An openly gay businessman has announced he will seek the Democratic nomination for governor in Indiana next year, potentially making him the the first openly gay major-party gubernatorial candidate in the state’s history.
Josh Owens, 34, the CEO of SupplyKick — a tech company which develops digital strategies for retailers — made the announcement in a YouTube video.
The video touches on some of the major themes and issues in his campaign, including raising teacher pay, eliminating textbook fees, decriminalizing marijuana, protecting LGBTQ people and others from housing and workplace discrimination, and strengthening background checks for gun purchasers.
“I’m running for governor now because I believe in an Indiana where teachers are paid what they deserve and where all are welcomed, respected and protected,” he said in a statement. “We need a leader who will ensure our state budget, policies and laws reflect a bold and inclusive vision for collective Hoosier success.”
Owens has very little political experience, serving as an economic policy adviser for one term to former U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, a Republican and longtime family friend, reports The Indianapolis Star. But he has plenty of experience in the private sector, as well as serving on several boards and commissions.
Under Owens’ leadership, SupplyKick has become one of the fastest-growing companies in America, as recognized by its inclusion on the Inc. 500 list.
The company also won TechPoint’s Best of Tech Mira Award for Scale-up of the Year. He serves on the board of TechPoint Indiana, Indy Chamber, the Orr Fellowship, and previously chaired the Indiana Charter School Board — a position to which he was appointed by former Gov. Mike Pence (R).
“I’m passionate about making Indiana the best state it can be and giving every single Hoosier the economic, education, and community support they deserve,” Owens said in a statement.
Owens faces an uphill battle politically, as he must first win the Democratic nomination over Woody Myers, a venture capitalist and former Indiana health commissioner who once made a name for himself defending Ryan White — the Kokomo, Ind., teenager who was blocked from attending middle school by his local school board in the 1980s after contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion.
That said, both Myers and Owens could face skepticism from more liberal-leaning Democrats who make up a significant chunk of primary voters: Myers, for some of his policies during the early years of the AIDS epidemic that could be deemed anti-LGBTQ, such as advocating for the closure of gay bathhouses and adult bookstores, and Owens, for his ties to Pence and Messer.
A third Democrat, State Sen. Eddie Melton, has formed an exploratory committee and may officially announce in the coming months.
If he somehow were to emerge as the Democratic nominee, Owens would then face popular incumbent Gov. Eric Holcomb (R), who enjoys high approval ratings in a state where registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats.
John Zody, the Indiana Democratic Party Chairman, expressed cautious optimism about Owens’ candidacy, hailing him as a “new voice” in the party.
“Hoosier Democrats look forward to learning more about Owens’ campaign and plans for our state,” Zody said in a statement. “We know Eric Holcomb is a do-nothing governor who has failed to raise teacher pay, lower the cost of health care or clean up state government.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story identified Myers as a former Republican. He previously was appointed Indiana’s health commissioner by and served under Republican Gov. Robert D. Orr, but was a registered Democrat.