Local women thrilled to be delegates to Democratic convention

Four local women are heading to Philadelphia to represent Indiana during the Democratic National Convention.

Four local women are heading to Philadelphia to represent Indiana during the Democratic National Convention.

Jeanne Smith, Cathi Crabtree and Martha Hilderbrand all will represent the state’s 9th Congressional District at the convention, which starts Monday and runs through Thursday. Smith, Crabtree and Hilderbrand all are members of the Hudsucker Posse, a local hula hooping group that seeks to provide fitness opportunities to all people in a welcoming environment.

Smith and Hilderbrand will serve as delegates for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Crabtree will represent those who voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee.

Additionally, former Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, who also has served as Monroe County auditor, will chair the state’s 92-member delegation.

Though the women know each other, they each had a different reason for running to be a delegate.

Smith, a transgender woman, has a primary goal of representing those Hoosiers who voted for Sanders and said she understands that weight.

She has a secondary goal as well, though — she wants to be visible as a transgender female during the convention.

Smith is 64 and started living as a woman at age 55. Until this year, she hadn’t been politically involved since 1996, when she ran for the 8th Congressional District seat as a Democrat.

But after receiving a flier with questions about rights for members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community worded in a prejudicial way and a conversation with her state representative, in which Smith said she was offended “in so many ways,” she considered running against state Rep. Peggy Mayfield, a Republican from Martinsville, who represents the area in which Smith lives.

Smith later met Penny Githens, a Democrat who already was challenging Mayfield’s re-election bid, and she decided the race was in good hands.

“But that kind of primed me for being political this year,” Smith said.

She also found that many of the views she had put forward during her race in ’96 matched those of Sanders.

Smith saw it as an opportunity to be a trusted delegate to cast a vote for the Vermont senator. She also saw it as an opportunity to represent the transgender community in a positive way.

“I’m someone who’s assimilated really well into being a transgender woman,” she said. “I’m really comfortable with who I am, and I feel like I’m respectable and respectful.”

She added that she thinks it’s important to be visible to Democrats because they’re part of the party that is fighting for LGBT rights and against laws that are targeted at transgenders, such as those requiring people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate except in certain circumstances.

“I feel as though it’s really important for them (Democrats) to understand what they’re fighting for,” she said.

Crabtree had a much simpler, but just as passionate, reason for running to be a delegate.

“I love Hillary Clinton, and I’ve supported her since she came onto my radar, when Bill ran,” she said. Her mother, who died about a year ago, also was a big Hillary fan. “When I saw that she had a chance of getting it, I just knew that I wanted to be there ... to support her and just to witness history.”

She’s looking forward to other aspects of the convention as well.

Crabtree said she’s excited about “networking with other like-minded people” and about seeing how the process really works. As a delegate, she’ll have the opportunity not only to cast a vote on the nominee but also to vote on the party platform, the rules for the convention and other issues.

“I’m looking forward to learning more about how it actually runs,” she said.

Hilderbrand initially didn’t plan to run “because there’s actually quite a hefty expense that’s connected to being a delegate” — around $3,000 per person.

But there are diversity requirements among the Democratic delegation, and one of those is to have young Democrats. To qualify for that, you have to be no older than 36.

“At 33, I figured it was my last chance to meet that demographic,” Hilderbrand said.

So she filed on the second to last day before the deadline and then went “all in.”

“I had to do mailers. I bought a professional name tag,” she said. “It was like a real campaign.”

Hilderbrand said she’s most looking forward to the opportunity to meet people and share ideas.

She said the convention represents opportunities to be part of the process supporting Sanders and to meet distinguished politicians from the national level and build relationships with state and local politicians in Indiana.

“I’ve been joking that I want to take as many selfies with politicians as possible,” she said.

Hilderbrand also has a more overarching goal to serve as “a bridge between the disenfranchised Sanders supporter and the establishment” and making sure that even those who may not support or agree with Sanders understand there are multiple voices to which they need to listen.

Although she is a Democrat first, she understands the anger and frustration that many of her fellow Sanders supporters are feeling.

“I really want other Democrats to continue and to really work to listen to Sanders supporters and young Democrats, understand that they are angry and passionate and frustrated and that we need to make sure they stay in the party,” she said. “I’m nervous about fractures within the party.”

Unity is key, she said, because “we’re going up against probably one of the worst political figures in history” in Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and the Democrats “can’t lose this” because of pride. The party still needs to work to keep people in the fold and get them out to the polls, she said.

Smith also said she wants to see the Democratic convention result in the party coming together as Democrats first and foremost.

“We hope to reflect party unity in the end,” Smith said. “I’m a Bernie delegate until the votes are taken, and then I’m a Democrat.”

Crabtree said there’s a big overall push for unity and to make sure Sanders delegates feel heard, and she’s confident Democrats will be “able to rise above it,” something she understands having been a Clinton supporter in 2008.

“We’re understanding because many of us supported Hillary in 2008, so we do understand that disappointment,” she said. Even as a Clinton supporter then, she said, she campaigned and canvassed for Barack Obama during the general election.

And she said the three local women are, themselves, a picture of party unity.

Though they’ve supported different candidates leading up to the convention, they’ll pull together for Clinton.

The three are road-tripping to Philadelphia together this weekend, taking pictures with their hula hoops along the way, and will be sharing a room during the convention.

“We feel like we’re kind of a representation of that unity that we want to come out of the convention with,” Crabtree said