Tag Archives: Indiana Attorney General

And…Todd Rokita Again

I’ve posted a lot about the negative consequences of bigotry for individuals and the body politic. What I haven’t focused on–at least, not sufficiently–is the moral culpability of the politicians who pander to and encourage bigotry and ignorance because they think it will help them win elections.

Which brings me to Indiana’s current Attorney General, Todd Rokita.

Rokita, predictably, is one of the GOP officials currently screaming about President Biden’s vaccine mandate– elevating political identity over government’s obligation to protect  public health.

It’s part and parcel of his persona.

Some of you will remember that Rokita was a prime mover of Indiana’s Voter ID law–premised on a “voter fraud” that every single study found to be non-existent. But of course, minorities were less likely to have the required documentation–and  not-so-coincidentally, less likely to vote for Rokita.

Todd Smekens, who often comments on this blog, shared a letter with me that Rokita had sent to multiple media outlets in Indiana, “explaining” his war on the Confucius Institutes that dot campuses around the state. (I’ve previously noted how ridiculous and dishonest those attacks have been.)

This letter–replete with inaccuracies (China did not intentionally loosen the virus on the world, Valparaiso University does not have an “affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party”…) continues Rokita’s assault on Confucius Institutes and common sense, and ends with a ringing promise to protect Hoosiers from the Chinese Communist Menace. (Oh good..I’ve been so worried. Hoosiers are so susceptible…) In any event, that grandiose promise of “protection,” ridiculous as it is, falls far afield of the Indiana Attorney General’s job description.

As I’ve previously noted, Confucius Institutes exist at some 100 American colleges, including IUPUI, where I taught, although given its lack of prominence on campus, most students had probably never heard of it. The Institutes are one of a wide range of campus organizations intended to introduce students to a diverse set of global cultures.

Valparaiso University’s Confucius Institute–for some reason, a particular target of Rokita’s– was founded in 2008 and its website said it “aims at helping Northwest Indiana citizens learn about China and its people and culture and study the Chinese language, and promoting cultural, particularly music, exchange between the US and China.” Valparaiso shut the Institute down last year, citing a loss of federal funding.

It’s tempting to shrug at this posturing –after all, this is deep-red Indiana, where we’re used to  political figures making fools of themselves. But we need to realize that the character, morality and intellect of the people we place in leadership positions actually matters.

In a recent piece in the Economist, Stephen Reicher revisited the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, and found evidence of the important role played by leadership–the researchers who shaped the experiment– in producing the shocking results that  brought the experiment to an early close. As Reicher reports, a full reading of the study archive–recently opened– “does not reveal natural brutality, as it is often depicted, but how brutality is mobilized by others.”

At the moment, Americans are in the middle of a different leadership experiment, this one focused on a deadly pathogen. “Leaders” like DeSantis and Abbott and Rokita are actively encouraging behaviors that are equally toxic–behaviors that pose a threat to public health and are directly responsible for hundreds if not thousands of deaths. That encouragement is clearly intended to enhance their standing in the ranks of the “freedom fighters” who control today’s GOP. (Rokita fought efforts by IU to ensure that students coming back to campus were vaccinated; he lost in court.)

Rokita’s “letter” (really a press release) was clearly intended to endear him to his natural constituency– to the sort of voter who would be receptive to his misinformation (pretty much the horse de-wormer crowd).

As I noted when he first initiated these attacks against China, communism and American universities, it really doesn’t matter whether Rokita is as loony and smarmy as he seems (a la Marjorie Taylor Greene et al), or just pursuing what he considers to be a savvy strategy of appealing to uninformed and loony voters. He’s a prime example of everything that’s wrong with contemporary American politics.

Our ability to get government functioning properly again–our ability to ensure that the various leaders of state agencies are doing the jobs they are supposed to be doing rather than chasing media mentions and the votes of the credulous and uninformed– requires ridding ourselves of elected officials like Rokita.

In Rokita’s case, I actually know several Republicans who agree….

Pence’s Protege?

Yesterday’s New York Times highlighted an amicus brief filed by prominent Republicans in the  gerrymandering case that will be heard by the Supreme Court this session.

Current and former GOP luminaries– including John McCain of Arizona; Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio; Bob Dole, the former Republican Senate leader from Kansas and the party’s 1996 presidential nominee; the former senators John C. Danforth of Missouri, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming; and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former governor of California–urged the Court to end the partisan redistricting that “has become a tool for powerful interests to distort the democratic process.”

Then there’s Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, who joined a very different “friend of the Court” brief, arguing that some partisanship is inevitable when legislators draw districts, there’s nothing “invidious” or improper about that reality, and even if there is, there’s no way for the Court to prove it.

So there!

Other than Hill, I have been pleasantly surprised by Indiana’s current Republican administration. Governor Holcomb seems eminently sane, and has focused on issues of governance–the “nitty-gritty” that Mike Pence ignored in favor of his crusades against Planned Parenthood, reproductive choice and gay people. Our current Superintendent of Public Instruction has actually demonstrated knowledge of and support for public education–a welcome change from the last Republican to hold that position.

Attorney General Hill is the exception. I knew nothing about him before his election, and not much more now, but his more newsworthy activities have been troubling, to say the least. It isn’t just his enthusiastic defense of gerrymandering–a position not universally shared even among Indiana Republicans. (The reform bill that failed in Indiana’s last legislative session was co-sponsored by Republican Representative Jerry Torr and Republican Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, both of whom evidently recognize that the process is pernicious.)

Hill has also clashed with the Centers for Disease Control over needle exchange programs. According to Indiana Public Media, Hill is accusing the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of manipulating facts in order to push a “pro-needle-exchange agenda.” Hill insists that needle exchange programs increase drug use, a claim that medical research has consistently debunked.

The new U.S. Surgeon General (and former Indiana Health Commissioner) Jerome Adams has been a vocal proponent of syringe exchanges.

“There’s been no evidence that [a syringe exchange program] increases drug use,” says Dennis Watson, a researcher at the Fairbanks School of Public Health. On the contrary, he says, exchange programs can actually decrease the amount of injection drug use…

A Seattle-based study found that syringe exchange participants were five times more likely to enter treatment than those who didn’t participate.

Perhaps Hill hasn’t had time to review evidence about gerrymandering or the results of needle exchange research, since–as the Indianapolis Star recently reported–he has been busy redecorating his offices.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on office renovations and a new state vehicle, sparking criticism from some budget leaders.

The renovations underway at Hill’s Statehouse office are expected to cost about $279,000. That includes $78,000 for new furniture, $71,000 for historic replica painting and $2,500 for seven reclaimed chandeliers. The six-room office is home to Hill and 10 to 15 of his top staffers.

Of course, Hill has found time to appeal rulings that favored Planned Parenthood, that protected the rights of LGBTQ citizens and that allowed police to pat down people to determine whether they’re carrying guns.He’s a perfect partisan culture warrior.

Mike Pence must be so proud…..

Fight the Culture War on Your Own Nickel, Greg

I thought I’d share a letter that Bill Groth and I wrote to the editor of the Star, published today (at least in the electronic version), for the benefit of the growing number of people who no longer read that publication.

_____________________

To the Editor:

Attorney General Greg Zeller recently had a letter in The Indianapolis Star defending his decision to file yet another friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court—this time, in a case from New York challenging the conduct of legislative prayer.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Attorney General’s position on the merits, his entirely voluntary participation in this case raises an issue that troubles us as attorneys and as taxpayers. Simply stated, Attorney General Zeller has shown an unseemly proclivity to weigh in—ostensibly on behalf of all Hoosiers—on so-called “culture war” issues entirely unrelated to Indiana. This time, it’s public prayer;  a few months ago, it was opposition to federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in states where such marriages are legal.

These forays into matters not involving Indiana or its citizens may play well with the Republican party’s religiously conservative base, but they do not serve the interests of the broader Indiana community. Indiana was not a party to those cases, and it was entirely unnecessary to take a side in matters about which Hoosiers remain sharply divided.

Zeller defended his culture war activism by noting his office “routinely” files friend-of-court briefs.  This is precisely what concerns us.  Just as courts exercise judicial restraint and refrain from deciding issues not squarely before them, we believe that Attorney General Zeller should show similar restraint by not volunteering Indiana as a partisan “culture warrior” in cases to which the state is not a party.  He claims no tax money is involved in the preparation of these briefs, because his staff researches and writes them. That staff, of course, is paid with Hoosiers’ tax dollars.

If lawyers in the office have enough spare time to work on numerous legal matters not germane to state business, it would seem the office is overstaffed.

Attorney General Zeller denies he is advocating any personal position and is only seeking “finality” on this and other controversial issues.  But as any lawyer can attest, and the Attorney General surely knows, issues of this sort are never “final.”  It is hard to escape the conclusion that Attorney General Zeller is using his public office to advocate for his personal religious views—views that are highly divisive in an increasingly pluralistic society. Such use of an elected office is improper, and it should stop.