Craig Dunn: GOP takes a giant leap up the Hill
Tuesday, June 14, 2016 10:22 AM
KOKOMO – Indiana Republicans can be proud that they took a giant leap forward on Saturday, when delegates to the Indiana Republican State Convention nominated Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill to be their candidate for Indiana attorney general.
In a continuation of a political evolutionary process that witnessed three incredibly talented women lead the Indiana statewide Republican ticket in 2014, delegates to the 2016 Republican state convention created an historical moment with the Hill nomination. Curtis Hill became the first African-American Republican to be nominated for a statewide constitutional office.
First and foremost, Curtis Hill deserved the nomination. A four-term county prosecutor, Hill hit the entire State of Indiana like an April tornado. Endorsed by 40 of his peers, Hill quickly served notice last year that he was in it to win it with hard work and a great message.
The path to the nomination for attorney general was going to be a tough one for any eventual winner. Republicans displayed an embarrassment of riches with its four attorney general candidates.
Former Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter did an excellent job in his two terms in office. A tough and likeable guy, Carter is the type of candidate you just can’t beat by outworking. Carter was omnipresent on the dead chicken tour that we call the Lincoln Day Dinner circuit. He went door to door visiting with delegates. He was definitely going to be a formidable candidate for a return to the attorney general’s office.
Abby Kuzma honed her skills working as an assistant attorney general for Greg Zoeller. She is a talented, sharp and intelligent attorney. She was somewhat of a late entrant into the attorney general race and suffered from a lack of a political base to rely on for support. Still, not having run for office before and being a woman, coupled with her top notch credentials, meant that she couldn’t be ignored at a convention.
Finally, State Sen. Randy Head offered a potent mix of strengths for any convention run. He is young, talented and energetic and had a great vision for the attorney general office. In addition, he had the ability to marshal an army of his fellow state senators in his support. Head had also chaired the successful state treasurer campaign of Kelly Mitchell at the 2014 Republican State Convention. He had helped author a very successful convention strategy and was set to duplicate the feat in 2016.
The first step in the nominating process was a nomination speech made by an advocate for the candidate. I scored Randy Head the winner of the nomination speech derby. It is hard to beat having a statewide office holder, Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, do your nomination. Curtis Hill’s nomination speech was impressive and kept the delegates’ attention. Steve Carter’s nomination speech focused on his many achievements as the former attorney general. I got a sense that many delegates were looking for more of a forward-looking nominating speech. Finally, Abby Kuzma’s nominator told of her work in establishing the Neighborhood Christian Legal Network. This gave her credence as both an innovator and a Christian, two marketable traits to carry before Indiana Republican delegates.
The candidate speeches themselves were a mixed bag of strategy and delivery.
Abby Kuzma focused on human trafficking and an emphasis on toughening enforcement of the laws governing this serious problem. While a worthwhile message, I believe the delegates were viewing each speech as an audition for who would bring the most value to a statewide ticket and Kuzma just didn’t light many fires with her speech.
Randy Head delivered a spot-on speech that was energetic, had the right message and impressed the assembled delegates. Head looked pretty strong by the time he wrapped up his speech.
Steve Carter gave a relatively flat speech that failed to focus on his future plans for the office. While his accomplishments as attorney general were impressive, they were done eight years ago and delegates were looking for something to help light up the statewide ticket for 2016. You could almost sense that delegates were looking for lightning in a bottle. Carter failed to offer that elixir.
I had seen Curtis Hill speak on several occasions. Each time, Hill had kept his audiences riveted on his message and impressed with his delivery. The problem with being a dynamic speaker is the risk that on the big day, your speech fails to live up to expectations.
On Hill’s big day, in front of 1,731 Republican delegates, he hit it out of the park. Hill talked about his family’s journey, its challenges and its triumph. A product of a strong family that instilled in Hill a refusal to accept the status quo, he fought prejudice and triumphed over adversity. Hill then made a superb case for his vision for the future of the attorney general’s office. He also made a forceful case for standing up to the federal government in court that was met with rousing applause.
The rules adopted for the Republican convention required that the lowest vote getter on each ballot be dropped from the contest. After the dramatic first ballot, Abby Kuzma was dropped after garnering only 76 votes. The remaining three candidates were within 100 votes of each other.
The big question after round one of voting was who would get Kuzma’s votes on the second ballot. Kuzma threw her support to Randy Head between votes and Head needed the boost since he had finished third on the first ballot. The problem with endorsements after the balloting begins is the inability to effectively communicate these endorsements to the delegates. It only stands to reason that no serious candidate spends any time working on contingencies in the event of defeat. Trust me. I’ve been on the short end of the convention stick as a floor manager and once you get eliminated, there’s not much you can do to influence the eventual outcome.
Surprisingly, Head finished the second ballot with roughly the same total as on the first ballot, as did Steve Carter. The candidate who showed momentum on the second ballot was Curtis Hill, making significant gains.
With Sen. Head finding himself as the odd man out after the second ballot, he threw his support to Curtis Hill. The final ballot gave Hill a resounding victory and the rest, as they say, is history.
Curtis Hill presents Indiana Democrats with a major problem. He defies all of the stereotypes and prejudices that the Democrats spew in an effort to paint the Republican Party as the party of old white men. Hill brings a vigor and message to the campaign that will play well in every nook and cranny of Indiana. It shows the Indiana Republican Party to be the party of ideas and a party of progress. Curtis Hill will give John Gregg and the Democrats fits from now until Election Day.
On a personal note, I’d like to say that I was prouder of the Indiana Republican Party than I’ve been in some time. The 1,731 delegates assembled in Indianapolis met and selected not only the best candidate for the Republican ticket, as the attorney general candidate, but they also selected the best man for the job.
Indiana Republicans proved once again that when it comes time to do the right thing for the people of Indiana, we get it right. Curtis Hill was the right man at the right time and the Republican Party and the State of Indiana will be the better for his nomination.
Dunn is chairman of the Howard County Republican Party.