By Rick Sutton
INDIANAPOLIS – When Dana Black entered her polling place in November 2014, she was outraged.
Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-86th District) was her representative. She’d followed his votes, his record. She wanted to register a protest against his policies.
But she couldn’t. Bosma, like too many legislators, was unopposed.
“That is unacceptable,” Black said in a recent interview. “I decided then, if no one else would run against him, I would.” Thus began the 2016 Black for Legislature campaign.
“He has been there something like 25 years, and too often, he’s unopposed,” Black said. “We can fix that. Pretty easily.”
The 45-year-old lifelong Indy resident is a techie for the city, with an IT bachelor’s and an MBA. She’s married to Miah Black, who operates a special-needs adult care agency. She celebrated the marriage equality win but, “you know without full civil rights, we’ve got…much more work to do.”
“I think my campaign can put out a solid message and force the Speaker to realize he cannot ignore his LGBT constituents,” she added. “I will not allow him to continue to address citizens in a way that marginalizes me and my wife.”
Black understands the political obstacles – the 86th district is predominantly Republican. “But we’ve got to test that, to push the boundary, and to respectfully put out a strong campaign message for voters to have a choice.”
The 2015 RFRA crusade “made us all realize, we can’t sit on the sidelines,” she said. “We need to be doing things that make Indiana attractive to business and to all of us. I’m very concerned about the number of ways our state has tried to marginalize certain groups – immigrants, the LGBT community, and others – on the edge of some faith argument that I just don’t understand.
“It’s as if the First Amendment doesn’t exist. We have freedom of religion. But when government favors one religion over mine, or yours, or any other, you’ve devalued my faith. I don’t need government to do anything other than what the First Amendment guarantees me. That’s enough.”
Black said she will watch the LGBT Civil Rights legislation, Senate Bill 100, closely. “Of course, we need strong civil rights. I am anxious to see how the Speaker handles the legislation.”
What bothers Black most about the pending legislation? “Well, most of it, but mostly, the lack of respect for state-local rights and the history we have of local governments making decisions.” She said the local Human Rights Ordinances all over Indiana “were adopted in good faith by local governments. The state complains when the feds impose regulations on them. Why should the state do the same to local government?”
Black thinks the LGBT fights over the last two sessions “helped send a message that we can be unwelcoming. That’s not productive. We should be doing things that attract citizens and businesses to our state. We shouldn’t risk opportunity for all, by doing these things that highlight division and narrow views.”
“Too many of our best and brightest don’t stay in Indiana once they get a good educations,” Black said. “We have some great minds here, but the brain drain is real. People don’t come or stay here for mountains or oceans. We have one major quality which is known everywhere: hospitality. Hoosiers will do almost anything to help one another. That’s the spirit we need to rekindle and encourage.”
Black is deeply concerned about other issues, too:
Infrastructure: “Drive around anywhere. We’ve got major work to do. All of a sudden, the governor finds hundreds of millions of dollars for roads, after bridge collapses and chuckholes? We have a crumbling infrastructure. Hoosiers need jobs. Infrastructure construction is a perfect fit and it’s what government is supposed to provide.
“There is a solution here, but it’s taken a crisis to get a proposal on the table. We need to stop governing by crisis and use bright Hoosier minds to think ahead, prevent problems where we can. Who didn’t see infrastructure as a major concern? It’s not a new problem. We need some new answers.”
Tax policy: “If we cannot pay for basic infrastructure needs for years, and we quickly find hundreds of millions to try to solve a PR crisis, we aren’t serious about long-term tax policy.
“Let’s look at everything. Who gets what breaks, who pays what. We need adequate resources for our state’s basic needs. We need to look hard at all aspects of tax policy.”
Mental health: “I’m so glad the state is investing hugely in mental health” (referring to the Dec. 16 announcement of a new $159 Million Addictions/Mental Health facility the state is bonding on the Community North Hospital campus).
“It’s especially good if we can stop using the corrections system as a mental health filter. We need to do more of that. Prisons aren’t the best environment for mental health and addictions treatment.”
Education: “It’d be great if we’d let the elected school superintendent, a teacher, do her job well. Our children need strong advocates. I want to be one.”
How does a rookie legislative candidate tackle the state’s most-entrenched power broker?
“I’m not your typical candidate,” Black noted. “But this isn’t a typical year. I will bring a strong message and give voters a solid choice.”