By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – There is only one Republican officially looking at the 2024 Indiana gubernatorial race (former IEDC president Eric Doden). There are two from Holcomb World (Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and GOP Chairman Kyle Hupfer) on most short lists. There’s a doughnut mayor touring the plains of Northern Indiana (Fishers’s Scott Fadness). There are members of Congress (Sen. Mike Braun and Rep. Trey Hollingsworth) who can buy the seat. There’s U.S. Rep. Jim Banks who appears to be on a congressional leadership track. There’s a Statehouse power player (Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray).

And then there’s Attorney General Todd Rokita, who was off and running just minutes after taking his oath of office in front of Gov. Eric Holcomb and Lt. Gov. Crouch.

Rokita has been hyper active on the Lincoln dinner circuit. He is picking a fight with the Biden administration over the concept of “critical race theory.” And he’s been locking legal horns with the governor over the right to Statehouse counsel on two pandemic-related laws Holcomb had vetoed.

On that count, it was former Senate Pro Tem President David Long who shed further light on Rokita’s ambitions. In an interview with WPTA-TV’s Political Radar last week, Long was asked about the showdown between Holcomb and Rokita. “The governor, like all governors faced an unprecedented situation,” Long insisted on WPTA-TV’s  latest episode of Political Radar. “Now they’re lawyered up and headed to court, but I still feel like there might be a path to work things out. I sure hope they can.” 

Rokita, Long said, “represents both sides and that’s a problem. Frankly, I wish the AG would step aside and allow each side to have its own attorneys.” 

Long went on to say that he believes political ambitions are also factoring into Rokita’s involvement. “This is political,” Long said. “The AG is probably running for governor in 2024 when Holcomb’s term is finished. There’s politics involved in this.”

So far the early stages of this showdown have been friendly. Rokita tweeted out a photo of him and Crouch after the two lunched together in Rokita’s Statehouse office. “Great to catch up with my friend and colleague @LGSuzanneCrouch over lunch in the Attorney General’s Office,” Rokita tweeted on June. 3.

Crouch has been active since the General Assembly sine die. She told Anderson Herald Bulletin on June 5 that the pandemic created some friction between the executive and legislative branches. “I’m sure that that there will be some kind of resolution one way or the other,” Crouch said. “As a former legislator, I certainly understand both sides of the position and believe that during a pandemic, there has to be someone in charge and they have to be able to take the necessary steps to be able to keep Hoosiers safe. That is what the governor did. We’ll see what the courts have to say.”

On Gov. Holcomb’s decision to terminate federal jobless benefits that came with the first Trump era relief package, she told the Herald Bulletin, “While we were in the midst of the pandemic, people needed that kind of assistance, but now we’re at that point where more and more people are getting vaccinated, and we need to be sure that people are able to work that want to work, and that we can help them get back to work. Oftentimes they would cite the fact that people would even tell them, ‘I’m actually making more money’ — or maybe ‘I’m not making as much money, but I’m able to stay at home and not work.’”

Crouch also said the administration is keeping a close eye on $1.9 billion the General Assembly passed for teacher pay. “They would like to see 45% of that ($1.9 billion) go to teachers’ compensation and would also like to see starting salaries be guaranteed at $40,000,” Crouch said. “While that hasn’t been mandated, they’ve made it perfectly clear that that is the intent, and they will be monitoring how locals deal with that money and how they disburse it.” Crouch added that, if needed, legislators would take additional steps to ensure the money is used specifically for compensation.

On June 5, Mayor Fadness tweeted: “If you haven’t taken a trip into rural Indiana lately, you need to. Crops are growing & the countryside looks great. Thanks for the hospitality Wabash & Marion!”

INDems continue road show

Indiana Democratic Party will continue its American Rescue Plan Tour, a statewide campaign to help deliver the good news about President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief package and how it’s helping all of Indiana’s 92 counties and its communities put the pandemic firmly in the rearview mirror. Included on the tour will be former senator Joe Donnelly, former House speaker John Gregg, former congressman Baron Hill, State Sen. Shelli Yoder, and former Republican superintendent of public instruction Jennifer McCormick.

“The Indiana Democratic Party is delivering for Indiana and for Hoosiers in every one of the state’s 92 counties, regardless of voting history or current political persuasion. We’re showing up and getting to work on behalf of every family and community because solutions matter so much more than tired partisan games,” said Chairman Mike Schmuhl. “President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan is helping Indiana and its families rebuild from COVID-19, and Democrats are ready to push back against Republican misinformation and detail why the right partnerships between our federal and state governments can deliver major successes for Indiana’s future. This is what the American Rescue Plan is doing for the Hoosier State.” 

Donnelly, Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry and House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta kicked off the first leg of the tour in the Summit City last Thursday, drawing a modest crowd of about 50 people, though it was widely covered in the Fort Wayne media. Fort Wayne received $50 million and Allen County $73 million. “They sent us part of the money, and now they’re telling us how they would like to have it invested,” said Mayor Henry. “But we’ll be putting together a committee to even get more specific. Broadband application is one thing. Well, ‘how are you going to do that?’ So we’re gonna try to identify certain steps within that broadband application to determine where that money should be spent.” 

This week, the tour will include: John Gregg on Monday in Dubois, Perry, Crawford, and Spencer counties; Donnelly and McCormick today in Kokomo; Hill and Sen. Yoder Wednesday in Johnson, Jackson and Clark counties; Gregg, State Rep. Tonya Pfaff, Vice Chair Myla Eldridge and Donnelly in Terre Haute on June 11. 

U.S. Senate

Young inspires ‘wave’ at GOP dinner

U.S. Sen. Todd Young was so excited at the Kosciusko County Lincoln Dinner last Thursday, he started a wave among the crowd (Slone, Warsaw Times-Union). Young is up for reelection in 2022, has no primary opponent and no credible Democrat has lined up, though Indiana Democratic Chairman Schmuhl told HPI in late May that he is in talks with several credible potential candidates. 

“I’m in front of, what I perceive to be, the most motivated, the most energized, the most fired-up group of Republicans I’ve visited with since this COVID pandemic descended upon our country. Folks, we are fired up!” Young said to a burst of applause before beginning the wave. He said it is under threat because so many institutions are posing a threat to it. “You see, we’re conservatives. We believe in institutions. We believe in many institutions – we believe in the institution of family and community and our civil society, our nonprofit groups, our philanthropies, of course our businesses, our free enterprise system. We also believe in government, properly stoked. But, when we have a party of government, with too much government that doesn’t know how to properly stoke our government, then the institution of government can eclipse and can suffocate the other institutions that are important to us. And that’s the threat we are facing right now.”

Congress

Banks to seek reelection

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks made his future campaign intentions known on WANE 15’s First at Five. “I haven’t talked about it a whole lot but I will run for reelection in 2022 and that’s what I’m focused on right now,” Banks said when asked if he would ever be interested in a run for Indiana governor. “Maybe? I mean, Indiana is home and I loved serving at the Statehouse but right now I’m focused on being the most effective representative that I can be.”

Banks claimed he didn’t know what former Vice President Mike Pence meant when he said he would never see “eye to eye” with former President Donald Trump on the events of Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol. Trump wanted Pence to throw out the electoral college votes of certain states but Pence did not think he had the constitutional authority. “I know there might be disagreements between the two of them about January 6th, but there’s no disagreement or daylight between the two of them about how important and effective that record was for the Trump/Pence team for four years.”

Statewides

Seat to run for treasurer

Appearing at the Kosciusko County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner in North Webster, Pete Seat announced Thursday his campaign for the Republican nomination for Indiana State treasurer. “Being the chief investment officer of the State of Indiana, there is a perception that the treasurer spends all day on the phone with a broker buying and selling stocks,” Seat said in launching his campaign before an audience of more than 200 fellow Hoosier Republicans including federal and statewide elected officials. “But at its core this is a role that promotes freedom, prosperity, safety and capitalism through a broad and diversified portfolio of responsibilities that touch millions of Hoosier lives every day.” He added, “This role is not for a dispassionate money manager. The job of state treasurer is for someone with a passion for the office and a heart for service. It’s a role for someone with a vision for how we best invest in Indiana’s future and empower Hoosiers to plan for the best and prepare for the worst.” Seat is currently a vice president at Bose Public Affairs Group.

Huckabee Sanders at Friday’s GOP dinner

Former White House press secretary and Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders will keynote the Indiana Republican Spring Dinner at the JW Marriott beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday June 11. RSVP to Hanna Bond at hbond@indiana.gop. Sponsorships range from $25,000 for a platinum table to $200 for individuals.
 
General Assembly

SD46: Grooms retires; endorses Boehnlein

State Sen. Ron Grooms announced he will not run for reelection in 2022 and has endorsed Kevin Boehnlein for the Republican nomination. “During my tenure in the state Senate I have worked on a variety of legislation of which I am proud,” Grooms said. “In particular legislation creating the Clark Regional Airport Authority, cracking down on so-called ‘pill mills’ that were distributing large quantities of opioids, and was a key supporter of the construction of the Lewis and Clark and Lincoln bridges and the rebuilding of the Kennedy Bridge.” He is endorsing Greenville Republican Kevin Boehnlein to succeed him. Boehnlein, a financial advisor for Edward Jones and long-time Republican party activist, recently announced his candidacy for the District 46 seat. “I endorse him without reservation. He has my full support,” Grooms said.

Presidential 2024

Pence describes Jan. 6 in NH

Mike Pence was in New Hampshire last Thursday night and talked about Jan. 6, the day President Trump goaded his horde of MAGA supporters to “hang Mike Pence” during an insurrection. The former veep said: “As I said that day, Jan. 6 was a dark day in history of the United States Capitol. But thanks to the swift action of the Capitol Police and federal law enforcement, violence was quelled. The Capitol was secured. And that same day, we reconvened the Congress and did our duty under the Constitution and the laws of the United States. You know, President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office. And I don’t know if we’ll ever see eye to eye on that day, but I will always be proud of what we accomplished for the American people over the last four years.” 

Pence then said: “I will not allow Democrats or their allies in the media to use one tragic day to discredit the aspirations of millions of Americans. Or allow Democrats or their allies in the media to distract our attention from a new administration intent on dividing our country to advance their radical agenda. My fellow Republicans, for our country, for our future, for our children and our grandchildren, we must move forward, united.” He then turned his attention to President Biden, citing “a COVID bill to fund massive expansion of the welfare state” and the “so-called infrastructure bill” that was really a “thinly disguised climate change bill.” Pence added: “I just say enough is enough. We’re going to stand strong for freedom.”

HPI Takeaways: This is the second early presidential primary state Pence has spoken. He is clearly laying the groundwork for a 2024 run. He is running a distant second to Trump in a number of polls. “We did our duty” is his mild retort to Trump, who had pressured Pence to scuttle the 2020 election before turning the MAGA mob on his veep. Pence is attempting to thread the GOP needle. Despite the Jan. 6 insurrection, the Republican Party remains enthralled with . . . Donald Trump at this point. Pence may not have the party juice to “not allow” anything.

Pence on critical race theory

Mike Pence also pushed back against “critical race theory,” which seeks to reframe the narrative of American history (AP). Its proponents argue that federal law has preserved the unequal treatment of people on the basis of race and that the country was founded on the theft of land and labor. But Republicans have said concepts suggesting that people are inherently racist or that America was founded on racial oppression are divisive and have no place in the classroom. “America is not a racist country,” he said, prompting one of several standing ovations and cheers during his speech. “It is past time for America to discard the left-wing myth of systemic racism,” Pence said. “I commend state legislators and governors across the country for banning critical race theory from our schools.”

Trump MAGA rallies to resume

Donald Trump on Saturday pushed Republicans to support candidates who are loyal to him in next year’s midterm elections as the former president launched a new more active phase of his post presidency (AP). Trump, 74, teased the prospect of another presidential bid of his own in 2024, but vowed first to be an active presence on the campaign trail for those who share his values in next year’s fight for control of Congress. “The survival of America depends on our ability to elect Republicans at every level starting with the midterms next year,” Trump charged early in a rambling speech that spanned nearly an hour and a half. His advisers are already eyeing subsequent appearances in Ohio, Florida, Alabama and Georgia to help bolster midterm candidates and energize voters. Trump will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) event in Dallas in July, Fox News has learned.
 
Trump won’t commit to Pence

Trump tells Fox News he is not ready to re-up with former Vice President Mike Pence on a potential campaign in 2024. Trump, who was speaking Saturday night at Republican donor dinner in North Carolina, was asked by FOX News if he has any interest in running with Pence again: “Mike and I have a good relationship, we continue to have a good but it’s too early to be discussing running mates certainly,” said the former president in an exclusive televised pre-speech interview. “I’ll make a decision in the not too distant future, maybe sooner than people think. And I think they’re going to be very happy,” said Trump on Saturday evening.
 
Facebook bans Trump for 2 years

Facebook announced Friday that former President Donald Trump’s account will remain suspended for at least two years, setting a timetable for his potential return after its oversight board criticized the company’s indefinite ban over his posts during the deadly Capitol riot (Politico). “Given the gravity of the circumstances that led to Mr. Trump’s suspension, we believe his actions constituted a severe violation of our rules which merit the highest penalty available under the new enforcement protocols,” Facebook’s vice president of global affairs Nick Clegg said. Further sanctions are possible if it still believes Trump poses a danger, or if he breaks its rules again. Both Trump and his critics slammed Facebook’s new timetable, which could allow the former president to return to the platform ahead of a potential 2024 White House run. “Facebook’s ruling is an insult to the record-setting 75M people, plus many others, who voted for us in the 2020 Rigged Presidential Election,” Trump said in a statement.