As a child in the Martindale-Brightwood area, Dr. Woody Myers never thought he’d run for governor. Throughout his career as a physician and as health commissioner of both Indiana and New York, he’s no stranger to politics. Now, Myers – who is quick with a sports analogy – said he had to “move the ball up the court” and run for governor.
“I believe that we have to put people over politics,” Myers, 66, said. “If Indiana was a team … you would say the team needs a new coach, and a new playbook. ‘Good enough’ is no longer good enough for the state of Indiana, and I’m offering my services as the next coach for the state.”
Myers is the only Black man running for governor in the United States, and one of just two physicians. In the era of COVID-19 and social unrest, he doesn’t think his candidacy a coincidence. It’s a matter of fate.
“This is not something I aspired to do,” Myers said. “I was supposed to do this.”
Myers recalls his family history. His great-grandmother, Clara, was enslaved in Kentucky and was regularly assaulted by slave owner Joseph Myers, the candidate’s great-grandfather. Myers recalls Clara’s story and thinks about the state and country he wants to leave behind for his children and grandchildren.
“I think about what happened to [Clara] and all the men who had to witness that,” Myers said. “ … My life has been beautiful compared to what they went through. And if they had to go through all of that for me to be born and for me to be given an opportunity to help move things forward, I have to do that.”
A graduate of Stanford and Harvard universities, Myers was appointed Health Commissioner of Indiana by Gov. Robert Orr in 1985, where he served for five years.
Those achievements didn’t come without a fight.
In his latest advertisement, Myers recalls experiencing racism from patients, doctors and professors. As a medical student, he delivered babies at the border while white women had trained doctors. He fought for Ryan White, an AIDS patient, to be able to return to school.
As a candidate, Myers is taking what he learned from those experiences. Health care is a strong tenant of his campaign, especially with the pandemic still looming.
In his wheelhouse
Cordelia Lewis-Burks, the vice chair of the Indiana Democratic Party, believes Myers’ experience as a physician makes him a great choice for governor.
“As a doctor, he has a perfect opportunity to reach out to many of our citizens who are not able to get their health care needs taken care of,” Lewis-Burks, 83, said. “ … I’m endorsing him because I think he’s ready to lead Hoosiers.”
Myers isn’t happy with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s handling of COVID-19 and takes issue with Holcomb’s recent decision to reopen Indiana to Stage 5.
“It’s the absolute wrong thing to do,” Myers said. “And it’s a false statement that things are getting better. … Anyone who looks at the website sees this data, so why he would make this statement that’s this ludicrously wrong, I don’t know.”
Holly Lawson, Holcomb’s press secretary, responded to the Recorder’s request for comment, saying Holcomb is looking at the data and working with physicians to make his decisions on reopening.
“Woody Myers wants to shut down Indiana’s economy and arrest people for not wearing a mask,” Lawson said in a statement. “ … Together, we’ve made it to Stage 5 because of Hoosiers’ actions, and it’s those same actions that will keep Hoosiers safe and our economy open.”
Myers doesn’t call for Hoosiers to be arrested for not wearing a mask.
Myers hopes to use his expertise to lower the state’s infant and maternal mortality rate. While Indiana’s numbers are better than they have been in years, the state’s numbers are still one of the worst in the country.
According to Indiana’s Department of Health, the maternal mortality rate among white Hoosiers is 41.4 out of every 100,000 births. Black women in Indiana die at a rate of 53.4 out of every 100,000 births.
These racial disparities are another focus for Myers, who seeks to reform Indiana’s criminal justice system. That’s part of the reason Rep. Linda Lawson – Myers’ lieutenant governor pick – was an obvious choice.
Leveling the playing field
As a former police officer, Lawson knows the importance of having a strong police force. However, she’s also aware of the problems facing modern policing.
Lawson was the first woman to ever serve on the Hammond Police Department (HPD). She became an officer in 1976, following a two-year lawsuit for discrimination. The harassment, including having photos of female genitalia taped to the inside of her squad car, began soon after.
However, as a single mom of two toddlers, she wanted a pension and good health care. Lawson persevered, and eventually became captain of HPD before working in the state legislature. Lawson is using her experience to advocate for police reform.
“Do I know there are bad cops?” Lawson asked. “Yes, absolutely. Do I know there are good ones? Absolutely. … There needs to be changes made, and there is a happy medium that we can find.”
In his African American agenda, Myers hopes to create pathways for Black Hoosiers to acquire generational wealth and work with the medical community to help staff recognize cultural bias.
“There’s a lot of progress we can make, and I want to do that as your next governor,” Myers said.
Down to the wire
With less than 30 days left before the election, Myers is hopeful he could win.
A poll conducted by Change Research in September found Holcomb had a six-point lead over Myers, down from a 20-point lead in April.
“The issues are too important for me to retire or do anything else. … I’m under no illusion that I can fix all our problems in a four-year term,” Myers said. “But I’m going to put a big dent in it … It’ll be up to [the next] generation to take the ball I hand to you and run it down the field, just like my great-grandmother did for me.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.
To learn more about the Woody Myers campaign, visit drwoodymyers.com