Steel & Advanced Manufacturing
25% of the nation’s steel is made right here in Northwest Indiana - and we should be incredibly proud of our legacy. In fact, so much of what was built in the United States over the last 100 years has its fingerprints in Northwest Indiana. How do we protect that strong legacy and build the future? With companies like Fronius, with its U.S. headquarters in Portage, which makes solar panel inverters, experimenting with different ways of capturing solar energy, as well as supplying all welding equipment to Tesla. Or companies like Alcoa which invested $100 million to open its jet engine parts facility in La Porte. Or the exciting announcement that Northwest Indiana will be home to one of the largest solar energy farms in the country. There is, in fact, an exciting future for advanced manufacturing in Northwest Indiana, and the connected supply chains, if we capture it amidst the competition both domestically and internationally. We need to attract these clean energy investments, and more, to keep Northwest Indiana positioned as the manufacturing and steel hub that is our legacy and anchor. Our strong history of organized labor and skilled workforces, proximity to Chicago which is the third largest economic engine in the country, and access to the railroads, highways, and airports that allow us to be at the intersection of commerce all create a unique opportunity if realized properly, which is a question of political leadership and how we attract aspirational companies to come here.
Nursing homes are the places we entrust to care for our parents, our grandparents, and our neighbors when they, and their families, can no longer carry that burden themselves. While some see these places in the context of their sacred obligation to serve the elderly, others see them simply as businesses to be extracted for profits. Sadly, Indiana ranks near the bottom of the country in nursing home care. Over 20% of nursing home residents in Indiana that contracted COVID-19 have died, as compared to 13% which is the national average, in addition to reports of fatal head injuries, amputations and other forms of abuse. Rather than invest in the quality of care or more oversight, the state legislature has actively enacted liability protections for private nursing home operators to ensure they cannot be held to account for poor conditions. The New York Times highlighted some of the abuses in Indiana, and the fact that even when inspectors do identify an issue or an abuse, residents nor their family are even allowed to attend the hearing. What is worse, many Indiana counties have exploited the fact that federal Medicaid reimburses nursing homes at a higher rate by acquiring private operators, then contracting back with those same providers at the same rate as a revenue generating scheme. It’s become a money maker for state and local government, at the expense of nursing home residents and their quality of care, paid for by the federal government. Those diverted resources matter: Indiana ranks forty-eighth in the country for nursing home staffing levels despite being one of the largest recipients of nursing home Medicaid funds. The people working at nursing homes do the best they can with limited resources, and it’s the statehouse that needs to be held accountable with more transparency, laws, and budget to benefit our older residents.
Municipalities work best when they can make decisions for themselves about how to best serve their residents. Unfortunately, the state legislature often takes actions simply to appease an ideologically extreme base. For example, this Indianapolis Star investigative report exposed the often dangerous conditions in many of the city’s rental properties, including the presence of lead, electrical problems, and failed heating and plumbing systems. In response, the city passed an ordinance, common in other cities, to notify tenants of their rights and prevent retaliation by landlords. This simple, reasonable effort was met with a state-house special purpose law to override the effort and preempt other municipalities, like Chesterton, Michigan City, and Portage, from implementing comparable ordinances. This plays out in other ‘statehouse vs. communities’ efforts as well such as setting local tax caps, stipulating the use of MVH funds, and even stepping into classrooms with ideas about what teachers should, or should not, teach. We need to let communities make their own decisions and keep Indianapolis from enacting ideological, out of touch and punitive measures on communities they don’t represent.
Safe Drinking Water
We should not have to question whether our water is safe to drink. Yet, Indiana has a problem with safe drinking water, in spite of the fact that we are on the coast of the largest freshwater body in the world – a precious resource to which we owe a sacred obligation of protection for future generations. In one study by the Indianapolis Star, hundreds of schools across the state were found to have contaminated drinking water with elevated levels of lead. Only recently has the state house begun to consider testing schools and day care facilities for water quality. Shockingly, we have water crises equivalent to what the residents of Flint experienced happening here and across the state. Here in Pines Township, we know well the alarming history with contaminated water detailed in this report and others from the time. ‘Clean closure’ of the coal plants in our community, rather than the leave-in-place strategy, as well as continuing to clean up existing sites will generate economic benefits in addition to environmental benefits. We know, thanks to the Hoosier Environmental Council, the sustained human and environmental consequences resulting from coal ash sites and we have to be aggressive in monitoring water quality and investing in advance for the safe mitigation of coal ash from our communities. The smart policy is to be proactive, test for water quality and safely transition towards clean-energy and renewable resources. Failure to do so will only mean a cost to taxpayers down the road, after the harm to our kids has been done.
Entrepreneurship & Innovation
Net new job creation in this country comes from entrepreneurs, innovators, and risk takers. In my book, Third Shift Entrepreneur, I highlight in a fictional form many of the entrepreneurs I have coached and supported over the last 10 years. They are regular folks – not Harvard dropouts that often get highlighted. Most of the people I work with do not have college degrees and have recently returned from serving tours overseas in uniform. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. Communities that build exciting, inclusive, and prosperous futures have figured out how to attract entrepreneurs. They live in our community, and those outside of our community might come here and start things once they know how special Northwest Indiana is. A lot of politicians get it wrong when it comes to supporting entrepreneurs. They think it’s about tax benefits and economic questions alone. More than that, it’s about whether this is a place they want to call home. Our reputation as a state with an unlivable, $7.25 minimum wage, hostility towards reproductive rights, and a willingness to turn a blind eye towards pollution and required environmental protections give us a reputation that has people really wondering if this is where the future is and whether they will be able to recruit young, smart talent to a state with that reputation. That reputation is what holds us back – not tax policies. Too often we have people in the state legislature who have not served in the military, not started business, and not hired and managed people trying to enact policies to incentivize just those kinds of thing. As a State Senator, I'll tell a different story about why the future is here in Northwest Indiana, why I chose to start a business here, and push the statehouse to stop getting in it's own way.
99% of companies in this country are small businesses. They are the backbone of communities, of innovation, and of a path towards wealth for the entrepreneurs that run them. Small business owners take on debt, hire our neighbors, make our communities vibrant, and suffer the personal risk to create economic opportunity for themselves and their families. Great organizations like our local chambers of commerce and the NWI Forum are critical in elevating and supporting small businesses, but in this extraordinary time of COVID and other disruptions, it is small businesses that have been hit hardest. Ensuring that small businesses are prioritized through READI grants, economic surpluses and stimulus packages, and supported through small-business set asides for the double track expansion are part of what we need to ensure that Northwest Indiana is a place that small business owners can survive and thrive. The Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University forecasts that the state’s labor force will rise by only 1.6 percent between 2015 and 2045, with seventy counties expected to see declines in their labor force as early as 2025. In addition, only 26.9 percent of the adults in the state of Indiana have a college degree, forty-second in the nation. Can Northwest Indiana be an exception in the state? Maybe, but low population growth, a stagnant labor force, and weak job growth inhibit our ability to build the workforce of the future. The risk for our region is that, absent intentional strategies and the right political leadership, we will continue to attract low wage jobs in the warehousing sector or logistics and not invest in small businesses and home-grown companies that will not only employ people, but define our communities and create wealth for the people who live here.
Only 1% of young people join the military, often at the young age of 18 years old. They do our country's work in defense of our national security. They come out of the experience, if my own experience is any indication, better for it. And we are better, and safer, as well. How we honor and invest in those 1% of young people, as well as their families, speaks to our values as a society as well as the need to continue to recruit future generations of young people to be willing to serve the country in uniform. Veterans are also a strategic asset for our community: they have earned healthcare and the GI Bill which is federally funded support for college education. They can oftentimes use those GI Bill resources for other skilled training or internships. Veterans are more likely to run for office, donate charitably, and start a business. How we recruit and celebrate veterans can be a rubicon for how we build our community in other ways. Indiana should create more incentives for returning veterans to go to school, buy a home, start a business, and raise a family. One survey showed Indiana as ranking 43rd as a place for military veterans to retire and another survey 32nd for veterans to call home. Other states have implemented creative measures towards that end and are seeing results. As your state senator I will never forget where I came from or the people I served with. If we can be a great state for veterans, then we can be a great state for other communities as well.
Democracy & Political Dysfunction
The two-party system, gerrymandered district and closed partisan primaries have collectively created what political scientists are calling “The Great Sort” of the last 20 years. The conditions in which we find ourselves are neither normal nor cyclical. I started an organization, Veterans for Political Innovation, to propose a different election system called Final Five Voting that states like Alaska and Maine and cities like New York City and Minneapolis have implemented versions of, in turn dramatically changing the incentives for how people run for office, win, and ultimately govern once in office. We need to make democracy an issue in this and every future election cycle to prevent the authoritarian tendencies that have taken center stage. Every 70 years or so, political innovators have pushed for reforms in our system, recognizing that the system as designed is getting adverse results. We are at one of those moments – and state legislatures hold the power to either undermine democracy or strengthen democracy through innovation. Our current system is extreme, caters to a radical base, disenfranchises voters, and creates dangerous conditions, which we have already seen through events like what happened on January 6th. We need absolute vigilance to fight for democracy and move our political system out of this paralyzing paradigm, and that work is in the statehouses where election laws are decided. A healthy democracy has more people participating, more people feeling represented, and we should want more people participating, rather than trying to let a powerful few decide for us. As your state senator, I'll fight this battle for us and be your watchdog for bad and dangerous policies coming out of Indianapolis.
Criminal Justice Reform
The prison population in the state of Indiana increased 60% from 2000 to 2019, five times the state’s overall population growth. The playbook, bemoaned not just by progressives and criminal justice reform advocates, but by mental health professionals, police officers, and county sheriff’s alike, has been to imprison more people, build more prisons, and stick local communities with the bill. Today’s prisons in Indiana serve as a living monument to the failure to address mental health, economic and drug addiction challenges in the communities in which we live. Prisons, often privately run prisons in the state of Indiana, are not only the wrong solution to deal with drug addiction or mental illness, but they are also a disproportionately expensive solution. In addition, 1 in 69 Black Indiana residents is imprisoned, representing 33% of the state’s prison population, despite only representing 9% of the state’s overall population. We have to be willing to talk about the systemic forces at play in communities that create prison pipelines and look to examples of where those pipelines have been disrupted.
All of us, and in particular the middle class, owe a debt of gratitude to organized labor. They have always been at the forefront of fighting for what workers deserve and the middle class needs. We’ve seen in this state for the last thirty years an assault on organized labor – and the implications of that assault are seen in the quality of life for all of us: stagnant wages, poor health, a gender pay gap in which women earn 76 cents on the dollar for every man, and unsafe work conditions. Our future together, at least the future we all aspire to, is built around the middle class, skilled labor, great schools with great teachers, pay equity regardless of gender, safe working conditions, and a clean environment. Organized labor has been at the forefront fighting for these issues and we, in turn, have to fight for labor. And yet, Indiana still has a $7.25 minimum wage - signaling to all of us what it thinks the value of hard work is worth. Given the mass resignation that we’ve experienced, and the arguments by tech companies that being a ‘platform’ like Uber or a delivery service does not constitute employment, people are recognizing the exploitative nature of these working relationships and simply saying no thanks. Organized labor is how we build the economies and communities of tomorrow, and Northwest Indiana given its legacy of organized labor as well as home to so many skilled trades can be a leader here and now once again. We have to push back on companies, not from here but making money here, that have not paid their fair share, have found clever ways to underpay their employees, and who resist any accountability by calling their employees contractors.
Legalizing marijuana is popular, safe, and long overdue, and as your state senator I will fight hard to get this done. A 2018 poll found that 80% of Hoosiers support the measure, and another 78% believed that possessing a simple amount of marijuana should be decriminalized. Sadly, we’re already overdue on this issue given that 36 states have legalized cannabis, including neighboring Michigan and Illinois, that saw more than $1 billion in sales in 2021. We have missed much of what the economic opportunity could have been. Beyond cannabis, we need to take a much stronger, healthcare-centered approach to addressing the opioid crisis which is the real threat in our communities. The CDC reported that more than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2020, the highest number on record with the vast majority of deaths being attributed to opioids and fentanyl. Investments in detox facilities, prevention strategies, and holistic thinking about the through-lines between mental health, our criminal justice system, and our health care systems are required for us to manage the drug crisis in our communities.
Teachers, Parents & Public Education
97% of schools in Indiana report a teacher shortage. Our teachers are feeling burnt out, exhausted, underpaid, and wondering if this profession is sustainable for them. My mom spent a career as a teacher, first teaching on base when my dad was stationed in Hawaii in the Navy, and later in various suburban schools working as a Special Education teacher, as a substitute teacher, and as a 4th grade teacher. She loved teaching. She loved the kids. She loved the parents. And she loved the adults that she worked with. She was willing to work long hours, and even for lower pay, knowing that her pension could sustain them in retirement. Schools are anchors of our community, create the normalcy that kids need in these otherwise un-normal times, and investing in teachers is how we ensure great schools. Given the budget surpluses and American Rescue Plan federal funds, we have to fight to prioritize public education which touches all communities and ensures we are preparing kids for their lives to come. We also need to fight back to not politicize schools and schools boards. Parents, as well as teachers, have endured enormous challenges this year, as have our kids, and tensions can run high. Making school board elections partisan, which many in the statehouse want to do, would only further politicize our schools. It might be great for politics to have partisan school board elections, but its terrible for schools, students, and parents. I'll fight for funding mental health support for children as well as adults, and ensure our schools are protected places free from the politics of the Indiana statehouse.
Climate change is real, caused by human behavior, and is already causing real-world consequences. Shore erosion, one-in-a-hundred-year storms, flooding, and shifting migratory patterns of not only birds and animals but humans as well are all caused by climate change. We have to be alarmist about the trends, and push Indiana not just to be a state that 'gets there eventually', losing the potential economic benefits that come with being an early adopter, but boldly embrace clean energy initiatives here in Indiana to attract industry, role model to other states what is possible, and reduce our contribution to global warming. There can be consensus on climate action if framed around conservation and economic development. We can both claim a future that embraces clean energy and drive our economic development strategy as a region. Coal ash reserves and toxic exposures threaten our future, both environmentally as well economically. Beach erosion and stripping away wetlands protections threaten our future, both environmentally as well as economically. Turning an eye towards polluters or only giving a slap on the wrist for pollution discharge events with nominal fees threaten our future both environmentally, but also economically as taxpayer dollars are always required later on to do the clean-up work that some private companies caused. We can not settle for leaders that simply say they are pro-environment, but who really feel this to be an existential crisis requiring bold action and interventions, today. Indiana has the resources and the potential to capture a clean energy future, if we choose to.
Women’s Health Freedom
Indiana has the third highest maternal mortality rate in the nation, no definition of “consent”, still taxes diapers and period products, and ranks 49th of all the states for our gender pay gap. What’s more, amidst this hostile environment, the Indiana statehouse has their eyes introducing a version of the Texas abortion bill, Senate Bill 8, which besides being unconstitutional and a violation of a women’s right to make her own reproductive decisions in consultation with her doctor, also puts a citizen bounty on citizen-reported violations which can land doctors in jail for up to two years and with heavy fines. We need police, not citizens, enforcing our laws and it’s a dangerous precedent to set up bounty justice for anything, least of all the private decisions of women. This kind of action creates a brand for the state of Indiana as being anti-women and backwards looking. It’s the kind of thing that has businesses really questioning whether they want to relocate to a place like Indiana, and if they can really attract a dynamic workforce to follow. We do not need this in Indiana - this holds all of us, not just women, back from our future. On matters of morality, here in Indiana all too often an entitled few think that it’s the government’s job to define what right is for the rest of us. We need leaders to aggressively take this fight to Indianapolis.
LGBTQ & Family Rights
I served in the Navy during Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and, in spite of a flawed policy, had an extraordinary experience and made lifelong friends,. My husband and I married each other in 2011 in a private ceremony, though gay marriage would not become legal for several more years. And we adopted our son two years ago, which comes with its own challenges as a same-sex couple. I believe in allowing all people to access the simple goals in life that motivate most Americans: get married, raise a family, get a job or build a business, choose a faith community, and make a community your home. That’s why we love Northwest Indiana but it’s also why we so often scratch our heads at the State of Indiana going out of its way to get in the way of progress. La Porte County and Porter County still do not have ordinance prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Surrogacy are “void and unenforceable” in the State of Indiana. Our hate crimes laws are vague and unenforceable. Companies like Salesforce, the NCAA, and Apple question whether to invest in this state. We should embrace privacy, embrace individual choices about how one should live their life, and know that our communities thrive with diverse families, like ours, that choose to call this home. As your state senator, while I recognize that legislative change will be challenging, the informal leadership role that can be played by elected officials who role-model our values is significant. I'll build bridges to people who see it differently, or who may never have known a family like ours, to change individual hearts and minds.
900,000 Hoosiers will graduate with student debt. On average, the balance on that debt will be $30,661 which is less than the national average by 16%, though unfortunately the median household income for Hoosiers, $56,303, 19% less than the national average. While Indiana does have a number of financial aid and loan offset programs, this is an area of significant opportunity for Indiana to take a leadership role, invest surplus funds, and create strong incentive programs to support educational attainment, retain college graduates, and reduce their debt burdens to ensure they are set up to succeed in life. Like government research into science, which often returns significant returns for the commercialization it yields, investing in young people, keeping public universities inexpensive and well-funded for young people, and reducing their debt upon graduation are smart investments that build the future of Indiana. Losing college educated talent from Indiana who relocate elsewhere is a real problem for us, but they will stay if they see opportunity on the horizon. As a state senator, I'll fight for this region, be a chief spokesperson for why Northwest Indiana should be a destination for growth-companies, and in turn be a leader in how we make our communities the best places they can be for people to stay, create a home, and build a professional future for themselves.