By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – We may be about a month away from having the Indiana gubernatorial field set, with the most likely outcome being a Democratic challenge from Dr. Woody Myers to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is now facing some administration ethics and personnel issues.

The potential Democratic field of three winnowed to two on Tuesday, when Indianapolis State Rep. Karlee Macer said she would not run. “The support I’ve seen from communities all across our state and the work Democrats are doing is nothing short of inspiring,” she said Tuesday morning. “While I stand ready to roll my sleeves up, and show our state what it means to be a Democrat, I will not be doing so in a bid for governor.” 

That leaves Myers as the only declared Democrat. Myers reacted, saying, “Rep. Macer continues to serve her district well and her strong voice remains vital to our state. I’ve admired her work speaking out for labor rights and working families, especially during the Carrier and Rexnord layoffs. I know from experience that running for governor is a very personal decision that must take many factors into account. I know she’ll continue to be a great leader for Indiana.”

The lone wild card is Democratic State Sen. Eddie Melton, who is conducting town halls with Republican Supt. Jennifer McCormick, but has yet to form an exploratory committee. His advisory team told HPI that a candidacy decision would likely come after Labor Day. We’d be shocked if Melton gets in. By the time he makes a decision, Myers will have a huge leg up in fundraising. He’s a potential self-funder, though he has said he will seek most of his funding from traditional Democratic sources.

Neither Melton or Myers has much name ID statewide. But the biggest obstacle Melton faces is having to give up a safe Gary-based Senate seat to run in a primary where he will be at a distinct disadvantage. As we’ve surmised in recent posts, Melton’s move is a good way to get himself on the statewide radar for a potential 2024 race. If he runs in 2020 and gives up his Senate seat to then lose the primary to Myers, he’ll be an absolute non-factor five years from now.

Melton reacted to Macer’s decision, saying, “Rep. Macer is a tremendous leader in our party. I have always enjoyed working with her in the legislature and have further enjoyed getting to know her better as we have travelled the state this summer. As a member of the Democratic Party, I look forward to continuing to work with Rep. Macer as we fight to improve the lives of Hoosier families.”

As for Macer, like Myers and Melton, she has virtually no statewide name recognition and would have had to give up her seat. If she did that, Republicans might have a shot at increasing their House super majority. Her future is clearly in the House.

Holcomb’s personnel issues percolating

As for Gov. Holcomb, he was cleared of a potential ethics violation involving flights to Colorado and Arizona for a Republican Governors Association meeting that totaled about $50,000 paid for by Spectacle Entertainment, which had just purchased a Gary casino with the intent of moving it to Terre Haute. Inspector General Lori Torres said in a statement, “Although it is likely that the governor’s attendance at the RGA meetings, and therefore the flights, had some benefit to the governor and/or first lady, the OIG found no evidence to dispute the claim that the flights primarily benefited the RGA.”

Holcomb has several personnel issues percolating. The Department of Personnel finally released a statement to HPI late last week on Department of Child Services Associate Director Todd Meyer’s July resignation. “Todd Meyer was not suspended, demoted, or discharged; he resigned, and there are no formal charges pending,” said Mikka Jackson of state personnel. “The statute does not require a public employer to create and publish a statement about the reason for another person’s decision. The individual may or may not choose to speak for himself.” 

That doesn’t clear up why Meyer resigned. The DCS reforms are a critical component of Holcomb’s first term policy legacy, coming after former Director Mary Bonaventura resigned in 2018, citing a culture of neglect at the agency. Holcomb moved swiftly after that, convening a study of the agency which released 20 recommendations. Meyer was brought on to implement a number of those reforms.

Normally when such a key staffer resigns, it’s to take another job and usually laudatory sentiments are expressed about the departing person; Meyer’s decision to leave remains shrouded in mystery.

In the Aug. 8 HPI Interview with Dr. Myers, the former Indiana health commissioner, he said of Meyer, “He seems to have been asked to leave suddenly with no explanation from the state as to what that was all about. The position was created for him to do that job, so we know there was something going on, and we have an obligation to find out. I’m afraid we may be sitting on an abscess, on a set of problems on the surface that go far deeper.”

Holcomb himself said in a July 18 HPI Interview that he was satisfied with the pace of reforms at DCS. “I am very proud of DCS personnel and leadership,” Holcomb said. “They are executing and implementing those recommendations with courage. It’s making a difference. Kudos for Terry Stigdon and her whole crew. They know I’ve got their back. It’s one of the toughest jobs one could imagine.” 

The success of those reforms will be a key component to the governor’s reelection campaign and Myers can be expected to bring up the Meyer resignation and other aspects which he views as shortcomings of the reforms. 

There is the upheaval at the Department of Veterans Affairs where Director James Brown resigned in December after reports that money was steered to agency employees rather than struggling veterans. It was reported that former senator Allen Paul may have violated state lobbying laws when he accepted more than $150,000 in a contract with the agency. The IndyStar reported that lawmakers have to wait a year after leaving office before they can become lobbyists and Paul failed to register as a lobbyist. Again, Myers mentioned this controversy during his HPI Interview.

Then there was this Monday’s resignation of Adj. Gen. Courtney Carr following a lawsuit filed in Marion County Superior Court by contractor Shari McLaughlin. She told WRTV that there is a culture in the Guard where “everybody was sleeping with somebody that wasn’t their spouse.” 

“There’s no way to trust if things are being done for the right reasons, in the right way, because everybody has blackmail on somebody else,” she said. McLaughlin claims she was subjected to retaliation, unwarranted write-ups, false accusations, and intimidation. “It just got worse and worse,” said McLaughlin. “I disclosed information that didn’t look good.” McLaughlin told WRTV she was surprised Carr quit. “I was shocked,” said McLaughlin. “It also struck me as odd that he’s retiring with full benefits.” McLaughlin called his retirement not even a “slap on the wrist.”

This comes after Holcomb had announced “zero tolerance” of sexual harassment, intimidation and assault in state government. If McLaughlin is to be believed, there may be more news coming from the Indiana National Guard.

Holcomb also has Attorney General Curtis Hill in office, despite his calls for Hill to resign following 2018 sexual harassment allegations made by State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon and three General Assembly staffers.

After a relatively surprise-free three years in office, Holcomb is now facing some potential ethical challenges.