GARY — State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, announced Tuesday that he's considering running for Indiana governor and will spend the next several months traveling the state to talk with and listen to Hoosiers about the issues most important to them.
In an exclusive interview with The Times, Melton repeatedly declined to say when he'll decide if he's actually going to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb in next year's general election.
Instead, Melton emphasized the need for conversations with Hoosiers about the quality of life for Indiana families and what can be done to improve it.
"The whole objective of this process is to listen, is to engage and to prioritize the issues," Melton said.
The first-term senator said the Republican-controlled General Assembly is ignoring the needs of Hoosiers on a broad swath of issues, including education policy, teacher pay, veterans services, the state's unchanging minimum wage, partisan redistricting and access to affordable health care, among others.
"I'm of the belief that no one party should dominate the entire Legislature. To me that's not an inclusive or an equitable way of governing," Melton said.
He contends that an organized movement of Hoosiers, recognizing the need for change, can dislodge the total Republican control of Indiana government and move the state in a better direction through bipartisan cooperation, as Melton has done on legislation to improve Gary schools and bolster the state's casino industry.
"Regardless of whether it's a red county or a blue county, if it's Republican or Democrat, I think once we remove politics from the picture I think everyone has a common theme or common thread in terms of wanting to achieve the best for the people of the state of Indiana," Melton said. "It's not impossible."
"In my role, I've learned that the same issues that Gary has, other cities are experiencing something similar," he said, pointing to recently announced school closings in Hammond, Griffith and Anderson.
"The issues I've learned to be engaged with and try to address and fix in Gary, a lot of them — not all — are state policies that helped contribute to those factors. So how do we address that? Those are the issues that I want to tackle as we go around listening and talking to folks."
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Melton, 38, announced his statewide listening tour and the formation of a gubernatorial exploratory committee at the Gary Teachers Union headquarters, highlighting his service on the State Board of Education prior to his 2016 election as a state senator representing portions of Gary, Lake Station, New Chicago, Hobart, Merrillville and Crown Point.
"It was important for me to let the folks in my district know that this is something that I wanted to explore," Melton said.
"This is not about me seeking a higher office. I have a sincere desire to serve, and it's my hope that I can serve, not just my district, but also the entire state in learning more about what these key issues are."
Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer suggested the thing Melton will hear most on his listening tour is that Indiana is thriving under Holcomb's leadership.
"No town, city, county or region of Indiana is forgotten as Gov. Holcomb leads Indiana to record job commitments, record infrastructure investments and new opportunities for all Hoosiers to build their skills and their careers," Hupfer said.
To date, no other Hoosier Democrat officially has announced the formation of a gubernatorial exploratory committee. Though, state Rep. Karlee Macer, D-Indianapolis, is likely to do so in the weeks ahead, and other potential candidates almost are certain to follow.
Besides his work at the Statehouse, Melton is manager of governmental and community relations at the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO).
He's also participated in social work and youth mentoring programs through Indiana's Commission on the Social Status of Black Males, the Legacy Foundation and former President Barack Obama's "My Brother's Keeper" initiative.