The 2020 election might represent the best chance Indiana Democrats have had in two decades to win the race for attorney general. And if they do, one of the biggest factors will be a person who’s not even a part of the general election campaign – incumbent Attorney General Curtis Hill.
The Indiana Supreme Court temporarily suspended Curtis Hill’s law license on May 11 for criminally battering four women, effectively ending a two-year saga. Two months later, Indiana Republican state convention delegates chose former Secretary of State Todd Rokita over Hill to be their 2020 nominee for attorney general.
But Hill’s impact was still felt – on, for instance, the Democratic candidate, former Evansville mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel.
“Frankly, it starts and ends with Curtis Hill," Weinzapfel said. "For the most part, I got into this race thinking I was going to be running against Curtis Hill, right?”
Rokita got into the race at the last minute and says he wanted to make sure Republicans chose the candidate with the best chance to win.
“I’m running for attorney general because we need strong leadership at a time like this,” Rokita said.
Both candidates also use Hill as a contrast to how they’d run the attorney general’s office.
“I would hope that there wouldn’t be a distraction," Rokita said. "And you can’t deny the fact that there’s obviously a lot of distraction in the office when the head of your office is under such a cloud.”
Weinzapfel sounds similar.
“I had the opportunity to talk to some former deputy attorneys general," Weinzapfel said. "You know, what they have told me is that his ethical issues have been a huge distraction.”
Curtis Hill is also a big reason why this race is so competitive – national groups targeted it as a potential pick-up for Democrats because of the current AG’s misconduct.
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Still, Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics director Andrew Downs said Hill isn’t the central figure anymore – which helps fellow Republican, Rokita.
“So many things are happening right now that are of huge importance that we can forget things faster than we used to be able to forget them,” Downs said.
One of those important things? The future of health care access.
Indiana – led by Curtis Hill – is part of a lawsuit to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care law that, among other things, protects access for people with pre-existing conditions.
Weinzapfel would pull Indiana out of that lawsuit, even as he acknowledges doing so now would be largely symbolic.
“Killing the ACA would have a profound impact on Hoosiers," Weinzapfel said. "We’re talking about 2.7 million who have some type of pre-existing condition – whether that’s high blood pressure, diabetes, a positive test for coronavirus.”
Rokita supports the lawsuit and efforts to tear down the ACA.
“To be clear, I am for covering people with pre-existing conditions … I would be for and would help the General Assembly make sure that pre-existing conditions were covered,” Rokita said.
There’s also COVID-19 – both candidates want to use the attorney general’s consumer fraud division to help protect Hoosiers from scams that have erupted around the pandemic.
On police reform, the two diverge.
“The first question we have to ask is what’s being taught right now? 'Oh, reform this and reform that and don’t do this anymore but do this all the time' – that’s just a political decision that’s being made,” Rokita said.
Both candidates emphasize the need to involve police in whatever reform discussions take place. But Weinzapfel's next step is different from anything Rokita mentions.
“I think we ought to start with what the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus has put on the table; I think there are some good ideas there,” Weinzapfel said.
Downs said the AG’s race will likely also tell us something else, something larger about Indiana Democrats’ decades-long strategy of running moderate, centrist candidates statewide.
“This is a moment to ask ourselves, 'Is that a profile that is now broken completely or does it still work in certain situations?'” Downs said.
The campaign for attorney general will likely be the closest statewide race in Indiana this year.