By Brian Howey
To understand Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch’s governing philosophy, one only needs to look south of the Ford Center to the beautiful Stone Family Center for Health Sciences that houses the Indiana University School of Medicine’s southernmost regional campus in Evansville.
In 2012, then-State Rep. Crouch was in the process of dealing with a rare career setback. When Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Espich retired, she sought that influential perch. Speaker Brian Bosma tabbed Tim Brown instead. There were no sour grapes, with Crouch calling Brown’s selection “really the best decision and the best for me long term.”
Four years prior, Dr. Steven G. Becker had reached out to Rep. Crouch. The IU School of Medicine was housed on the nearby University of Southern Indiana campus. It was the only regional medical school without its own facility.
“He believed they could elevate the School of Medicine to get more people from this area if it had its own campus,” Crouch explained of Dean Becker.
A local advisory group formed, along with a consortium of Evansville-area medical interests.
“The advisory committee was meeting at USI one evening in 2012, and one of the members said to me, ‘You know, Suzanne, you’re on Ways and Means. We need money to start this project and you can get that done, can’t you?”
“I’m like, yeaaah, maybe,” Crouch replied.
At the beginning of the 2013 session, she went into Speaker Bosma’s office and said, “I had a whole list of projects I wanted funding for in Evansville, and one of those projects was the IU School of Medicine, $2 million.”
Bosma added it all up and said, “Suzanne, that’s $22 million.”
“I said, ‘I’ve been here for eight years and have never asked for anything, so divide it by eight and it’s not that much,’” Crouch said. “That’s how we got the funding to start the project.”
This was news to IU President Michael McRobbie. But local attorney Patrick A. Shoulders was president of the IU board of trustees and was emphatically for the facility.
“He fast-tracked it, got it through, approved by the board of trustees before the end of the session so that the funding could be included,” Crouch said. “That’s how the whole thing got started.”
Dr. Becker, concerned about emerging medical “deserts” and a lack of area medical school residency slots, now presides over this new state-of-the-art facility, housing programs from IU, USI and the University of Evansville.
“Suzanne was one of four or five people who was critical in making this happen,” Becker said. “Suzanne is a problem solver. She makes things happen.”
Lt. Gov. Crouch recently kicked off her 2024 campaign for governor. If she’s successful, she would not only become the Republican Party’s first credible female candidate for governor but the GOP’s first female gubernatorial nominee. If she wins in November 2024, she would become the first Hoosier woman at the pinnacle of power.
Crouch has crisscrossed Indiana’s 92 counties while holding a sprawling administration portfolio that includes agriculture, rural affairs and tourism. I asked her how she would win a primary against Sen. Mike Braun and Fort Wayne businessman Eric Doden, both capable of self-funding.
“You have a plan,” she began. “You have enough resources — $8 million to $9 million. That will make me competitive. There will be about a million primary voters, and I need to demonstrate that I am the person who is best prepared to lead them into the future.”
She has the support of GOP financier Bob Grand.
“A governor’s race is different from a senatorial race or congressional race,” Crouch said. “It’s more about likability. It’s more about what type of person people trust. Are you that type of person that people see leading us forward into the future? And improving their lives?”
Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, an unabashed Crouch supporter and friend for more than 40 years, calls the region’s collaborative nature “our secret sauce.”
“I know there is collaboration everywhere, but it’s so natural here because of deep personal relationships,” Winnecke said. “So you can call Suzanne and say, ‘Hey, can you talk to senator so and so ?’ And she gets it. It’s an easy phone call to her. She’s also very, very accessible.”
Those attributes are potentially the makings of a governor.
Brian Howey is managing editor of Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs at StateAffairs.com/pro/Indiana, where this column was previously published. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol. Send comments to [email protected]