By Giavonni Nickson
Senator Eddie Melton is in the running to become the first African American governor in Indiana’s 203-year history. Melton has officially entered the race with plans to bring a new voice and strong vision to Indiana.
Earlier this year Senator Melton launched an exploratory committee to weigh his bid for Indiana Governor in 2020. Tuesday, October 8, 2019 at the newly remodeled Gary Public Library, Melton made the formal announcement to join the race to be the 52nd Governor of Indiana.
Melton is the 3rd Democrat to join a field vying for the Democratic nomination to face Governor Eric Holcomb. Holcomb officially declared his bid for a second term July 13.
Melton’s mother, wife Crystal, and three of their four children sat front row as Melton made his announcement. As a proud father, he gleamed about their oldest child being away at college.
Indiana State House Representatives Robin Shackleford, Cherrish Pryor, Earl L. Harris Jr., Dr. Vernon G. Smith, and Ragen Hatcher joined State Senator Lonnie M. Randolph, North Township Trustee Frank J. Mrvan, and a crowd of Melton supporters anxiously awaiting the announcement.
Melton unveiled his plan to raise the minimum wage and teacher pay, invest in education, and ensure all Hoosiers have access to affordable, quality healthcare. Tuesday night Melton said he has a new vision for Indiana and pledged to fight to preserve democracy.
Throughout the night applause rang high and seemingly bounced off the walls. Melton supporter Kathy Kelly said, “He has the courage to stand up to make a difference when he sees things not being done right.”
“I am very excited. He has a great track record of being able to move across the aisle. I think that’s what we really need to move our state forward,” said Community Builder Jessica Renslo.
Melton, born and raised in Gary, credits his success to football, faith, and family. His mother proudly raised her hand in the front row when Melton acknowledged her exemplary work ethics. She retired from the steel mill and his father, who retired from the railroad, earned a purple heart and silver star while serving in Vietnam.
After college Melton returned to Gary to help normalize the transition from high school to college for at-risk youths by helping them figure out a game plan for their future.
One of his mentees, recent IUN graduate Alice Gallegos, took the podium Tuesday night. “Senator Melton has always been a positive role model. I believe he will fulfill the goals he has for the State of Indiana through his commitment, hard work, and dedication,” said Gallegos.
As a pilot group member of the IN-Power Youth Mentoring Program, Gallegos saw Melton work tirelessly connecting students with tutors and encouraging them not to give up. Melton created the program with a vision to help students gain college experience and college credit making academic success the norm.
Melton later realized he was being called to higher levels of service.
“In order to really set students up for success, I knew I had to do more so I ran for the statehouse,” said Melton.
In 2016, Melton was elected State Senator of the 3rd District, succeeding veteran politician Earline Rogers. Tuesday night Melton described being elected as one of the most humbling experiences of his life. “Every day I walk into the statehouse I am reminded of why I’m there and who I represent. I am reminded that we have to speak truth to power and fight for what’s right at all cost.”
Melton is certainly going to have to fight to do what no Democrat has done in the last 16 years in the predominantly Republican State of Indiana. Melton’s colleagues believe he has what it takes.
“As the chair of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, we are just thrilled and excited to be supporting such a dynamic colleague,” said State Representative Robin Shackleford. “We have a feeling that Eddie will be able to take this all the way. He represents the people, he is for the people.”
State Senator Lonnie M. Randolph asked a rhetorical question in support of Melton for governor. “What better catalyst to have to motivate our people, particularly from this region, than to have my colleague Senator Eddie Melton run for governor of the State of Indiana?
State Representative Earl L. Harris, Jr. said, “When you talk about winning and becoming the next governor of Indiana if it’s going to be a Democrat it has to be someone who has a Northwest Indiana connection. Eddie Melton has that.”
Senator Melton leveraged a bipartisan approach to extend the age for students to be identified for developmentally disabled opportunities, extended resources for special education and tutoring, and pushed innovation through the general assembly to allow Hoosiers to access their driver’s license through a mobile device.
In a speech Tuesday night Barbara Hargrove boasted about Melton in his journey from the elementary schoolhouse to the statehouse. Hargrove said, “I have followed him as State Senator and watched him not just fill the job as some do, but to run with it and explore all the ways he can make it better, not just his district, but for all Indiana residents, especially our children.” Hargrove was Melton’s art teacher at Jefferson School.
Melton attributes his success in the statehouse to his focus on intentionally working in a bipartisan fashion to get things accomplished in the general assembly.
“It takes intentionality to get things accomplished in the legislature. Often the work we are able to accomplish for the people is overshadowed by partisan politics driven by the party with the most political power. The dominance of a one-party rule constantly places us in a battle that requires Democrats to speak truth to power,” said Melton.
This session, the legislature passed two major economic development bills to allow Gary to move one of its casino licenses inland to I-80/94 and open Buffington Harbor for major development projects. These projects come because of a resolution Senator Melton passed last year to study economic development and job opportunities in the city.
If elected governor Melton plans to elevate the voices of the people that feel state government has left them behind and has failed to address the issues that matter to them the most.
During his address Tuesday night Melton cited Abraham Lincoln’s timeless words from the Gettysburg Address, “Sometimes we have to remind the powers that be that this is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We should never forget that,” said Melton.
Elected State Superintendent for the State of Indiana Dr. Jennifer McCormick offered full support of Melton while announcing him at the podium. According to McCormick, Melton exemplifies bipartisanship. She described his action-oriented approach to politics.
“From the beginning, he would come into our office in the Department of Education to ask questions, think, and then act,” said McCormick about Melton.
Melton took further action in extending an offer to collaborate with McCormick in launching a 19-city community listening tour across the state.
“I was thrilled that I had a Democrat from Gary, IN asking a Republican in Henry County and Delaware County to go across the state of Indiana together,” said McCormick.
Melton’s wife Crystal joined him on the tour and said, “It was great to meet so many Hoosiers and to really understand all of the issues they have throughout the state.”
After traveling thousands of miles Melton said, “I was reminded of how hard-working, passionate and proud Hoosiers are. I was also reminded that many communities are struggling across the state. People need leadership that cares about them and addresses the issues that matter to them the most.”
Indiana is currently ranked 7th worst in the nation with its infant mortality rate, 3rd worst with its maternal mortality rate, and 50th in teacher salary growth since 2002.
Melton plans to execute a new vision that will combat what he considers to be the failure of state house republicans.
Melton approached the state’s issues with civility and demonstrated courage to speak truth to power by calling out Gov. Holcomb during his address.
“Our current governor is campaigning on the slogan, putting people first.
Were people put first when the administration put a work requirement in the healthy Indiana plan? Jeopardizing healthcare for hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers, is that putting people first? Did he put people first when he signed a watered-down hate crime law?”
Some critics believe Melton is not ready to run for governor. According to Melton, “There is never a wrong time to do right. Now is the exact time for a governor that has lived and understands the challenges that Indiana faces and will face.”
Melton believes he can bring the change Hoosiers need.
“In January 2021 when I’m sworn into office, I will be a governor that works for all Hoosiers, not just a select few. I will be a governor that prioritizes healthcare, education, and making a livable wage in the State of Indiana. I will provide economic growth opportunities for all Hoosiers, not just a chosen few. I will be a governor that brings forth a unified vision for the future,” said Melton.
Melton summarized his plan in one sentence, “My game plan is to go to Indianapolis and bring home a win for Hoosier families.”
Giavonni is a passionate freelance writer native of Gary IN. She covers business, politics, and community schools for the Chicago/Gary Crusader.