Bringing back barnstorming: Curtis Hill and his run for governor

Curtis Hill by Mark Curry

Curtis Hill speaks during a December 2023 candidates forum. (Credit: Mark Curry)

A week after Hamas attacked Israel, Chris Just attached American and Israeli flags to the back of his Gladiator and drove to the second-annual Central Indy Jeep N’Vasion at the Johnson County Fairgrounds.

Wind blew over tents, and grim clouds approached. There, in Franklin on Oct. 14, 2023, a volunteer with former state Attorney General Curtis Hill’s gubernatorial campaign approached Just. Asked if his vote was already decided, Just said he hadn’t thought about it yet: “I know I’ll vote Republican, but I just don’t know who.” (Four years ago, Just voted for Libertarian Donald Rainwater after losing faith in Gov. Eric Holcomb.)

The volunteer brought over Hill, who introduced himself to Just. The two chatted about Jeeps, the event and topics unrelated to politics. After several minutes, Hill and Just posed for a picture in front of the Gladiator — flags prominently displayed behind them. “It gave me an introduction to who he was,” Just told State Affairs.

Former state Attorney General Curtis Hill, left, poses with Chris Just in front of the latter’s Jeep Gladiator. (Credit: Curtis Hill’s campaign Facebook page)

Presumptive voters like Just are the Hoosiers Hill’s campaign hopes to sway ahead of the May 7 primary. Polling in single digits, Hill will likely need them to prevail. In the six-candidate race, he has placed fifth in every poll conducted this year. And Hill has spent only a fraction (about $290,000) of the millions spent by other wealthy, self-funded candidates through the first three months of 2024.

In absence of the same financial treasures enjoyed by his opponents, Hill’s campaign has adopted a different approach, shunning pricey TV ads in favor of in-person events. His campaign chair since November, Jackie Horvath, said Hill, 63, flourishes in front of crowds. “Whether it be in front of thousands or in front of hundreds or tens or one-on-one, he just has that gift,” she said. Lincoln Day Dinners, for example, have been staples for the campaign, which believes enough voters will be convinced of Hill’s message to make traversing the state worth it. “You just have to be more targeted,” Horvath said.

Ahead of the primary, Hill has already earned political victories. In January, he was the first to call for the Indiana Department of Health to resume releasing terminated pregnancy reports to the public. The department had halted their release, arguing the individual reports could be reverse-engineered to identify women who have had an abortion. (The department still shares quarterly roundups with aggregate data of the individual reports.)

Hill, in a news release, said the department was “arrogantly disregarding the law” and its decision “directly contradicts the previous treatment” of the reports. He insists releasing them is the only way to ensure the state’s near-total abortion ban can be enforced.

Attorney General Todd Rokita’s office earlier this month issued an official opinion contending individual abortion reports are not medical records and can be released to the public. In a news conference announcing the opinion, Rokita credited Hill for highlighting the issue. Hill’s former opponent said voters should ask other gubernatorial candidates “where they stand on this.” During an April 23 debate, other Republican candidates said they would push for the reports to be released after Hill questioned them.

And in February, Hill implored Holcomb to deploy Indiana National Guard members to Texas, as more than a dozen other states have done. Days later, Holcomb committed to sending 50 members. He justified the decision by blaming the federal government for not properly enforcing immigration law at the border with Mexico.

Yet, despite his continued influence on Indiana politics, Hill has struggled to win over Republican voters.

“He’s kind of like that pain in your side that just won’t go away for Republicans, and I wonder if his campaign is more about spite than anything else,” said Julia Vaughn, executive director of Common Cause Indiana, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for transparent governance.

The fall

Perry Township Republicans held a Lincoln Day Dinner April 2 at The Atrium, an unassuming banquet and catering facility tucked away in a strip mall off of Thompson Road in Indianapolis. U.S. Rep. Jim Banks was scheduled to be the featured speaker, and the event drew many of the state’s most notable conservatives. 

Before the dinner started, Hill told State Affairs he doesn’t believe Hoosiers want “elite candidates.” He believes there is still a place for barnstorming around the state and delivering a message in person.

Curtis Hill
Former Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill (Credit: Curtis Hill for Indiana)

In 2016, Hill was elected state attorney general. Before that, he spent 14 years as the elected prosecutor for Elkhart County, where he was born and raised. The youngest of five children, Hill earned a Bachelor of Science in marketing and a Doctor of Jurisprudence at Indiana University, where he met his wife, Teresa, according to his campaign website. They are now parents of five.

During his time as attorney general, Hill was a champion of socially conservative causes, taking to Fox News to opine on national anthem protests, crime and homelessness in San Francisco. Many considered him a “rising star” in the Republican ranks.

But Hill’s once-promising political career derailed when the Indiana Supreme Court suspended his law license for groping four women at a  party marking the end of the 2018 legislative session.

The court found “by clear and convincing evidence that [Hill] committed the criminal act of battery” against three female legislative staffers — ages 23 to 26 at the time — and a Democratic legislator. Hill has maintained his innocence, saying he never inappropriately touched the women.

Prior to the court’s decision, a special prosecutor declined to file criminal charges against Hill. The women filed a civil lawsuit in July 2020, claiming Hill committed battery against them. In early April, a Marion County judge called off a jury trial for the case, which remains pending. (Attorneys representing the women did not respond to a State Affairs request for comment.)

Following the state Supreme Court’s decision, Democrats and many Republicans — including Holcomb — called for Hill’s resignation. But Hill did not resign. Instead, he fulfilled his term and lost a close 2020 Republican attorney general nomination to Rokita.

Hill has since kept a mostly low profile. His most notable foray came in 2022, when he launched an unsuccessful bid to replace the late U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski. (He lost to U.S. Rep. Rudy Yakym, who was backed by Walorski’s family.) In 2022, Hill was also supposed to be involved in a mock trial of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Hill said an episode was filmed, but technical difficulties caused it to “fizzle out.”

Hill has kept busy with his namesake law practice and a consulting business, Maverick Consulting LLC. He has worked with the anti-vaccine nonprofit Children’s Health Defense and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a consultant on “some post-pandemic matters.” And he participated in a senior fellowship at the conservative-leaning think tank Center for Urban Renewal and Education.

When he spends the weekend at home, Hill tries to make time for tennis with friends. They call themselves the Brandy Boys. Their Saturday routine: tennis, then breakfast and “a celebratory bottle of brandy that goes a long way.”

Hill told State Affairs the fallout from the court’s decision to suspend his license has been an “unfortunate chapter.” He said it was “a sign of the times when you’re a popular, particularly conservative figure, and knives come out.” Asked whether he would have done anything differently that night, Hill said he “probably would have gone home.”

His vision

On the campaign trail, Hill has advocated for a comprehensive tax plan. His proposals include cutting Indiana’s corporate income taxes and the state gas tax while also eliminating state income taxes for residents who are 18 to 35, according to his campaign website. But he says “wasteful spending” must be addressed before the tax breaks can be realized. (Hill has criticized Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch’s proposal to eliminate state income taxes for all residents.)

Former Attorney General Curtis Hill speaks after filing governor candidacy paperwork in February 2024. (Credit: Tom Davies)

In addition, Hill’s campaign centers on stopping “the flood of illegal immigrants” and preserving “medical freedom.” At the COVID-19 pandemic’s zenith, Gov. Holcomb implemented a mask mandate in Indiana. Hill pounced on the decision, arguing Holcomb overstepped. “We had a government that failed us in many respects by providing misinformation, wrong information,” Hill said, pointing to guidance on mask usage changing as the pandemic progressed.

Hill maintains the damage done by government lockdowns “far exceeded the damage that was done by the virus itself, and we’re still seeing that a lot of businesses were scuttled. A lot of school kids have some learning and social behaviors that are offset because of the time that was taken away from the education process.”

Leah Wilson, executive director and co-founder of the nonprofit Stand for Health Freedom, said Hill “wasn’t tricked like others were” during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Most of the others you talk to say it was justified to cancel freedom for at least a few weeks,” she said of the other gubernatorial candidates. Because of that, Wilson’s organization endorses Hill. She said he is “not excitable, which allows him to be unwavering.”

Republican gubernatorial candidates Jamie Reitenour, left, Suzanne Crouch, Eric Doden, Curtis Hill and Brad Chambers participate in the final debate before the primary. (Credit: Suzanne Crouch campaign)

Asked during debates about his other policies, Hill has compared the federal government to a “crack dealer” that attaches programmatic “entanglements” to its financial support of schools. If elected as Indiana’s next governor, he wants to do away with the entanglements, cut government regulations to help more child care facilities enter the market, empower locals to make their own economic development decisions, corral the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and end diversity, equity and inclusion practices in state government as well as “radical gender ideology” and “critical race theory” in classrooms.

“Objective truth is under assault on a regular basis,” Hill told State Affairs. “I think the manipulation of the justice system, the weaponization of race, the sexualization of our children call upon us to have a new administration of freedom.”

Asked about his chances of winning after several poor showings in recent polls, Hill said, “The only poll that matters is the poll on May 7.”

State Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said Hill had “managed to bring discredit to his office in an unusual and particularly terrible fashion.” In 2019, DeLaney authored a resolution urging the House to conduct an investigation of the allegations against Hill, but it wasn’t taken up.

Hill came into the gubernatorial race as a “hard-right, pro-Trump” candidate, DeLaney said, “but he hasn’t had money to send that message. And when, essentially, almost all of the candidates are sending that message, how does he distinguish himself? So, sadly for him, this distinction is the one that I pointed to: He got himself in this horrible situation.”

Horvath, Hill’s campaign chair, sees his situation differently. She described the allegations against Hill as a “he said, she said” scenario that has only been brought up sparingly on the campaign trail.

In The Atrium lobby, Hill spoke with his team, surrounded by bustling conservatives. Just, the Gladiator owner, walked through one of the facility’s entrances — he was there to support Andrew Ireland in the House District 90 race — and spotted Hill. The pair reminisced about the Jeep show. “He remembered exactly what the Jeep was; he remembered everything about it,” Just told State Affairs of his conversation with Hill.

Hill asked Just to “remember” him during the upcoming primary election, Just told State Affairs. Yet, after their April encounter, Just said he is “still kind of closed” on the candidate he plans to vote for.

“I still haven’t made up my mind yet,” Just said. But he acknowledged Hill “definitely left a mark.”

About Hill
  • Age: 63
  • Hometown: Elkhart
  • Education: Bachelor of Science in marketing and Doctor of Jurisprudence from Indiana University
  • Family: Wife, Teresa, and five children
  • Job: Attorney, consultant
  • Work history: Indiana’s 43rd attorney general (2017-2021), an attorney since 1988, consultant with Maverick Consulting LLC, Elkhart County prosecutor (2003-2017)

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