Josh Owens is campaigning to bring visibility to the most unlikely of places.
This week, Owens declared his intention to run for governor of Indiana in 2020, where he will take on Republican Eric Holcomb. The 34-year-old currently serves as the CEO of SupplyKick, an Indianapolis-based tech firm that helps identities “build their businesses on Amazon.”
In a statement, Owens said he’s throwing his hat into the ring because he believes Indiana teachers need someone in the governor’s chair who fights for their interests.
“I believe in an Indiana where teachers are paid what they deserve and where all are welcomed, respected and protected,” Owens said. “We need a leader who will ensure our state budget, policies and laws reflect a bold and inclusive vision for collective Hoosier success. Today, many Indiana teachers have to work second jobs and even then, they spend their own money on classroom supplies.”
“As a businessman, I know every Hoosier in the workplace matters, and leadership is required to solve this problem and finally pay them fairly,” he added.
Owens’ list of priorities if elected governor also includes tackling climate change, increasing access to health care, passing background check legislation, and strengthening Indiana’s nondiscrimination laws. Currently, the Hoosier State is one of 29 where individuals can be denied housing or employment for being LGBTQ+.
The 2020 bid will make Owens the first out gay gubernatorial candidate to compete in a heavily conservative state which hasn’t had a Democratic governor in 14 years. Prior to incumbent Eric Holcomb, Mike Pence served as the state’s chief executive for four years, until he was tapped to the White House in 2017. During his time as governor, he signed a since-amended law allowing businesses to turn away LGBTQ+ customers if they cite a religious reason for doing so.
As governor, Pence also supported an amendment to Indiana’s constitution banning same-sex couples from marrying. Three years after that failed proposal, Owens tied the knot with husband Andy Acosta Owens, an actor and operatic tenor, in 2017.
But despite their divergent backgrounds, the two men have worked together in the past. When Owens was tapped as chair of the Indiana Charter School Board in September 2015, he was appointed to that position by Pence — just six months after the former governor signed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. The RFRA bill’s passage reportedly cost the state $60 million in boycotts.
Owens has considerable experience working across the aisle, having served as an economic policy advisor to Republican House Rep. Luke Messer during his first term in Congress. The Indianapolis Star describes Messer as a “family friend.”
The candidate will face off against Woody Myers, a millionaire venture capitalist, in the Democratic primaries. State Sen. Eddie Melton (D-Gary) has also weighed a bid.
If Owens is successful, he will join just a handful of LGBTQ+ people in being elected to the governor in the United States: Oregon’s Kate Brown and Colorado’s Jared Polis. In 2015, Brown — who is bisexual — became the first LGBTQ+ person elected their state’s chief executive, while Polis became the first out gay man to hold the office last year. No lesbian or transgender person has ever served as governor of a U.S. state.