By BRIAN A. HOWEY in Indianapolis
and MARK SCHOEFF, JR. in Washington

One year ago today, a mob of insurrectionists ransacked the U.S. Capitol while chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” A year ago on New Year’s Day 2021 there were 9,578 pandemic Hoosier COVID-19 deaths while there was hope that the vaccine on the way promised to protect our friends, families and communities while fully reopening society.

Today, Indiana’s pandemic death toll stands at 19,171, and the University of Washington’s Health Evaluation and Metrics site is projecting 25,931 deaths by April 1. This is before the Omicron variant fully invades the state, which has a 52% fully vaccination rate, one of the lowest in the nation.

As for the insurrection, an Axios-Momentive Poll revealed that 57% of Americans expect another violent confrontation similar to the U.S. Capitol insurrection, including 50% of Republicans and 70% of Democrats. According to the poll, 63% say the attack changed the way Americans think about the democratic government, with about half of those saying the change is permanent and others saying it’s temporary. Just 55% believe that President Biden was legitimately elected in 2020, down from 58% a year ago.

So we begin 2022 with a double hangover from last year when the pandemic and the insurrection dominated topical news. This comes as Indiana has essentially become a one-party state. These ongoing events and GOP dominance greatly shaped this 2022 HPI Power 50 List, with the only Democrat on the top 10 being U.S. Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg.

At this writing, Indiana’s intensive care unit beds are swamped with mostly unvaccinated Hoosiers, while Health Commissioner Kris Box is working from home after contracting another (breakthrough) case of COVID. The most effective “leader” in Indiana’s COVID vaccine dilemma appears to be Purdue President Mitch Daniels, who has achieved a vaccination rate in the 80th percentile (IU had a 90% vaccine rate). 

This current session of the General Assembly provides a surreal split screen to this pandemic. House Republicans are seeking to eliminate any type of vaccine mandate by employers, while our ICUs are at or near capacity with Omicron generating what is projected to be 20,000 infections daily in the coming weeks. Traditional business advocates like the Indiana Chamber of Commerce appear to have lost sway over the GOP super majorities.

We lead this year’s list with U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who is poised to become the decisive vote that either renders Roe v. Wade moot, or eclipses it in a way that throws fetal viability to the 50 states. This could be a generational change. That decision is expected in June.

While 2022 is an election year, the new congressional and legislative maps are so thoroughly tilted to Republicans that barring an extremely unlikely Democratic wave, none of the state’s nine CDs will be in play. We are not expecting serious cleaving of Republican super majorities in the General Assembly. If legislative Republicans get their way, the most dynamic political races will be for future school board seats.

The 2024 cycle also shapes this list, as an open gubernatorial seat and (potentially) an open U.S. Senate seat will generate much jockeying on the GOP side, while Joe Donnelly will be the most likely Democratic contender for governor.

In normal times, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch would be best positioned to assume the GOP’s gubernatorial mantle, but numerous sources tell HPI that Sen. Mike Braun and, perhaps, term-limited U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth are potential self-funders who could comprehensively change the way we elect our governors.

These are not normal times. With broken glass still glistening on the marble floors of the U.S. Capitol and tear gas still wafting in the air, 140 Republicans – including the entire Indiana House GOP delegation – voted against certifying President Biden as the winner, despite assurances from former Attorney General William Barr and rulings by some 60 judges that there was virtually no evidence of widespread, election-changing vote fraud. Former senator and ambassador Dan Coats warned us of severe consequences if the U.S. forfeits the concept that losing candidates accept defeat while the transfer of power occurs peacefully. Only Sen. Braun would change his vote, jarred by the violence that shook the foundations of the nation unlike any other event since Dec. 7, 1941, or Sept. 11, 2001.

Donald Trump has become the Republican Party, so much so that if he and Mike Pence were on the 2024 primary ballot here in Indiana, our betting money would be on the former president. This appears to be the new reality that Republican National Committeeman John Hammond III forecast in late 2015, that some Americans are yearning for a “strongman.” The delicate two and a half century American experiment with democracy is now hanging in the balance.

Conservative commentator Mona Charen wrote in The Bulwark on Wednesday: “January 6th should have been the point of no return, the pivot point at which even the most blinkered sugarcoaters of Trumpism recoiled in disgust from what they had wrought. For a nanosecond, it seemed that it was. The most threatening aspect of January 6th was not the ferocious attack on the Capitol, but the response of Republican officeholders thereafter. Even after the unleashing of medieval mob violence; even after the erection of a gallows; even after members had been forced to run for their lives; even after the deaths and injuries; even after all of that and more, 147 Republican members of Congress voted not to certify Joe Biden as the winner of the presidency. The transformation of the GOP from a political party into an authoritarian personality cult became official that day. (Kevin) McCarthy’s bootlicking visit to Mar-a-Lago in late January 2021 merely provided the visual.”

Here is our 2022 HPI Power 50 List: 

1. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett: A year ago, Judge Barrett was on the 7th Circuit in Chicago but lived in South Bend and taught at Notre Dame. Today she is poised to become the decisive vote that either ends Roe v. Wade, or guts it, prompting states to pass shorter viability periods for abortion. Her questions last fall about adoption options for women in a post-Roe era in the Mississippi case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization signaled to many that she will deliver on what has been the Holy Grail of the life movement. She represents the capstone achievement of the Right to Life movement that has come to dominate Republican Party politics for a half a century. Justice Barrett was the third SCOTUS nominee of President Trump after rising on the Federalist Society list of potential justices. The nation’s high court hasn’t taken the immediate hard right turn in its jurisprudence that many anticipated when conservatives achieved a 6-3 majority last year thanks to Barrett’s confirmation. But the move to the right is likely to become much more pronounced when the Court rules on the Mississippi abortion case. If the vote undermines Roe, Barrett will be at the forefront of a major change in reproductive rights. She’ll also be at the center of a debate over whether the court is becoming overly partisan. That will put pressure on Barrett’s fellow SCOTUS Hoosier, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., to try to keep the court out of politics. Now that he’s no longer the swing vote, it will be much tougher for him to steer the direction SCOTUS takes on individual cases. But Roberts is a formidable judge and, as much as he might try to avoid the label, a savvy politician. We’ll be keeping our eyes on both Hoosiers on the high court. In an HPI column by Curt Smith, former president of the Indiana Family Institute, he wrote, “Assuming the ruling comes down in late June of 2022 …  there will be immediate calls for a special session of the Indiana General Assembly to restrict abortion. The politics of abortion would change immediately as well, and for the better, although it will be harder for the GOP to maintain its coalition without opposition to abortion as its central organizing principle.”

2. Gov. Eric Holcomb: Here’s what our 2021 Power 50 said about the governor: “He is poised to become one of the most powerful governors in Indiana history. He won a second term in landslide fashion. He has consolidated education policy with his appointment of Katie Jenner as the state’s first education secretary. He has had the support of two super majority legislative chambers through the duration of this administration, with no end in sight. And he has been the lynchpin figure in dealing with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.” While internal INGOP polling puts Holcomb’s job approval at 65% and his handling of the pandemic at 66%, Holcomb had two pandemic-related bill vetoes overridden, and he has essentially punted the handling of mandates and masking to local non-health officials. His feud with Attorney General Todd Rokita over his handling of the pandemic dominated the media in the final weeks of 2021. As an influential player in the Daniels administration where the mantra had been not to waste unused political capital, Gov. Holcomb did not make a systemic pitch for Hoosiers to vaccinate. With only 48% of us fully vaccinated, this has led to the swamping of our medical system just as the Omicron variant arrives. Holcomb’s pandemic mantra had been to “manage” the crisis to prevent this overwhelming sequence. He had been ultra transparent from March 2020 to the end of March ‘21, declaring in a statewide address that the “light was at the end of the tunnel.” Then the weekly Zoom conferences stopped and Hoosiers endured three more surges, with little direction from the top. Some have blamed Hollcomb’s passive approach on his desire to run for the U.S. Senate in 2024 if Sen. Braun runs for governor. The conventional wisdom is that Holcomb did not want to upset the wide swathe of the GOP who are now identifying as anti-vaccine. His political problem is that his 2020 shutdowns and mandates have already alienated many of those folks (negative reaction to his rare presser last week on his state Facebook page revealed that animosity) while the anti-vaxxers have upset moderate and independent voters now angered that the vaccine did not end this pandemic. We’ve seen over the past 25 years that governors with designs on a future in Washington make decisions differently than those who view this office as a career capstone. Holcomb would have served his political future much more effectively if he had used his conspicuous bully pulpit to push up the state’s vaccination rates, thus avoiding the medical crisis at hand, for which we have yet to fathom the severity or consequences. Having said that, HPI readers should resist the IndyStar’s notion that Holcomb entered his second term last January as a “lame duck.” With $13 billion in federal pandemic funding in hand, with $500 million in READI grants now flowing to communities, and with another biennial budget session coming in 2023, Holcomb will hardly be a lame duck for a couple of years. He would best serve our state if he doubled down on another Mitchism: Good policy creates great politics.

3. Chief of Staff Earl Goode: He’s become the most consequential chief of staff in Hoosier political history, having served governors Holcomb and Daniels across 12 years. He has complete trust of the governor and very few things happen in Indiana without Goode’s input.

4. Senate President Rod Bray: While House Republicans rushed toward anti-vaccine mandate prohibition, the post-Thanksgiving special session was delayed because, a number of sources told us, Senate Republicans were not on board. On Tuesday, Bray called for the “responsible” ending of the pandemic. “Legislative leaders, in conjunction with the governor, previously identified several remaining issues currently addressed by executive orders that need to be addressed through legislation so the public health emergency can be ended in Indiana without causing undue harm to Hoosiers,” Bray said. “Senate Republicans are prioritizing legislation that will have a positive impact on citizens across Indiana. Our priorities will ensure more Hoosiers are eligible for Indiana’s automatic taxpayer refund, prevent schools that had quarantined students from experiencing unforeseen funding cuts, and responsibly end Indiana’s state of emergency without affecting our most vulnerable Hoosiers. Though this is a short session, there is much to be done, and Senate Republicans are ready to get to work.” In addition to applying the brakes prior to the November special session, Bray is prioritizing tweaks to the automatic tax refund law in SB1 (traditionally the Senate’s top designated priority) “so approximately 900,000 additional Hoosiers will be eligible for the state’s taxpayer refund.” Bray is also seeking to change the annual school funding “count day.” SB2, authored by State Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond), would ensure schools receive full funding for children who were considered virtual students during the fall of 2021 because they had to quarantine at the start of the school year. Several GOP sources tell HPI that Bray hasn’t ruled out a 2024 gubernatorial run, though he hasn’t made any overt moves on that front to date.

5. U.S. Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg: The Trump administration never pulled off an Infrastructure Week. The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill President Biden signed in November gives Buttigieg the chance to have an Infrastructure Year in 2022. He not only can tout projects nationwide but also influence their timelines. Buttigieg has an opportunity to use the concrete pulpit to give his boss a lift in the polls and to bolster Democrats’ political strength for the mid-term elections. In fact, while Capitol Hill Democrats are engaged in internecine warfare over the Build Back Better Act and voting rights legislation, Buttigieg may be in the best position to remind voters that party can deliver tangible results for them – improved roads, bridges, airports and broadband access. If Buttigieg wants to be a serious Democratic presidential candidate – in 2024 or, more likely, 2028 – he can get off to a good start as the transportation secretary who turned infrastructure into the political winner it should be. Having said that, with Republicans like Jim Banks and Ted Cruz promising an impeachment of President Biden should they retake control of Congress in November, Buttigieg’s dispersal of infrastructure funds will be an obvious target.

6. U.S. Sen. Todd Young: Indiana’s senior senator could become the Indiana version of last year’s successful Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. Youngkin became the first GOP candidate to win statewide office in Virginia in more than a decade. He did so by appealing to Republican base voters while keeping former President Donald Trump at arm’s length. Youngkin’s ability to walk that tight rope was held up as template for Republicans in the post-Trump era. Although Youngkin did get Trump’s endorsement, it wasn’t something he advertised. Young doesn’t have Trump’s endorsement yet, but the Youngkin model shows that he may not need it. The Republican base is going to support Young anyway, and if Young can avoid too close a connection with Trump, he can maintain his All-American aura without worrying about Trump tarnish. It also helps that Young has been able to avoid tough votes that could upset the Republican base  – such as extending the debt ceiling – because retiring Senate Republicans have done the heavy lifting and supplied common sense and courage.

7. U.S. Sen. Mike Braun: Depending on the day, Braun can either come across as in over his head or as a serious legislator who wants to make a difference with a conservative approach to a tough issue, such as climate change. He got off to an awkward start in the new Congress last year by flipflopping on whether he would vote to certify or oppose the presidential election results. It was almost painful to watch him vacillate between backing President Trump’s attempt to undermine election integrity and joining fellow Hoosier Republican Sen. Todd Young in upholding the votes in Arizona and Pennsylvania. In recent weeks, Braun has raised his profile by leading a charge to overturn President Biden’s vaccine mandate for U.S. businesses. Braun encourages vaccinations but doesn’t want the government to tell people what to do. He’s able to sound reasonable even while giving cover to people who want to shirk what President Joe Biden calls their patriotic duty to get vaccinated and stop the spread of the Omicron variant. There is rampant speculation in Indiana GOP circles that Braun won’t seek reelection, instead will come back home to run for governor. Braun defeated U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita in 2018 by writing millions of dollars of checks to begin a TV ad campaign in late 2017.

8. U.S. Rep. Jim Banks: The Columbia City Republican is at the top of the second tier of the Trumpiest House Republicans. He’s not as strident, pugnacious and dangerous as, say Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., but he is among Trump’s most ardent acolytes. His position as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House, ensures that he will influence the GOP’s strategy to take over the House in the mid-term elections. If Republicans regain control of the House, Banks could be a contender for a leadership position.

9. House Speaker Todd Huston: Last winter HPI asked former speakers Brian Bosma and John Gregg what would be the ideal House majority. Both said 58 members. With 71 caucus members, Huston continues to spin multiple plates on rods. Just before Thanksgiving, one of the big plates fell and broke, with a special session that was planned to enact pandemic mandate bans just as the current (Delta) spike morphed into the current Omicron that is now stressing out hospitals and weary medical staffs. Huston has been able to keep the Nisly-Jacob-Lucas faction mostly within the caucus bandwidth. He shepherded the new maps that will likely preserve the House super majority until there is a national Democratic wave or a major scandal. He will be presiding over an array of controversial legislation (he is a co-sponsor of HB1001) beyond the pandemic, including the politicization of school board races and the banning of critical race theory. “This year Hoosier Republicans will introduce a bill ensuring that parents have more insight and input into the curriculum materials and surveys being used in their schools,” Huston said in November. “A parents’ voice must be heard and respected, and we’ll ensure that’s the case.” As for the potential demise of Roe v. Wade, Huston said, “In Indiana, we have a strong history of standing up for the rights of the unborn and we’ll continue to build on our pro-life efforts this session.” Huston has also prioritized legislation that will lower health care and energy costs, saying on Organization Day, “We will focus on reliability, affordability, and realistic, sustainability. When energy prices are too high, they impact Hoosier families and businesses, as well as our ability to compete in attracting economic development to our state.”

10. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch: Last year, we had Crouch at No. 2 on the Power 50 as there was wide speculation that she will seek to become the first female GOP gubernatorial nominee. She ends up on this list here because standing in the way of that nomination include two potential self-funders, U.S. Sen. Braun and U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth. While there have been rich Hoosiers who have run for governor (i.e. John Hillenbrand in 1980 and Mitch Daniels in 2004), neither of them wrote personal checks worth millions to forge a decisive advantage for the nomination. Braun and Hollingsworth did just that in their 2016 and 2018 races for Congress. Crouch’s fundraising prowess is legendary; it’s a big reason why Holcomb picked her as a running mate, and she has quite possibly attended more Lincoln Day dinners than any other current GOP official. Crouch told HPI in December that should she decide to run, she will have ample funding. What Crouch faces is overwhelming early money that has the potential of sewing up the nomination, so if she is going to run, she would probably have to declare shortly after the short session ends in early March. Crouch has a loyal network of supporters in both legislative chambers, as well as that of Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke. Noting that former LGs Kathy Davis, Becky Skillman and Sue Ellspermann weren’t able to advance to the top spot, Crouch told me that the difference is that she can raise enough money to be competitive.

11. House Majority Leader Matt Lehman: He is the author of HB1001 – the number designated by the majority caucus as its No. 1 issue – that would limit COVID-19 vaccine requirements at Indiana companies. The first hearing on the issue in mid-December came with the Delta variant poised to slam Indiana hospital ICUs. By today’s committee hearing, as the Omicron variant is poised to create an historic and potentially lethal crisis, as ICU beds were unavailable in Lafayette and were precipitously low in four of the 10 state hospital districts. “We need to make sure Hoosier workers are protected,” Lehman told the House Committee on Employment, Labor and Pensions last month. “We can ‘what if’ things to death. The goal is to make this a better bill, a workable bill.” While Lehman’s proposal has attracted 57 co-sponsors, it has drawn sharp criticism from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and medical associations. Instead of systemically urging Hoosiers to vaccinate as the best way to end this pandemic, Lehman and House Republicans have sided with the 48% of Hoosiers who refuse to vaccinate. The specter of Omicron overwhelming this nascent legislative short session could put Lehman in a historic league with Rep. Record, who attempted to redefine the mathematical concept of Pi.

12. Mike Pence: Depending on your perspective, former vice president Pence either saved American democracy or ruined President Trump’s elaborate attempt to pull off a coup d’etat when he said a year ago today: “My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not. My role as presiding officer is largely ceremonial. Some believe that as vice president, I should be able to accept or reject electoral votes unilaterally. Others believe that electoral votes should never be challenged in a Joint Session of Congress. After a careful study of our Constitution, our laws and our history I believe neither view is correct. So help me God.” Many have written off Pence for 2024, though he is taking wide-ranging steps to run. A Reuters/Ipsos poll in December showed that Donald Trump was the choice of 54% of Republicans surveyed, well ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 11% while Pence stood 8%. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court could end Roe v. Wade, representing a career objective for Pence, and potentially reopening a lane to the 2024 presidential nomination. Many of you will have doubts, just like many had before Trump chose Pence in July 2016 after a tormented, fitful process. Axios is reporting that a number of Pence aides, including Marc Short, are voluntarily cooperationg with the Jan. 6 commiittee.

13. Ambassador Joe Donnelly: The former senator expects to be confirmed by the Senate to become ambassador to the Vatican within the next month. He spent much time barnstorming the state in 2021 as Chairman  Mike Schmuhl led Democrats back into Trump country. Donnelly visited all 92 counties all six years as senator and has many strong agricultural and rural relationships. He is best positioned to run for governor in 2024. President Biden nominated him to be ambassador to the Vatican, signaling to some that his candidacy is off the table. But Donnelly is likely return in late 2023, has been a prolific fundraiser, and represents the best shot for Hoosier Democrats to end a 20-year drought and reclaim the second floor.

14. Health Commissioner Kris Box and Chief Health Officer Lindsay Weaver: This COVID pandemic isn’t over by any means and Drs. Box and Weaver are still on the front lines when it comes to pandemic response and policy recommendations. Box is recovering at home after becoming re-infected with COVID-19, the Indiana Department of Health announced Tuesday. Indiana and much of the nation is experiencing a surge in cases that is testing healthcare systems, due largely to the highly infectious Omicron variant. On Tuesday, the state reported 8,533 new cases and a seven-day positivity rate of 20.5%. Box, who is fully vaccinated and received a booster dose in November, is one of an estimated 113,000 Hoosiers to suffer a breakthrough case since Jan. 18, 2021. Dr. Weaver became the state’s chief medical officer on Feb. 3, 2020, just as the pandemic was fueling up. Dr. Box will be leading the governor’s health commission, which is expected to deliver a long term, positive impacts on Hoosier health.
15. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain: Sometimes chiefs of staff can become almost as well known as the presidents they serve. That’s not the case for Klain. He does his tough job without taking any of the spotlight from President Biden. But will Klain’s reputation for quiet effectiveness be tarnished if Biden can’t reach an agreement with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to approve the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act that contains Biden’s economic agenda? And while Klain is a veteran of past pandemics and Democrat administrations, the messaging operation from this White House and CDC has added to the confusion generated by this sequence.

16. Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer: In the next couple of months, one of the most successful state chairs in history will decide whether to run for governor in 2024, joining a field that already includes former IEDC Chairman Eric Doden. “It will probably come in the not too distant future,” Hupfer told HPI in December. “The governor gets these same questions a lot and the answer we both tend to give is we’re not taking anything off the table.” Hupfer has raised more than $25 million for the GOP and the Holcomb campaign since 2017. Hoosier Republicans now control 88% of all county elected offices, or 1,330 out of 1,509. This comes on top of holding all of the Statehouse constitutional offices, nine out of 11 congressional offices, 71 mayoral offices while holding super majorities in the General Assembly. Hupfer is focused on the future as opposed to former president Trump’s “Big Lie” that puts American democracy in jeopardy. “I don’t see it persisting,” Hupfer said. “It may be persisting on the edges out there, but the vast majority of Republicans have moved past that concept. They are looking to 2022 and they know how critical it is. We have to win back the House and Senate. That’s all I hear at RNC meetings and out across the country. 2020 is in the rearview mirror. The focus is on 2022. We’ve got to win back and House and Senate.” This cycle, Hupfer will work to protect the legislative super majorities with new, friendly maps, and could even target U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan in the 1st CD. He sees the 2022 cycle shaping up well for Republicans, citing runaway inflation as a prime reason. “It’s going to be the issue,” he said. “You have an administration and Congress who are tone deaf about that. They’re still talking about the Build Back Better plan which would be another couple of trillions of dollars infused in. The federal government cannot buy or spend their way out of whatever these perceived issues are right now.”

17. U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth: This Republican congressman is self term-limited, leading to speculation that he will seek the governorship as a self-funder. His favorite topic on the House Financial Services Committee is capital formation. He champions legislation that makes it easier for small businesses to launch through private investments. It’s a niche that turns on segments of the business community. We’re not sure, however, how much this topic directly impacts his 9th CD constituents. If he runs for governor, he probably won’t have a high-profile House bill he’s written to tout. 

18. Attorney General Todd Rokita:
What is Rokita running for in 2024, governor or the U.S. Senate? Will he want to risk a second primary defeat to Mike Braun? Can he defeat Lt. Gov. Crouch? Or will he take on Gov. Holcomb for the Senate if Braun decides to leave D.C.? His legal and rhetorical battles with Gov. Holcomb suggest the latter. Since taking office last January, Rokita has become the most political attorney general in modern times. He has used his office to join the anti-COVID vaccine fight against President Biden, while filing amicus briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. He has held Critical Race Theory hearings, and pushed a “Parental Bill of Rights.” He has attempted to prevent Gov. Holcomb from suing the General Assembly over the constitutional right to convene a special session. Rokita generated headlines in late December, telling WSBT-TV about Indiana State Department of Health COVID statistics that he didn’t “believe in any numbers anymore and I’m sorry about that. They are politicized. This has been politicized since day one.” Holcomb responded: “I will say I was stunned and somewhat blindsided by the attorney general. It is quite serious when you accuse anyone of inflating numbers. If there is a thread of evidence, he needs to take that to the state’s inspector general. To me is attempting to fan the flames of confusion.” Rokita defended his remarks, saying in a series of Twitter postings last week, “I stand by the concerns of a significant number of Hoosiers and Americans about the politicization of COVID reporting. Also, there are examples from across the country that I hear daily as I travel the state ... where non-COVID illnesses or deaths are inappropriately categorized as COVID, which further creates fear. Dying with COVID (where the primary cause of death is some other co-morbidity) is not the same as dying of COVID, for example.” Becoming Indiana’s attorney general is not, historically, a path to the governorship, or any other higher office. Yes, Democrat Attorney General Alonzo Smith served as an interim lieutenant governor from 1886-89, and Samuel Jackson was briefly in the U.S. Senate in 1944. In 1992, Attorney General Linley Pearson won the Republican gubernatorial nomination, but nearly quit before the convention ended in a dispute over composition of the ticket. In 2016, Attorney General Greg Zoeller lost a 9th Congressional District primary to mostly unknown Trey Hollingsworth, formerly of Tennessee, who used family wealth to win the nomination and the seat. In the television age of Hoosier politics, attorneys general Edwin Steers, John Dillon, Ted Sendak, Pamela Carter, Jeff Modisett, Karen Freeman-Wilson and Steve Carter saw the office as the capstone of their political and legal careers, though the appointed Freeman-Wilson later became the mayor of Gary. Our governors during this modern era have been lieutenant governors, House speakers, state senators, congressmen, or wealthy businessmen.

19. Democratic Chairman Mike Schmuhl: He took the reins of the Indiana Democratic Party in March and has since operated under the mantra that “you have to show up,” initiating dozens of hearings pushing President Biden’s American Rescue Plan in Trump counties. “People are really hungry and yearning for a path forward for our party. There’s a lot of excitement and energy to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Schmuhl told HPI in July. “I’ve started organizing communities and they are working to run campaigns. I also heard a lot of frustration with our fortunes as of late, and I think people are looking for more collaboration, more coordination, as we rebuild our party in the cycles ahead.” With the party confined mostly to Lake and St. Joseph counties, Indianapolis and the college towns, Schmuhl vowed to return Democrats to power in cities, small towns and rural Indiana. “My pitch will be, you’ll see us very soon,” he said. “One thing that we did, in working on campaigns for Joe Donnelly, is you show up, you engage in those communities and have conversations with people.” Schmuhl managed Pete Buttigieg’s 2019-20 presidential campaign which raised $100 million and developed the template they developed when the candidate won the Iowa caucuses: They concentrated on rural Iowa and developed new communication tactics. Unless Joe Donnelly returns from the Vatican sometime in late 2023 to run for governor which is likely, Hoosier Democrats won’t have a strong horse for the 2024 gubernatorial race. Schmuhl has the resume, the business background, the administrative experience (he was Mayor Pete’s first chief of staff), the communication skills, the fundraising ability, and a cogent message to run that race himself.

20. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.: The ambitious five-term mayor is seeking the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination against Haneefah Khaaliq of Gary, Dr. Valerie Lin McCray of Indianapolis and Aleem Young. McDermott is coming off a tormented 2020 primary loss to U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan. This is his first statewide run. “I’m having a blast, people are great,” McDermott told HPI in December. “I get to stay in Fort Wayne and New Albany. I really thought it was going to be a grind but it’s been wonderful. Obviously everyone wants you to be everywhere. We’re really focused on getting 500 signatures in each district. Obviously it’s a challenge in some districts.” McDermott expects to post around $100,000 in his fourth quarter FEC report, but says he has already scheduled 20 fundraisers for January, when he expects that portion of the campaign will pick up steam. As for issues, McDermott says that the potential for the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade next summer could be a huge break for his campaign. “I know many women are concerned about Roe v. Wade,” he said. “I think we know what happens when Roe is overturned, Todd Young has got a lot of explaining to do. “People are sick of Washington,” McDermott added. “You don’t hear people being sick of Hammond. We’ve given (Young) 12 years to fix these problems.”

21. U.S. Rep. Andre Carson: Why Carson hasn’t become more of a player – and risen higher on the HPI 50 list – continues to be a mystery. He’s on committees that put him in a position to make news, the House Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. As a Muslim, he’s been outspoken on diversity, equity and inclusion issues. He’s also a senior whip on the House Democratic leadership team. A higher profile Carson would be good for Indiana Democrats.

22. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett: The two-term Democrat will have to make a decision on reelection after the November election. Hogsett has had to deal with a consecutive string of record homicide years (275 in 2021) but because of the American Rescue Plan, now has the funds to impact causes. “What we’re really talking about is a high percentage of the gun violence in our city is being committed by, compared to 900,000 residents, it’s being committed by an extraordinarily low number of individuals and those are the individuals we have to get off the street,” Hogsett said in August. In February after the FOP’s Rick Snyder said that leadership had “failed,” Hogsett responded, “The answer is we haven’t failed. We are making progress in many different ways and in many different areas, like crimes of violence, robbery, rape and other forms of violent crime. Now we need to focus on the gun violence like a laser.” While some see Hogsett as a gubernatorial and U.S. Senate contender in 2024, only Richard Lugar parlayed his mayorship into higher office during the television age of Indiana politics.

23. OMB Director Cris Johnston: With record revenues via the American Rescue Plan, an automatic tax refund, and a budget session on the way in 2023, Johnston will still be at the center of a lot of major decisions during this current General Assembly session and Gov. Holcomb’s final biennial budget in 2023.

24. Purdue President Mitch Daniels: On Jan. 4, 2021, Daniels said in his annual letter to the university community, “The first, huge and daunting set of questions Purdue faced was how to react to all the changes and risks presented by a global pandemic. The second set requires us to peer ahead, trying to determine which of those changes will prove permanent, and to what degree, and what a successful university must do to adjust to them.” How did Daniels’s leadership on the pandemic shake out? Nearly 47,000 members, or 85%, of the Purdue community of 55,430 have documented their status as fully vaccinated against COVID-19, as of Sept. 24, ranking among the top 2% most-vaccinated areas in Indiana. The overall vaccination rate is now 85% for students, 93% for faculty members and 81% for staff. That’s what effective leadership does. Daniels has made Purdue an example of how to maintain as normal a life as possible during the COVID era. There’s no vaccine mandate at Purdue but the school has successfully encouraged most students and faculty to get their shots. There’s been no major virus outbreak even as Purdue as conducted classes in person for almost the entire pandemic. Daniels has mostly stayed out of politics during his nine-year tenure in West Lafayette. But if you carefully read his Washington Post column, you get the sense he’s tougher on the Biden administration than he was on the Trump administration and on congressional Republicans.

25: Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry: The city’s first four-term mayor had originally planned for this to be his “swan song” term. But now he’s eying reelection. Republicans seeking the nomination include Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters and Fort Wayne Councilman Tom Didier, who defeated Henry for the city council in 2003. Henry told WANE-TV, “The City of Fort Wayne has achieved several major successes in recent months. As your mayor, and with the bipartisan support of many, we are poised to continue that unprecedented momentum. I am well aware that no person has served five terms as mayor of the city of Fort Wayne. While it would be an honor to serve a fifth term as mayor, no decisions have been made and all options remain open as to my political future.” Henry is emphasizing cybersecurity and the $88 million development on Promenade Park on the city’s sprawling river fronts and will have $42 million in READI grant funds to use. “We’re going attempt to continue that momentum as we go into 2022. We’re going to be investing record amounts of money in infrastructure; we’re going to be broadening our information technology offerings and getting in a true emphasis of cybersecurity,” he told FW Business. Fort Wayne was named an “All-American City” in 2021

26. Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke: Although he will not likely pursue higher office beyond serving as mayor, Winnecke has firmly established himself as one of the state’s leading mayors, having orchestrated a downtown remake that now features a state-of-the-art multi-school medical campus. He enjoys broad bipartisan support in his own community and respect from all corners of the state. Perhaps more than any other local official, Winnecke has the ear of state officials on policies or legislation affecting cities and towns. In short, he is “Indiana’s Mayor.”

27. Indiana Gaming Commissioner Greg Small: He replaced Sara Gonso Tait as executive director after serving as general counsel. Tait is now at Ice Miller after overseeing a process in which Greg Gibson and Spectacle Entertainment was forced to forfeit its Terre Haute casino license due to the indictment of John Keeler on a campaign finance count. A lawsuit filed last fall by Full House claims that Churchill Downs’ application should be disqualified, but was dismissed by a Marion County judge on Wednesday.

28. INDOT Commissioner Joe McGuiness: The INDOT chief has been busy since day one. Next Level Roads has infused spending into infrastructure and that will only grow with President Biden’s federal infrastructure bill. The former mayor of Franklin is talked about as possible candidate for future office: Congress, Statehouse and LG.

29. Secretary of State Holli Sullivan: Appointed to finish the term of Connie Lawson, she is running for reelection in her own right, serving as secretary of state during an election year when ballot integrity and security will be hotly debated. She will need to thread the needle of her party’s increasingly complicated approach to election issues, but thus far she has handled it expertly well. Her relationship with convention delegates is strong, and she’s one of the few statewide candidates able to legitimately garner support from both the Trump wing of the party and the more traditional Indianapolis establishment. She will face a convention floor fight, with Newton County Commissioner Kyle Conrad and Diego Morales.

30. Indiana Hospital Association CEO Brian Tabor: He has been the industry point man as the fifth COVID surge has swamped Hoosier medical systems over the past. “We struggling with capacity because of the high number of cases, and just the impact of COVID, and the general health care needs of Hoosiers,” Tabor said during a virtual statewide press conference last week. As for doubts Attorney General Rokita made about the accuracy of Indiana COVID statistics, Tabor explained last week, “I believe all hospitals are reporting accurately. Even back earlier in the pandemic, when there were distributions made to hospitals based on COVID load from the federal government to cover costs associated with the pandemic, all of those are audited. They either have been audited – they will be audited – so there’s a lot of oversight.”

31. U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon: He has settled comfortably into what used to be called the Bloody 8th. The only way warfare would break out in the district today is if Bucshon would draw a serious primary challenge. He’s successfully avoided that and is cruising along. He doesn’t make a big impact in the House but he doesn’t make big mistakes either.

32. U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski: Next to Sen. Young and Rep. Banks, Walorski is the member of the Hoosier congressional delegation who is most likely to end up in a leadership position. She’s using her position on the influential House Ways and Means Committee to become knowledgeable and effective on tax and retirement-savings policy, among other high-profile issues. She’s taking a bullet for her fellow Republicans by serving as vice chair of the House Ethics Committee. She was said to be Rep. Jim Banks’ choice for GOP conference chairwoman when Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., was forced out by her GOP colleagues for voting to impeach President Trump. Look for her name to come up again in leadership races if the GOP takes over the House in the mid-term elections.

33. U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan: The campaign arm of House Republicans is trying to make Mrvan pay for his vote in favor of the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act, the climate, social spending and tax package that encompasses the Biden administration’s economic agenda. Good luck with that effort. There’s no evidence that Mrvan will be significantly challenged in the election. The lack of a GOP bench in The Region is the corollary to the slim statewide Democratic bench.

34. Cam Savage and Kevin Smith:
Savage is essentially managing Sen. Young’s reelection campaign, while Smith is doing the same for Mayor McDermott. Smith has been a long-time aide and political operative of the mayor.

35. Commerce Sec. Bradley Chambers: The founder, president and CEO of Indianapolis-based commercial real estate firm Buckingham Cos. became Indiana’s new part-time secretary of commerce in June, replacing Jim Schellinger, who abruptly quit in March. “There is no one more qualified to lead our economic development efforts than someone who’s been a leader in the business for 35 years,” Gov. Holcomb said. “Not only has Brad created, grown and expanded his business from the ground up, he’s been focused on how his work contributes to making Indiana the best place to invest, work, and live for his entire career.”

36: Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett: The mayor described Terre Haute as the “city on the brink” due to fiscal impacts of property tax caps in 2015. Since then there have been seven balanced budgets, the latest one passed with no dissent unanimously by the city council, and the city has a $3 million surplus. “It’s a really good budget and I’d really love to be able to do more, but it’s really important to build those cash reserves. We want to make sure that we’re taking steps. Now we’re at the cash reserve level, we can start to be able to spend a little bit more,” said Bennett.

37. Right to Life President Mike Fichter: The U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Mississippi abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization could set up a call for a special session after its ruling will be released in June. Fichter said in November, “The Supreme Court has its most significant opportunity since 1973 to end the faulty and unscientific framework of Roe v. Wade. The Roe decision undercut the right of Indiana to determine its own abortion laws while relying on a viability standard completely out of step with today’s science. When Roe was decided, viability, the ability of an unborn baby to survive outside of the womb, was thought to be 24-26 weeks gestation. Today, viability is seen as occurring between 21-22 weeks gestation. As medical technology advances, viability is a recognition of the current status of our medical technology and not of the development of the child herself. We know far more about the humanity of children in the womb in 2021 compared to 1973. Mississippi, just like Indiana, should have the right to determine its own laws when it comes to protecting children in the womb and empowering women with abortion alternatives, support, and protection from coercion. Roe is outdated and unworkable. It’s time to let Indiana decide.”

38. Noblesville Mayor Chris Jensen: He has become an activist and transformational mayor for Noblesville, initiating a new east-west corridor later this year. “If Indiana is in fact the crossroads of America, then Hamilton County must be the crossroads of Indiana, and then its county seat, its most historic city really should be the crossroads of Hamilton County,” Jensen said. “This $125 million investment will reduce traffic by over 20% in downtown, and if anyone travels in downtown Noblesville between 4:30 and 6 o’clock, I can tell you the problem has not solved itself.”

39. Republican National Committee Members John Hammond III and Anne Hathaway: Hammond’s prediction that some Americans want a “strongman” in the White House in 2015 was prescient. Hathaway continues to mentor the next generation of Republican women through the Lugar Series. She has a deep local, state, and national rolodex.

40. U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz: This Republican freshman hasn’t yet developed a signature issue during her first term in office. Her committee assignments – Education and Labor and Judiciary – don’t lend themselves to helping a freshman break out. But she’s a tough campaigner who surprised most observers when she emerged last from a crowded GOP primary in 2020. She doesn’t need to worry about a primary challenge this time around. Her seat has become even more red thanks to redistricting, so she should cruise to her first reelection this fall.

41: U.S. Rep. Jim Baird: He filed for reelection on Wednesday, saying, “Socialism is being normalized,” and he hopes “to continue defending the values we hold dear.” He has redefined the term low-key. He stayed under the radar throughout his tenure in Congress. He’s one of just a handful of lawmakers who has a doctorate. We bet you didn’t know that. You may not know a whole lot more about him either. He fits his district nicely as a Purdue graduate – bachelor’s and master’s degrees – and as a member of the House Agriculture Committee. He’s said to be disappointed in the fierce partisanship on Capitol Hill. Perhaps he’ll do something to generate cross-aisle cooperation that will boost him higher in the HPI 50.

42. Education Sec. Katie Jenner: The secretary took office last January as an appointee from Gov. Holcomb and found herself dealing with everything from masking controversies in school, quarantining issues, the pandemic’s wreaked havoc over student counts for funding, staffing shortages, teacher pay, supply chain problems, school threats after the Michigan massacre and from Tik-Tok, and testing problems with ILearn. If that isn’t a full plate, add discovering how the pandemic has impacted students after a year of remote learning.

43. Senate Appropriations Chairman Ryan Mishler: Even in a non-budget year, the appropriations chair is always going to be a big deal, especially if business personal property and other tax cuts are in the mix over the next 10 weeks.

44. House Education Chairman Bob Behning: He will play a key role in the GOP’s move to politicize school board races. “I would argue that putting an R or D behind your name does not necessarily identify exactly where you’re going to be in terms of school policy,” Behning said. “I do see some value, maybe, in allowing candidates to self identify.”

45. Club For Growth President David McIntosh: The former Indiana congressman and 2000 gubernatorial nominee has been a conservative point man lining up against President Biden’s American Rescue Plan and the infrastructure deal. He’s also earned the ire of Donald Trump for pushing the wrong (and losing) candidate (Jake Ellzey) in a Texas special CD election that Axios described as puncturing “Trump’s aura of invincibility as a Republican kingmaker.” The former president conceded McIntosh had pushed him to support Susan Wright. “I think this is the only race we’ve lost together,” Trump said of McIntosh and the Club for Growth, before catching himself mid-sentence on the word “lost.”

46. Matt Huckleby: The executive director of INGOP and likely campaign manager should Hupfer run in 2024, he has proven to be one of the best political minds in the state of Indiana. A lot of younger (under 30) operatives owe their start to Huck.

47. Marty Obst: The founder of MO Strategies was a Trump/Pence insider, but his reaction to how President Trump ended up treating Vice President Pence was revealed in the Woodward/Costa book “Peril” which described a Jan. 13 West Wing meeting Pence had with Obst, Marc Short (who is cooperating with the House Jan. 6 Committee), Nick Ayres and Josh Pitcock. Ayres was angry and unhappy with Pence’s response (to the Jan. 6 insurrection), which he felt was too soft and too ready to move on. He told Pence he was not interested in going over to see President Trump. Jared Kushner soon popped his head into Pence’s office and said he would like to chat with Pence about encouraging the president to issue a statement affirming his commitment to governing in the final days of the administration, and to an orderly transition. “Can you help me convince the president to do this?” Kushner asked. Sure, Pence said, smiling and nodding. He said he would stop by Kushner’s office. Once Kushner left, Pence turned to his inner circle and said it was nice of Jared to bring him into that process. His aides’ faces were blank. “Is this a joke?” Ayres asked Pence. “Is that what you called us for?” “Sir,” Ayres said, “these people are transactional people. They made it very clear what they think of you. How many calls did they make when you were at the Capitol?” Obst dismissed Kushner’s efforts as “propaganda” and an attempt for Kushner to spiff up his own image following Jan. 6 by seeming to be a broker of a peace with Pence.

48. Indianapolis Council President Vop Osili: Should Mayor Hogsett decline to seek a third term, Osili appears poised to become the first non-white male to lead the state’s largest city. Osili ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state.

49. LaPorte Mayor Tom Dermody: The former legislator continues to enjoy great respect among his former colleagues as well as Northern Indiana mayors. He’s embarked on ambitious initiatives seeking to upgrade LaPorte’s downtown and will play host next week to an ESPN-covered national tourney of high school basketball powerhouses from around the country. Dermody is co-founder of Northern Indiana Advocates, a bipartisan group  that is part of the Northern Indiana Tourism Development Corporation (NITDC) that seeks additional Republican and Democratic appointees to various state boards and commissions and advocates for additional state funding for various projects in the nine-county NITDC area.

50. Birch Evans “Beau” Bayh: Son and grandson of this Hoosier family political dynasty, Bayh, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, is attending Harvard Law School, sought a clerkship in Indiana and has been living in Indianapolis this past summer. Evan Bayh brought his son to the IDEA convention at French Lick last August to meet fellow Democrats. Bayh will be 33 years old in 2028, three years beyond the constitutional age threshold to run for governor.