Indiana SOS resigns—shortlist of replacements—Rokita explains social media Valentine

Plus: A sit-down interview with IN Dems Chair candidate Trish Whitcomb.

President Donald Trump (C) speaks while flanked by Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach (L) and US Vice President Mike Pence (R) during the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on July 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. Lawson, a member of the commission, is center right. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson—who served longer in that role than any other Hoosier elected official—announced her coming resignation today. The news triggered speculation among Republican and Democratic operatives about who Gov. Eric Holcomb might select as her replacement.

“Like many Hoosiers, 2020 took a toll on me,” Lawson said in a statement. “I am resigning so I can focus on my health and my family. I will work with Governor Holcomb to ensure our next Secretary of State is up to the task and has the tools and resources to hit the ground running.”

“Indiana’s own Iron Lady, Secretary of State Connie Lawson, has long defined what true public service and leadership is and ought to be all about,” Holcomb said. “Throughout her time in county, legislative and statewide office, she set the standard for commitment, composure, class and credibility. No matter the year or issues of the day, citizens could bank on Connie Lawson leading the way and inspiring others to follow.”

Bipartisan encomiums for Lawson echoed across the state. There were also some veiled critiques of her approach to expanded voting rights from Democrats.

"The Indiana Democratic Party certainly wishes Connie Lawson well as she is looking to focus on what matters most to all of us: family and personal well-being," John Zody, Chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said in a statement. "Upon the appointment of her successor, the Indiana Democratic Party will continue to work to promote safe and fair voting rights for all Hoosiers, and ask our colleagues across the aisle to join us in this effort.”

Jim Harper, Lawson’s Democratic challenger in 2018, praised her service. “I join Hoosiers in thanking Secretary Lawson for her service and wishing her well in her retirement,” he told me. “I encourage the next Secretary to work to ensure that every Hoosier can cast a ballot conveniently and securely."

The statewide office is up in 2022. Former Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed Lawson to the position in 2012 in the wake of former Secretary of State Charlie White’s voter fraud conviction. Lawson—who served on former President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission, and resisted efforts from the commission to collect Indiana voter data—said her resignation would take effect once the governor has selected her successor.

Here are some of the names GOP insiders are bandying about as possible replacements who would have a jump on the 2022 cycle by their appointment.

State Rep. Holli Sullivan 

  • Sullivan, who represents portions of Vanderburgh and Warrick Counties, is a well-respected legislator and vice chair of the Indiana GOP. The Evansville resident, a former General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Manufacturing employee who owned her own consulting firm, would bring geographical diversity to a 2022 Republican statewide ticket. “Connie is a trailblazer for women in public office; she is a role model for me and countless other female leaders in the state,” Sullivan said in a statement.

Brandon Clifton 

  • Clifton is Lawson's chief of staff and deputy Secretary of State. A Wabash College alum who captained the school's football team, Clifton joined the office in 2014. Clifton is one of Lawson's senior advisers and was rumored to be weighing a 2022 bid of his own. He brings deep experience in state government, with stints in the Department of Administration as the counsel for the Minority and Women's Business Division and counsel and policy advisor at the Indiana Department of Education. If he wanted the job, Clifton could quickly ramp up and allow Holcomb to appoint a diverse candidate—a stated Holcomb's tenure goal.

Secretary for Career Connections and Talent Blair Milo

  • The former mayor of La Porte—part of Transportation Pete Buttigieg's mayoral class in 2011—has long been hailed as one of the Indiana Republican Party's bright stars. She is a former Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy, and graduated from Purdue University, and holds a master's degree in legislative affairs from George Washington University. Like Sullivan, Milo would allow Holcomb to replace Lawson with a talented woman who could hit the ground running and mount a compelling statewide candidacy in 2022.

Pacers' Vice President Danny Lopez

  • Lopez, a Cuban-American, boasts deep ties to the Indiana GOP, having served as Holcomb's deputy chief of staff and Indiana State Director to former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats. Sources close to Lopez say he may be reluctant to leave the front office.

OTHER NAMES MENTIONED: Vice president of strategic communications at Bose Public Affairs Group and longtime GOP comms vet Pete Seat; former senior advisor to former Vice President Mike Pence and 4th Congressional candidate Diego Morales, though he may struggle in the vetting process.

Good evening, and welcome to IMPORTANTVILLE. 

AROUND IMPORTANTVILLE

  • Rep. Jim Banks is slated to speak at the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Committee conference at the end of the month. The theme: America Uncancelled.

  • Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita had a tweet sharing Valentine's meme about the 2020 election flagged as disputed by Twitter. "While yesterday's post was tongue in cheek, its subsequent censorship by Twitter illustrates a very real and harmful new reality – Big Tech's frequent censorship of speech. As Indiana's Attorney General, I'll continue to fight for Hoosiers' liberty and the integrity of our elections."

  • Former 5th Congressional Republican candidate Micah Beckwith is said to be weighing a primary to Sen. Todd Young. Beckwith didn't return a message seeking comment. I asked longtime Hoosier political activist Curt Smith, who helmed Beckwith's SuperPAC, the Hoosier Heartland Fund, about a Beckwith bid. I strongly doubt it, but I don't know. I'll be supporting Todd, for what that's worth.” Beckwith finished third in the 2020 primary with 11,063 votes behind entrepreneur Beth Henderson and then-State Sen Victoria Spartz.

IMPORTANTVILLE INTERVIEW: TRISH WHITCOMB

The candidate for Indiana Democratic Party chair talks about the future of the party, and why she thinks she’s a good fit. She's squaring off against former Buttigieg campaign manager Mike Schmuhl

Why are you running? Why now?

Because I have the skills and the experience and the network of people to build up the Democratic Party from the ground up. I don't know if you know this: I have been around for a while. In the mid-eighties, I was with one of the cutting edge firms on direct voter contact.

As state chair, I'm going to put an immediate focus on building up the county parties, building up the caucuses, and fortifying their fundraising and their technology, and their message development. We have county parties in parts of this state that don't even have broadband sufficient to run the data analysis or interact in a smart data-savvy way.

Why has the Indiana Democratic Party not won a statewide office since 2012?

I believe that our practice of focusing on one race each cycle is damaging. That has eroded the strength of the 92 counties.

What makes an Indiana Democrat an Indiana Democrat?

Kitchen-table issues.

What are those kitchen-table issues?

I would have to spend some time crafting the actual words to use to describe this. One kitchen table issue is the tax structure. The second thing is schools. The way that schools are funded right now, even though let's give a voucher to three kids in an elementary school, do you know what that does to the paying for the fixed costs of buses, lunchrooms, lunch service, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That takes $24,000 out of a school budget. And if you keep doing that over time, we won't have a strong public school system.

Mike Schmuhl is also in the race. What do you make of his candidacy? 

I've got a deeper history of winning elections in Indiana, and I think that may need to be a consideration.

IMPORTANTVILLE INBOX

Taft Law is substantially expanding its existing group of government relations professionals in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois by establishing a new bipartisan and diverse federal and state Public Affairs Strategies Group (PASG) in the nation’s capital and its Midwestern markets.

  • Lacy M. Johnson is a preeminent, senior lawyer, who served on the Biden-Harris transition team, was a member of Vice President Harris’s Midwest Finance team, and is a trusted advisor and supporter of many Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) leaders and members. Prior to his private legal practice, Johnson served as a Lt. Colonel in the Indiana State Police, was a Lt. Commander of the U.S. Naval Intelligence Reserves, and served as the 7th District chairman of the Indiana State Democratic Party and as a delegate for the National Democratic party. He also is the past president of the Indianapolis Airport Authority. Johnson will serve as the Partner-in-Charge of Taft’s Washington, DC office.

  • John R. Hammond III also is a senior leading lawyer-lobbyist, who is a member of the Republican National Committee, serves on its executive committee, and is vice chair of its rules committee. He also serves on the national finance committee of the Republican Governors Association as well as on the executive board of the National Republican Lawyers Association. Hammond has helped shape a wide variety of public policies from state and local tax policy and environmental regulatory affairs to K-12 and higher education policy, tort reform, transportation, insurance, and economic development issues. He is a former top adviser to Indiana Gov. Robert Orr (R), for whom he was chief legislative director and education policy advisor.

  • Mark I. Shublak, who serves as the Republican co-chair of Taft’s PASG, is a trusted legal advisor and has more than 25 years of experience in a wide range of legislative, regulatory, and procurement matters at all levels of government. Corporate executives, business association leaders, public sector entities, and important non-profit organizations regularly turn to him for his high-level strategic advice, legal counsel, and ability to assist their organizations with overcoming challenges and creating opportunities posed by government. Shublak concentrates much of his practice on state and local legislative advocacy, government contracts, regulatory matters, administrative law, public policy, and political strategy.

  • Fred Glass is a Taft corporate business and transaction lawyer, who joined the firm in 2020, and serves as a senior strategic advisor to his clients as a member of the firm’s Business and Finance practice. He most recently served as the athletic director at Indiana University for nearly 12 years. He also previously served as chief of staff for former Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh (D), and president of the Marion County Capital Improvement Board, where he led successful negotiations to keep the Colts in Indianapolis, regularly host NCAA Final Fours, develop Lucas Oil Stadium, and expand the Indiana Convention Center. Glass will serve in a strategic advisory role with the Taft PASG.

  • Kyle J. Hupfer is a highly respected business executive and corporate lawyer with deep national and state political relationships. He is the chairman of the Indiana Republican Party and serves as a member of and general counsel for the Republican National Committee. In 2020, Hupfer served as campaign manager to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) in his successful re-election campaign. Prior senior business roles include chief administrative officer and general counsel of IMMI in Westfield, Ind., and vice president and general counsel of ProLiance Energy in Indianapolis. Hupfer previously served as the director of the Indiana DNR and chairman of the Indiana State Fair Commission under Gov. Mitch Daniels (R).

IMPORTANTVILLE READS

Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey, The Washington Post: "Impeachment trial shows him under attack, but Pence remains loyal to Trump"

But after four years of obedience as vice president, Pence has no plans to condemn Trump or to speak out during the Senate impeachment trial, people close to the former vice president said. He is still operating from a playbook of obsequiousness that became second nature — he never aired his grievances publicly and delivered his often rose-colored counsel to Trump only in private, one-on-one settings.

The two men have spoken several times since the Jan. 6 attack, including one conversation since Joe Biden was inaugurated, according to a person familiar with the conversations who, like others commenting for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to share candid details of private episodes.

On Jan. 11, five days after the attack, Trump and Pence also had a long meeting in the Oval Office that was officially described as “a good conversation”; in reality, according to several people familiar with the meeting, the encounter was stilted and uncomfortable. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump, at the time both senior White House advisers, acted as go-betweens, with Ivanka Trump urging her father to make an overture to Pence, two people familiar with the planning said.