BLOOMINGTON — Frustrated with the way things were being done in Washington, Shelli Yoder was hoping a woman in her district would run for Congress this November. When she told her husband, Josh Perry, he agreed and offered a suggestion.
“We both kept saying ‘I want a woman to run,’” the Shipshewana native and Miss Indiana winner in 1992 said. “My husband finally said, ‘Shelli, you should run.’”
So she did.
Entering the Democratic primary days before the filing deadline, Yoder surprised her friends and family when she announced she would run against the 9th District incumbent, Republican Todd Young. Despite running in a heavily GOP district with little political experience, Yoder has nonetheless attracted a sizeable following with her campaign promise to fight for the middle class.
“I felt the middle class being squeezed out,” Yoder said. “Every month it gets harder and harder to get by, to pay the bills. I decided to run because working families are being left out of the conversation in Washington. I want to be a voice for them.”
Yoder herself grew up in a Mennonite family in Shipshewana, where she learned the Hoosier values of hard work and community. Her parents owned a gas station where they worked long hours six days a week and delivered their customers the “kind of service you don’t see these days.” As a young girl, Yoder helped sweep, fill the coffee pot and restock candy bars at the station.
Then the gas crisis and recession of the early ’80s hit, and Yoder’s family was forced to close the station and start over. Struggling to make ends meet, her parents eventually received help from a man at their church who offered to let Yoder’s father take over his insurance business. Her mother, meanwhile, worked at a dry-goods counter in a hardware store.
When it was time for Yoder to go to college, she knew she couldn’t pay for university on her own. One day as she was singing with a church choir at a county pageant, a woman encouraged her to enter beauty pageants to earn scholarship money.
Over the next few years, Yoder made three runs at Miss Indiana, winning the crown as an Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne student in 1992. She toured the state the following year advocating for better health care and educational opportunities.
After receiving a master’s degree in counseling from Indiana University South Bend, Yoder spent much of her professional life working at nonprofits. She received a master’s of divinity degree from Vanderbilt University in 2002 and served as executive director of a Tennessee coalition to fight eating disorders.
Following graduation from Vanderbilt, Yoder married Josh Perry, a business law and ethics professor at IU. In 2009 the couple moved to Bloomington to raise their three young children — Ivy, Eden and Oakley.
Yoder, who most recently served as the associate director of professional development for Indiana University’s business school, is one of only four women in the state of Indiana to run for Congress this year. That number is actually quite high for a state that has only had five female congresswomen in its entire history, and none currently.
When asked if she ever saw herself growing up to be a congresswoman, Yoder responded, “Heavens, no!”
She added, “It is an honor to run and serve, regardless of gender. But I do see more and more women feeling less compelled to run for Congress due to the ugliness of the politics there. It was a reservation for me as well.”
Still, Yoder felt she had the right skills and commitment to Hoosier values to run for the 9th District seat. Over the last several months, she has traveled the 13 counties in her district, visiting coffee shops, diners, civic clubs and other public venues to meet workers, share her story and humbly ask for their vote.
Yoder said she supports closing tax loopholes to balance the budget, increasing taxes for corporations that outsource jobs and investing in Indiana’s infrastructure, biotech industry and small businesses. Most importantly, she wants to honestly represent the people she’s been meeting at farmers’ markets and county fairs.
“I’ve met people who are working two, three, four jobs to make ends meet,” Yoder said. “Our district needs a fresh voice to fight for the working class. I would like to be that voice.”