When MeChelle Callen was younger, she would go to her grandma’s house after school. She would grab a seat at her kitchen table and talk about everything, from what was going on in her life to what was happening in the country and around the world.
Callen, a Democrat from Avon, Indiana, took that idea with her as she worked the last 30 years in human resources and organizational development, where she saw how important it was for everyone to have a seat at the table. Now, she’s bringing it to her campaign for the Indiana House of Representatives District 40.
While she campaigns, she carries around a white chair symbolizing a seat at the table. She has supporters sign it and hopes by November, she can bring a chair filled with signatures to the Statehouse.
“People right now need to know that they are valued, that they are valuable, that what each of us brings to the table as Hoosiers helps to move the state forward,” Callen said.
Callen joins 74 other women planning to run for the Indiana General Assembly in the May 8 primary election, according to the Indianapolis Star. That’s twice the number that ran last year.
Currently, women make up 20 percent of the state legislature, with eight seats in the state senate and 22 seats in the Indiana House of Representatives, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. However, they make up about 51 percent of the population.
Callen said she got to a point where she felt the country had become so divisive, and she believed the state could do better. She decided to go all-in and run for office.
“There are only so many letters I can write,” Callen said. “There are only so many phone calls I can make to my representative, only so many petitions, so many protests.”
Penny Githens, a Democrat running for state House District 60, said women tend to be better at reaching across the aisle. She added that women care about different issues than men do, such as child care or the gender pay gap.
“We need to at least start to shift the numbers and shift some of the conversations we’re having in terms of the issues that are important to people at the end,” Githens said.
Amy Swain, a Democrat running for state House District 62, agreed. She said women deal with a lot of issues that men do not. They can offer different insights, connections or contacts with other groups of people.
“They will give voice to issues that they deal with on a regular basis,” Swain said.
Other women running in Monroe County are E. Thomasina Marsili, a Democrat running for Indiana House District 46, and current representative, Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville.
Githens said many women who are running in Monroe County work together throughout their campaigns. She said they try to help each other during the process because they want to see more women in office.
“This is how women work together in a different way,” Githens said. “We’d continue to work together well.”
Even if women do not have 51 percent of legislative seats after the election, candidates are optimistic about what the increase in the number of women running could mean.
Swain said seeing more women running could inspire other women to run, whether that’s at the state or the township level.
While her first hope for the November election is that the legislature will become more diverse, Callen agreed serving as a role model is just as important, especially for people who are not career politicians.
Callen said for voters, especially college students, a great way to get involved is volunteering for a campaign. Whether it’s in Bloomington or in their hometown, campaigns are always looking for student activists.
“It’s another way to get their voices heard,” Callen said.
It's important to remember women have made a lot strides in other fields, such as law school or medical school enrollment, Githens said. Politics should start to make similar strides.
“I think it’s time,” Githens said.