By Deb Patterson
NORTH WEBSTER — The year’s first Lincoln Day Dinner in the state since the coronavirus pandemic started was held in Kosciusko County Thursday evening, May 29.
Local candidates, opposed and unopposed, attended, along with all four Republican candidates for the attorney general nomination later this summer at the state Republican convention. The evening was also attended by neighboring county Republican chairmen and 2nd and 3rd District party officials.
The evening was kept in accordance with the governor’s executive orders concerning the pandemic. Temperatures of each person entering the building were taken, bottles of hand sanitizers were available at each table, face masks were available for those who wanted them and social distancing was observed. The tables were limited to six people each, instead of eight and the number attending was limited to 130. Even the staff from The Owl’s Nest followed protocol with gloves and masks.
Former U.S. Congressman Todd Rokita, who recently announced his candidacy for Indiana Attorney General, was the keynote speaker. His address focused on where the Republican party has been and where it is going, as well as his pitch for the attorney general nomination. Rokita’s approximate 20-minute address followed five-minute speeches by his opponents, Nate Harter, John Westercamp and incumbent Attorney General Curtis Hill.
Mike Ragan, county GOP chairman, gave a disclaimer prior to Rokita’s address. Ragan noted Rokita had been asked to introduce Gov. Eric Holcomb, but after a change in date and some uncertainty about whether Holcomb could attend, Rokita was asked to be the keynote speaker. Ragan said he did not learn of Rokita’s intention to seek the attorney general nomination until the night before it was officially announced, and after Rokita was asked to be the keynote speaker.
Jean Northenor, the former county chair who is often referred to as the county party’s matriarch and an “iron lady,” introduced Rokita. She recalled when a “snot-nosed little devil came into the courthouse to tell us what to do,” She noted he started in politics when Indiana Republicans were out of power and the state needed a new conservative for secretary of state to lead the ticket, to bring certainty to uncertain times. “Rokita stepped up,” she said, adding he was elected statewide by a large margin and earned the trust of voters in Indiana. His accomplishments of bringing to prosecution big out of state companies, operating the office on fewer taxpayer dollars than ever before were noted. After being elected to congress, Rokita, she noted, “fought back against the establishment” and had a consistent and proven conservative record winning against liberals and bureaucrats.
Rokita reminded those in attendance of a story that most of those present were a part of.
“It’s hard to believe now, it wasn’t so long ago, just over a decade, when our great state was known nationally and even internationally as a backwater state. We were tied with Kentucky for last in all the things we should have been better at … we were a minority. We were ruled by the likes of Frank O’Bannon, Joe Kernan and others.”
He went on to say that there was a team of individuals, who originally were foes, that quickly became friends – Richard Murdock, Mike Delph and others. “We convinced ourselves as a party that the most important thing for us right now was to keep that secretary of state’s office, because here were things we needed to do and we weren’t going to be a minority.”
It happened and the first mission was making sure there was a voter id law. “We were tired of people in Lake County and even as close as Elkhart, where cases were not being prosecuted, elections being stolen by people who cheated our system … we did it.” Rokita continued by stating the party attracted the attention of Mitch Daniels. “We showed him and the rest of the world we could win.” He stated noting the rest could nearly write itself wouldn’t be accurate. He noted the state went from being a backwater state to fist in class and the Republicans went from being a minority to being one of the strongest in the nation.
“Rarely in our history can a party legitimately say we turned the state around. But this one can,” he said. He noted that today the Republicans enjoy over 80 percent of the counties in the state being Republican and the nearly the supermajority in the Senate and House. He stated that the only way the party could start losing is with the attorney general’s office, noting the Democrats have a great candidate who even looks like Evan Bayh.
The remainder of the Rokita’s address appeared to focus on his campaign, noting that the attorney general’s office was an important office. He referred to mistakes being made in that office without apologies and the need to keep the trust of voters and taxpayers. He stated there is a voting record available on him and that with “Rokita everyone knows where I stand.” He said his record was the same or better than Hill’s and that he knew how to treat an office. “If you mess up you have to own it …”
Rokita ended his address by noting the importance of Republicans keeping the attorney general’s office as if that is lost and that of the supermajority, it will go beyond the AG’s office to county and state races.
Earlier in the evening, Jim Heierman, county treasurer, welcomed the guests and stated “I didn’t think this would happen. “I’m glad to share this special time.” It was then noted that Heierman had stepped down from his position and would be replaced by Steve Foster.