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Indiana’s first Black governor?

State Senator Eddie Melton announces exploratory committee

By Erick Johnson

State Senator Eddie Melton on Tuesday, June 4 announced that he is exploring a bid to run for Indiana governor in 2020, hoping to do what no Democrat has done in the last 16 years in the predominately Republican state.

With less than a year before the primary, Melton made the announcement to a thunderous crowd during a packed press conference at the Gary Teachers Union Local 4 headquarters, just west of downtown Gary.

Melton came out swinging, emphasizing education and raising teachers’ pay as two of his biggest campaign goals. He also stressed improving health care, raising Indiana’s $7.25 minimum wage and protecting abortion rights.

With school districts in Gary, East Chicago and Hammond struggling, education and the future of Indiana’s youth were the biggest part of Melton’s 10-minute speech. His wife Crystal, and their four children stood next to Melton as he made his announcement.

He took swipes at Governor Eric Holcomb, accusing him of arranging closed-door deals with the Teachers Pay Commission without teachers in on the discussions.

“Too often we have seen legislation gutted, ideas rejected and voices silenced in favor of backroom deals. I firmly believe that our budget is a reflection of our values. For example, Indiana is ranked dead last in teachers’ salaries and 49th in student spending, yet we have a $2 billion surplus.

“No investment is more important than our students. Education is the bedrock of our community and the future of our economy. In order for us to advance the goals and dreams of our children that we all have shared, we must come together as Hoosiers from across the entire state.”

Melton shared a portion of his life story as one that shaped him to be a public servant.

Born and raised in Gary to a working class family, Melton graduated from Horace Mann Senior High and attended Kentucky State before leaving school to help his parents financially. His father earned a Purple Heart after serving in the Vietnam War. Melton eventually went back to school and earned his bachelor’s degree at Calumet College at St. Joseph.

A former member of the State Board of Education, Melton, 38, supported and advocated for Gary’s struggling school district as dwindling enrollment, shrinking property taxes and a $103 million debt threatened the future of thousands of students. Against the wishes of Melton and other Black lawmakers, the state stripped academic and financial control of the Gary School Board and appointed an emergency manager.

Melton also called for better treatment of military veterans and more transparency in the way their needs are served.

“We must restore trust in our Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure every single veteran receives the treatment and benefits that they fought for and deserve,” Melton said.

In 2016, Melton was elected State Senator of the 3rd District, succeeding veteran politician Earline Rogers. In his freshman term, Melton quickly emerged as a tough, outspoken lawmaker, whose critical support of a successful gaming bill allowed Spectacle Entertainment to move its casinos from Buffington Harbor to boost visibility and revenues.

Professionally, Melton serves as manager for corporate citizenship and community relations for NIPSCO. Melton is also involved with former President Barack Obama’s My Brothers’ Keeper initiative to help young Black males overcome poverty and social obstacles to become productive adults.

Melton is the first potential opponent to challenge Holcomb, who has not indicated whether he will seek re-election. A poll in January showed that 50 percent of Hoosiers approved of Holcomb’s leadership as governor compared with 22 percent who dislike him.

Indiana is a largely Republican state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since Joseph E. Kernan won in 2003.

Melton is not allowing the statistics and Indiana conservative voters to phase him. The ambitious politician believes he can make history by becoming the first Black governor in Indiana’s 203-year history.

Melton plans to embark on a listening tour across the state, with stops in Northwest Indiana, Hobart, Merrillville, Lake Station and New Chicago. On Monday, June 10, Melton is scheduled to speak at a Gary Chamber of Commerce lunch at the Majestic Star Casino.


CORRECTION: This story initially reported incorrectly that Melton graduated from Roosevelt High School. He did not. 

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