AG candidates make final pleas to GOP delegates

The crowded field of lawyers seeking the Indiana GOP nomination for attorney general will soon be narrowed to one as the four candidates make their final pleas for support from the state’s Republican delegates.

Incumbent AG Curtis Hill, along with Decatur County Prosecutor Nate Harter, former Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita and Indianapolis lawyer John Westercamp, addressed the delegates Thursday during the party’s virtual Indiana Republican Convention. Speaking to the delegates before the speeches, GOP Chair Kyle Hupfer said selecting the AG candidate was one of the most important functions of the convention.

Given that the convention was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, delegates will not receive their ballots until June 22. Winners will be announced July 10. The Republican nominee will face former Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel in the November election after Democratic delegates selected him as their nominee earlier this week, edging state Sen. Karen Tallian.

Speaking in alphabetical order, Harter began the candidate speeches by saying he wasn’t interested in the pride or relevance of statewide office; he’s interested in doing the job. Pledging to put duty above ego or headlines, Harter said he would lead the AG’s office with a culture of respect and teamwork.

The Decatur County prosecutor made references to the scandal that has shrouded the last two years of Hill’s term: the allegations that Hill drunkenly groped four women in March 2018, and the fallout of a lawsuit and a law license suspension that ended this week.

Harter said the GOP has the opportunity to turn the page on that “sordid chapter” of the Office of the Attorney General, saying there was a “dark cloud of unfulfilled potential” over the office. In contrast, he vowed to give training opportunities to the lawyers working in the AG’s office based on their legal interests.

As evidence of his effectiveness, Harter pointed to two high-profile cases his Decatur County office has handled: the arrest and conviction of former Greensburg Police Chief Stacey Chasteen on theft and official misconduct charges, and the role as special prosecutor in the conviction of former Johnson County Prosecutor Bradley Cooper on domestic violence charges.

There’s too much at stake to risk losing the attorney general’s office to the Democratic party, Harter told the delegates. He urged them to put their support behind the GOP candidate in November and, if he becomes that candidate, pledged to uphold conservative causes including the right to life, the Second Amendment and the idea of small government.

Hill, taking his turn after Harter, pledged to uphold the same values. The incumbent also took it a step further, telling delegates he has a record in the AG’s office of standing for those values – and for standing against the impeachment of President Donald Trump and the recent calls to defund the police.

Hill did not shy away from the turmoil his office has faced following the groping allegations, choosing instead to tell delegates he has been “speared” by the media and by liberals during the last two years in a way that few have endured. He likened his experience to that of President Trump during the impeachment proceedings last winter.

“I’m not perfect,” Hill said, adding that no one is. Like the president, he said he is a warrior who has battle scars.

Saying that society is in a “historically challenging time,” Hill repeatedly told the delegates he is the right person to lead the AG’s office “for a time such as this.”

Hill touted his record on issues including abortion, which he says culminated this year when he presided over the burial of 2,411 fetal remains found at the home of Dr. Ulrich Klopfer, one of the most prolific abortion doctors in the Midwest. Indiana has become a leader in the anti-abortion movement under Hill’s tenure, he said.

Turning to the present, the AG pointed to his stance against the widespread closure of Hoosier churches during the pandemic. Hill has publicly called the closures religious discrimination. Finally, Hill homed in on his career in public service, noting he has won every election he’s ever run in, including those to become Elkhart County prosecutor. Notably, he said, he holds the record for winning the most votes for any statewide officeholder in the history of the Hoosier state.

The AG scoffed at the idea that if he is the GOP nominee, Hoosier Republicans won’t reelect him. Once again likening himself to President Trump, he said Hoosiers who support the president’s reelection campaign likewise support him.

But Rokita, speaking next, offered a different scenario. If Hill becomes the party’s nominee for attorney general, Democrats will seek to defeat him by focusing heavily on his legal and ethical issues.

Rokita spoke of the need for personal responsibility, openly implying that Hill lacks that quality. Children are taught to to apologize when they do wrong, Rokita said, and the same should be expected of elected officials.

The former congressman and Indiana Secretary of State said it was the people of Indiana, not Hill, who were “railroaded” by the groping allegations and subsequent fallout. If elected, Rokita vowed not to put himself ahead of his elected office.

Rokita spent the most time talking about the groping allegations, noting Hill’s 30-day suspension was not handed down by politicians like Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Rather, it came from the five “impartial, conservative” justices of the Indiana Supreme Court.

Rokita also criticized Hill’s leadership of the OAG, pointing to money the office has spent on renovations and customized vehicles. If elected, Rokita vowed to operate the office “impeccably.”

Like Hill and Harter, Rokita touted his record on abortion, the Second Amendment and bureaucracy. Additionally, he noted his two terms as Indiana’s secretary of state, making him the only candidate to win a statewide office twice.

Calling the Indiana GOP a “home” for his family, Rokita pledged to fight the “Deep State” and provide certainty in uncertain times.

Last to speak was Westercamp, the first candidate to enter the AG’s race last year. A lawyer with Bose McKinney & Evans, Westercamp touted his “private sector, broad-based” experience in contrast with those seeking to hold “yet another office.”

Though Westercamp has largely stayed away from commenting on Hill’s legal troubles, he, like Rokita, criticized the management of the AG’s, particularly the purchase of chandeliers. Further, Westercamp noted Hill keeps an office in his hometown of Elkhart — an expense he pledged to eliminate if elected.

Westercamp also pointed to legal troubles experienced by the whole of the OAG – specifically, a sanction handed down earlier this year by Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. In her sanctions order, Magnus-Stinson held the AG’s office responsible for insufficient training of its lawyers. Without that training, Westercamp said, the office cannot properly defend Hoosiers’ liberties.

As with the other three candidates, Westercamp spoke of his commitment to the right-to-life movement, though he took it a step further than abortion. His commitment to life, he said, also extends to assistance for the elderly and the disabled.

If elected, Westercamp pledged to bring greater transparency to the AG’s office and to manage it with efficiency and effectiveness. He ended the address by telling the delegates he was one of them, fighting for all of them.

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