IN Focus: Amidst Hill suspension, GOP leaders make plans for virtual state convention, vote on AG nominee

Politics

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Republican Party announced this week that its state convention will shift to a virtual format due to necessary restrictions on large gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Not being able to conduct a traditional, in-person convention this year is sad news for me and for all Hoosier Republicans who look forward to charting the course for our Party of Purpose together,” said Kyle Hupfer, chairman of the Indiana Republican Party.

“But the Indiana Republican State Committee’s top priority every step of the way has been making sure that our delegates select our party’s nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general – and this is the only move that can ensure that will happen.”

Indiana GOP officials said voting will be conducted by mail, with delegates receiving ballots around June 22, which will then be returned to an independent accounting firm by July 9. Ballots will be counted on July 10, with the option for each candidate to have observers in the room.

The vote selecting a nominee for attorney general will be closely watched- with current AG Curtis Hill about to start serving a 30-day suspension of his law license stemming from the groping allegations he faced in 2018.

Party leaders have called on Hill to step down – but GOP delegates will ultimately be the ones to decide on a nominee.

“The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously confirmed that Curtis Hill committed battery against four female victims,” said Hupfer. “Hoosiers would be best served by having a new Attorney General. I have faith in our delegates.”

But it’s also unclear who will replace Hill on a temporary basis when his suspension takes effect on Monday. While the attorney general has tasked deputy AG Aaron Negangard to take over during the suspension, Gov. Eric Holcomb has sought legal guidance from the state Supreme Court to see if Hill’s suspension amounts to a vacancy, which would require the governor to name a replacement.

“Curtis Hill is a disgrace. His conduct as an elected official was repulsive and will be a lasting stain on the office and the Party he serves,” said Lauren Ganapini, executive director for the Indiana Democrats. “Now the uncertainty created by his punishment could tip the state into a constitutional crisis. Over and over, Indiana Republicans failed to remove him. They now own his shameful conduct and the crisis it’s created.”

Party leaders also faced another controversy that made headlines this week at the Statehouse, involving a meme posted on Facebook by State Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour), which featured an image of black children dancing with text that read, “We gon’ get free money!”

In response to meme posted on Lucas’ Facebook page, Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) and Assistant Democratic Leader Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) condemned the post.

“Rep. Lucas deliberately chose racist imagery designed to instigate and agitate,” Sen. Breaux said. “As a black woman in Indiana, I am all too aware of the continued fight against racism in our state and in our nation. Still, I had hoped that at least elected leaders representing Hoosiers of all backgrounds would join me in the fight to be part of the solution – not to fuel hate.”

“Rep. Jim Lucas’s shocking and racist post is unacceptable and reflects poorly on the entire General Assembly,” Sen. Lanane said. “Our hardworking friends and neighbors are losing their jobs through no fault of their own, and instead of offering reassurance and steady leadership, Rep. Lucas instead mocks these vulnerable Hoosiers.”

Lucas responded to the backlash with a statement of his own:

“I used a picture of a cute, cocky kid that was happy and dancing, and one that had been used countless times previously, to convey my mockery of government giving us ‘free’ money. I did not look at the color of his skin and had I not used this publicly available photo specifically because of his skin color would be, to me, the very definition of racism.”

Rep. Lucas has a history of posting controversial content on social media.

Late Friday, he was sanctioned by House Speaker Todd Huston, who stripped Lucas of two committee assigments.

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