By Dan Spalding
NORTH WEBSTER – In a four-way Republican race for Indiana Attorney General, incumbent Curtis Hill found himself under attack Thursday night, May 28, by former Congressman Todd Rokita.
Hill and Rokita – along with Nate Harter and John Westercamp – met for the first time in person for a chance to debate the issues at the Kosciusko County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner in North Webster.
In what is viewed as unprecedented circumstances in Indiana politics, Hill is currently serving a 30-day suspension ordered by the Indiana Supreme Court following allegations that he groped four women at a party in 2018 and is fighting for re-election.
Republican delegates will choose their nominee through a convention later this summer, but Thursday night’s debate – five days before Primary Day and in the midst of a pandemic – made for unique circumstances that kept 130 people at The Owl’s Nest glued to their seats as they spoke.
But there was another twist at the dinner.
While Hill, Westercamp and Harter were allotted five minutes to speak to the crowd, Rokita was named ahead of time as the keynote speaker by Kosciusko County Republican Chair Mike Ragan and spoke for 20 minutes.
Rokita took advantage of the extra time and was the only one to directly attack Hill, pointing to “defiance” and calling him “fatally flawed.”
Rokita warned that having Hill on the November ballot could have a trickle-down effect on Republicans and threaten their supermajority control in the General Assembly and dominance elsewhere.
“With a fatally flawed candidate on the ballot, you will have millions and millions of dollars of Democrat money … (go) into this state way beyond the attorney general’s race. It will go into the county races. It will go into the state rep races,” Rokita said.
“Why would we put all of that at risk when we have a conservative alternative?” Rokita said.
Without mentioning the groping allegations specifically, Rokita said mistakes had been made for which Hill has not apologized.
“Yes, we’re human and when we mess up, we have to own it. All I’ve heard about the incumbent so far – even tonight – is defiance – no responsibility for anything,” said Rokita, who is also the former Indiana Secretary of State.
Hoosier voters, he said, won’t tolerate that approach.
“I’m certainly not going to sit around and let conservatives own this mess,” he said.
Hill, meanwhile, used much of his time to cast himself as a fighter for conservative values.
Hill pointed to his record on several issues. He talked about his leadership in retrieving the remains of 2,411 aborted fetuses from Illinois and presiding over a funeral of the unborn babies in South Bend.
He also engaged in two battles over discriminatory enforcement of church practices during the pandemic.
In another example, Hill stood up to Howard County leaders who tried to close gun shops during the pandemic. “A pandemic is not an exception to the Constitution,” he said.
And he pointed to his work to “defeat Obamacare forever.”
Hill then pivoted and indirectly referenced his scandal, saying he’s “capable of taking a punch,” and then compared his struggle with those of President Donald Trump.
“He was investigated by a special prosecutor and cleared. Well guess what? So was I,” Hill said.
“I’ve had a few problems myself. We’re not perfect,” he said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am the attorney general. I’m prepared to do battle. We’ve been doing battle. We’re going to keep doing it for you, for us – thank you so much.”
Ragan told the crowd earlier that he had chosen Rokita as the keynote speaker not knowing he would soon run for attorney general.
Asked about the slanted format afterward, Hill said he “takes the chairman at his word,” but added “it was a little one-sided.”
Westercamp and Harter both focused on their conservative credentials.
Harter, the prosecutor in Decatur County, said he’s also worked as a trial attorney.
“It’s critically important that we nominate this summer a conservative who can win in the fall (with) a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, local perspective,” Harter said.
Westercamp is an attorney from the Indianapolis area.
He described himself as a “pro-life, private sector conservative with real-world experience.”
“I have seen first-hand the effect of government overreach on my own clients and I want to bring that perspective to the office of attorney general.”