Shelli Yoder decided to run for the House of Representatives while sitting in her kitchen, watching the congressional debates for her district in 2010. One of the candidates said he didn’t believe in climate change. All it took was that statement to motivate Yoder. She decided that if that candidate won, she’d run against him in 2012.
Yoder’s brave and brash entrance into public service had less to do with her own desire to run for office than her belief that Congress needed diverse voices, and unfortunately in 2012, no one stepped up.
“I laughed and said, ‘I’m waiting to see a woman. A woman needs to run and there are awesome women in this district. I just want to see a diverse candidate,’” Yoder said, recalling a conversation with her husband days before she filed to run for Congress.
“At this point, they were just pretty much all the same age, all white, all male. So the day before the deadline, that person never filed.”
Yoder then strived to become the candidate she wished she had seen run, a candidate who knew the people she would be representing, who had experienced financial hardships. A first generation college student, Yoder worked and competed in beauty pageants to win scholarship money so she could go to school. Not only did she compete in pageants but she was extremely successful, and was named Miss Indiana and was the second runner-up for Miss America in 1993.
These combined experiences made Yoder a prime candidate to give the Crawford Lecture in the Commons on Oct. 26, where she discussed her experiences both as a candidate and a woman, and encouraged young women to support other women or run for office themselves.
Balancing school, pageants, service and a second job caused Yoder to develop an impressive work ethic, which would surely serve her well both during her campaigns and life in general.
“It’s amazing what we can take on if we sort of keep our head down and work hard.” Yoder said.
“I would say it did not give me the opportunity to have your typical college experience that I see so many other students have, and that’s a really important experience as well, but it’s just a matter of need. For me, I needed to be able to pay for school, so I made it work.”
Running as a Democrat able to relate to the struggles many families in Indiana face contributed to Yoder’s success in winning the primary election in 2012. However, when it came to the general, district lines became a looming obstacle. Though Yoder led a competitive campaign, the district leaned right, making it an uphill battle to actually win the seat.
“Gerrymandering has not done Indiana any favors, and gerrymandering has not done democracy any favors,” Yoder said.
Between the polarized districts and social media, the atmosphere surrounding public office has become increasingly toxic. However, in a country where women and minority voices are underrepresented and where, according to Politico, women are less likely to decide to run for office than men, Yoder believes it’s time to take action.
“Don’t shy away from the negativity. Yes, it’s going to be difficult, but we need you. We have moved way beyond needing to crack a glass ceiling. We need to crack a universe!” Yoder said.
“We need to make cracks in a systemic problem of the way there is a lack of diverse voices in our representation, whether it’s in Washington or at a state level, and even at a local level. It is time that we step up and encourage one another to make those changes.”