Jamie Reitenour offers unconventional take for Indiana governor

Editor’s note: This is the fifth of six profiles of gubernatorial candidates by the Indiana Capital Chronicle.

To the state’s politicians, especially those in the General Assembly, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jamie Reitenour has one piece of advice: get out of the office.

“We need to change up the way that we do government … We need to get on the ground. We need to talk to our constituents,” Reitenour told the Indiana Capital Chronicle.

It’s those small conversations where Reitenour, running for her first political office, appears to excel — spreading her message of “Indiana Goodness” not in advertisements or massive rallies but one-on-one.

“I spend hours upon hours upon hours. Literally thousands of hours in the past three years, listening to the Hoosier people. That’s why I can speak so confidently about her and say that she’s such a beautiful state — because I’ve seen her people,” Reitenour said. This is where Reitenour says she’s found the inspiration for some of her most unconventional proposals, including the elimination of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and striking the state’s property tax.

But the devout candidate has been the most vocal about her faith on the public stage, quoting scripture and denouncing the nation’s “moral crisis” — such as LGBTQ acceptance, access to reproductive health care and social-emotional learning in schools. An underdog candidate, Reitenour has lagged when it comes to fundraising and dismal polling has kept her from the debate stage but she perseveres despite the odds.

“I have an amazing, extraordinary God. And so that’s how I can do what I do,” Reitenour said about her busy days campaigning, ministering and being a mother to five homeschooled children. “The Bible says that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Her father, raised in St. Louis, felt that sports were the best path to prosperity — even trying out for the NFL at one point — before finding his calling in the ministry.

Eventually, after her parents divorced, her mother decided got her own master’s in divinity and, after decades of military life, went on to become a Navy chaplain as well.

“I came from a true background of service,” Reitenour said.

But, following in her father’s footsteps, Reitenour also played several sports in high school and college — getting a field hockey scholarship to attend Southwest Missouri State University, where she got her degree in psychology.

Post-college, her career started at a mortgage company, where she worked her way up to compliance manager, and then to athletic director.

But Reitenour’s time in the corporate world was taxing, with 50 working hours a week and hours in California traffic alongside her own ministry work.

“I literally did not cook a meal for six years. That’s a truthful statement … that was just my life,” Reitenour said. “So when I met my husband and I was actually going to cook a meal for him, I was super nervous about it.”

Once the long-distance relationship started to look serious, Reitenour joined her to-be husband in Michigan. The two married in their thirties and have five children, now between the ages of 13 and 4, raising them across Michigan, Illinois and, finally, Indiana — where they moved in 2017.

Reitenour’s education proposals

When asked about her decision to homeschool her children, Reitenour said it was never a matter of weighing public education against teaching her own children.

“I was a mom that had time on my hands and I wanted to choose to spend that time educating my children; I enjoy being with my children,” Reitenour said.

“At this time in our nation and in their lives, I felt that it was important that I take the time that I had available — which some don’t — and I spent that time pouring into them not just educationally but spiritually as well,” she continued.

Doing so, for example, has allowed her to not only identify and personalize the right curriculum for her children but also read through the one-year Bible multiple times, she said.

And whether parents with children in public schools should trust her? Reitenour sees it as an advantage.

“I don’t know that people that homeschool are people that have to oppose public school. I think that it could just be a preference that people have and an opportunity that moms see that they have to be engaged in their children’s lives,” Reitenour said. “I think it’s actually a bonus for people that have kids in public schools because I think they’ll look at it as, ‘Well, she really cares about the education for her child and so she’s going to care about the education for mine.’”

Reitenour has already vowed to appoint Paige Miller, who leads the Hamilton County chapter of the controversial Moms for Liberty, as Secretary of Education if she is elected. The local group cited authoritarian Adolph Hitler in its first newsletter — for which it later apologized — while the Southern Poverty Law Center defines the national group as a far-right, anti-LGBTQ organization with “close political alliances and ties to extremist groups.”

With Miller’s help, the campaign has a K12 plan, starting with removing technology from elementary classrooms in favor of a focus on core subjects like reading, writing and arithmetic followed by an intentional re-introduction of technology in sixth grade.

The private sector will intentionally be invited into schools through an “Adopt a Classroom” proposal, where professionals share with students how they use technology in their profession.

One priority for Reitenour’s administration would be requiring unpaid apprenticeships for high school students to graduate, a move she said would bring in the private sector and give students glimpses into potential industries.

She said she’d heard from several seniors that their final year wasn’t spent in the classroom anyway, that many were already working or pursuing other goals.

“This is not going to cost taxpayer dollars, this is saying to small business owners, ‘You can put together a good apprenticeship and then you can have seniors come there and work for you,’” Reitenour said. “They are in an apprenticeship environment. They’re not getting paid for that … It’s a way to really help small businesses and give students a way to put their foot down a career path and really test it out before they graduate from high school.”

A “government diet”

Whether the state’s effort to bolster its lagging public health infrastructure or its sewer and water systems, Reitenour wants to re-assess it all.

For the latter, especially, collaboration across county lines will be key, she said.

“I just think that there are some things that we’re doing that we could spend a whole lot less money doing if we shared information with one another and experiences,” Reitenour said.

She decried ongoing Medicaid growth, the fastest-growing portion of the state’s budget, and people “relying” on the government. Throughout her time in the public eye, Reitenour has frequently criticized the current Republican party for not being conservative enough on many fronts.

“I’m the bad guy, right? Because I’m coming into the Legislature like, ‘You have got to cut this. You cannot do this,’” Reitenour said about Medicaid. “I mean, hello, we are supposed to be a conservative state. Like, what are we even talking about?”

She said state government had to go on a “diet” for Medicaid and that able-bodied people needed to work.

Much of the growth on Medicaid has been among the elderly due to growing long-term care expenses — estimates say one in five Hoosiers will be retirement age or older by 2030. Since Medicare doesn’t cover most long-term care, many seniors rely on Medicaid.

Part of the change for getting the “able-bodied” to work will be “breaking the cycle,” Reitenour said, between parents and children on Medicaid — though, nationwide, the majority of adults enrolled in Medicaid are working. She pointed to her plan on apprenticeships as a way to expose children to work opportunities.

“I think one of the greater issues is that we have these programs that don’t really make it exciting to go get a job because we’re giving people so much money, at times,” Reitenour said.

For Reitenour, nonprofits and churches could fill that gap in government aid — naming various food programs already doing that work.

Another break from Republicans of the General Assembly is Reitenour’s approach to economic development. Rather than relying on the current state agency tasked with such efforts, she said that the state’s leaders should be advertising Indiana as what it is — a state of small towns where people want to raise their families.

“Politicians aren’t looking at her; they’re not looking at Indiana. They’re looking at the world (and) they’re looking at what we need to compete with that state,” Reitenour said. “But they need to look at Indiana and look at what she is good at.”

By Whitney Downard – The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.