Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill’s bid for reelection was scuttled Friday as he lost the Republican nomination following a monthlong suspension of his law license over allegations that he groped a state lawmaker and three other women during a party.
Former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita prevailed in mail-in voting by state convention delegates after a campaign among party activists that centered on whether the allegations against Hill left him vulnerable to defeat in the November election. Rokita defeated Hill with 52% of the vote in a third round of voting after two lesser-known candidates were eliminated in earlier rounds, state GOP Chairman Kyle Hupfer said.
Rokita said he entered the race because Hill had a history of “bad judgment, bad choices and not taking responsibilities” marring his time as state government’s top lawyer. Rokita, who is known as a contentious conservative, is looking to make a political comeback after running unsuccessfully for governor in 2016 and a U.S. Senate seat two years ago.
Hill had been seen as a rising African American star among Republicans and worked to build support among social conservatives, touting himself as an anti-abortion and tough-on-crime crusader and making appearances on Fox News to discuss topics such as San Francisco’s troubles with homelessness.
But Hill faced opposition from Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and other top state GOP leaders. Holcomb called on Hill to resign over the allegations that he drunkenly groped a state lawmaker and three other women during March 2018 party marking the end of that year’s legislative session.
Hill, 59, has denied wrongdoing, and a special prosecutor declined to file criminal charges against him. But the state Supreme Court suspended his law license for 30 days, ruling unanimously in May that the state’s attorney disciplinary commission “proved by clear and convincing evidence that (Hill) committed the criminal act of battery.”
Former Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel won the Democratic nomination a race that the party is targeting in hopes of breaking the current hold Republicans have on all statewide elected offices.
“Congressman Rokita has run for many offices over his long political career, so let me congratulate him on his nomination for this latest one today,” Weinzapfel said in a statement following the announcement of his ballot contender. “Hoosier voters will have a clear choice in this election. Our governing philosophies, priorities and values couldn’t be more different. This will be a spirited campaign and I’m looking forward to it.”
Republicans are ready to deliver victories “up and down the ballot in November,” Hupfer, the state GOP chiarman, said in a brief congratulatory statement to the Rokita campaign.
Following the announcement, Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody responded in a statement, saying Hoosiers “can’t trust” the Republican nominee. Zody cited “lucrative state contracts” Rokita made to campaign contributors while Secretary of State, as well as his stances on health care.
“Todd Rokita is the poster boy for pay to play politics and underscores why national political prognosticators have moved this to a ‘toss-up’ race,” Zody said. “Bottom line: this office is a top pick up opportunity for Hoosier Democrats.”
Weinzapfel has also criticized the GOP candidates for supporting Hill’s participation with other Republican attorneys general in the lawsuit against “Obamacare,” but Rokita’s nomination likely lessens the potential campaign impact of the groping allegations.
Democratic Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon testified during an October attorney disciplinary hearing that Hill, smelling of alcohol and with glassy eyes, was holding a drink in his right hand and put his left hand on her shoulder, then slid his hand down her dress to clench her buttocks. “A squeeze, a firm grasp,” she said.
Three female legislative staffers — ages 23 to 26 at the time — testified that Hill inappropriately touched their backs or buttocks and made unwelcome sexual comments during the party.
Rokita won statewide elections as Indiana secretary of state in 2002 and 2006 before he held a central Indiana congressional seat for eight years through 2018. He champions his “solid history” of defending gun rights and religious freedom, as well as his previous work while secretary of state to implement the nation’s first photo voter identification law.
Rokita has faced several controversies, including allegations that his congressional staffers often felt obligated to do political work to help his campaigns. And a 2018 Associated Press analysis of state and congressional spending records revealed that Rokita had spent more than $3 million in public money on ad campaigns that often coincided with his bids for office.