By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS — With Democratic ranks in the General Assembly at super minority lows, the coronavirus pandemic crimping politics and fundraising, presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee Woody Myers reached out to a retired State Rep. Linda Lawson to fill out his ticket.

The pandemic has created a steep climb for challengers. A Washington Post/Ipsos poll revealed that collectively, governors have a 71% approval rating, while only 27% disapprove. Gov. Eric Holcomb enters the summer sequence with about a $7 million cash advantage, while his approval in Indiana polls has been consistently north of 60%.

The General Assembly has been an LG breeding ground this decade, with State Sen. Vi Simpson joining Democrat John Gregg’s 2012 ticket, State Rep. Christina Hale on Gregg’s 2016 ticket, State Rep. Sue Ellspermann joining Mike Pence’s 2012 campaign, and former state representative and Auditor Suzanne Crouch tabbed by Eric Holcomb in 2016. With Democratic General Assembly ranks near modern lows, there was reluctance by some to give up their seats to run on a ticket facing such an uphill battle.

Myers told Howey Politics Indiana on Tuesday that he talked with about a dozen potential LG nominees before settling on Lawson, who lives in Nashville but has served on the Hammond Police Department and school board before retiring in 2018 after two decades in the Indiana House. “Linda brings not only legislative experience and leadership, but also she has broken the glass ceiling numerous times,” Myers said, noting she was the first female officer on the Hammond PD and first to lead a House party caucus.

“She’s terrific,” Myers said. “I did not know Rep. Lawson. I’d heard of her by reputation. I had never met with her before this process started. When we began our due diligence, it became clear to me that she was someone we should talk with.”

Myers added, “She balances the ticket in a number of fascinating ways. I’ve got a lot of private sector experience. Her experiences have been mostly public sector. I’ve been on a number of corporate boards and she has school board experience. She is extremely well respected and liked when I talked to a number of district chairs and members of the legislature. They reported how much they enjoyed working with her, how tenacious she was, and thoughtful. All of those things added up. It was clear to me she was the right one.”

Lawson told HPI that she was initially taken aback by the prospect of joining the ticket as she was enjoying her Brown County retirement. “Then I started thinking about all the things I left hanging out there that I’d like to work on,” she said. “I’m a fast learner, a kinetic learner.”

Lawson chaired the House Judiciary Committee and worked on sex crime legislation, including the “Romeo/Juliet” law. “When I chaired judiciary, we came together on both sides of the aisle and established a good working relationship and lots of good legislation,” she explained.

This is not Lawson’s first brush with leadership. She did break the Indiana House glass ceiling in late July 2012, helping depose Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer on a third coup attempt that year. But she never served a day of a regular legislative session in that role.

Between that July insurgency that brought her to brief power, and the ensuing election, House Republicans forged a 69-seat super majority that it has yet to relinquish. Less than 24 hours after that November election, Lawson let go her tenuous hold on power, supporting Michigan City Democrat Scott Pelath for the top post in the dwindling caucus, saying she preferred her back bench seat in the chamber even after ascending to leadership. “I loved it,” she told the NWI Times. “I could see what everybody was doing, all those little side conversations. I gleaned more being in the back row than you ever glean from the front.”

After Lawson helped depose Bauer, former House minority leader Russ Stilwell, writing in his Howey Politics Indiana column, observed: “With Linda Lawson, you have someone whom most of the caucus respects. Respect is earned and Leader Lawson earned hers the old fashioned way, with hard work, open-mindedness, good listening skills and not being afraid to call on others to help with the load. She is a no-nonsense legislator not afraid to stand up to anyone.

“She broke the glass ceiling for females in the Hammond police department as the first female officer and ended her career with a captain logo on her uniform,” Stilwell wrote. “When the caucus looked for an ‘interim’ leader, whatever that means, they picked the right person for the right time.”

Columnist Rich James added, “Besides her support for traditional Democratic Party issues, Lawson has been the House leader in carrying legislation against dog fighting and for animal rights in general. Nothing makes a person better.”

In 2015, former governor and senator Evan Bayh passed on a third gubernatorial run, citing the Democratic super minority status. Myers and Lawson say there are undeterred by that lopsided margin.

“We’re going to need collaboration regardless of the numbers. The opportunity for across the aisle collaboration I’m actually looking forward to,” Myers said. “That’s what I had to do when I was state health commissioner. I was a Democrat who had to report to a Republican governor, Bob Orr, while working with a Democrat-led House and a Republican-led Senate. I had to figure out how to navigate those kinds of party lines.”

“I like the idea after the next election of Republicans putting their R in their right pocket and Democrats putting their D in their left pocket and doing what’s right for the state,” Myers continued. “We’re going to really need it. Who would have thought we’d be going into the next session with 20% unemployment? It’s going to really require us to think differently, act differently. That’s a challenge I accept and will embrace.

Lawson added, “I’ve heard from legislators from both sides of the aisle. Leadership needs to meet regularly with the governor’s office. I’m going to work toward that. We’re going to have to work … to make sure that happens and keep Hoosiers safe. We’re going to do it, we’re going to make it happen.”

Congress

1st CD: Chamber endorses McDermott

The Congressional Action Committee of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce said it’s backing Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. (Carden, NWI Times). “(Our) mission is to aid in the election of Indiana candidates to the United States Congress whose legislative voting records and/or positions on business-related legislation will enhance our nation’s commitment to a favorable business climate,” said Kevin Brinegar, Indiana Chamber CEO. McDermott said Friday he knew he did well during his endorsement interview with leaders of the business organization. “The Indiana Chamber of Commerce doesn’t endorse Democrats very often, and if you are a Democrat to get endorsed by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce you got to be a business-oriented Democrat — which I am,” McDermott said.

Colorado-based Democratic Progress this week began airing television ads on Region cable channels encouraging Democratic voters to support Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. in the June 2 election (Carden, NWI Times). Records show the organization — which is not affiliated with the McDermott campaign — is spending $103,440 through June 1 to run a total of 2,328 30-second television ads on Comcast’s Xfinity and AT&T’s U-Verse cable systems, primarily in Lake County. It’s believed to be the first super PAC-funded television ad in a Northwest Indiana congressional contest.

AFT endorses Mrvan


The American Federation of Teachers Indiana and the Gary Democratic Precinct Organization both announced their support for North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan in the Democratic primary race. GlenEva Dunham, president of the Indiana AFT and president of the Gary Teachers Union, stated, “Frank Mrvan is the clear choice in this election of someone who has a proven track record of supporting teachers and public education. At a time of so much change for our schools, teachers, and online classrooms, we need someone in Congress who we know will continue to prioritize our teachers and students.” Locals of AFT Indiana in the First Congressional District include the: Gary Teachers Union #4, Hammond Teacher Federation #394, East Chicago Federation of Teachers #511, Lake Ridge Federation of Teachers #662, Griffith Federation of Teachers #761, Whiting Teacher Association #1040, Lake Station Federation of Teachers #1395, Northwest Special Ed Co-op #3169, East Porter Federation of Teachers #4634, and PEPC (Hebron) Federation of Teachers #4852 HPI Primary Horse Race Status: Likely McDermott

5th CD: A GOP tossup race 

Less than three weeks before the delayed June 2 primary, almost everyone we’ve talked with in the 5th CD describes this 15-person race as a tossup. Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer, a former 5th CD chair, told HPI he has no idea who will prevail, saying that a candidate taking “15 or 16%” of the vote could win.

Much speculation focuses to the self-funders — Beth Henderson, State Sen. Victoria Spartz, and Dr. Chuck Dietzen — as well as former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi. Henderson, Spartz and Brizzi have been running TV ads. 

In another sign of potential top tier status, Spartz was the subject of an Importantville hit piece: “Spartz lives in — and owns — a Noblesville trailer park. Where did all that money come from? She doesn’t want to talk about it.” Spartz’s Senate district is a big chunk of the 5th, but she opted for this race after a considerable part of the GOP power structure endorsed her opponent in her Senate reelection. Rival campaigns also were eager for Monday’s townhall.org forum, where they believed her Ukrainian accent would work against her.

Brizzi is expected to run strong in the Indianapolis portion of the district, though state Treasurer Kelly Mitchell picked up the endorsement of former Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard last week and had a virtual fundraiser with him.

Our sources say that Henderson appears to be doing well in the farm communities in the northern part of the district surrounding her Atlanta home and business. She has been endorsed by U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, former congressman Dan Burton and former state senator Luke Kenley. Primary Horse Race Status: Tossup.

Statewides

Attorney General:  Harter reacts to Hill suspension


Decatur County Prosecutor Nathan Harter posted this Facebook statement on Attorney General Curtis Hill’s suspension: “I respect the proceedings and the Indiana Supreme Court. Curtis Hill deserved due process and he received it. The Supreme Court ruled that he committed a crime and violated our basic rules of ethics. Today’s announcement reflects the unavoidable fact that my friend Curtis Hill has lost the trust of Hoosiers and has compromised his ability to do the important work we deserve. There is simply too much at stake to risk losing the position to a liberal Democrat who will undermine our limited government, pro-life, pro-second amendment values. We cannot let that happen. I welcome all to join my campaign.” Harter has been endorsed by State Sens. Mark Messmer and Mike Crider, as well as Clark County Republican Chairman and Sheriff Jamie Noel, who also chairs Gov. Eric Holcomb’s reelection campaign.

Rokita continues to mull candidacy

Former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita issued a statement Monday declaring his interest in the office and promising to decide before next week’s filing deadline whether to compete for the attorney general nomination at the June 20 Republican state convention (Carden, NWI Times). Rokita acknowledged in his statement he’s been considering running for attorney general “for some time.” But he said the Supreme Court’s conclusion that Hill committed criminal battery means the incumbent is “badly wounded” and should be replaced. “We are in great danger of losing the seat and giving it to a liberal Democrat with Curtis Hill on the ballot,” Rokita said. “There is too much at stake for us to not consider other alternatives for our state’s top lawyer.” Harter and Zionsville attorney John Westerkamp are challenging Hill for the nomination. Convention Horse Race Status: Tossup.

Weinzapfel, Tallian react to Hill suspension

Jonathan Weinzapfel reacted to the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission’s decision to suspend Curtis Hill’s law license for 30 days following allegations he groped women at a March 2018 legislative party. “Curtis Hill’s conduct towards the women involved in this complaint is as undeniable as it is inexcusable. He has embarrassed himself and the office which he holds. It is now up to the voters to hold him accountable and I will work every day through November to make sure that happens.” State Sen. Karen Tallian reacted, saying, “The bottom line is that Mr. Hill will be suspended for 30 days, with an automatic reinstatement. This means that, like other officers who have been similarly disciplined, Attorney General Hill will sit out for 30 days, and then resume his duties. It also means that he will be able to seek the Republican Party’s nomination to be the Attorney General candidate on the November ballot. This needs to end - and I can make that happen. Now it is even more imperative that Indiana women, and Indiana men who support them, must say No. Now, more than ever, we need a  strong woman to be the nominee for Attorney General. Hill’s infamous behavior was unacceptable, and we need to send a clear message that sexual harassment and battery are never OK.”