For Ellspermann, 53, the Listen and Learn tour is about getting to know Indiana better — and Indiana getting to know her.
Last summer, she was a relatively unknown freshman lawmaker from a small town in southern Indiana when she was picked to be then-candidate Mike Pence’s running mate. But Ellspermann had proved her political moxie two years earlier when she won her first-ever election by taking down then-Democratic House Majority Leader Russ Stilwell.
In waging that campaign, Ellspermann emphasized her accomplishments as an industrial engineer who’d built a successful management-consulting business doing problem-solving for public and private clients.
She’s bringing those skills to the Listen and Learn tour, she said: “Good solutions bubble up when you’re hearing good information from those people who are closest the problems.”
Ellspermann’s willingness to spend a recent morning meeting with local leaders in the small town of Spiceland impressed Nate LaMar, president of the Henry County Council and international regional manager for the county’s biggest employer, Draper Industries.
“We often feel like we’ve been left behind,” said LaMar of the small counties in Indiana. “I was really glad to see someone from the executive branch reach out beyond the doughnut counties (around Indianapolis) and into rural Indiana.”
In a recent interview, LaPorte County Democrat Shaw Friedman described Ellspermann’s listening tour as “a tremendous gesture and a reach-out to previously forgotten and neglected parts of Indiana.”
That’s how GOP state Sen. Jean Leising of Oldenburg sees it too. “I’m from a rural district and even as a Republican legislator, I’m always wondering: ‘Does someone at the top care about what we think?’ “
Leising sat in on the Henry County meeting with Ellspermann and left feeling impressed. “She’s a strong woman,” Leising said. “She’ll go back and bend the governor’s ear and not just taking marching orders from him.”