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Indiana lawmakers discuss raising kids while writing laws

Ali Brown
Posted at 11:33 PM, Oct 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-26 15:01:04-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Only 23% of Indiana's state legislators are women. Of those, only one is a mother to children under the age of 18.

A new report is shining light on the role of moms in state government.

Nationwide, 17% of Americans are mothers of kids under 18. But those moms only make up 5% of state legislators. Here in Indiana, it's less than 1%.

Representative Ragen Hatcher (D-Gary) is the only current state legislator who is also a mother to young children.

"I think when we start making it easier for moms to travel to Indianapolis for four months out of the year, so people can hear the things that are going on in their area, so they can give more ideas, I think that's when we'll start seeing more moms," Hatcher said.

Hatcher says that representation in the Indiana State Legislature is a problem for many groups, not just moms.

"We're already so small in our minority numbers. We have only one Hispanic-American, one total out of all 150 members, even though Hispanics in Indiana make up a large number," Hatcher said. "In Indiana, I think we need to look at why we're not making those thresholds that other states do."

The State of Motherhood report from the Vote Mama Foundation ranks Indiana 49th when it comes to moms serving in state legislatures. Only Alabama falls below, with no moms serving.

"Our policies are failing women and children across the country," Liuba Grechen Shirley, founder and CEO of Vote Mama said. "It's more expensive to send your infant to child care than it is to send your child to college. We are the most dangerous place in the industrialized world to give birth. And it's because we don't have more moms in office. In Washington, we have more millionaires in office than moms."

Grechen Shirley ran for New York's 2nd Congressional District in 2018. She was the first candidate to successfully petition the Federal Election Commission to use campaign funds for childcare for campaign-related events.

Since she won her case, 51 other campaigns have used the new rule.

The foundation is now working to spread that rule to state campaigns, although the new rule has not come to Indiana. Part of Vote Mama's work is to create other policy changes that help remove barriers that prevent mothers from running for office.

"If you don't have people in office who have that lived experience, who know what it's like to be a mom in your state, you're not going to have people standing up fighting for women and children," she said.

Ali Brown is one of four Indianapolis city-county councilors raising small children. She's blessed with a support system but knows that many women are not. She and others are working to make it easier for more mothers to run for local office.

"We got a lot of flak for it, but that is one of the reasons I advocated for a council raise from $11,000 thousand a year to roughly $33,000 a year," Brown said. "Because single moms are one of the largest demographics in the city and they have no representation. How are you supposed to ask a single mom to campaign and hold office when childcare is $18,000 to $22,000 a year?"

The number of women in office has grown in recent years, but most are still choosing to run after their children are grown.

"It takes them longer to get into leadership positions, to build their political power, by breaking down the structural and cultural barriers and allowing moms to run when they're ready, and not when society says their ready, we will actually achieve equitable representation of women across the country," Grechen Shirley said.