Fighting for family and faith: From humble beginnings, State Sen. Mike Delph becomes a household name
Growing up just north of the Home Place area in the 1970s, Mike Delph might not have seemed like someone destined for statewide fame.
He was the third of four boys raised by a single mother who worked as a bank teller at First Indiana Bank in Nora. His father, who divorced his mother, lived in Iowa and then South Carolina. According to Delph, money was tight.
“If you didn’t eat fast in my house, then you didn’t eat,” he said. “We did not grow up by any means in privilege. It was a tough environment growing up. There’s absolutely no way around that.”
Yet despite being financially strapped and often sent to the principal’s office for getting into fights, many people saw a bright future for Delph.
“Yes, he would get himself into trouble quite often,” said Bruce Breeden, who was principal of Carmel Middle School at the time. “But he also was a strong leader, so I’m not surprised that’s he’s where he is today.”
These days, Delph is a Republican state senator from Carmel and a favorite among Tea Party groups. Many people have asked him to run for U.S. Senate to fill Dan Coats’ seat. He declined to run, not because he doesn’t desire higher office, but because of the one thing that has shaped who he is more than anything else: his family.
Although Delph has nothing bad to say about his mother, growing up he craved a strong male role model. He said he used to watch TV shows like “Little House on the Prairie,” “Leave It to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best,” wishing he had a family like that.
“Every man in this world should be held accountable for a child they bring into this world,” he said. “You make that happen and it helps solve a whole of lot problems.”
Delph graduated from Carmel High School and went to Indiana University in Bloomington where he found three things he loves to this day: his Christian faith, playing the guitar and his wife, Beth.
He met his wife through Campus Crusade for Christ and they have five girls together: Abigail, 21, Evelyn, 18, Anna, 16, Emma, 12, and Lilly, 9. He said his family is his top priority.
“I’m not going to pursue anything politically that can risk my family,” he said. “Because I’ve experienced what that can do. So I’ll never do that to my daughters.”
Delph stayed close to his brothers, including his brother, Steve, who lives with his mother in Carmel.
Steve made headlines in 2014 when an Indianapolis newspaper ran a story with the headline, “Sen. Mike Delph, leading lawmaker for gay marriage ban, has gay brother.”
Delph said his opposition to gay marriage based on his Christian faith doesn’t mean he hates gay people at all.
“I fought for him,” he said of his brother. “I pulled him out of fights where people beat him up for being gay. It bothers me. I don’t believe you judge people based on any characteristic. I love my brother. And anyone who goes after him has to come through me. My brother, Steve, has the right to pursue happiness just like me or anyone else does. But as a Christian, I can’t pick and choose what is sin. People love the sinner but hate the sin and that’s been my position.”
After college, Delph took a job working for U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, who was a longtime friend of Delph’s parents, eventually serving as chief of staff.
At age 30, he decided to run for his first political office: Indiana Secretary of State. He was up against more seasoned politicians: then-Marion County Coroner Dr. John McGoff, Vanderburgh County Commissioner Richard Mourdock and Deputy Secretary of State Todd Rokita.
At the nominating convention, Mourdock’s team circulated a flyer suggesting that Delph dropped out of the race, which didn’t happen, and that he endorsed Mourdock and encouraged others to do the same.
“When you see the work of two years flushed down the toilet over a flyer at a convention and shenanigans, it is a tough one to swallow,” Delph said. “It took me years to get over that one. It was a very aggravating feeling but I believe the good Lord put me in that place to make connections so I could be where I am today.”
After that disappointing experience, Delph did some soul-searching to see if he still wanted to pursue politics as a career.
“I was convinced I was supposed to be secretary of state,” he said. “I was mad. It was the first time I was mad at God.”
He took a career evaluation to see what might be right for him. He tested off the charts to be an economist or a judge.
“I said, ‘What about politics?’ [The evaluator] said, ‘It could be the worst thing you could do because you view the world as black and white. You could not handle the negotiations and deal making that goes on. It would drive you crazy.’” Delph said. “My wife reminds me every time a conflict comes up. There’s no doubt. I’m a black and white person.”
Starting with his attempt to run for secretary of state, Delph has been a fighter his entire political career. He’s not shy about standing up for what he believes in, even if he butts heads with the leadership in his own party. If he does decide to run for statewide office, Delph said he would appeal to more than just Tea Party voters.
“I’ve given speeches to almost every Tea Party group but I wouldn’t limit my support to just that,” he said. “Barack Obama won my district [around] the same time that I won it.”
ABOUT MIKE DELPH
Birthplace: Weymouth, Mass.
Education: Carmel High School, bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees from Indiana University
Military background: Major in U.S. Army Reserves
Profession: General counsel for CarDon & Associates
Political office: Indiana State Senate, 2005 to present
Musical dream: To play guitar with Noel Gallagher of Oasis or Paul McCartney. “I’d probably raise a million dollars to play guitar with them for an hour. I’d probably be ready for death.”