When Indiana Rep. Erin Houchin’s children were small, Houchin and her husband Dustin posted a one-word admonition on their front door that could be seen just as one exited: “Contend.”

“One of the things we wanted to teach the children was to contend, to go out and be bold, to pursue causes greater than yourself, and to find meaning in hard work. That is why my husband put up a little sign with the word ‘contend.’”

The word featured in a meditation Dustin Houchin, now a Superior Court judge, had prepared for their church. The Houchin children absorbed the message, but good-naturedly. “My oldest daughter was maybe seven at the time,” Houchin recalls, “and she’s a type A personality, and she took a little Post-It note and wrote ‘and work hard’ and stuck it underneath the word ‘contend’. And then my other daughter, who’s the middle child, and a free spirit, wrote on her own slip of paper ‘and have fun.’ We had these three Post-It notes that said “contend, work hard, and have fun.” So, that became our family motto and something that we live by. For Christmas last year my husband had those three Post-It notes framed, and they’re hanging on the wall. So, it’s pretty awesome.”

Contend Communications was the name of Erin’s business. It was the Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson who turned Erin and Dustin on to the concept of contending. “We had been reading Jordan Peterson’s lectures on contending,” Erin recalls, “and we thought the word was a great descriptor for how we should tackle life, and how conservatives especially should be bold. When it’s the right thing to do, you should fight for your values.”

The minute Erin learned that then-Congressman Trey Hollingsworth, who represented Indiana’s 9th congressional district, was not going to run for another term in 2022, she knew what she wanted to do: contend for the seat. Houchin announced her candidacy the next day. A member of the Indiana Senate and the former field manager for then-Senator Dan Coats, Houchin promised voters that she would “stand up to the radical Left and the Biden agenda that has led to disastrous issues at our southern border, the highest inflation in 40 years, and a liberal laundry list for more spending that the country cannot afford.”

She won her election and is making good on fulfilling her promises, especially in the parental rights arena. When the House passed the Parents Bill of Rights Bill, designed to provide more transparency for parents whose children are in public schools, the bill included an amendment authored by Houchin. Houchin was one of the original co-sponsors of the bill and a floor manager of the debate. Houchin’s amendment requires parents to be notified when a child is not reading at a grade-level proficiency by the end of the third grade. During the floor debate, Houchin said that the Parents Bill of Rights Bill should not be necessary, but that “unfortunately,” it is.

“Parents are left to plead for information, to plead for the safety of their kids in public restrooms, to plead for a quality education, and to plead for anyone who would listen to help restore their parental rights,” she said on the floor of the House. Houchin told IWF that teaching children concepts such as critical race theory in schools has been “going on for much longer than we realized. COVID highlighted some of the things kids were being taught, but I also think liberals became more aggressive in their ideas of who knows best. What’s terrifying is with transgender issues, it’s been suggested that schools should be able to evaluate kids and treat kids based on their gender dysphoria. Many schools have policies of keeping secrets from parents because they think that they’re doing what’s in that child’s best interest.”

“We saw this on the issue of minors seeking an abortion, where Democrats believe that parents shouldn’t be part of that choice and that a judge should decide whether or not a minor should be able to seek an abortion, sometimes without even notifying a parent that that decision has been made. So, this is a terrifying reality that we are experiencing, which is another reason why women, and mothers, and young women should engage on these issues politically and in their communities and fight back, because we are the front line on this issue.”

As a member of the House Financial Services Committee and the Education and Workforce Committee, Houchin emphasizes that her Hoosier roots inform her decisions. “Though I enjoy being your representative in Congress, I do like Washington County much better than Washington, D.C.,” Houchin wrote in an op-ed for the Indiana Corn and Soybean Post. “I prefer the beauty of our farmland, the pace of the lifestyle, and the work ethic born of a relationship with the land. I’m proud to live in and represent an agricultural district, and I always keep that in mind when I work in D.C.” 

“COVID highlighted some of the things kids were being taught, but I also think liberals became more aggressive in their ideas of who knows best,” says Houchin, an original cosponsor of the Parents Bill of Rights Bill.

Houchin grew up in Scottsburg, Indiana, the daughter of a dentist and a stay-at-home mother. “He loved his patients, but he did not like the practice of dentistry. So, it’s his service to the community that had an impact on me,” Houchin tells IWF. “The headaches of being a small business owner were difficult for him and he was a sole proprietor. He ended up getting diagnosed with Parkinson’s at a young age and he retired early from the practice of dentistry and ended up living with Parkinson’s for about 25 years before he died in 2019. But my parents said if you can do something on behalf of others, you should. If you have the ability, you should try. They also taught me things like don’t start a job or don’t quit a job until you have another one, and don’t have a bunch of gaps in your resume, and, if you make a commitment, you keep it.”

Erin was the youngest child but, “I like to say I had three dads, because my two older brothers were pretty paternal toward me growing up, mostly wanting to get me in trouble for things with my parents, but they both went to Ball State University. They both sent me applications to go to Ball State University, to follow in their footsteps, and I took a different path and ended up at Indiana University, so I would not have the continued watchful eyes of my other two dads on me.”

Houchin studied psychology at IU in Bloomington, and as a senior, did an internship in the state legislature. “I interned for the state senate,” she recalls. “That is where I met one of my mentors, Senator Connie Lawson, who ended up serving as the Indiana Secretary of State. She was the first female majority leader for the state senate and has been a very, very good friend and mentor to me over the years. Seeing her and her service had an incredible impact on me. She was the senator for my grandparents’ district, so when I was working at the state legislature as a senior in college, I lived with my grandparents, which was a wonderful experience.” She also met a nice young intern on the Senate side, Dustin Houchin. They married three and a half years later.

“After the internship,” Erin recalls, “I was so engaged and interested in policymaking, I called the State House, House, and Senate staff directors every Friday for six weeks in a row until they gave me a job. I just really wanted to work at the State House after I finished the internship. I wanted to be part of the policymaking. I thought I would always be on the inside, or work as a lobbyist and not necessarily as an elected official myself. I was active in politics, active in Young Republicans, and active in our local Republican Party. Even when I started having kids, I served as vice chairman of our local GOP, and I served as district chairman for the Republican Party and for Young Republicans. So I was active politically, helping candidates, and very interested in that side of politics. I ended up as a stay-at-home mom, enrolling at George Washington University to get my master’s degree.

“I did that at home online from Salem, Indiana. I put the kids to bed at 9 p.m. and studied until three in the morning, and got up to do it again the next day. But one of the things that our professors told us in that program at GWU was 90% of the people in this field of study get a job offer before they graduate. And I thought, well, I’m the 10% of people that are not going to get a job offer because I’m not in D.C. I appreciated the education, but a job in politics was probably not in the cards for me then. And about halfway through that program, I got a call from our U.S. Senator Dan Coats who asked if I might be interested in serving as regional director for him in Indiana. So, I was part of the 90% it turned out. I did get a job offer in the field of study before I graduated from the master’s program.”

Another formative experience was working in the Department of Child Services in Indiana as a family case manager for three years. “I did everything,” she recalls, “from investigating child abuse and neglect to working with families and children that were engaged in the system, and trying to keep kids safe, and reunify them with biological parents when we could, and if not, find them a permanent home, a loving home, where they could feel safe and thrive. When I worked in child services, I used to say to myself that, if only I could work my way up to the top, I could fix it. I never worked my way up to the top of the agency, but I did find myself as a policymaker dealing with children’s issues.”

From Houchin’s experience as a case manager grew the Find and Protect Foster Youth Bill, introduced earlier this year in the U.S. House of Representatives by Houchin and Texas Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales. The bill seeks to improve communication between states and the Administration of Children and Families (ACF) to prevent foster children from simply going missing. “It cannot be the new normal that thousands of children in foster care go missing every year, many of which are falsely recorded as runaways and as a result never found,” Houchin said.

“I was so engaged and interested in policymaking, I called the State House, House of Senate staff directors every Friday for six weeks in a row until they gave me a job,” she recalls.

In 2014 Houchin defeated a 26-year incumbent to win a seat in the Indiana State Senate. She became known as a staunch defender of the Second Amendment and law enforcement and a fighter for lower taxes. She authored a bill to make Indiana a Constitutional Carry State. While pursuing her political career, Erin and Dustin were also raising a young family. Before becoming a superior court judge, Dustin served several terms as a prosecutor for Washington County, also an elected office. The Houchins were always on the ballot at the same time. The couple has three children, a boy and two girls. They are 19, 17, and 14. The children have grown up around politics. The older daughter is working as an intern this summer on Capitol Hill, while her son is in a small rock band he founded with friends.

“When my husband ran for office the first time, my oldest daughter was two years old, my second daughter was an infant, and my son wasn’t born yet. So, they’ve literally been engaged in this since they can remember. And doing that is a sacrifice for them and it’s a sacrifice for us, but we teach them that their sacrifice is part of their own service to the state and the community. I get home about every weekend. Today is a fly-home day, so I’ll be hopping on an airplane to get back to Indiana and then I’ll be home with the kids. This is really the only thing they’ve ever known, and lots of families make greater sacrifices than we do.

“It’s very important for women, young women in particular, to engage,” Houchin says. “Look, we need to have different voices at the table, and I think we also need to have different voices that can speak to American women, conservative women, about the values that we care about and why they should care.”

In other words—or more accurately word—Erin Houchin has a message for conservative women: Contend. Short and sweet, and you can fit it on a Post-It note. But she believes in doing it.