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Monday, April 12, 2021

Republicans could appoint first Black woman to state Senate

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One of the candidates running to replace recently retired state Sen. Jim Merritt could become the first Black female Republican to serve in the Indiana Senate.

Tiffanie Ditlevson, a realtor, is trying to replace Merritt in District 31, which includes Lawrence, Fishers and Noblesville. The district is almost 75% white and about 13% Black.

Ditlevson, who lives in Fishers, hasn’t run for office before but cited her volunteer involvement — she’s vice president of the Catholic Charities board and served on a parent organization at her daughter’s school — as reasons she would make a good state legislator. She is also an Air Force combat veteran and said that experience could help her work for the greater good in a district that includes Marion and Hamilton counties.

Republican precinct committee members will caucus at 6 p.m. Nov. 15 to decide who fills Merritt’s seat, which is up for election in 2022. Watch a livestream of the caucus on Facebook.

Ditlevson, 47, started seriously considering politics in late May because of the racial justice protests in Indianapolis. She was friends with Chris Beaty, the former Indiana University football player who was shot and killed during one of the first nights of protest. There were fears of “rioters and looting” coming to Fishers, Ditlevson said.

There’s no mistaking Ditlevson’s conservatism — she was proud to be an overseas absentee voter in Florida for George W. Bush in the 2000 election — but there are also times when she talks in ways that would probably remind people more of a Democrat.

Racial justice protests didn’t just spring up from nowhere, she said, because economic disparities and distrust of police were contributing factors. Part of what she would like to do as a lawmaker is add curriculum to drivers education to teach people “how to survive traffic stops.”

One person supporting Ditlevson is Elder Frank Coleman, who recently moved out of District 31 and is part of Rock Community Church, which is a couple of blocks east of the district boundary on 71st Street.

Coleman, a Republican, said Ditlevson going to the state Senate would be a win for conservatives and people of faith, as well as young girls and minorities.

“It will say to them that the Republican Party is serious about diversity in Indiana,” he said.

Ditlevson applied for the Indiana Republican Diversity Series, launched by the Indiana GOP earlier this year, and said she’s waiting to hear back. (The first class is scheduled for early December and will run through July 2021.)

In Indiana, where 10% of people are Black or African American, only 1% of those who identify as Republican are Black, according to Pew Research Center.

Ditlevson downplayed the significance of potentially being the first Black female Republican in the state Senate and said every mother should be a conservative Republican.

“It saddens me a little bit that I could be the first because I know I’m not the only brown woman in Indiana who thinks the way I do,” she said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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