How one state trained generations of women for political careers

When it comes to helping women build careers in politics, some states do better than others. For more than two decades, women in Indiana have been getting their first taste of public service through the Lugar Series.

What we have learned here in Indiana is that we can do so much to expand the ranks of women leaders in politics, especially on the Republican side of the aisle, through a combination of outreach and engagement. I know those words have become deflated talking points, but the Lugar Series has been instrumental in creating an environment where women step up to serve when called on. We have the proof to make the case that it works and aren't interested in stopping anytime soon.

On Oct. 22, the program will launch its 24th class.

When it was first founded nearly 25 years ago by former Sen. Dick Lugar (R), Judy Singleton and Teresa Lubbers, the Richard G. Lugar Excellence is Public Service Series, as the program is formally known, was a visionary undertaking. Today, almost a quarter-century later, 421 Hoosier women have graduated from the Lugar Series and put the skills and lessons they learned during the programs' panels, presentations and discussions to work in the public and private sector.

During the tenure of former Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) alone over 125 Lugar Series women served on his staff or on an appointed Board or Commission. Yes, over one-quarter of the total program graduates made their mark in a single gubernatorial administration. And that trend continues.

The administration of Gov. Mike Pence (R) is full of Lugar Series women. Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann (R) is a graduate of the program, as is her chief of staff, Tonya Brothers-Bridge. Alum and board member Brenda Gerber is chief of staff to First Lady Karen Pence. Anita Samuel is director of the state's Department of Personnel. State Rep. Wendy McNamara (R) is in her second term representing the people of southwestern Indiana and Lindsay Jancek is director of communications for the Republican majority in the state Senate, to name just a few.

Needless to say, one need not look far to find Lugar Series success stories within the highest levels of Indiana's state government.

What each of these women already knows is that getting into the Lugar Series is a competitive and grueling process that involves an extensive application and one 15-minute interview with the selection committee. Of the 50 or so applicants for each year's class, only twenty are selected to travel to Indianapolis one day each month to participate in 10 nine-hour sessions where speakers from government, politics and the media volunteer their time to educate and share personal experiences to help groom the candidates, campaign staff and public servants sitting right in front of them.

We even take the show on the road, so to speak, with an annual trip to Washington, D.C., easily the highlight of each class. There the women are given a ringside seat to watch the federal government at work as they meet with members of Congress, lobbyists and think tank leaders as well as compare notes with the women from the twelve active Lugar Series-type groups around the country.

Sitting in the same room with all those women each year gives me a sense of optimism for the future of our country, and especially my state where we have made great strides in recent years.

In addition to the Lugar Series specific successes outlined above, Hoosiers have a number of women serving them in high elected office including Connie Lawson (R), our secretary of state and Lugar Series Board of Governors member, and two members of the House of Representatives – Reps. Jackie Walorski (R) and Susan Brooks (R). Already both women have taken on leadership roles in introducing major legislation and serving as messengers on major initiatives. 

Republican women mayors are also leading the cities of Cannelton, Columbus, Garrett, Kendallville, LaPorte, Ligonier and Montpelier.  

So if there is one single lesson from the past quarter century of the Lugar Series it's this: Pick up the phone and call a promising female leader in your community and ask, "How can I help?"  You may be surprised by the answer.

Anne Hathaway is president of Indianapolis-based Hathaway Strategies and serves as Executive Director of the Richard G. Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series.  She formerly served as Chief of Staff of the Republican National Committee.

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