Linley Pearson was talkative when I cold-called a while back. The former three-term Indiana attorney general and 1992 Republican candidate for governor had the good sense to be wintering in Florida, enjoying warm Gulf breezes and the company of his family and grandchildren while most of us Hoosiers were scowling at a foot of crunchy snow.
Despite his comparatively idyllic situation, news from back home had clouded Pearson’s sunny disposition. He’d read about the out-of-control, power-mad overreach of the Indiana General Assembly supermajority and the asinine tweets of our new but unimproved attorney general, Todd Rokita.
I asked Pearson, if you were a younger person today, would you run for office? He didn’t hesitate. “There’s no question today I could not be in politics,” he said. “It’s just totally changed, and it’s not very attractive to me. … If you want to exaggerate or malign a person, you could always do that, but do you want to do that?”
Pearson isn’t just put off by the dumb, mean, perpetual social media rage cycles of triggering and being triggered. He didn’t have to deal with that idiocracy when he was in public service. Beyond that, here is a Reagan Republican, a Lugar Republican, who simply wonders where his party went.
Example: In his day, home rule was an article of faith among the party faithful. The notion that Indiana cities, counties, towns and school boards know better than the state — especially the Legislature — was GOP gospel. “We’ve gone 180 degrees,” Pearson said. Now, the long arm of the Legislature’s Republican supermajority wants to control everything from who’s a judge in Gary to who runs Indianapolis’ police department.
Another example: Pearson is dumbfounded that lawmakers are implicitly breaking Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
“I was just really shocked that … the Legislature would go after the governor for the restrictions on COVID,” Pearson said. “I said, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen anything like that, either.’” He thought Gov. Eric Holcomb had done a good job navigating this crisis. Yet the General Assembly GOP supermajority listened to anti-mask yahoos, replied with a collective “ah-yup” and threw their own governor under the bus, curbing his emergency powers.
Which brought us to Example 3: the overt politicization of the office Pearson held from 1980-1992, Indiana attorney general. In case you missed it, Rokita had a spot of bother for tweeting on Valentine’s Day that he still has a crazy crush on Donald Trump, and not even a deadly insurrection at the Capitol attempting to overthrow the government can change his heart.
Pearson had seen the news about Rokita’s tweet. He laugh-sighed.
“That’s typical of what’s going on today with the Republican Attorneys General Association,” Pearson said. Like social media, RAGA wasn’t a thing when Pearson led, nor was the Democratic Attorneys General Association. Listening to Pearson, seems like things were better before those base fundraising operations existed.
“There was only one (National Association of Attorneys General) and both Democrats and Republicans got along well,” he said, adding, “It’s amazing to me” that state AGs have devolved into partisan, warring tribes.
And Rokita’s tribe, RAGA, gave him a stupefying sum — almost $1.2 million in campaign contributions — way more than half the total he raised. That is alarming based on what we’re learning about a RAGA affiliate’s involvement cheerleading the Jan. 6 events leading up to the Capitol insurrection. Cast in that light, Rokita was only dancing with the one who brought him when he tweeted a poorly drawn image of Trump on Feb. 14 with the inflammatory caption, “You stole my heart like a 2020 election.”
“That kind of nutty stuff is just beyond me,” Pearson said of Rokita’s tweet.
“I think trying to get along with people and get things done and accomplish something is much better,” Pearson said. “… Call me a moderate and I’m happy.”
I joked to Pearson that he was an endangered species. He laughed again but didn’t disagree. Maybe he’s just living in the past. Can you blame him?•
• Dave Stafford — [email protected] — is editor of Indiana Lawyer. Opinions expressed are those of the author.