INDIANAPOLIS (Howey Politics) – Attorney General Curtis Hill is innocent until proven guilty on allegations that he sexually harassed at least three General Assembly employees and State Rep. Mara Candeleria Reardon at a late night March 15 sine die party.
But when it comes to Politics 101 and the chapter of how an elected public official handles him or herself in the public sphere, Hill is flunking out. The allegations that surfaced on July 2 in a leaked General Assembly investigation memo has prompted the Republican establishment – Gov. Eric Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, House Speaker Bosma, Senate President David Long, Secretary of State Connie Lawson, U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks and U.S. Senate nominee Mike Braun – to call for Hill to resign.
That, folks, is a catastrophic collapse of political support from the most influential people in the state.
Hill emerged as a statewide figure in 2016 after four terms as Elkhart County prosecutor. He is African-American, giving the GOP a rare opportunity to expand what it likes to call the “big tent,” and Hill was savvy enough to defeat former attorney general Steve Carter at the Republican Convention. He won election, leading the ticket with 1.64 million votes. In the space of a year, Hill became a Republican “rising star.” He was embraced by President Trump and Vice President Pence, appearing at their sides frequently in Washington.
Hill’s big problem was that there was no plausible place for him to rise to (in a political sense). Gov. Eric Holcomb will seek a second term in 2020. There won’t be a U.S. Senate nomination to be had until at least 2024. What’s an ambitious politician to do?
Hill wore his ambition outwardly, clashing with Holcomb on issues like CBD oil and needle exchanges. In the warrens of the General Assembly, he is often described as “arrogant” and “aggressive.” Constitutional officers rarely buck the governor of their own party, and if they do, they face retribution.
This past spring, when Gov. Holcomb and Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer attempted to add more tolerant, broader language to the GOP marriage plank, Hill embraced the Mike Pence era status quo (marriage is to be between a man and woman), and appeared with social conservatives at a convention eve rally in Evansville. In a floor voice vote, the status quo held by a wide margin. Some were so emboldened and revengeful, they encouraged Hill to challenge Holcomb in the 2020 primary.
That, folks, would be called a fool’s errand. An incumbent Indiana governor has never faced a credible primary challenge since they could seek reelection beginning in 1976, let alone a popular one. An April Morning Consult Poll showed Gov. Holcomb’s approve/disapprove at 52/23 percent. According to internal polling for the Indiana Republican Party, Holcomb’s favorables have been between 60-63 percent.
In statewide races over the past two decades, social conservatives have been able to attract about a third of the vote in primary settings. Mitch Daniels defeated Advance America’s Eric Miller 66.4 to 33.6 percent in the 2004 gubernatorial primary. In the 1998 U.S. Senate primary, Indianapolis attorney John Price was the social conservative candidate and, again, came in with 33.7 percent of the vote, just missing the nomination against Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke.
Hill had already committed his political sin, appearing at a sine die party at a Democratic hangout, some six months into the #MeToo movement that has claimed a dozen or so politicians. The “investigation” report describes him as “intoxicated,” and at least four women say he couldn’t keep his hands to himself, stroking backs and buttocks.
“I was not afforded fairness in this investigation,” Hill said during a six-and-a-half-minute statement reading before the press without taking any questions Monday morning. “I have now been called upon to resign by the governor and others. I respect the governor. I believe him to be an honorable man, but I wish he had reached out to me regarding these accusations before rushing to judgment. In America, we cannot overlook the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.”
True. The General Assembly probe was not fair, Hill was not deposed, but it gave Holcomb an opportunity to step on his throat. Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry has requested a special investigator be appointed to look into the allegations.
Hill’s lack of discipline for even putting himself in such a quandary is tearing at the Indiana GOP standing at its supermajority apex. It exposes yawning double standards. Holcomb, Crouch and others insist there is “zero tolerance” for any kind of sexual harassment. Yet the leader of their party, President Trump, has been accused by at least 11 women for an array of horndog incidents. In Trump’s own words, when you rich and famous, you can grab a woman anywhere.
It will be interesting to see whether “zero tolerance” will persist when Trump comes to campaign for Mike Braun this fall and whether other Hoosier Republicans will be on stage.
Meanwhile, the Indiana Office of Personnel should release any documents detailing any expenditure of taxpayer dollars in either disclosed or undisclosed sexual harassment cases in the Indiana executive, legislative and judicial branches. Mum’s the official word on that front in this era of “zero tolerance.”
So Attorney General Hill is innocent at this writing, albeit embattled, weakened, tarnished and abandoned.