I was recently invited to attend a conference for the College Democrats of Indiana (CDIN). CDIN is a group of college students across the state who are interested in politics and who support the Democratic party. At the conference, I had the opportunity to meet students who are passionate about government and politics. I also heard several speakers discuss utilizing social media, volunteering for campaigns, fundraising, and the future of the Democratic party. State Representative Christina Hale, from Indianapolis, is the Honorary Chairperson of CDIN. She spoke at the conference, and afterwards, she sat down with me to talk more about what she hopes to accomplish during 2016.
Representative Hale has experience working around the globe, and she first ran for office when she realized that she wanted to have a positive impact, not only around the world, but also on her own community. She became involved with CDIN around the same time she first ran for office in 2012. She hopes to inspire young people to question policies and candidates, to be involved in campaigns when possible, and to vote. She wants to see young democrats holding candidates accountable and voicing their opinions on issues. She would like to see democrats having fun and staying positive as they work in politics. In terms of volunteering and being involved, Representative Hale asks young democrats to volunteer with local and state level elections. She believes one can gain valuable experience when helping with these elections. Hale hopes that young democrats will be able to run for office sooner rather than later, and she wants to see the state legislature become younger and more diverse.
During the interview, Representative Hale discussed growing jobs in the state. She said that, while Governor Pence states that Indiana has more jobs now than in 2008, the jobs pay much less. “We have more jobs that pay less. That’s a problem. Our per capita income relative to other states has been on the decline since 1962. Household income since the early 2000’s. We’ve got to stop that trend. Attracting and growing the kinds of jobs that will support good salaries is key.” She thinks it’s not only important to increase the number of traditional office jobs, but also to increase jobs in advanced manufacturing. “I think that we need to put in conversation local businesses, local educators, chambers of commerce, economic development professionals, and everyone who has a stake in keeping the economic health of regions alive.”
Hale coauthored a bill that would consider economic development by regions rather than cities. She believes this would ensure that cities within regions aren’t competing for opportunities, and would enable people to better forecast the future of key industries. She hopes this would, in turn, allow people to finish school prepared for available jobs.
Along with discussing job growth in Indiana, Hale also expressed concerns for our state’s infrastructure, as many of Indiana’s roads and bridges are crumbling, and there is a lack of funding to support them. “We capped property taxes in recent years, but we didn’t replace the revenue that municipalities used to receive from those taxes. So municipalities are having trouble paying for basic services.” Also, a portion of the gas tax has shifted from being used to improve roads and bridges to funding healthcare. One proposal increases the gas tax, but Hale questions whether this is an adequate solution. “When you consider raising our gas tax, cars and motor vehicles are more efficient and using less gas than ever before. So when that model used to work in the past, it doesn’t work now. And we’re not even considering the fact that we have more and more hybrid and electric vehicles on the road.” She believes that fixing the infrastructure requires an adjusted mindset and likely an overhaul of the tax code to fit this new normal in transportation. “It’s clear that how we move people around will change over time, so we need to change our mindframe and likely our tax code along with that.”
Representative Hale gained a unique global perspective when she was working around the world. She experienced many different cultural norms that gave her a different outlook on the challenges faced by our state. For example, her opinion on education was shaped by her experience in Wales. She was shocked when teachers at her son’s school informed her that he needed remedial classes. She realized that children in the United Kingdom started learning to read and attending school much earlier than in the United States. She now has been working to lower the compulsory starting age, and she believes making affordable early childhood education available is extremely important.
During her talk with the college democrats, Hale discussed gun violence. She acknowledged that accomplishing much in terms of stricter gun control would be difficult this year. She told the group that the best way to work against gun violence is to speak out and talk to one’s representative.
Representative Hale also mentioned some of the bills that she has been working on recently. Currently in Indiana if one is raped or sexually assaulted on a college campus, one reports the incident to the victims’ advocate on campus. Information reported to the victims’ advocate is not confidential. “Anything the victim reports becomes part of the public record, it becomes discoverable by the court. So, if I’m telling my story to the victims advocate, I’m probably assuming,that like speaking to my attorney or my medical provider, that it’s confidential information, but it isn’t. So, I want to change that. I want to know that if I’m reporting a crime, it won’t be used against me in court.”
As a democrat in the House of Representatives, Hale is currently in the minority party. When trying to get bills passed and work accomplished, Hale emphasized the importance of having strong relationships with one’s colleagues.She noted the necessity of gaining the trust of one’s colleagues. She also mentioned that she thinks it is important to be an advocate for her bills and to talk with the chairpeople of committees about getting important bills on the agenda. “There are so many bills filed that chairs don’t always have time to read them all. There’s a deficit of time. So getting to those chairpeople early, once they’ve learned to trust you, personally and professionally, helps a great deal.”
The last question I asked Representative Hale was about what she feels are the most important issues that need to be addressed in the coming year. If she could magically accomplish any one thing, she stated that she would like to fix problems with addiction. She feels that our state is not making enough headway to fix problems due to addiction. She believes that issues such as low paying jobs and poor education compound to feed this problem. Also, she does not think there are enough resources available to effectively deal with the problem. If she had the capability, Hale also stated that she would like to inform everyone in the state on the important challenges that Indiana is facing. Practically, Hale mentioned three issues she would like to see the legislature solve this year. Firstly, she would like to see our state accomplish equality for all people. Secondly, she would like to secure funding for the public infrastructure. Thirdly, she would like to see the legislature come together to work on the challenges the state’s education system is facing. (She would like to see a more productive grading system for teachers and schools. She wants to see students graduating with a credential that will help them to succeed.)
I really appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to attend the conference and interview Representative Hale. Representative Hale was very knowledgeable about the issues, and she is committed to improving the state. I look forward to seeing what Representative Hale, the state legislature, and CDIN are able to accomplish in 2016.