INDIANAPOLIS — Two Northwest Indiana Democrats are leading the party's charge to end Republican dominance of state government.
Delegates to the Indiana Democratic Party's biennial state convention Saturday nominated attorney Jim Harper, of Valparaiso, to run for secretary of state, and former state Rep. John Aguilera, D-East Chicago, for state treasurer.
Both men were chosen through the enthusiastic acclamation of 1,557 delegates in the Indiana Convention Center, along with former Marion City Councilwoman Joselyn Whitticker as the Democratic state auditor nominee.
Harper pledged that if Hoosiers in November make him the state's chief elections officer, he will end what he described as Republican efforts to suppress voter turnout, and instead make it easier for Indiana voters to cast their ballots by extending polling hours, permitting Election Day registration and expanding vote-by-mail opportunities.
"Republican leaders in this state have rigged the system in their favor. They have decided to make it easier for their party to win by making it harder for you to vote," Harper said. "It's time for a secretary of state who will fight back against this voter suppression agenda."
"I will fight for bold action to tackle Indiana's record low voter turnout."
Harper explained that he's so focused on voting because the decisions made by voters ultimately shape myriad policy outcomes at the federal, state and local level.
He said to ensure those outcomes truly reflect the will of the people, he's determined to help enact legislative district boundaries that no longer are gerrymandered, or drawn to advantage one political party over another.
"Election administration should be about making sure that your voice can be heard," Harper said. "Our right to vote has been bled for, it has been expanded through sheer determination and it must be protected."
Aguilera similarly vowed to improve the systems used to manage the state's investments, and the ability of Hoosiers to track them, if he's elected state treasurer.
Beyond that, the U.S. military veteran of Mexican-American heritage, former two-term Lake County councilman and four-term state representative, who is retired from ArcelorMittal, said he'll also bring an urgently needed dose of diversity to the Republican-dominated Statehouse.
"I am determined to get rid of one-party rule and 'Make America Nice Again,'" Aguilera said. "We'll bring back civility, respect and integrity, whether we are dealing with friend or foe, and we will bring back common sense governance for the state of Indiana."
As state treasurer, Aguilera also wants to employ the Indiana Bond Bank to better assist communities needing infrastructure upgrades.
He said he's seen firsthand with the East Chicago lead contamination crisis that the state could be doing more to help Hoosiers.
"We need to make a change," Aguilera said.
This will be the first general election in 18 years to feature two Democratic nominees for statewide office hailing from Northwest Indiana.
In 2000, now-Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson lost her bid to be elected Indiana attorney general, and Gerald McCullum, then-superintendent at the School City of Whiting, was defeated for state superintendent of public instruction.
Lake County Commissioner Mike Repay, who made the motion to nominate Aguilera, said he expects a far different result this year — a Democratic "blue wave," similar to the waves that continually lap against the Lake Michigan shoreline in Lake and Porter counties.
"That blue wave is coming from the Northwest, and we hope it washes over the entire state of Indiana," Repay said. "It washes clean the state of Indiana, and the stain of one-party rule that we've been faced with for all these years."
Besides the Region connection, the three Democratic candidates for statewide office, along with U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., who is seeking a second term on the November ballot, all have first names that start with the letter "J."
Many delegates waved pre-printed signs during the convention featuring an oversized "J" to indicate their support for the entire Democratic ticket.
One week earlier, the Indiana Republican Party nominated its incumbent officeholders — Secretary of State Connie Lawson; State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, a Valparaiso University graduate; and State Auditor Tera Klutz — for new, four-year terms.
Leading the GOP ticket is former state Rep. Mike Braun, R-Jasper, as the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.