Democrats speak at Indiana NOW conference held in Bloomington: ‘We are going to win…’

On Saturday, downtown Bloomington was host to some prominent Democratic Party figures on at least three levels of the political landscape—city, region, and state.

The occasion was the 2023 Indiana NOW State Conference, which was held at the Monroe County History Center.

Delivering remarks were: Bloomington’s mayor-elect, Kerry Thomson; state representative Carolyn Jackson (District 1) and state senator Shelli Yoder (District 40); and a candidate for the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination in 2024, Jennifer McCormick.

Two other winners from Tuesday’s Bloomington city elections attended the conference: Hopi Stosberg, councilmember-elect for District 3; and Shruti Rana, councilmember-elect for District 5.

Rana, who is president of Monroe County NOW, gave the introductions for Yoder, Jackson, and McCormick.

Also attending Saturday’s conference was Marc Carmichael, who is collecting signatures to appear on the 2024 ballot for the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. Senate. The required number of signatures is 500 from each of Indiana’s nine congressional districts.

Introducing Thomson was Natalia Galvan, who is racial justice coordinator for Indiana NOW, and communications director for Monroe County NOW.

Who’s not talking?

Thomson reprised some of the themes from her successful mayoral campaign. About her three sons, Thomson said, “It has been part of my life’s mission to raise sons who really contribute to the world, who understand that it is important to listen as much as they speak.” She continued, “It’s important to sit around tables and notice who’s not talking.”

About the people who are not talking while at the table, Thomas said, “Those are often the people who have incredible ideas—and just aren’t finding the space to share it.”

Thomson also called for looking beyond the crowd that’s at the table: “We need to start looking not at who’s already at the table, and who already is in power, because we have found our feet.”

Thomson continued, saying: “We may be most comfortable talking to the other electeds. And we may be most comfortable talking to the big names we know.” She added, “But our most important work is to talk to the women and the boys who have not yet found their voice to speak up for the things that are really going to create a better world.”

The two elected members of Indiana’s General Assembly each described their frustration about introducing bills that never got a hearing in their assigned committee—because all the committee chairs are controlled by the Republican Party.

Carolyn Jackson represents state house District 1 in the northwest corner of the state.

The Pelvic Bill

Jackson recounted introducing a bill for the first time in 2021 [HB 1012], which is described in its synopsis like this: “Prohibits health practitioners and other specified individuals from performing pelvic examinations on an anesthetized or unconscious patient except in specified circumstances.”

Jackson said she introduced the bill after hearing from a doctor who told her about the practice in some teaching hospitals of subjecting patients who are under anesthesia to pelvic exams done by medical students and residents.

The doctor’s description made her recall when her son, now 42 years old, was in the hospital as a child with pneumonia in the intensive care unit. She left the room briefly and when she returned, there was a group of doctors and residents standing around her son’s bed. “He was sitting there with his little tiny hands, and he said: ‘No, don’t touch me, you’re not my doctor!’”

Jackson continued, “They looked at me as if to say, ‘Well, Mama, aren’t you going to say it’s OK?’ And I’m like: ‘No, I’m not! He said don’t touch him!’”

Based on that experience, Jackson said, “If you are not hearing people, when they are telling you no and they are awake, you certainly are not going to hear them when you have put them to sleep.”

The legislation that Jackson calls “the pelvic bill” did not get a committee hearing in 2021. The next year, Jackson said, she introduced a similar bill [HB 1381], but with some additional coverage. She put it like this: “I put a little twist to the bill. I filed the same bill, but this time I did it for rectal exams.” That meant it affected men as well as women.

The bill still did not get a committee hearing in 2022, nor did it get a hearing in 2023 [HB 1139]. But Jackson said she would be filing the same bill in 2024.

Menstrual Blood Collection Devices 

Shelli Yoder, who represents state senate District 40, covering most of Monroe County, described how she is planning to file a bill in 2024 to repeal the state’s ban on most abortions, enacted as SB 1 in a 2022 special session.

That’s even though she filed a bill in 2023 that would have repealed much of SB 1 [SB 311 ] and it did not get a hearing.

In 2024, each senator will be allotted only five bills to file, Yoder said. So she asked her constituents if they wanted her to use up one of her five bills with the futile effort to repeal SB1. “Loud and clear you absolutely wanted me to file the repeal of Senate Bill 1,” she said.

Yoder told the group about another bill that she’s going to file next year, which she also filed this year, and the year before.  The bill she filled in the 2023 session [SB 259] and in in the 2022 session [SB 169 ] would have removed the 7-percent state sales tax from “feminine hygiene products.”

A similar bill had been filed in the house during the 2020 and 2021 sessions [HB 1226 and HB 1273].

But in 2024 there will be a key vocabulary change.

Yoder’s 2024 bill will not call the items exempted from taxation “feminine hygiene products.” Instead they’ll be called what they actually are, Yoder said: “menstrual blood collection devices.”

Yoder got the desired choral response when she exhorted the conference attendees: “Say it with me: Menstrual. Blood. Collection. Devices!”

Calling tampons and pads “hygiene products” makes them sound like toothpaste and deodorant, Yoder said. “It is not deodorant. It is not toothpaste. Last I checked, you can absolutely go to school and go to work without using deodorant and toothpaste.”

It’s not an option for those who menstruate to go to school or work without menstrual blood collection devices, Yoder said.

According to the fiscal impact statement for the 2023 bill, the state would lose about $4.1 million in revenue if the state’s 7-percent sales tax were not collected on menstrual blood collection devices.

The products just manage the fact that “every 28 days, we bleed,” Yoder said, adding that “the fact that the state of Indiana builds an economy off of those taxes is downright gross—blood money.”

We are going to win

When it was her turn to take the mic, Republican-turned-Democrat Jennifer McCormick, who’s looking to become the next governor of Indiana, picked up on the remarks of Yoder and Jackson. They had said that there is no “playbook” for running and winning as a Democrat in the state of Indiana.

When she ran successfully as a Republican for Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, in November 2016, McCormick said, she had a playbook. “I did have a playbook—because they gave me one. Let that sink in.” McCormick continued, “I was a first-time statewide candidate. They said you’re going to win, open your [playbook]. And we’re going to fund it.”

Yoder and Jackson were right about the Democrats not having a playbook, Jackson said. “There is no playbook—shame on us! Shame on us—because we’re up against a machine that has a playbook, and a funded way to get there.”

But McCormick kicked out of her Saturday stump speech pretty much the same way she started: “I am Jennifer McCormick, I am running for governor. And we—we are going to win!”

Photos: 2023 Indiana State NOW Conference