Female power: Women now top Democrats in Ind. Senate, House

2012-08-05T18:45:00Z 2012-08-06T17:51:04Z Female power: Women now top Democrats in Ind. Senate, HouseBy Dan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
August 05, 2012 6:45 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | The first female leader of a political party in the Indiana General Assembly is sure new House Democratic Leader Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, will succeed.

"I don't think she's going to have any trouble," Senate Democratic Leader Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville, said. " I have every confidence that she will be wonderful."

Senate Democrats elected Simpson their leader following the 2008 elections, breaking 192 years of male legislative leadership. Simpson said because of her gender she initially felt treated like a child or puppy in early meetings with the top House and Senate Republicans and then-House Democratic Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend.

"When I first got there the other three leaders didn't know what to do with me," Simpson said. "But after a while they kind of got used to it."

Simpson, who is the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, doesn't expect Lawson will get the same bewildering reception as House leader.

"She's strong, she's tough, she'll hold her own with them," Simpson said.

On July 26, a majority of House Democrats voted to replace the often-combative Bauer with Lawson, a 14-year state representative and former Hammond police captain.

Lawson has repudiated Bauer's "top-down" leadership style and said she plans to work with every House Democrat to try to win back control of the Republican-dominated chamber.

Simpson said that's exactly what she'd expect from a female leader, as women are naturally more collaborative and interact with others in a group differently than men. In addition, collaboration reduces unnecessary conflict and enables more people to buy in to a group's goals, she said.

"I think there's always value in bringing people of different perspectives together and kind of talking through things rather than commanding," Simpson said.

Despite constituting 51 percent of Indiana's more than 6.5 million residents, women are rarely elected to positions of power in state government. In the General Assembly, only 20 percent of the 150 representatives and senators are female.

Hoosier women have served over the years as secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer, state superintendent and attorney general, but no woman has won election to those offices since 2004. 

Indiana has had two female lieutenant governors since 2003, and the Democratic and Republican candidates for lieutenant governor this year are both women, but no woman has ever been governor of Indiana.

Only one woman has ever served on the Indiana Supreme Court. She resigned in 1999 after five years to return to private practice.

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