Vi Simpson: Hoosier women shortchanged by Pence Lt. Gov. switch

This guest column was written by Vi Simpson, a former state senator from Ellettsville. She was a former Senate Democrat leader and the 2012 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.

On March 2, as our nation kicked off Women’s History Month, Indiana made history of a different kind. The third woman to hold the position of lieutenant governor stepped down. A man, who is lockstep with Gov. Mike Pence on his ideological world view, will take her place.

Somehow, I don’t think this transition will be highlighted in our state’s upcoming bicentennial celebrations.

Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann brought a diverse background in manufacturing, academics and consulting to state government, where she also served in the General Assembly. She continued the good work of former Lt. Governors Kathy Davis and Becky Skillman in revitalizing Indiana communities, and was a strong surrogate for Gov. Pence. While she and I have had our political differences, I respect the work she did while in office.

There has been much speculation as to why Lt. Gov. Ellspermann decided to leave Gov. Pence’s administration before the end of her term. Regardless of the reason, Gov. Pence’s decision to replace the able and accomplished Sue Ellspermann with Eric Holcomb speaks volumes about what he values in the person who is literally a heartbeat away from the governor’s office.

Eric Holcomb has a well-deserved reputation for running divisive campaigns in my part of the state. And following Richard Mourdock’s infamous remarks that pregnancy caused by rape was “something that God intended,” Holcomb said that he thought Mourdock’s position “covered it,” and that fundraising efforts for Mourdock would continue “full steam ahead.” Today, he is standing firm with Gov. Pence on his support of the economically disastrous Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

I am not surprised by Holcomb’s selection because his positions seem to be in line with Gov. Pence’s stands on issues impacting women and families. Gov. Pence has opposed funding for women’s health care and contraceptives while in Washington and Indiana. In Congress, he voted against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act twice, and against the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2009.

How can women in Indiana get ahead if the message from the top is that their work doesn’t hold the same financial value as their male counterparts? The gap between what men and women are paid is wider in Indiana than in 41 other states. Single mothers also face an uphill climb in providing their children with financial stability. Consider this: 7 in 10 children who live with a single mother are low income or live in poverty, compared with less than a third of children who live in other types of families.

Women’s History Month and our state’s bicentennial offer us the collective opportunity to learn from our past and apply those lessons to our future. What lesson we can learn from Lt. Gov. Ellspermann’s early departure is clear. We still have a great deal of work ahead to move women forward in our state, and we need positive leadership at the Statehouse, not obstructionism, to achieve our goals.

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