INDIANAPOLIS | State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, will announce Tuesday she is running for governor to give Hoosiers a new choice in who should lead Indiana into the future.
The 10-year state lawmaker believes voters deserve more than a rerun of the 2012 Mike Pence-John Gregg contest, which featured few significant policy differences between the Republican and Democratic candidates who both plan to run again in 2016.
"Somebody needs to stand for the Democratic, progressive point of view, because in that last election there's almost half the people in the state of Indiana whose voices were not recognized," Tallian said.
"I am a clearer choice, and a more progressive choice."
Despite near-total Republican control of state government, Tallian said she knows Hoosiers of both political parties are not satisfied with the officials representing them at the Statehouse — especially following the recent national attention prompted by legislative passage and Pence approval of the potentially discriminatory Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
"Everywhere I look there are people that are very angry by what's going on down here, or embarrassed by what's going on down here," Tallian said. "Democrats are angry; Republicans are embarrassed."
She contends Hoosiers are desperate for a new governor who will focus on their needs, instead of fighting to hold back the tide of tolerance that most Indiana residents enthusiastically have embraced.
"Mike Pence has revealed himself," Tallian said. "When he first ran for governor, people did not remember that in 2010 he was the national spokesman for the Tea Party; people did not remember when he first ran for Congress he was all about making sure we didn't give the GLBT crowd the time of day."
Tallian is preparing to roll out her policy agenda in months to come. She said it will closely follow the issues she has worked on in the Senate, especially "finding ways to help middle-class workers, who are losing ground compared to the rest of the nation."
She also expects to offer plans to improve public education, guarantee civil rights protections regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, reform Indiana's campaign finance system and redistricting process, protect the environment and legalize the medicinal use of marijuana.
"The differences between Mike Pence and I are wide and deep," Tallian said. "This is a Grand Canyon between Mike Pence and I, and people might just want to take a view from the other side now."
In addition, Tallian said if elected governor she only will focus on Indiana and improving the lives of Hoosiers, unlike Pence who she believes governs the state always with an eye toward how his policy decisions will someday play in a national election.
"For me, this is not a stepping-stone to anywhere. This would be the culmination of a career," she said. "I'm not going to Washington. I don't want to go to Washington. I'm not going to run for president."
To challenge Pence, she first will have to defeat Gregg and perhaps other Democratic candidates, potentially including House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.
Tallian said she informally has been reaching out for months to core supporters in organized labor and women's groups, and attending county party fundraising dinners throughout the state.
She also is confident a female Democrat from Porter County is more likely to resonate with primary election voters, especially if Hillary Clinton is the party's presidential nominee, than a candidate from southern Indiana, like Gregg, where the Democratic Party has all but died.
"I'm never going to say anything bad about John. He stood for election as a Democrat for governor, he worked hard, he came close, but we are very different people," Tallian said. "We have some clear differences, and so the first round is to give Democrats a choice."
Tallian insisted she is not running for governor hoping to become Gregg's lieutenant governor.
In fact, she suggested Gregg might make a good running mate for her, since his late 1990s experience as speaker of the House would be helpful in the lieutenant governor's role as presiding officer of the Senate.
Tallian, 64, was born and grew up in the central Illinois city of Streator. She left to attend the University of Chicago, where she earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy and psychology.
"I started off in pre-med and got lost in the '60s," she said. "I learned how to think. That's what I got from there."
She married and moved to Odgen Dunes where she raised three children: Michael, Christopher and Aimee. She was divorced from her now late husband in 1990, the same year she graduated from Valparaiso University School of Law.
As an attorney she has worked with the Porter County Plan Commission, for the town of Griffith on its Superfund pollution case and continues to take civil lawsuits and other cases in private practice at her Portage office.
She admits her legal business has suffered due to the time she devotes to her work in the Senate where she is the top Democrat on the budget-writing Appropriations Committee and the Pensions and Labor Committee, as well as a member of the panels overseeing environmental affairs and corrections and criminal law.
But she wouldn't have it any other way.
In 2013, Tallian even made a quick recovery from a mid-session heart attack to get back to her duties in the Senate chamber. It also prompted her to quit smoking.
"It gave me a new perspective on a lot of things, on what's important," Tallian said.
"It made me see that every day is gorgeous."
She first was appointed to the Senate in 2005 following the resignation of state Sen. Rose Antich, D-Merrillville, who left to become town clerk-treasurer.
Tallian was re-elected to four-year terms in 2006, 2010 and 2014, so she will maintain her Senate seat even if her bid for governor is unsuccessful.
But she believes Hoosier voters will recognize her experience in the Legislature, as a businesswoman, mother and citizen is what Indiana needs after 12 years of Republicans in the governor's office.