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Sunday, May 19
The Indiana Daily Student

city politics

Democrat Jennifer McCormick discusses policy ahead of 2024 gubernatorial election

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Editors note: This is part of a series of stories covering the 2024 elections. Read the rest of the stories here.

Jennifer McCormick is attempting something unseen in nearly a generation of Hoosier politics: to win the governor’s office as a Democrat. A victory for the former Republican Indiana superintendent of public instruction would make her Indiana’s first Democratic governor since 2005. Now the sole Democratic nominee after opponent Bob Kern dropped out of the race, McCormick seeks to end what she describes as divisiveness and poor decision-making from the state government. 

Speaking with Monroe County Democrats at their annual Taliaferro Dinner and fundraiser Dec. 12 at Ivy Tech Bloomington, McCormick gave the Indiana Daily Student insight into her campaign as the gubernatorial race heats up. 

Her background 

McCormick, raised on a fourth-generation family farm in New Castle, Indiana, began her career as a special education teacher, moved to teaching language arts, became principal of Yorktown Elementary school and ultimately worked as superintendent of Yorktown Community Schools between 2010 and 2017. 

She ran for Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, a position overseeing public education in the state along with the state board of education, in 2016 as a Republican, citing politicization of the office by incumbent Democrat Glenda Ritz. Riding the wave of Donald Trump’s 19% margin of victory in Indiana in that year’s election, McCormick won by 6.8%.  

However, she clashed behind the scenes with Republican policymakers frequently. Though McCormick said she felt she had a good relationship with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, especially during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic, she ultimately decided not to run for re-election in 2020. 

“When I went into office, for me, it was about values, it was about being a public servant, it was about empowering others and excellence in governance,” McCormick said. “What I saw under one party rule, under the [Republican] supermajority, was not that. I saw a lot of people who were creating policy in the absence of Hoosier’s voices.” 

In education, McCormick said policymakers proposed initiatives harmful to students and families. 

“In the field we always say we take bad policies and make bad policies better,” McCormick said. “But in the end, bad policy is bad policy. And there were a lot of them, from reading, to assessments, to what we were doing about the teacher shortage, and it was really hard.” 

She said she decided she couldn’t be an effective public servant any longer in this position. After abstaining from re-election, the Indiana state legislature passed House Bill 1005, which replaced the elected position of superintendent of public instruction with the governor-appointed secretary of education.  

“It took the voice away from the people in education,” McCormick said.  

Members of the Indiana state Board of Education are not elected either, unlike other states. To McCormick, this voided parental and citizen involvement in K-12 education, which made roughly 40% of the state’s budget in 2023. 

In 2021, McCormick switched to the Democratic party after she said she did not see her values – transparency, effectiveness and excellence – in the current Republican party. 

Now, McCormick hopes she can tap into these values in voters regardless of party affiliation. McCormick has received endorsements including the American Federation of Teachers, one of Indiana’s two teachers' unions. 

She said her campaign is currently moving in the right direction, securing enough signatures to appear on the May primary ballot by late November. Currently, McCormick is working on campaigning through all 92 of Indiana’s counties. 

Policies 

McCormick’s campaign website does not currently feature any priorities or stances on policy, but she said this will be updated in early 2024.  

“The reason why those are a little bit later than some is because we’ve been doing a lot of listening and working with folks who are experts in those areas,” McCormick said. “I do not claim to know .” 

Though her education-focused background pervades her campaign, McCormick said a major priority from voters has been reproductive freedom and abortion. Additionally, she said she is concerned with potential restrictions on contraceptives from the state legislature. 

Indiana passed a near-total abortion ban in August 2023, permitting the procedure only in cases before 22 weeks if doctors detected a lethal fetal anomaly or until 12 weeks in the case of rape or incest. McCormick said she staunchly opposes these restrictions. 

She said she supports the standards set by the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. Broadly, this decision disallowed regulations on abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy, allowed regulations related to maternal health in the second trimester and allowed regulations or prohibitions on abortion in the third trimester, with exceptions for the life or health of the mother.  

To override Indiana’s abortion ban, McCormick said she has many cards on the table, including going for a constitutional amendment. McCormick said she also supports increased access to childcare, universal pre-K in the state and improving the quality of education. Citing Indiana being 43rd in attainment of bachelor’s degrees, she said this issue is of utmost importance for her campaign. 

“You couple where we are with education to where we are on healthcare, and we are becoming more uneducated and more unhealthy,” McCormick said. “That is not a good pathway for any state.” 

Recently, many schools around Indiana have been thrust into social issues regarding the banning of books and debates over how much influence parents should have in their children’s education. For McCormick, both a parent and former educator, the Republican positions on this issue seem ironic as their legislation replaced her formerly elected job as superintendent of public instruction to an appointed one. 

“I am a big believer in protecting students’ rights first, and parent rights,” she said. “As an educator, we begged and welcomed parent involvement, parents in those decisions, I mean we are better if we have parents at the table.”  

However, she noted parent involvement is only protected in public education. Before the 2020 election, McCormick made policy recommendations to shield public schooling from funding cuts and to place a moratorium on new charter schools. In those recommendations, McCormick also supported banning discrimination against LGBTQ+ students and staff in private schools. 

McCormick’s husband worked a chemist in a water lab before becoming a science teacher, and her dad was a soil-water conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Given her background, she said the environment influences many of her policy initiatives.  

Right now, McCormick said she wants to see an immediate pause on the LEAP project until more comprehensive studies are done on its impact. The controversial water pipeline currently under construction would bring millions of gallons of water hourly from an aquifer underneath the Wabash River to an industrial project in Boone County. 

She said she wants to see increased protection of Indiana’s forests and waterways, currently the most polluted of any state. She also wants to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan group of governors committing to many pro-environmental policies including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and conservation. 

McCormick said she is supportive of legalizing medical marijuana, building the industry up first before looking into legalizing the drug recreationally, and ending prosecution for simple possession. Possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana is currently a Class B Misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and/or a $1000 fine.  

“I do agree it needs to start medically before we jump into recreation,” she said. “We need to make sure we have a good industry set, things established and put into place and see where that takes us.” 

Halting the rise of or reducing Indiana’s gas tax is also a key policy for McCormick. Currently, the rate sits at $0.34/gallon for gasoline and $0.57/gallon for undyed diesel, significantly higher than other states. 

The road forward 

All of these policies, McCormick said, came from constituent concerns. To win Indiana as a Democrat, she has been in conversations with experts, pollsters and Hoosiers in general to carve a path to victory. Between recent victories by Democrats in the 2023 municipal election and positive internal polls for her campaign, she believes she has a fighting chance.  

However, the road ahead still appears tough, and several Monroe County residents at the dinner were doubtful McCormick can pull off a win. Indiana has not elected a Democrat to the office of Governor since the re-election of Frank O’Bannon in 2000. However, the race was within striking distance as recently as 2016, with Republican Eric Holcomb winning over Democrat John Greggs by a 6% margin. 

McCormick, unless challenged by a yet-unannounced candidate in the Democratic primary, will face off against the champion of a hotly contested Republican Primary. Currently, the candidates on the Republican’s side include Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch, Senator Mike Braun, Former President of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. Eric Doden, former Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, businesswoman Jamie Reitenour and Former Commerce Secretary Brad Chambers. 

However, McCormick said that along with positive polls, she believes her bipartisan and common-sense policy, and attitudes against longtime one-party rule in Indiana will lead to her victory. Together with Democrats who have embraced her from her former party, Republicans and Independents who believe in her message and by putting in the work, McCormick believes she can pull it off. 

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