Indiana State Senate candidate J.D. Ford is looking to bring not just one, but several voices to the Indiana Statehouse in 2018. Ford embodies a couple of things Indiana politicians aren’t known for. He’s young (born in 1982, making him an Old Millennial), he’s a Democrat and he’s an out gay man.
If elected to represent District 29, which includes parts of Zionsville and Whitestown, he would be the first out member of the Indiana Statehouse.
Here, he talks about his previous run against incumbent State Sen. Mike Delph, the issues he’s passionate about and the ways he plans to shake up the current state of Indiana politics.
Are you originally from Indiana?
I was born in Youngstown, Ohio, and I grew up there. I graduated from the University of Akron in 2005 with bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and political science, and two minors in pre-law and conflict management. Then my first job out of college was working for Theta Chi Fraternity International Headquarters, located in Indianapolis. I was assigned a region, and my job was moving around the country to check up on the chapters. That’s how I landed here in Indy. I fell in love with central Indiana and Indianapolis and the suburbs. I even bought a house, put some roots down in Central Indiana.
What got you interested in politics?
Running for office was not something that I really always wanted to do. It had crossed my mind, I guess. Both my grandparents were elected officials. My maternal grandfather was a city councilman. My dad’s mom was a city auditor.
When I was a little boy I would go to the grocery store or bank and see neighbors and everyday people come up to them and say ‘thank you for your help on this issue.’ I really felt that was such a cool and noble thing they were involved with. I think that kind of lead to me studying political science.
So why, in 2014, did you decide to run for state senate against incumbent State Sen. Mike Delph?
I just felt like Indiana needed some leadership. I went down to the statehouse, just curious to see state government in action. I just wanted to see what was going on, look at some of the issues. Myself, I fall in that millennial generation. I was born in 1982, and I saw — no offense to the grey hairs — but there’s a lot of issues that directly affect my generation and my children’s generation.
I felt compelled that we need some good fresh ideas, we need a millennial in the state senate. I followed Delph through the election in 2014 and leading up to it. I really didn’t feel like he was an effective legislator. I didn’t feel like he was reaching out to his constituents. I attended one of his town halls, and I got a sense that he’s a senator and we’re just the constituents and he knows best and we don’t know what’s going on.
At end of the day, I believe we as citizens elect representatives to go down to state senate, so they need to hear us. That’s when I decided wanted to run against him.
You lost the 2014 election to Delph by about 2,300 votes. How did you come back from that loss?
When I lost in 2014 I really felt like I didn’t want people to see me as a sore loser. I’ve stayed involved since then. People joke with me, they say, “You’re still running for office.” I just wanted voters to know I wasn’t going to be a sore loser, I wasn’t going to pack up the tent or take my ball home. I was going to continue to work hard. I’ve done community clean-ups and other volunteer opportunities. I really wanted to show people I love this community so much and I wasn’t going give up on it. The tagline to my campaign is “serving our community.”
What will you change for your 2018 campaign? Has the current political climate had any impact on the way you campaign?
I don’t think much has changed in the political climate. I think Hoosiers are tired of the Mike Pence, Mike Delph style of hyper-partisan politics. It’s gridlock and it doesn’t get much done in our state. I wanted to run again because I was so close last time, and because I had multiple people reach out and say I should do this again. I was really honored.
Part of my strategy is to double everything I did last time. Initially we knocked on 40,000 doors. I was out knocking on doors until 6 p.m. on election day. This time I’ve publicly stated we will knock on 60,000 doors. We’ve already started. We announced back in June and we’ve been full steam ahead since then.
If elected, you would be the first out gay member of the Indiana General Assembly. How does it feel to know that?
I would be very honored and humbled to be the first in Indiana. In 2017, almost ‘18, to not have somebody as an out serving member is truly disheartening to me because it shows me we need that representation at the statehouse and don’t have it. We need more women and more minorities as well. I think the general assembly should look like what the Indiana population looks like, and that’s not what it looks like currently.
I think we’re going to start seeing more of that happen across the U.S. and I would love to be part of that history here in Indiana.
What are the top issues you will focus on in your campaign and at the statehouse, if you are elected?
I stand for the five E’s: the first is education, the second is economy, the third is elections, the fourth is equality and the fifth is environment.
I’m a huge proponent of public schools. Indiana is leading the nation in expansion of charter schools, but I don’t necessarily think charter expansion is the best way in that it takes away public dollars to public schools.
Republicans kind of tout the state’s economy as good business climate, but I would say you need people in that business to make it work. We’ve got to talk about quality of life here in Indiana. Another issue is the closure of bricks-and-mortar stores. I would focus on workforce development and retraining employees. I think that’s critical.
I think redistricting is a huge piece of elections. What people need to understand is this is not just a Democrat issue or a Republican issue. Another part is campaign finance reform. I want dark money out of politics. Another piece is having access to the ballot box.
Being the first out serving member of the general assembly is important, especially after the RFRA (religious freedom restoration act) debacle that cost the state thousands and thousands of dollars. Electing me would be a good welcome sign for other people thinking about moving here to Indiana to show them we are welcoming. I’ll work for workplace protections and housing protections. I want to make sure people feel safe where they live. I would also join State Sen. Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) in supporting the hate crimes bill.
Indiana ranks at the very bottom of environmental friendliness. If we’re going to attract people to live in this state, we have to think about what we’re doing to the environment, to our water, to our trees. When people aren’t at work, we want them to be outside.
Reading national news it can feel like bipartisanism has all but disappeared from politics. Is reaching across the aisle important to you?
For me, I know that I’ll be forced to take votes that may make the Republicans angry or that may make Democrats angry. But for me it’s not about serving the Republicans or Democrats. It’s about serving people that live in my district. I’m willing to work with anybody, really, if they have a good idea and it’s in the best interest of District 29.
This hyper-partisan climate we see ourselves in is because nobody wants to compromise. People say if you’re willing to compromise you don’t really stand for something. I disagree with that. I think that’s how we get things done. We need to get to know each other better on personal levels. Once we get know where the other side is coming from, we can work with them better.