Niki Kelly: Women struggling to break the gubernatorial glass ceiling

By Nita Kelly

While women have regularly held statewide office and Indiana has had four female lieutenant governors, Hoosier women have struggled to break through to the top office.

Indiana has only had one female gubernatorial nominee ever: Democrat Jill Long Thompson in 2008.

And the state is languishing on a depressing list of 18 states that have had only male governors (Arkansas just became the latest to elect a woman).

Women can do more than fill a secondary role focusing on administrate tasks. They can lead when given the chance. So why do women seem to get pushed aside in Indiana, especially on the Republican side? And will it change any time soon?

In 2010, Republican Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman decided not to run for governor in the 2012 cycle despite starting to build a campaign team and raise money. She told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette in 2019 she just didn’t feel the urgency to run like she did in previous races.

“Once I said I’m not doing it, I was so at peace,” she said. “My saddest moment was that I might have let down a lot of women. I might have been the first woman (to be elected governor), but we’ll never know.”

Kathy Davis was the state’s first female lieutenant governor — appointed by Democrat Gov. Joe Kernan after he ascended following Gov. Frank O’Bannon’s death. She ran for election in 2004 alongside Kernan, but the team lost.

Republican Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann left office in 2016 — two years early — to run Ivy Tech Community College and has never looked back.

A few months later, there was a prime opportunity for Republicans to choose a female nominee — Susan Brooks. As a former deputy mayor, attorney and sitting congresswoman, she had all of the credentials.

She was among four candidates to replace Mike Pence on the ballot after he withdrew from the race to be Donald Trump’s running mate. But a small group of party insiders chose then-Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb instead. He had only been in office a few months and had never won an election before but was a former state chairman with solid relationships.

Pence endorsed him, and the Republican State Committee followed suit.

And that brings us to Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch — a probable 2024 governor candidate. Two men are already in the race.

Everyone seems to agree she is personable, a bit quirky and a great fundraiser. She has run several smaller agencies efficiently but quietly, not really making a name for herself outside insider circles.

I don’t know if she is the best candidate because I don’t know what her platform or ideas for Indiana would be. And that is for every voter to decide.

I am in no way endorsing any candidate for governor. But I do think it’s time we saw a female governor candidate be given a real shot and not ushered quietly to the side with whispers about her age. For the record, she is 70 and probably the most physically fit person in the Statehouse.

It seems we will have a bit of clarity on her potential candidacy in the coming days. I just hope Hoosiers keep their minds open to all possibilities.

Niki Kelly is editor-in-chief of, where this commentary first appeared. She has covered Indiana politics and the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 for publications including the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Send comments to [email protected]