In 2016, Destiny Wells (above) was on deployment in Afghanistan—a time that would spark her decision to run for Indiana office.
When she was first deployed, she flew out with President Barack Obama as her commander in chief. At the time, due to the widespread assumption that Hillary Clinton would beat Donald Trump in the presidential election that year, she thought that she would be flying home under the first woman commander in chief.
“I started thinking, when I get home, I feel like I need to do more,” Wells said.
Wells became a lawyer, an Indiana deputy attorney general and associate corporation counsel for the City of Indianapolis and Marion County.
Now she’s the Democratic nominee for Indiana secretary of state, the first one seen as having a chance of winning the election since Joe Hogsett, now the mayor of Indianapolis, held the position from 1988 to 1994.
“This is just a historical time for us, all of us, whether it be candidates or whether it be a voter,” Wells said.
Since 1816, there have been 61 Indiana secretaries of state— 34 Republicans and 23 Democrats, according to in.gov. In the current political climate, Wells knew she would have a difficult task ahead of her.
“It is challenging,” she said. “It is challenging because at the beginning of this race, when I ran as a Democrat, people would say, ‘Well, it’s just impossible for a Democrat to win statewide.’”
But that is exactly what Wells hopes to do.
“This race looks like it could be very close entering the fall,” said ARW pollster Anrew Weisser in the report by Indy Politics. “If I’m Destiny Scott Wells, you have to like being ahead, but there are still a lot of undecided voters and she’ll need to win nearly all Independents and/or peel away a significant chunk of Republican votes from Morales to pull off the win, neither of which are a small task.”
Wells was an undergrad when 9/11 happened, inspiring her to join the Indiana National Guard, then ROTC, becoming an intelligence officer. She met her husband, Oliver, also a member of the Indiana National Guard, while serving.
Wells remains an active U.S. Army Reserve lieutenant colonel.
One of her opponents, Maurer, is also currently on active duty. He is enlisted in the Indiana Air National Guard and is in the middle of a six-year commitment. Meanwhile, Morales has recently been criticized for claiming that he is a veteran.
Morales told The Statehouse File in the same article that he considers himself a veteran.
If elected, Wells wants to improve campaign finance transparency. As The Statehouse File reported in September, the Coalition for Integrity, a nonpartisan nonprofit group, found Indiana ranked last among the states for campaign finance transparency and laws.
“People across Indiana want to see change,” Wells said. “You’ll see that we have over 1,000 individual donors this quarter, but you’ll see my opponent, he has donations through corporate shell companies. So what that does is that masks who the actual donor is. We should be able to give Hoosiers tools so that they can see where that money is coming from and who is influencing the political process.”
Between Jan. 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022, Wells raised $118,333 and spent about $63,976. Morales has raised $354,463 and spent $260,755—more than four times as much.
According to WFYI, Morales is declining to participate in debates. His opponents, Wells and Maurer, both issued statements regarding it. They may plan to do a debate without Morales in October.
“If your ideas are so bad that you can’t even stand in front of a crowd of people, of your neighbors, to defend them, then something’s wrong. You need better ideas,” Maurer said.
“It is a chance for the voter to easily access information in direct contrast to each other, instead of having to go root through the news and find each of our different policy positions through interviews,” said Wells.
How she got here
Wells grew up in a farming family in Martinsville and was a first-generation college student, graduating from Indiana University with a B.A. in political science. (Later, she would earn a law degree from the University of Texas.)
“I’ll say I also got involved with the Democratic Party,” Wells said. “My entire family and my community are all Republicans. But I find that the Democratic Party best serves where I want to see our future represented, and so I’m a Democrat.”
Wells’ sons, 11 and 2, motivate her, she said. She wants to help create a state that they would be proud to live in one day.
“I don’t want my son to feel like this is not the place where he can live,” Wells said. “I stayed in Indiana to make it a better place. … We just have to stand up to the challenge and do the work that we know is right and true and fact-based.”
According to Wells, Indiana is a purple state—a mix between Democratic blue and Republican red—and a potential swing state with a voter turnout problem. The state is 46th in the nation for getting voters to the polls, and in the 2020 presidential election, about 1.6 million registered Hoosiers stayed home. Wells wants to help get Hoosiers more involved in the voting process.
It is also important that Hoosiers trust who the secretary of state is to run elections, Wells said, especially if politicians on the losing side of the contest claim voter fraud as happened in 2020.
“Look, if there’s a call in 2024 like there was in 2020 …” Wells said. “Who do you want answering the phone when that call comes in? Do you want Destiny Wells answering the phone, or do you want Diego Morales? My record shows that you want Destiny Wells answering that call.”
Wells has been endorsed by labor unions and groups like Moms Demand Action. Most recently, she was endorsed by VoteVets PAC. VoteVets represents over 1.5 million veterans and military families and supports veterans running for office around the country.
“In these turbulent political times, our veterans, communities and country need leaders like Destiny Wells, who will continue to serve the nation and put the country first.” said Jon Soltz, VoteVets PAC chairman.
The Indiana Democratic Party called Wells the best choice “because she will keep our elections safe and secure,” Mike Schmuhl, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said in a statement. “There’s too much at stake for Hoosiers in this election year, and Destiny Wells is the leader who can and will protect our Hoosier democracy.”
At a Jan. 6, 2022 meeting, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett gave his support for Wells’ campaign.
“One year ago, as we speak, smoke was still billowing over the capital of the United States of America,” Hogsett said in a video. “Democracy was at stake on that day, on that fateful day … That’s what’s at stake and that’s why I’m proud to be here supporting Destiny.”