead a history-making $1.2 billion in K-12 education funding increases since 2017, all while balancing our state budget,” Holcomb’s campaign manager and Indiana GOP Chairman Kyle Hupfer said in the written statement. “Fewer people are dying from drug overdoses, the Healthy Indiana Plan has become a model for the nation and we’re making progress toward making Indiana home to the lowest infant mortality rate in the Midwest by 2024.”

Melton did have one Republican by his side during the announcement—Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick introduced Melton at the event and said he has always tried to be bipartisan while at the Indiana Statehouse. McCormick drew the ire of top Republicans when she joined Melton at several public meetings over the summer as he considered entering the governor’s race.

McCormick said Tuesday night that she “was thrilled” when Melton asked her to join the statewide listening tour during the summer.

“Although some people wanted to talk about who was being loyal to what party, from Day One, Sen. Melton said, ‘No, this is about loyalty to Indiana,’” McCormick said.

Melton said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of McCormick being on his ticket. Her elected office is being replaced in 2021 by a governor-appointed secretary of education.

Also running for the Democratic nomination are Dr. Woody Myers, the state’s health commissioner from 1985 to 1990, and Josh Owens, CEO of digital retail consultant SupplyKick.

In a campaign announcement video released shortly before Tuesday’s event, Melton said he plans to focus on increasing teacher pay and the statewide minimum wage, invest in education and improve access to health care.

Melton also acknowledged during Tuesday’s event that some people think he’s too young and not ready to run for a statewide office like this.

“There’s never a wrong time to do right,” Melton said.

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