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Treasurer Elliott explains his plans to keep the new ESG policy from becoming a ‘witch hunt’
He calls himself the “nerdy cowboy” — wearing boots with his suit and winning his election, in part, by driving his truck to far, less-populated corners of the state.
State treasurer Daniel Elliott, a farm owner from Morgan County, took over the Indiana Treasurer of State office at the start of the year, but he’s been involved in politics for about a dozen years. First as a precinct committeeman and then as a GOP county chair, county councilman and president of the local redevelopment commission.
Still, he viewed himself as an underdog when seeking the Republican nomination for treasurer last year against three other candidates because he came from a less-populated area, just outside of Morgantown.
During his first legislative session in office, Elliott has drawn attention for his more controversial focus on cracking down on environmental, social and governmental investing — known as ESG — in the state, but he’s also spent some time highlighting issues important to Hoosiers from rural parts of the state.
State Affairs sat down with Elliott to talk about his first few months in office, how the state’s new ESG policy will work and his 2018 fight against party insiders regarding the GOP’s platform.
The conversation has been edited for clarity, brevity and length.
Why should the average Hoosier care about what the state treasurer does? It sounds fairly wonky.
It is. I jokingly call myself the nerdy cowboy because I am.
You look at the main role of the treasurer, chief investment officer. Some of the issues that are going on right now in the nation, in the world and in our country really require someone who's willing to dig into the details. Being a software engineer by trade, that is my nature. I find elegance in numbers.
[One example that benefits Hoosiers is we work with] 911. I’m the only treasurer in the country that chairs the 911 system.
[Another example is] the Indiana Bond Bank. Coming from rural Indiana, big communities don't worry about financing. You take Hamilton County, my friends over there, great people. They have such great credit. They have so much revenue coming in. They are very well suited to work on what they need to get done.
Rural small towns need resources like the Indiana Bond Bank to help them be able to accomplish some of their goals, whether it be trying to get broadband into their communities or trying to fix a water supply situation.
Can you explain what the Indiana Bond Bank is?
Bonds are loans for municipalities and local governments. The Indiana Bond Bank is oftentimes the lender of last resort. One of my goals is to make the bond bank one of the first tools that local governments come to.
When session started, I naturally assumed my role was to go and talk to legislators about the issues that my office found important. I found people telling me, wait a minute, you're not supposed to do that. You're supposed to go through lobbyists. I’m like, ‘Why? Why can’t I?’ And that's something I tend to always ask is, ‘Why?’ So I started saying, ‘Well, these are the issues that I find important.’
One of the things I was concerned about when it comes to rural Indiana was not just the rural communities, but also hospitals. Health care is a big issue these days, and rural hospitals have a hard time competing with the big monopolistic nonprofits. So I started saying, ‘How can we help rural communities through the Bond Bank?’ The Bond Bank only had the ability to do bonds or loans for 10 years. Most big projects need a much larger runway— 20 or 25 years. So I presented that idea to the leadership. That bill passed.
You wouldn’t think the treasurer’s office would be involved in finding solutions for health care problems.
That's what's fascinating about this job, and now you see why I'm having so much fun.
[We also offer] 529 plans, helping kids go to college. To me that's really important because I grew up in Nebraska, Indiana. I'm the first one in my family ever to go to college and I grew up really poor. I didn't get the chance to do Little League or swim practice or [Boy] Scouts like other kids, like my own kids got to do.
I spent my weekends and my summers helping my dad, who was a laborer. I remember one day, pushing a wheelbarrow of cement. I was 11 years old, the age of my youngest son right now, and I remember thinking, this stinks. There's no way I want to do this the rest of my life. I need to go to college. Now 529 plans give kids an opportunity and parents an opportunity to actually start saving for that.
You see there's a Millennium Falcon [model on my desk]. So if I'm not pointing out how geeky I am, I am 100% a geek. The reason I have that is we're a small office and we say we're a ragtag group of rebels. Our mission is to blow up Death Stars because we're smaller, more nimble.
There was a community in Fulton County; they spent all this money on a new 911 center, but they couldn't get it to work. We got ATT and Motorola and everybody in the same room and said, ‘What's going on?’ In two weeks, they got it resolved. I want to say it was because our office is super smart. All we did was get people who weren’t talking to each other, and kind of cut through the red tape.
That's the blowing up of the Death Stars.
What's been the most surprising part so far of your role five months in?
Honestly, it surprised me how much bureaucracy and red tape there is. I always ask, ‘Why?’ since I grew up in poverty. Why can't I do this? And as a software engineer, you learn to ask why. You'll have 15 mistakes before you get to the right solution, but that's part of the process.
I find that in state government, people are not always comfortable when a statewide elected official says, ‘Why are we doing it this way? Is there a reason?’ Sometimes there's a very good reason, but if not, why can’t we do it differently? It's gotten me in trouble a little bit. But we've also gotten some things done.
When you say that's gotten you in trouble, what do you mean?
What I mean, is people [say] that's not the way you're supposed to do this. I think people expect me to sit behind that desk and then go to a few dinners and shake some hands. That's not my style. I wear the suit because I want to be respectful to the state of Indiana, but generally if you want to see how Daniel normally dresses right there in jeans and cowboy shirt, me on my horse. When I’m not doing interviews, I'm usually wearing jeans. This weekend I spent my time brush hogging a field, because that's just who I am.
One new law you haven't touched on yet was the law limiting environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) investing. Why do you think it was important for House Bill 1008 to pass?
I truly believe in that issue. If we look at the markets you have a lot of investment fund managers who have been pushing policy, not just looking at the fiduciary reasons for why to invest. I am uncomfortable with that. Since I grew up in poverty you don't ever escape that even though it's not my experience now. You always know that’s in the back of your mind. I see family members, I see relatives, they're surviving on pensions, that's if they're lucky. Many of them are surviving on just Social Security.
If you're a wealthy person, you can afford to say, ‘I'm going to invest in such a way that maybe I won't make as much money, but that's okay because I'm going to feel good about my investments. I want to invest in the environment.’ That's a great, absolutely worthy goal. I'm an outdoorsman. I love taking care of our planet, but at the same time, when you're looking at somebody who has driven a highway truck for the county, someone who's been a teacher, someone who has worked in these halls. I've got people in my office who have worked here for 30 years that are hardworking, great people. But they're not millionaires. They're not rich.
If they had to choose between paying for a mortgage and paying for medicine, then we're doing something wrong. So in my mind, we all need to focus on what is the best return on investment; anything beyond that, then we're not doing our duty.
Unfortunately, that's been a trend the last decade or so, where there have been a lot of these ESG funds focusing on other issues, and I'm not saying those issues aren't worthy. And if an ESG-focused fund makes money, it’s still the best return on investment.
That's my role. I'm the chief investment officer, and I should be out there advocating for bringing the best return to the state of Indiana, and best return to [the Indiana Public Retirement System] as one of the board members.
Can you explain how this will work? What will the state do differently?
We have to be looking first and foremost at what's the best return.
I always use a figurative ACME investment fund manager. If they say, ‘Hey, we have an ESG commitment. We're part of XYZ ESG Alliance.’ They want to be carbon neutral by 2030 or something like that, we're going to say since you've made that commitment, what you're saying is you're not looking at the financial [aspect]. You're willing to take a hit on the return because of your political views. Your political views are, hey, we don't like coal, or we don't like fossil fuels. Okay, that's fair. Lots of people have that philosophy, but the reality is, that means you're going to get less of a return on your overall investment.
What we're going to simply do is we're going to present that to the [Indiana Public Retirement System] board members. Now, INPRS will look at who are the other companies that get similar returns and have similar fees. So let's say ACME has a 6.2% return on their investment, but we can find a company that is similar that has a 6.8% return. That's a better return. So we're going to stop using ACME and we're going to use the new company.
Now it could be that ACME company may actually have the best return and we say, ‘Sorry, we can't find anybody comparable.’ That's perfectly legitimate. So since we are focusing only on the financial return, then we're going to say, ‘Well, we're going to continue with ACME.’
Have you started compiling a list of investment fund managers the state shouldn’t be using?
We're working on the process first. The law doesn’t take effect until July 1, so we can't do anything until then. I don't want it to be a witch hunt. I want to say here's the policy, and then this is how we're executing the law. I want it to be fair across the board.
In 2018 you led the fight to keep the language in the Indiana Republican platform saying that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Is there a place for you to voice your opinion on social matters while serving in the treasurer's office?
The office itself doesn't get into social issues as much. It is a lot of numbers. But at the same time, I am who I am. I'm the first Latter Day Saint to hold statewide office.
I'm definitely not afraid to talk about my faith. I chose my faith. In fact, if you look in my office, there are lots of things about my faith here. That leatherbound book right there is a Book of Mormon in Spanish, the one that I used as a missionary in South America. I'm still bilingual which really freaks people out a lot. The last thing they expect is the cowboy from Morgan County to be bilingual.
Yes, I have my beliefs that I feel very strongly about. And I do believe that marriage is important. I do believe that just as a regular citizen I have the right, and I will exercise that right, to speak what I believe in.
Now, I also believe that while I have the right to speak about what I believe in, so do other people. One of the things that people especially talk about in 2018 that they forget is my whole point was advocating for having the discussion because there wasn't going to be a discussion. Let's have that conversation out in public.
There's no doubt I'm a conservative. I'm not going to hide that.
That was a pretty bold push back then because you were fighting against party leadership on a controversial issue.Were you worried that it was going to impact any future political aspirations?
I wasn't and here's why. Obviously I want to try to serve. I want to try to be involved.
Honestly, I don't expect to be in politics my whole life. This is my first time ever having politics as a full-time role. This might be the first and last moment I ever do that. If I go back to my farm, ride my horses and I start a new business when I'm done doing this, I'm perfectly content doing that. I'm not making any plans for the future either. I just want to be a really good treasurer right now. I'm having fun with this.
You’ve talked in detail about your rural Indiana roots. How important do you think it is to have an elected state official that comes from rural Indiana to give a voice to those portions of our state?
I think that's really important. People who get elected, usually it's a numbers game. They're from Fort Wayne or Evansville or Indianapolis. They come from these areas where there are a large amount of people. We didn't have anybody from rural Indiana.
That gives me the opportunity to be a voice for issues that folks who don't live in rural Indiana or haven't lived in rural Indiana since they were children [may not understand]. Like rural broadband, that is one of the most important things we as a state can be doing. Fortunately, we are working really hard at that. Take a child like me who grew up in rural Indiana, if they have broadband and they have the dreams to go to college someday, the tools are there. But if they don't have broadband they're already starting behind.
I look at it like electricity was 100 years ago. Can you imagine people living without electricity now? Of course not.
Everyone can now work from home. You could work for Google and live in Posey County and think about how that also is an amazing opportunity for small businesses to get started. When I started my business as a software engineer in Martinsville, Indiana, people were like nobody in Martinsville needs you. Well of course. My clients weren't in Martinsville.
But at the same time, what did I get out of Martinsville? I got the ability — I remember when my wife and I picked our little farm 21 years ago — to raise my children. I always wanted my kids to be able to drive an old pickup truck to school and nobody would look at them sideways. My older son got to do that. He thought it was the coolest thing in the world to drive the old farm truck. It was rusty. It was loud. But he would drive that and he was just proud as punch. I will talk about horses all day long. My kids all got to show in 4H. My 11-year-old still shows in 4H.
Those of us who enjoy and choose a rural lifestyle, there's no reason we can't also be able to provide and have successful careers.
We obviously have a gubernatorial election coming up. Do you plan to endorse anyone?
Honestly, so far, the people running, I know them. They’re friends. So I'm going to let them have all the fun that I did and just focus on their races; and me, I'm going to focus on being state treasurer. At this point in time, I am not looking at getting involved in any races right now because I'm frankly kind of busy doing this.
Indiana is probably the type of state that the Environmental Protection Agency had in mind when it proposed a new set of rules that target fossil fuel-fired power plants.
Not only is the state still reliant on fossil fuels for most electricity — more than two-thirds is generated by coal (47%) and gas (29%), data show — Indiana has some of the worst air quality and is one of the most polluted states in the country. The primary focus of the new EPA rules, though, is an attempt to significantly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released by those plants. Fossil fuel-fired power plants are responsible for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA, and for about a third of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions that are heating the planet.
Yet while Indiana has been slow to adopt renewable energy sources, the pace of the state’s transition away from fossil fuels has been picking up steam in recent years.
But not fast enough for the EPA.
President Joe Biden’s aggressive climate agenda would require states like Indiana to hasten their energy transitions considerably. The draft power plant rules, released in May, would broadly require utility companies to cut their dependence on coal and gas, and to adopt emerging technologies that would enable the use of carbon storage and hydrogen.
Now Indiana government leaders and electric utility companies are raising concerns. They say the plans would force Indiana power plants to retire early, which could substantially increase the cost of electricity for Hoosiers while risking the reliability of the electric grid. And they say the technology cited by the EPA is not ready for widespread adoption.
“For carbon capture, while this is a technology that the state is invested in, it is not yet at the scale needed to accommodate all the utilities in the state,” Brian C. Rockensuess, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, told lawmakers during a committee meeting this month.
Environmental advocates, however, are characterizing the concerns as overblown. They point to two federal bills — the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — that contain grants and incentives for power plants to transition away from coal and gas. And they say the power industry always raises concerns about any new regulations but always finds a way to comply.
“They are like the boy who cried wolf,” said David Doniger, a former EPA official and current senior strategic director at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. “If you look at the track record, they say this every time and then, if the regulations are in fact adopted, the compliance goes smoothly.”
Indiana agency head raises concerns
Rockensuess voiced his concerns about the new EPA rules to Indiana lawmakers during an Interim Study Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications meeting this month.
He didn’t dive into the pros and cons of the environmental impacts; rather, he focused on the difficulty for policymakers and regulators in Indiana who will be tasked with enforcing the final rules adopted by the federal government.
Among the difficulties, he said, are requirements for some power plants to use hydrogen to generate electricity or rely on carbon capture and storage to reduce emissions. Both technologies, he said, are not ready for wide use, yet the federal government would require Indiana to explain how the state would implement the new federal rules within 24 months.
“Bottom line is they are asking for a lot in too short of a time,” he said. “Indiana and other states are being set up to run afoul of that timeframe from the start.”
Those concerns were echoed in a joint letter sent to the EPA by his department, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor.
The study committee also featured an out-of-state speaker who shared fiery testimony in opposition to the EPA proposal. By the end of the presentation, Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, questioned whether the Republican leaders considered inviting anyone with a different viewpoint.
“I was just kind of curious as to whether the chairman attempted to invite testimony from anyone in support of the rules, such as the Clean Air Task Force or the Natural Resources Defense Council, people along those lines?” Piece asked.
Committee chair Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, said that such viewpoints were already well-known because of the EPA’s plans, but he would consider Pierce’s request if lawmakers take up legislation on the matter when the legislative session begins in January.
Koch, who also leads the Senate utilities committee, later confirmed to State Affairs that he was unsure what actions the Indiana General Assembly might take in response to the federal rule, but he does not plan to file legislation this year.
The chair for the House utilities committee — Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso — told State Affairs he did not yet know if he would file anything.
Environmental advocates push back
While they were not invited to speak at the public meeting, many environmental advocates in Indiana are supportive of the president’s efforts to curb carbon emissions.
“Probably what you didn’t hear in the testimony at the Statehouse was the cost of mitigating and addressing issues related to climate change. And you probably didn’t hear the effects of air pollution and how that contributes to asthma and other diseases,” said Sam Carpenter, executive director of the nonprofit Hoosier Environmental Council. “In the big picture, all those things need to be considered.”
The Biden administration estimates up to $85 billion in environmental and public health benefits over the next 20 years.
Indiana once relied almost exclusively on coal for electricity. And while the state continues to be a top-five consumer of coal for electricity, the major utility companies have started shifting away from coal in recent years. They’ve largely replaced that fuel source, though, not with renewables but with natural gas. That’s because gas is relatively affordable, and it easily enables utility companies to both meet the daily electricity demands but also rapidly ramp up production during cold snaps and heat waves.
Some utilities are seeking state approval to build new gas plants even now. Indiana customers will be on the hook for whatever is constructed now — such as a gas plant — even if those plants are rarely used or even shut down because of federal regulations. And then Hoosiers will also have to pay for whatever the utility companies build next.
“This continued investment into fossil fuels is going to be a stranded investment,” Carpenter said. “Down the road that’s not going to be paying off. That’s just a bad path to take.”
If enacted, the new EPA rules are sure to draw litigation from Republican officials.
Attorney General Todd Rokita has already promised Indiana’s involvement: “Fortunately, the courts will almost certainly strike down these new EPA mandates — and on behalf of Hoosiers, I’ll do everything in my power to ensure that happens,” Rokita said in a statement about the proposed rules.
His comments align with those made by Indiana’s major utility companies. They accuse the EPA of overstepping — arguments that were at the center of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2021 that said the EPA lacked the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions.
Others aren’t as confident as Rokita and utility companies.
Rockensuess, the state environmental management department commissioner, noted in his testimony that the EPA does have the authority because of new language contained in the Inflation Reduction Act, which Congress passed after the Supreme Court decision.
“It clarified and granted them the authority to regulate greenhouse gasses,” Rockensuess told lawmakers.
Rockensuess said he expected to see the final EPA rule by next May.
Header image: A row of solar panels sits outside AES Indiana’s Harding Street power plant. (Credit: Ryan Martin)
Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Doden is calling on the Indiana Chamber of Commerce to end its support for school district consolidation in rural Indiana.
In a letter sent today, the Fort Wayne businessman labeled the business group’s position as “damaging.”
“While the stated aims of this position are laudable, the message sent to our small towns and rural communities is damaging,” Doden wrote. “Proposing to do away with small public school districts through consolidation will be seen as a death knell for the millions of Hoosiers who live in small towns and rural communities.”
For years, the Indiana Chamber has advocated for fewer school districts across Indiana. A 2017 study commissioned through Ball State University identified worse educational outcomes for students in smaller districts in several categories, including scores for state standardized testing and the SAT, as well as the pass rates for Advanced Placement classes.
The Indiana Chamber re-upped its position last month when it released its long term economic development plan. Among the listed policies was a goal to “reduce by half the number of very small school districts with enrollments below 2,000 students to provide much stronger educational opportunities for rural students and communities.”
More than half of Indiana’s school districts have fewer than 2,000 students.
In a statement to State Affairs, Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar said the state is providing a “two-tiered educational system” depending on income and ZIP code.
“Hoosier students should not be limited academically solely due to where they live. And that’s the case now in some of the smaller school districts where students are not afforded the opportunity to take a full array of STEM, Advanced Placement or college preparation courses,” Brinegar said in the statement. “The Chamber’s stance on smaller school district consolidation is rooted in wanting to lift up young Hoosiers in these rural communities, so they have a better chance at prosperity by properly preparing them for the state’s current and future job opportunities.”
The statement also contained a specific response to Doden’s criticism.
“We would be happy to sit down with Mr. Doden and go through the research and show him why we have adopted this position for the betterment of the academic and economic opportunities for our young people,” Brinegar said in the statement. “The status quo that Mr. Doden is championing has and will continue to leave small communities, schools and students behind. That’s not acceptable.”
But whereas the business group sees consolidation as one way to improve life in rural Indiana, Doden sees the opposite.
“Across our state it’s easy to see the remnants of a school consolidation push that began in the 1950s,” Doden wrote in his letter. “Too many towns that lost their local school to consolidation dried up and were virtually swept from the maps while other towns kept their schools and their identities. These communities had a better opportunity to survive.”
Doden also cited one of his policy proposals, which would redirect $100 million in state money toward small towns — in an effort to address declines in populations and quality of life.
“With local leadership and local control, we can revitalize our small towns and hometowns with a fraction of the investment we give away in the form of incentives,” Doden wrote.
Doden addressed the letter to Vanessa Green Sinders, who will replace Brinegar as the Indiana Chamber’s leader. Her tenure will begin in January, so she was unavailable to provide comment to State Affairs. Either way, the Indiana Chamber’s members are the ones who suggest policy positions for the board of directors to approve before each legislative session.
In addition to Doden, the crowded Republican field for governor includes U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, former Commerce Secretary Brad Chambers, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and former Attorney General Curtis Hill.
Jennifer McCormick, the former state superintendent of public education, has emerged as the leading Democratic candidate. Instead of school district consolidation, the state should reevaluate its expansion of school choice vouchers, McCormick has previously said.
Header image: Eric Doden, 2024 Republican candidate for governor of Indiana (Credit: Eric Doden for Indiana Governor/Facebook)
The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission today filed a formal complaint against state Attorney General Todd Rokita that alleges three violations of attorney professional conduct rules.
Rokita faces official allegations that he committed professional misconduct with his public comments about Dr. Caitlin Bernard after she provided an abortion to a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim last summer.
Rokita is defending his actions, saying that state confidentiality laws shouldn’t apply to him because Bernard was the first to talk in the news media about the girl’s treatment. It could take months before the state Supreme Court decides whether Rokita will face any punishment.
The commission didn’t ask for a specific punishment against Rokita, asking simply that he be “disciplined as warranted for professional misconduct” by the state Supreme Court.
Commission Executive Director Adrienne Meiring filed the complaint that focuses on actions by Rokita and his office between early July 2022 and Nov. 30, 2022, when the attorney general’s office filed a misconduct complaint against Bernard with the state Medical Licensing Board.
Bernard drew national attention in the days after a July 1, 2022, story by The Indianapolis Star quoting her about the young girl’s abortion just days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The complaint against Rokita highlights his July 13 appearance on a Fox News program, during which he said he would investigate Bernard’s actions and called her an “abortion activist acting as a doctor — with a history of failing to report.”
It also points to his office’s unusual action of publicly releasing on July 13 a letter to Gov. Eric Holcomb that named Bernard in seeking records from two state agencies and a July 14 press release from his office about the investigation.
The complaint alleges Rokita’s actions violated confidentiality requirements of pending medical licensing investigations under state law and by doing so Rokita “caused irreparable harm to Dr. Bernard’s reputational and professional image.”
Rokita responded Monday with a legal filing saying that the confidentiality requirements shouldn’t apply to him because Bernard had already gone public about the girl’s medical treatment.
Rokita also argued that “The Attorney General, an elected official who answers to the public, has a duty to keep the public informed of the Office’s actions and decisions.”
The state Medical Licensing Board voted 5-1 in May to reprimand Bernard and fine her $3,000 for violating patient privacy laws. The board, however, voted unanimously to reject allegations from the attorney general’s office that Bernard violated state law by not reporting the child abuse that led to the girl’s pregnancy to Indiana authorities and did not issue any restrictions on Bernard’s medical license.
Why It Matters
The Disciplinary Commission’s complaint carries the potential of forcing the Republican attorney general from office.
State law requires that the attorney general be “duly licensed to practice law in Indiana.” The state Supreme Court, which has the final say over attorney disciplinary matters, has wide discretion, with options all the way up to permanently stripping an attorney of his law license.
Rokita won the Republican nomination for attorney general in 2020 over then-Attorney General Curtis Hill after Hill faced allegations that he drunkenly groped four women at a party celebrating the end of the 2018 legislative session.
The Supreme Court suspended Hill’s law license for 30 days, saying that “by clear and convincing evidence that [Hill] committed the criminal act of battery.” The court rejected the hearing officer’s recommendation of a longer suspension that could have forced him from office. Hill is now seeking the Republican 2024 nomination for governor.
Rokita has sought to burnish his anti-abortion and national profile with the Bernard case. Besides challenging Bernard’s medical license, his office last week filed a lawsuit against the doctor’s employer, Indiana University Health, alleging it violated federal law by allowing Bernard to disclose information about the Ohio girl’s treatment. The girl’s mother brought her to Indiana to receive abortion drugs because an Ohio ban on abortions after six weeks had taken effect after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last summer.
Rokita is entitled to defend himself with a hearing before a judicial officer appointed by the Supreme Court, who would then submit a recommended punishment to the court.
In Hill’s case, it took about 14 months from the time that the disciplinary complaint was filed against him for the court’s five justices to receive the case and make their decision.
Rokita’s defense lawyers include two from the Washington, D.C., firm Schaerr-Jaffe. The firm also assisted the attorney general’s office with the case against Bernard under a contract allowing it to bill the state $550 an hour for work by the firm’s attorneys.
“This is a complaint against the official duties of the Attorney General and is an attack against his official capacity, so this is paid by the office,” Rokita’s office said.
Rokita isn’t backing down in the political battle, either, as he released a statement Monday calling himself “a passionate fighter” who “is beating back the culture of death, grievance and transanity being pushed by radicals in workplaces, schools, media and government.”
Democrats argue Rokita is using the Bernard case “to further his own personal political ambitions.”
“Todd Rokita’s actions toward Dr. Caitlin Bernard over the past year brought shame and ridicule upon our state,” Indiana Democratic Chairman Mike Schmuhl said in a statement. “Now, he is starting to see the consequences of making baseless claims regarding a medical professional on national television.”
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Header image: Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita speaks during the America First Agenda Summit organized by America First Policy Institute. (Photo by Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA)(Sipa via AP Images)
Republican Sen. Jon Ford of Terre Haute confirmed Friday that he is resigning from the Legislature to become leader of an association that promotes the coal industry and other fossil fuel producers in Indiana.
Ford told State Affairs that he will join Reliable Energy this fall after his Senate resignation takes effect Oct. 16.
“I’ll be running the association, the business side of it,” said Ford, who faces a one-year prohibition on being a paid lobbyist after leaving the Legislature.
What is Reliable Energy?
Reliable Energy was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation by prominent lobbyist Matt Bell in 2020 with the same downtown Indianapolis address as his Catalyst Public Affairs Group.
In testimony to a legislative committee last year, Bell described the group’s members as “fossil fuel producers and the Hoosier businesses supporting the fossil fuel industry.”
“Reliable Energy advocates for policies that ensure an abundant supply of available, affordable and dependable energy in Indiana and across the country,” Bell’s testimony said.
The organization is an offshoot of the Indiana Coal Council.
“I think it really grew out of that group and is really a group made up of membership of people involved in energy in a lot of different ways,” Ford said. “Many of the members are vertically integrated power companies. Some produce coal, some produce energy. Most are involved in alternative energies, as well.”
Ford’s reasons for resignation?
Ford, who was first elected to the Senate in 2014, won reelection last November to a four-year term. His resignation will result in a new senator serving for three legislative sessions without appearing on a general election ballot.
Ford cited personal reasons for deciding to resign less than a year after winning his new Senate term.
“Some things in my life have changed that made me think, you know, the passing of friends and other life events made me rethink what I wanted to do in my life and what I had achieved in the district,” Ford said. “I just felt it was time to move on.”
Ford said the Reliable Energy position didn’t prompt his Senate resignation.
“The job really came after the decision that it was time to move on,” he said.
Ford hasn’t specialized in energy-related issues while in the Legislature and hasn’t been a member of the utilities or environmental committees that consider most such legislation.
Ford has been business development director for the economic and community development group Thrive West Central, based in Terre Haute.
Will Ford become a lobbyist?
State law prohibits members of the General Assembly from lobbying former colleagues for one year after leaving office.
Ford said that even after that time he was not sure he would become an advocate for Reliable Energy in the Statehouse hallways.
“This group has had a hired lobbyist for a while that’s worked with them, so I don’t know,” Ford said. “I would see it playing a similar role to many other associations that are out there, but, you know, main focus will be to grow it and to focus on where Indiana goes forward with energy.”
Involvement in selecting replacement?
Ford was noncommittal on whether he would endorse a candidate to replace him ahead of the caucus of Republican precinct committee leaders who will make that decision in the coming weeks.
“I don’t know at this time, it really depends, I guess, on who steps up,” Ford said. “I don’t foresee myself being at the vote, to be quite honest. I think it’s a decision of the precinct committeemen.”
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Header image: Republican Sen. Jon Ford speaks in the Indiana Senate chamber. (Credit: Indiana Senate Republicans)