By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – Attorney General Todd Rokita has made it abundantly clear he will seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2024.

That’s a little less than three and a half years from now, an eternity in politics.

In the era of Hoosier politics when governors could serve two terms, the 1972 and 1980 GOP races had heirs apparent (Doc Bowen and Robert Orr) in the first two, as was Lt. Gov. John Mutz in 1988. Attorney General Linley Pearson was a nominal favorite when he won the nomination in 1992. 

In 1996, Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith was the frontrunner from the start, but couldn’t clear the field.

In 1999, Republican legislators traveled to Muncie to woo U.S. Rep. David McIntosh into the 2000 race. Mutz, Pearson, Goldsmith and McIntosh would all lose in the general election.

The breakthrough came in 2004, when White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels ran. The buzz around his candidacy began in 2002, he announced in the summer of  2003, and McIntosh and State Sen. Murray Clark exited the race in late summer of 2003, leaving only Eric Miller to face Daniels in the primary.

And in 2012, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence emerged as the heir apparent, with Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman folding her campaigN in late 2010.

The point in all of this is  . . . it’s way, waaaaay early to be spending too much time on which Republican emerges for the open seat in 2024. 

So far there is one candidate, Eric Doden, who has formed an exploratory committee, and Rokita, who is acting like an candidate as he is making overt appeals to the Trump wing of the party.

In HPI’s 2021 Power 50 list, we rated the potential field like this:

2. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch

5. Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray

8. Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer

19. Attorney General Rokita

27. Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness

29. U.S. Sen. Mike Braun

30. U.S. Rep. Jim Banks

32. U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth

Of course, this list was not compiled with 2024 as the key filter. For instance, Bray rates high because of the biennial budget session.

When it is a more appropriate time to weigh the gathering GOP field, Sen. Braun and Rep. Hollingsworth would likely rise, because of their ability to self-fund.

In the meantime, we will keep an eye on these pontential strivers.

Rokita’s week

Which brings us to Attorney General Rokita.

He had a mixed week. It began when Marion County Judge Patrick Dietrick ruled against Rokita in his efforts to thwart Gov. Eric Holcomb’s efforts to hire outside counsel in his case against a General Assembly bill that he vetoed and was subsequently overriden.

But Judge Dietrick didn’t just reject Rokita’s claims; he eviscerated them, at one point, calling the AG’s goal an “absurd result.”

“In light of Gov. Holcomb’s duty to protect the Indiana Constitution, and the inherent powers vested in him to do so, (…) Gov. Holcomb is both authorized, and required, to take actions necessary to protect the Indiana Constitution,” Dietrick wrote in the order. Because his veto was overridden, this lawsuit is the only means available for the governor to do so, “This is an absurd result that could not have been intended by either the drafters of Indiana’s Constitution or the General Assembly.”

Dietrick said Rokita’s efforts to insert himself in this case may have violated the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys, which bar lawyers from representing opposing parties in the same lawsuit, noting the AG  “has an irreconcilable conflict of interest,” Dietrick said. “The court takes no position on whether Attorney General Rokita’s conflict requires him to completely recuse himself and his office from continuing to represent the defendants in this case.”

Rokita responded: “If left unchallenged, the court’s order in this case threatens to tip the balance of powers and undermine the individual liberties of the citizens of this state.”

Rokita also was denied on Monday a motion in a Marion County Court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by John Whitaker over HEA1123.  

Rokita was able to flex his political muscles at a Kosciusko County Board of Commissioners hearing on his critical race theory-inspired “Parental Bill of Rights.”

Rokita mustered partisans from Brownsburg, Madison County and Northeastern Indiana for the meeting that was moved to an assembly hall in Winona Lake.

Warsaw Times-Union reporter David Slone: “Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita was ecstatic about the turnout Thursday evening to the two-hour panel discussion on his Parents’ Bill of Rights and critical race theory (CRT).
“I’m excited and pleased by the turnout because this follows what we really did the Parents’ Bill of Rights for,” he said afterward. “We saw that parents were finally getting engaged, more than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. And we encourage that because this is about raising a family at the end of the day. A nuclear family is the absolute foundational building block of society, and parents wanting to know more about the education of their children should be applauded. We saw that here tonight.”

Slone reported that “hundreds of attendees not only included Kosciusko County residents, but also at least Elkhart, Allen and Madison counties.” He said he wasn’t planning to go on tour with his Parents’ Bill of Rights but was asked to come by the Kosciusko County Commissioners. “I think these commissioners are within their duty to say, ‘Hey, you know, we have an executive responsibility to the taxpayers. This is a taxpayer issue. I don’t comment on their other business, but as to this, again, growing our best asset, that’s everyone’s responsibility so I thought it was a good idea to come on their invitation.”

Commissioner Brad Jackson told the Times-Union,  “I don’t see at this point, since we had a forum, that we would move forward with a resolution because it really is just a statement. It’s not an ordinance. And we were able to make statements tonight and, I think, for the most part, have good dialogue and I think, from what I saw, evenly divided.”

Reporter Dan Spaulding of Ink Free News led with: “Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita on Thursday night urged hundreds of people in Winona Lake to heavily scrutinize local schools on policies they think run afoul – namely the teaching of concepts connected to Critical Race Theory. The state’s top legal figure also took aim at social-emotional learning, an educational construct used to support students’ well-being that is deeply integrated into Warsaw Community Schools. Rokita’s visit, at the invitation of Kosciusko County Commissioners, was used to tout his recently released Parents Bill of Rights, which serves as a guide for parents on how public school curriculum is developed, who controls it and how to become involved in shaping local school policy.”

Spaulding also reported: Commissioners Bob Conley and Brad Jackson both said they don’t plan on seeking a ban on CRT in local schools, acknowledging it falls outside their jurisdiction. Conley said the commissioners “in no way shape or form contrived or conspired to tell school systems what to do. That’s never ever part of our conversation. It’s not our intent. Our intent was to provide a forum.” 

“The reason we did this is we took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America,” Conley said, drawing strong applause from the crowd.The size of the crowd, he said, “speaks volumes” about the community’s interest in the issue.

Spaulding also reported: Circumstances became testy toward the end as people began interrupting speakers. One woman who has been an advocate of Black Lives Matter in the past year sought to speak for more than an hour and then eventually began complaining loudly. One of the commissioners told her she’d didn’t have the floor and she was then escorted out of the building. The person trying to escort her appeared to touch her arm, which led the woman to loudly and repeatedly warn him not to touch her.

Redistricting schedule taking shape

Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray are tentatively planning on completing new congressional, state House and state Senate districts by Oct. 1, using so-called “legacy” data from the U.S. Census Bureau that will become available in mid-August, according to the Indiana Citizen. The Republican legislative leaders laid out their ideas to their Democratic counterparts, House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta and Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, in a meeting held late Wednesday afternoon in the Senate Republican Caucus meeting room in the Indiana Statehouse. Two people who attended the meeting provided the following information on background because they were not authorized to speak for Huston or Bray. 

The U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2020 census, delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, will come in a format similar to that used in the redistricting processes in 2001 and 2011.  The Legislative Services Agency will reformat the legacy data so that map-drawing can begin by Sept. 1. The House and Senate election committees will hold public hearings in early August – weeks before proposed new maps are released. The dates, number and locations of the hearings have not been determined. House and Senate members were asked to provide the exact locations of their homes to LSA, consistent with past practice. The process to draft the legislation determining the district boundaries will originate in the House.  The legislation would move through the House the week of Sept. 20 and through the Senate the following week. It is unclear how far in advance of Sept. 20 – if at all – the proposed maps will be available for public review and comment. 

Sec. Sullivan preparing for 2022

Though Indiana doesn’t have a statewide election this fall, the new Secretary of State – appointed in March – is preparing for 2022’s midterm contest by meeting with all the state’s county clerks.  And as IPR’s Stephanie Wiechmann reports, she wants to continue to make it simple for Indiana to vote on Indiana’s own terms (Weichmann, Indiana Public Media). “I no longer call it ‘voting day.’  We now have ‘voting season’ in Indiana, where we have at least 28 days for voters to have the opportunity to vote in their counties.” It’s that in-person voting access that Secretary of State Holli Sullivan is trying to expand before next year.  She wants to increase the number of counties using vote centers. But during last year’s election in a pandemic, many more Hoosiers flocked to absentee ballots as a way to safely cast their vote.  Indiana’s 2020 voter turnout was the highest in nearly three decades – and 61% of those votes were absentee.  That’s about twice as high as recent previous presidential elections. Though Sullivan has said the 2020 election had no fraud, and Indiana requires voters to choose one of about a dozen reasons for why they need an absentee ballot, she says she’s heard concerns about this way to vote. “After this listening tour, we probably will have some initiatives around, more security around absentee ballots to increase our voter confidence.”

Presidential


Pence gets 0%, 1% in CPAC straw polls

Former president Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) led the pack in the Conservative Political Action Conference’s (CPAC) straw poll for the 2024 GOP presidential nominee. Trump held a commanding lead, with 70% of those who responded to the survey saying they would vote for him in the Republican primary if it were held today (The Hill). DeSantis came in second with 21%. But when polling the 2024 Republican primary ballot without Trump, DeSantis led the pack with 68% of the vote. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Fox News host Tucker Carlson, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) all received 1% in the poll that included Trump. In the survey that left off Trump, Pompeo came in second at 5%, and Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s son, came in third with 4%. Former Vice President Mike Pence clocked in at 0%.

Trump lauds Jan. 6 insurrection attendees

Trump on Sunday widely praised those who attended the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the insurrection at the Capitol, repeatedly using the word “love” to describe the tone of the event. Echoing his rhetoric about the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Trump said, “These were peaceful people, these were great people” (Politico). Speaking on “Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo” on the Fox News Channel, he also said the rally participants were patriots, that some of them were unjustly arrested and jailed, and that a woman who was shot and killed by law enforcement during the insurrection was a great hero. The remarks reflected recent efforts by Trump and his supporters to cast themselves as the aggrieved parties from the Jan. 6 riot, which left five people dead and others injured — and, for a brief time, halted the wheels of democracy as President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College was being confirmed by Congress. In his interview with Bartiromo, Trump said those at the events of Jan. 6 were loving people who wanted to save the nation. “The crowd was unbelievable and I mentioned the word ‘love,’ the love in the air, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said of his rally on the Ellipse. “That’s why they went to Washington.” He added: “Too much spirit and faith and love, there was such love at that rally, you had over a million people,” inflating the size of his rally crowd.

Top RNC lawyer warned of allegations

The Republican Party’s top lawyer warned in November against continuing to push false claims that the presidential election was stolen, calling efforts by some of the former president’s lawyers a “joke” that could mislead millions of people, according to an email obtained by The Washington Post (MSN). Justin Riemer, the Republican National Committee’s chief counsel, sought to discourage a Republican Party staffer from posting claims about ballot fraud on RNC accounts, the email shows, as attempts by Donald Trump and his associates to challenge results in a number of states, such as Arizona and Pennsylvania, intensified. “What Rudy and Jenna are doing is a joke and they are getting laughed out of court,” Riemer, a Republican lawyer, wrote to Liz Harrington, a former party spokeswoman, on Nov. 28, referring to Trump attorneys Rudolph W. Giuliani and Jenna Ellis. “They are misleading millions of people who have wishful thinking that the president is going to somehow win this thing.”