INDIANAPOLIS — Northwest Indiana's legislative delegation, following Tuesday's elections, is younger, more ethnically diverse, more female and more Democratic than the lawmakers who represented the Region at the Statehouse during the 2018 General Assembly.
Its new members include a man believed to be the first person of Asian descent to serve in the Indiana Legislature, elected at just 25 years old; the daughter of a nationally renowned civil rights leader; and two women with lifelong records of service to their communities.
All four of the Region's new lawmakers are Democrats. Three succeeded fellow Democrats who chose not to seek re-election, while state Rep. Chris Chyung, D-Dyer, appears to have defeated three-term state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville.
The delegation will gain another new Democrat if Lisa Beck maintains her 504-vote lead on state Rep. Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point, once all the ballots in the district's four Porter County precincts finally are tallied.
A sixth new Democratic representative also is possible if Frank Szczepanski toppled state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, in a Porter County district where no vote totals have yet been released.
If both Beck and Szczepanski win, the Region's House delegation will include 10 Democrats and just three Republicans in a chamber where Republicans are poised to control at least 66 of the 100 seats.
The 13-member Northwest Indiana House delegation also will have five women, compared to three prior to the elections.
One of those women, state Rep. Carolyn Jackson, D-Hammond, said she's grateful to her Hammond and Whiting constituents for choosing her to represent them, and she's eager to get to work promoting equal pay for women and improving education funding.
"It's hurting to me that our state is at the bottom when it comes to work, women's issues and families," Jackson said. "I will do what needs to be done to help my people (in House District 1). I will put those individuals first."
Chyung likewise is focused on ensuring that his constituents get their fair share of state education funding and aren't ripped off by predatory prescription drug prices.
In addition, Chyung said he's determined to be regularly available to House District 15 residents, something he said Slager often was not.
"I remember before, when I tried to get in touch with my representative, it wasn't an easy thing to do," Chyung said. "It was pretty difficult; there weren't that many public meetings, and I want to be really transparent about that."
Slager's defeat and Olthoff's possible loss would leave state Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, as the sole Republican representative with territory in Lake County, just as state Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, is the only GOP senator with Lake County turf.
Niemeyer said that likely will put Lake County at a disadvantage, since Republicans control both the House and Senate, and most decisions over state funding and state policies are made within each chamber's Republican caucus.
"Hal was a valuable person coming from Lake County in the Republican majority down here. He had the credibility to bring things forward," Niemeyer said. "I don't know where that's going to go from here."
Niemeyer hopes the new Democratic representatives can quickly get up to speed and will work across party lines to ensure that Northwest Indiana doesn't get left behind at the Statehouse.
"It's going to be different. It's going to be very different," Niemeyer said.
The elections produced no change in the Region's Senate delegation, which is composed of four Democrats and three Republicans.
All three incumbents on the ballot won new, four-year terms, including state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, the sole female senator from Northwest Indiana.
Democrats did pick up a 10th Senate seat in the 50-member chamber when J.D. Ford, a 2010 graduate of Purdue University Northwest in Hammond, defeated state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, in a district spanning the north and west sides of Indianapolis and nearby suburbs.
Ford is the first openly gay legislator in Indiana history, and said he hopes his victory will inspire other LGBT Hoosiers to run for state office.
At the same time, Ford's campaign largely did not focus on Delph's advocacy for the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was widely perceived as licensing discrimination against LGBT individuals.
Instead, Ford focused on what he calls "The Five Es": Education, the economy, elections reform, equality and the environment.
"I really stuck to that message, because I really felt and believe that that's what Indiana is lacking right now," Ford said.