WABASH — A Democratic 2022 senatorial primary hopeful was scheduled to visit Wabash Thursday evening.

Candidate Haneefah Khaaliq said she was “delighted” by the opportunity.

“...I love driving out and meeting Hoosiers from across the state. I learn more from doing that than any book, any political science class I could have taken,” Khaaliq said during a phone interview Tuesday. “Just being in the thick of it, I just love it, attending the fairs, meetings, town halls, whatever it may be. That gives me a real-life learning experience about the concerns of Hoosiers. It is my pleasure.”

Building a campaign

In 2001, Khaaliq graduated from Lake Central High School in St. John. She went on to attend Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. While attending college, she became a youth minister for her church and was the president of a campus Christian student organization.

“With a lifetime of volunteering and community service under her belt through AmeriCorps,” she became a public school teacher and taught science in public, private and charter schools. In 2014, she returned to school “to fulfill her lifelong dream” of becoming a lawyer. She graduated from Valparaiso University School of Law. She is now the executive director and presiding officer for a civil rights agency and human relations commission.

Khaaliq is also an ADA and Title VI Coordinator. Currently, she’s an adjunct professor at Indiana University. She operates her social service, providing legal and mental health services to indigent clients nationwide. She’s the stepdaughter of a “hardworking” retired United Steelworker, daughter of a retired city bus driver and factory worker.

“She comes from a family of honorable veterans who served their country proudly. She has a lifetime of acquired values and skills commensurate with representing and leading the people,” stated her biography.

Khaaliq has already been running for this position since 2019. Candidates submit 500 signatures from each of the nine congressional districts in the state to the Indiana Elections Commission to be eligible for next year’s primary election ballot.

“We’re showing up in places all over the state to try to get those so I’m happy about that,” she said.

Khaaliq said her status as a “political outsider” made it necessary to have as early a start as possible.

“We don’t have any money. We’re grassroots. We’re not household names. We could all probably benefit better from people who aren’t career politicians, or people who have been politicians for a long time. People don’t really realize that until they see someone do it,” she said. “A lot of folks don’t even believe they can do it. I am a believer that we have to be the change that we want to see, and I’m not just a hearer of that idea, I’m a doer of that.”

Khaaliq said she saw her lack of political track record as a positive, rather than a negative.

“My lack of experience is going to be highlighted and put under a microscope and so I just started building that experience, and I think that this being out and amongst the people, talking to them, and not just telling them what’s going to happen, but hearing from them as to what they want to happen,” she said.

Connecting with voters’ issues

Khaaliq said the issues she cares most about are many of the same ones voters around the state have been sharing with her, including “civil rights, education and poverty.”

“I’m hearing folks getting ready to move out of the state because of a lack of good jobs. And when I say good jobs I mean greater than $7.25 per hour, obviously. Health care, some benefits and insurance to help them along the way as many of them are working 40-plus hours per week. They don’t have enough money,” said Khaaliq.

Khaaliq said she was also hearing from voters that they were concerned about their lack of quality health care coverage and the continuing opioid crisis.

“Folks have family and friends who have died to drug overdoses. (There has been) very little (done) to combat these issues and these problems,” she said.

Khaaliq said many of the issues she hears most about – including immigration, unions and civil rights – are national issues.

“I’m for livable wages. I’m one of the more progressive candidates this state has ever seen as I am for livable wages with respect to education. I believe in robust public school education,” said Khaaliq. “I also, as it relates to civil rights, believe in the equality for the LGBTQ+ members of our society who just want to live and work freely and not be judged based on who they love. … What does it matter who we love? We want to work. We want to live where we want. We want to have good jobs and have an opportunity at the American dream just like everybody else.”

Regaining voters

Khaaliq said the way forward for the Democratic Party reconnecting with voters it has lost boils down to communication.

“I’m a believer that we’ve got to continually reach out to the rural communities and folks in the rural communities and Republicans as well. In fact, this campaign purposefully and intentionally and affirmatively reaches out to strong Republicans. That’s because we want to have conversations with them. We want to inform them about the American Rescue Plan. You can’t turn Indiana blue by continuing to talk to the same people. You’ve got to reach the folks who aren’t used to being heard or they claim that they’re not being heard,” said Khaaliq.

Khaaliq said she has been attending county fairs across the state lately and has encountered several voters who have made a point to disagree with her directly.

“I was talking to some folks and I could tell they were strong Republicans because they came right up to me and they asked me about Critical Race Theory and they asked me about the mask mandate. And they just wanted to argue. I could tell,” she said. “I just looked at them and regarding Critical Race Theory, I said, ‘Let’s first dive into do you have kids that are impacted by this?’ ‘No, I don’t have any kids.’ ‘OK, well you know, sir, I’m not to get into a debate with you. You know that I’m a previous public school teacher. I’m running as a Democrat. I believe in the holistic learning of all subjects. So, yeah, we’re going to talk about race. We’re going to talk about race relations. We’re going to talk about what that means from all angles so that everybody gets the fullness of the learning process as it relates to that.’”

Khaaliq said when asked about the mask mandates, she said she believes in the CDC, WHO and “scientists who are experts in their field.”

“They may have walked away from the conversation not agreeing with me, but they’ve still got what I said to them on their minds. And who knows? They may say to themselves, ‘Well, she answered my question with a question but that was a good question that maybe I need to think about.’ So I don’t shy away from them. I reach out to them. I think that’s what the party needs to do. I think that’s what anybody who’s running for office needs to do and anyone who wants to make a chance,” said Khaaliq.

Looking forward to the general election

If Khaaliq can garner enough signatures to make it to the Indiana Democratic Party primary election ballot, and then wins the nomination, she would then most likely face incumbent Republican Sen. Todd Young in the 2022 general election.

Khaaliq said she would “highlight his negligence” and his lack of public town halls since taking office.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat or Republican, you should be upset about that,” said Khaaliq. “This always gets me every single time. I believe in dialog. I believe in discourse. I believe it is part of the most basic fundamental values of this country and our Democracy. And to be shut out of a process by simply not having the platform which should be provided to us as constituents. I recognize that Senators are busy, but by all means, you’re the one that said you wanted to be one.”

Khaaliq said she has encountered voters across the state who had no idea who their representatives were.

“I go to places all the time and I ask them all a question. I say, ‘Who are your two United States senators?’ And they say, ‘We have no idea.’ That’s usually their response, ‘I don’t know.’ And I usually respond and I say, ‘That’s because they’re not in the community doing what they should be doing. They’re not talking to you. They’re not having any meetings. You’ve got to be VIP. You’ve got to fly to Washington. You’ve got to pay to see them.’”

Khaaliq said she is already going out of her way to connect with the concerns of Hoosier voters.

“I am already hearing and trying to work very hard to solve folks’ problems with their input. And that’s what I hope to do as a senator,” she said.

Rob Burgess, Wabash Plain Dealer editor, may be reached by email at rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com.

Rob Burgess, Wabash Plain Dealer editor, may be reached by email at rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com.

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