Black Democrats being elected mayor in Indiana is nothing new. But a Black Republican being elected mayor in Indiana? That was unprecedented – until now.
The City of Marion, Indiana, is home to 28,030 people. Seventy-six percent of them are White and 14.6 percent are Black. And on January 1, 2024, when Ronald Morrell, Jr. is sworn in as mayor, they will for the first time have a Black mayor. His oath of office will also make him the first Black Republican mayor elected in Indiana history.
Witnessing an occasion such as this was not the goal of the Indiana Republican Diversity Leadership Series, which I founded, but it is proof of concept that when Republicans engage in a meaningful way, Republicans win.
The seeds of the Diversity Series were planted at our 2018 State Convention when I challenged our delegates to grow the party:
“Democrats have mentored minorities and brought them into the ranks of party leadership. This places them in positions where they are regularly in communication with these communities, and unfortunately regularly telling them why they should distrust and dislike us. This has to change. We have to take a different and contrasting message to these urban and minority Hoosiers and we have to follow it up with action.”
The initial concept behind the program was straightforward yet ambitious: to establish genuine relationships with minority communities; provide them with true and consistent access to party leadership; impart wisdom and offer meaningful guidance and mentoring; and equip them with the tools needed to make a significant impact in the political arena.
To do this, we hired Whitley Yates, the Indiana Republican Party’s first ever Director of Diversity and Engagement. We assembled an initial cohort of twenty from across the state and brought them monthly to Indianapolis for a year where they learned the nuts of bolts of campaigning, but also the soft skills of networking and relationship building. All of this is done in what we believe is a very unique environment.
Political rooms can be sterile and stuffy. We intentionally make every effort to avoid that by cultivating an environment in which authenticity is rewarded and no question is off limits. Not only is this beneficial for class members but it’s liberating for our guests whether it be a Governor or a campaign consultant. We’ve seen firsthand how these conversations, once out-of-reach for class members, have inspired them to volunteer for and donate to campaigns and run for office themselves.
The accelerated pace of outcomes for members of the first three Diversity Series classes speaks volumes about the power of this model. Ideologically these Republicans were already with us. They were voting for Republicans and quietly encouraging their friends and family to vote for Republicans too. But finding acceptance within the Republican Party and securing opportunities was elusive.
That changed with Morrell. And with Tiffanie Ditlevson, a Fishers City Councilwoman-elect. Both took the tools and experiences provided by the Diversity Series and aggressively employed those in their communities to secure victory and will again in how they govern and lead.
The success story in Indiana should not stay in Indiana. State Republican parties should throw open the door to access and opportunity for minority conservatives. And when they do, these individuals will not only come forward but will actively engage in politics and government, become agents of change in and around their communities, and make a lasting impact that will be felt for years to come. The Triumph of Marion was deemed beyond reach and nothing but a nice-sounding dream. But it is proof that diversity within the party is not just a buzzword. It is our strategic advantage.
The question now stands: Will the Republican Party fully grasp this momentum? The answer is crucial for the party’s future. If Republicans seize and act swiftly, they may find themselves on the cusp of a historic realignment, with minority communities prepared to help build majorities and the lasting conservative change we crave. The time to act is now, and the stakes are nothing short of transformative.
Kyle Hupfer is the former Chair of the Indiana Republican Party and former General Counsel of the Republican National Committee.
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