By and large our elected officials don’t represent the demographics of Southern Indiana when it comes to a proportional number of women and people of color holding office.
Looking at our largest cities and entities, out of 24 positions combined for the New Albany and Jeffersonville city councils, and the Floyd County and Clark County commissioners, only two are held by women.
Women account for 51.2% of Clark County’s population and 51.4% of Floyd County’s, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But when it comes to shaping policies and having a vote on issues, they account for about 10 percent of the elected positions on the aforementioned governing bodies. The mayors of New Albany and Jeffersonville are white men.
Of those 24 positions referenced, three are held by black men. In Clark County, 8.1% of the population is black, and 5.5% is hispanic. For Floyd County, 5.5% of the population is black, and 3.4% is hispanic.
The ratios improve when considering the county councils, at least as it pertains to women. The Clark County Council has three women among its seven members. Two of the seven Floyd County Council members are women.
Clearly there’s a lack of representation for women and people of color in these key leadership positions, but that doesn’t mean the white men who hold the majority of these seats aren’t fit for the job. My general experience from covering these two counties is that they are blessed with officeholders who work hard and want what’s best for their communities. Of course, we often differ on what we believe is best, but that’s a different discussion.
This column isn’t intended to tell you that white men aren’t fit to lead, or that a person should just be elected because of their race or gender. We should select the best candidates, but I fear we’re not getting enough diversity in our selections.
A major part of that problem falls on us, the voters. Our turnout numbers show we have largely checked-out on our responsibilities. It’s easy to blame the system when you haven’t tried to change it through participation. We need people from all walks of life to run for office, to vote in elections and to stay informed about the actions of their elected leaders.
Frankly, many of the problems we spend all day arguing about on Facebook could be solved, or at least improved upon, through voting and through holding elected officials accountable. Those problems are also why we need more diversity in government.
Councils largely hold the pursestrings to budgets. A mayor can win an election, but he still largely needs a municipal council to approve budgetary recommendations. Budgets include spending for public safety, which is obviously a hot topic with protesters calling for reform in police spending and procedures. That’s why voting in local elections matters.
Police treatment of black people has been at the heart of the demonstrations, so wouldn’t it make sense to have more black people on city councils to provide input and make decisions on how taxpayer dollars should be spent when it comes to public safety?
Some believe we should be color blind, but this philosophy ignores reality. I, a white man, will likely have a different view of many issues than a white woman. A white woman and a white man will not be able to relate to the experiences of a black man or a black woman when it comes to racism. That’s why diversity is important — it brings different perspectives to the table.
Let’s not pass the buck. We also need more people of color in our newsrooms. In 15 years of full-time journalism, I’ve worked with very few black people. This has an effect on what news is published, regardless of our intentions.
We’ll learn rather quickly how much of an impact protests and calls for equality have on the process. Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Kentucky pits Charles Booker, a black man who is considered progressive, against more of a centrist white woman in Amy McGrath.
Most thought McGrath would win the Democratic Senate nomination easily up until two weeks ago. The protests have spurred Booker back into contention. Will Kentucky voters choose a black man to run against Mitch McConnell?
Regardless of who wins the Democratic nod, there’s potential for a historic moment. Kentucky has only elected white men as senators. McGrath or Booker could make history by upsetting McConnell, though most would say it’s an extreme long shot.
Though the top of the ticket features two older white men running for President, there are other races locally, statewide and nationally that could provide great insight into whether or not the electorate favors more diversity in the system.
Already marred by a pandemic, protests and record unemployment, could this year be remembered for the positives of increased voter turnout and better representation of our demographics in our elected offices? It’s ultimately up to you.