Michael Leppert: Being in the minority doesn’t mean you can’t get things done


It can be tough to be a minority of any kind. We talk about that toughness in cultural terms regularly in America. Whether it is a minority religion, gender or race, being outnumbered is rarely meaningless or easy.

Senate Democrats in Indiana would love to be in that standard minority. Their minority isn’t standard though — it’s “super.” Being in a simple minority would feel like a luxury, like upgrading to first class on a flight, or into a high-roller suite in the penthouse of a resort on the Vegas strip. Life in the superminority is viewed as a thankless, and often times, even a valueless endeavor. The caucus is often described as one that doesn’t matter at all.

Those descriptions are incorrect. And there are receipts to prove it.

Sen. Andrea Hunley is my senator from Indianapolis. I vividly remember her first campaign for the seat in 2022. Why? Because when I was listening to her speak to a small group of people that spring, I was overcome with the thought, “she’s too good for that place and being there is going to drive her nuts.” I stand by the first point but was dead wrong about the second.

On March 5, I accidentally caught Hunley in action. While speaking on the Senate floor on House Bill 1093, a bill to relax child labor laws, she delivered a speech worthy of a title. She asked, “Who stands to benefit? I know for certain it’s not our kids … When I first ran for office, I ran because of children. I ran because of my work with them.” She was a teacher and principal for 20 years, most recently at the Center for Inquiry in my neighborhood.

The majority ignored her questions and concerns and passed the bill on a party-line vote. This was the kind of thing I was predicting for her two years ago. She was destined to be on the right side of policies only to be outvoted by a majority that runs like a zombie experiencing a shortage of brains to eat. But Hunley marches on, undeterred by her lopsided surroundings.

Sen. Shelli Yoder was elected two years earlier in 2020. She represents Bloomington and is an award-winning educator at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, where I also teach. She primarily teaches freshmen, and I now teach sophomores, some who have been taught by her, so I can personally vouch for her excellence in the classroom.

The reason I was watching on March 5, when I accidentally caught Hunley’s speech, was to watch Yoder speak on House Bill 1426, a bill originally filed to expand access to long-acting reversible contraceptives. It was amended to create a tiered system of access, damaging the availability of IUDs, all because the right-to-life lobby doesn’t like that particular and popular method. This debate, and who stood for what, will be discussed and revisited for the foreseeable future.

Yoder’s speech that day is also title-worthy. I will name it the “Not better than nothing” speech. She specifically said, “I am disappointed with the continued messaging to women that something is better than nothing. That if this legislature throws a few scraps, instead of the full spectrum of care, women should say ‘thank you,’ sit down, and be quiet. I am not going to do that.”

No woman in Indiana should.

These are examples of two bad bills that passed over the objections of Hunley and Yoder. Good speeches, bad outcomes. That’s the way of the super-minority, right? Not entirely.

Yoder took a leadership role in killing another initiative, designed to relax the regulation of PFAS, synthetic chemicals often referred to as “forever chemicals.” Industry doesn’t want to be hassled with regulation. Yoder wants Hoosiers to survive, and she won this battle. I encourage all to watch the 2019 movie, “Dark Waters” for context.

Hunley teamed up with Rep. Blake Johnson, also from Indianapolis, to negotiate the protection of two big initiatives for the city: downtown’s Economic Enhancement District, and IndyGo’s Blue Line. Both were threatened by inappropriate state intervention and Hunley is a key reason they survived.

These two stars are examples of why every seat in a legislative body matters. There is no substitute for the combination of intelligence, preparedness and the passion to do the right thing. It often goes unnoticed or undervalued. Cynicism, like I felt two years ago during Hunley’s campaign, is often the enemy of enthusiasm.

Hunley and Yoder are showing how to beat back that enemy. Hoosiers would do well to pay attention to them.

Michael Leppert is an author, educator and a communication consultant in Indianapolis. He writes about government, politics and culture at MichaelLeppert.com. This commentary was previously published at indianacapitalchronicle.com. Send comments to [email protected].

No posts to display