By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb begins a four-nation Asian trade tour this week, heading to Japan and South Korea, and then China and India Sept. 22 to Oct. 5. “Markets are more connected now than ever before, and we’re proud to support a growing global dynamic economy in Indiana,” Holcomb told the NWI Times. “That growth is evident in our business sector, with 1,000 foreign-owned companies throughout Indiana employing 21st Century talent in communities all across our state.”

His campaign announced the return of senior leadership, with Joe Elsener returning as deputy campaign manager and political director, Mindy Colbert as finance director and Matt Huckleby as deputy campaign manager. “After witnessing what Joe, Mindy and Matt could do in 2016, I can’t wait to see the unstoppable fundraising and political operation they’re going to lead going into 2020,” said Kyle Hupfer, campaign manager of the Eric Holcomb for Indiana campaign. 

The wildcard for Gov. Holcomb’s reelection comes on the personnel side of the administration following news of the real reason Department of Child Services Associate Director Todd Meyer resigned following what was described as “creepy” emails he sent to an intern. 

This comes in the wake of Jim Brown’s resignation at Veterans Affairs and Adj. Gen. Courtney Carr’s sudden exit at the Indiana National Guard. The Holcomb administration had been remarkably stable during its first three years. It’s too early to tell if this is a trend, or an aberration. Whether it becomes a staple of Holcomb’s 2020 reelection bid is too early to tell, though Democrats appear ready to take it on.

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody flagged it as a trend. “Another week, another disgraced Holcomb administration official accused of inappropriate conduct and betraying the public trust,” Zody said. “Holcomb’s hand-picked hire to turn around the agency resigned in disgrace just one year later. Did the administration fail to vet Meyer or was his hiring just a political favor? Either way, the governor looks like a lightweight after staking DCS’s turnaround on Meyer’s hire. It’s just the latest example of a culture of cronyism fueled by little to no accountability and where the governor allows perpetrators to quietly slink away without facing consequences for their actions. All while the number of child deaths is on the rise in Indiana.”

Dr. Woody Myer did not talk about the Todd Meyer case this past week as he campaigned in Vigo County on Labor Day, though he mentioned the Brown and Meyer cases during the HPI Interview in August. “Todd Meyer was brought in to clean up the legal components of DCS, to hire lawyers, to use his prosecutorial background to fix those entities, to fix the component of what wasn’t working,” Myers said. “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.” 

When HPI pressed the Department of Personnel on the Meyer resignation (after being referred there by the governor’s office), Deputy Director Mikka Jackson said in a statement, “Todd Meyer was not suspended, demoted, or discharged; he resigned, and there are no formal charges pending. 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.”

Holcomb did publicly address the Meyer situation, saying that he is “not welcomed in state government.” Holcomb told WTHR-TV’s Sandra Chapman, “Disgusted by what I read, beyond disappointed. It was, in fact, handled appropriately. This was brought to the attention of the agency on one day and was followed up all the way up the chain and he resigned the very next day as the investigation was starting. When it went to the state personnel (department) it was deemed that the communication was inappropriate, and therefore he would be ineligible to work as a state employee.”

In the wake of Attorney General Curtis Hill’s sine die party actions, Holcomb had called for a “zero tolerance” policy of sexual harassment and assaults in state government. He also called for Hill to resign, which the attorney general conspicuously has refused to do and is indicating he will seek reelection.

Meyer, the former Boone County prosecutor, told WTHR-TV, “I should not have communicated in the manner I did. I am sorry for doing so and I apologize. I have learned from this mistake such that it will never happen again. These messages were intended to be received in a positive and friendly manner, but I now recognize they were not, and I understand. As soon as this matter was brought to my attention I spoke with my wife and children, we discussed the situation in its entirety, and we are learning and moving on from it.”

Holcomb also addressed the Carr resignation coming in the wake of a lawsuit filed in Marion County, telling WRTV’s Kara Kenney, “After reviewing the lawsuit and being briefed by my team, I felt it was in the best interest of the state and for himself that he resign and I am grateful that he took that recommendation to heart and made the decision to do so,” Holcomb said. “We are going to take our time and get it right. We want to make sure that any and all matters at the Indiana National Guard are addressed. We are under no timeline.”

Carr is facing a lawsuit from a former Indiana National Guard contractor Shari McLaughlin alleging Carr had an affair with a subordinate, and when McLaughlin spoke out, she was subjected to intimidation and retaliation. According to WRTV, McLaughlin said she reached out to Holcomb’s office starting in October 2017 via phone and through the website but was never able to get a meeting. McLaughlin’s attorney said they sent a letter to the governor’s office in April 2019 asking the office to preserve any records in the Carr matter.

The Meyer case actually developed on the day HPI traveled with Holcomb to Clark County on July 16, calling his administration the “Dream Team.” The Holcomb administration and DCS did not explain why Meyer left. 

Asked about the low turnover, Holcomb said, “A lot of people said when we started, a lot of people thought, first executive order, Jim McClelland, he’ll give it a year. Or Earl Goode, tail end of his career. They are staying involved because they are part of not just making history, but they are seeing the state transformed.” (That was in reference to Drug Czar McClelland, who is in his third year with the administration, and the governor’s chief of staff, Earl Goode.)

Is this a significant political problem for the governor? At this point, no. Every administration has had personnel issues and controversies. It all comes down to how such cases are handled. Is it a potential opening for Myers? Possibly, particularly if more such cases arise.

Myers campaigns in Terre Haute

Walking in Terre Haute’s Labor Day Parade on Monday was like a homecoming for Myers, a Democratic candidate for Indiana governor in 2020 (Trigg, Terre Haute Tribune-Star). An Indianapolis native, Myers said he has deep family roots in Vigo County, and spent many summers in Terre Haute as a child. His relatives include members of the Tyler, Ross and Redmon families in the Lost Creek community. “We made a lot of new connections today,” Myers said as he prepare to ladle ham and beans to the crowd gathered in Fairbanks Park for the annual Labor Day celebration. Myers’ platform has focused on education, jobs and healthcare. “Education is hugely important in our state and we’re not doing anywhere near as well as we should,” Myers said. Teacher salaries have not increased at the same rate as in other states, he said, and legislators need to direct more funding to teachers and the education system. “We got to make sure that the kids that are in public education — which is 93% of Indiana’s children — are getting 93% of the attention, 93% of the money, 93% of the effort, and that’s not true today,” he said.

Congress

5th CD: Ruckelshaus passes on run

The open 5th CD race continued to take shape on Thursday with State Sen. John Ruckelshaus announcing he will seek reelection rather than mount a congressional race, while Indiana Treasurer Kelly Mitchell is in, filing FEC paperwork earlier this week. It brings the Republican field looking to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks to three. Mitchell is joining Noblesville pastor Micah Beckwith and former legislator Steve Braun in the race. Ruckelshaus said in a statement, “I’ve had occasion this summer to reflect on my relationship to Indiana and how I can best serve the community I love so dearly. I was humbled to receive encouragement to run for Congress from across the district, and indeed, across the aisle, as many Democrats and Republicans alike thought I should give it a shot. It was gratifying to hear that the brand of politics that is my DNA – committing to bipartisan solutions and giving everyone a seat at the table – is endorsed by so many of my constituents.” But Ruckelshaus said, “It soon became clear that a run for Congress would be more about politics rather than focusing on the substance of the issues that I believe we need to address. Therefore, we have ultimately decided that the best way to continue serving my community is to stay in the State Senate.” Mitchell and Braun did not release statements after filing FEC documents. The field is likely to grow, as former state senator Mike Delph told HPI on Monday that he continues to travel the district, but a decision won’t come until after the November municipal elections. Delph said he did not want to detract from mayoral campaigns. Hamilton County businessman Terry Henderson is also looking at a bid.

DCCC reacts to Mitchell candidacy

The IBJ reported that Indiana Treasurer Mitchell has released a campaign kickoff video, but it was not posted on YouTube, nor was it covered in her hometown newspaper or any other media, which is a strange way to begin a congressional campaign. She filed paperwork with the FEC in late August.  DCCC did, with spokesperson Mike Gwin saying, “Job Killing Kelly Mitchell worked to threaten over 100,000 good-paying Hoosier jobs, and now she thinks she deserves a promotion to Congress. Hoosier middle-class families are already struggling as the cost of their health care and daily lives keep rising. The last person they need representing them in Congress is a politician like Mitchell who fought in court to kill good-paying jobs in Indiana and who would go to Washington and back the Republicans’ disastrous health care repeal plan that would raise health insurance costs and jeopardize protections for people with pre-existing conditions.”

8th CD: Bucshon on town hall threats

U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon told the TriState Homepage that he holds town halls in non-election years on the advice of Capitol Police due to security risks. “I do these town halls in off-election years because in election years it turns into more of a security risk and the Capitol Police have said because of the intensity in the last couple of years, during an election year – last year – they recommended we don’t do these large events,” Bucshon said. “I like to do these, I thought we had a good discussion. I expect people to agree and disagree and I heard a lot from my constituents, which is the intent for me to hear what they have to say.” Bucshon is the only delegation member who has conducted a series of town halls during the August recess this year. Several members have participated in agriculture roundtables and U.S. Rep. Greg Pence has also had several public appearances.

General Assembly

HD39: Hinton seeks rematch with Torr

Mark Hinton announced his candidacy for the Democrat nomination for HD39 representing Carmel. The seat is held by Republican Rep. Jerry Torr, who defeated Hinton 57-43% in 2018. 

Presidential 2020

Tensions mount between Trump, Pence

Tom LoBianco in Political Wire: “On the surface, Trump and Pence insist they have a great relationship and are working closer than ever to win reelection in 2020. (They’ve consistently beaten back rumors that former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is in the running to replace Pence on the 2020 ticket.)” “But behind the scenes, tensions have been mounting among Trump, Pence and their top advisers ever since the GOP’s resounding losses in the 2018 midterms. In the weeks afterward, Trump asked aides about replacing Pence on the ticket, and he asked again for their thoughts on Pence during his August vacation at his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., according to Trump advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about private discussions with the president.” LoBianco is author of the forthcoming biography of Pence, “Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House.”

Pence’s Doonbeg fiasco

Vice President Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short said the veep is staying at President Trump’s Doonbeg Irish resort on a “suggestion” from POTUS even though its 180 miles away from Dublin. But Wednesday, Trump said, “I had no involvement, other than it’s a great place. It wasn’t my idea for Mike to go there.”