The 2014 election cycle has different names in different circles. Mid-year, off year, or mid-term are just a few of the phrases used to describe an election year without a presidential or gubernatorial duel. Although these “mid-term” elections get little to no attention from the majority of voters, both major parties are trying to change that attitude and get voters to the polls.
On the ballot at the top of the state offices are the positions of Secretary of State, State Auditor and State Treasurer. Both Democrats and Republicans are touting their candidate’s records and experience as reasons for voters to cast their votes in their favor.
Secretary of State
Appointed incumbent Connie Lawson faces her first election as a candidate for Secretary of State on the ballot. Governor Mitch Daniels appointed Lawson in March 2012 after Charlie White was convicted for perjury, theft, and voter fraud and removed from office. Lawson left the State Senate after 16 years serving the 24th district to become Secretary of State. Prior to that, Lawson served two terms as the Hendricks County Clerk.
The Indiana Democratic Party backs Marion County Clerk Beth White to unseat Lawson. White started the mantra, “We Can Do Better,” which has since been adopted by the state party for all 2014 races. White served in the Bart Peterson administration before running for public office. She also worked in the administration of Governor Frank O’Bannon. On the campaign trail, White makes it clear that she and former Secretary of State Charlie White are not related.
Lawson and White have similar experience in county and state government and have platform commitments to all of the divisions under the Secretary of State’s purview (Elections, Business Services, Securities and Auto Dealers Services). But where they differ most is within their respective party platforms.
White made a name for herself in the days following the federal court’s decision ruling Indiana’s marriage law as unconstitutional. The Marion County Clerk immediately began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. She also performed numerous civil ceremonies, then donated her officiating fee to the Indiana Youth Group, an organization that works with LGBTQ teens in the state.
Just a few weeks before the U.S. District Court’s landmark decision, the Indiana Republican Party adopted into their official platform language supporting traditional marriage. The week before that, the Indiana Democratic Party adopted a platform fully supporting marriage equality and opposing any and all forms of discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical condition, gender identity or economic background.
Incumbent Suzanne Crouch is also facing her first election for a position she has held for 10 months. Crouch was Governor Mike Pence’s second choice for the job. Brownsburg Town Councilman Dwayne Sawyer was appointed State Auditor in August 2013 to succeed Tim Berry who left his elected post to become chair of the Indiana Republican Party. The state’s first African-American Republican to hold a statewide office had a very short-lived career. Sawyer resigned 3 months later citing personal and family reasons for his departure. That made way for Crouch’s appointment in January. Prior to her service in the Auditor’s office, Crouch served in the Indiana House representing the 78th district. Before that she served as Vanderburgh County Commissioner and County Auditor.
Democrat Mike Claytor may be running his first campaign for pubic office, but he is no stranger to state government. Claytor is the first Certified Public Accountant to run for State Auditor in Indiana. He began his career working for the State Board of Accounts in the Orr Administration where he investigated white-collar crime. Claytor later went to work for a CPA firm in South Bend. Through the firm, Claytor became an advisor and consultant to various county, municipal and township governments around the state. Although he technically worked in the private sector, Claytor maintained contact and friendships with Governors Bayh, O’Bannon, and Kernan.
Both Crouch and Claytor claim transparency and accountability as the cornerstones of their campaigns and reasons for seeking the Auditor’s office, but their ideas on those issues vary. Crouch believes in the system of the auditor’s office that has been established and remains in place. She points to the state’s AAA credit rating and various awards for financial reporting the office has received over the last 20 years as proof that that Auditor’s office is on the right track.
Claytor disagrees, saying he plans to put the “audit” back into the Auditor’s office. Claytor says if the Auditor’s office actually conducted audits of the state’s accounts, the state wouldn’t have misplaced over a half a billion dollars two years ago. Claytor plans to set up the first internal audit system in the Auditor’s office.
Kelly Mitchell has worked in the Treasurer’s office under the leadership of Richard Mourdock as the Director of TrustINdiana, a program designed to invest and manage the public’s funds. Prior to her service in the Treasurer’s office, Mitchell served as a Cass County Commissioner. When Mourdock resigned his position as State Treasurer (to save himself a buck or two on retirement benefits), Mitchell says she asked Governor Pence not to appoint her to complete his term. She says she wanted to concentrate on the election and earn the post from voters.
Democrat Mike Boland had already served his time in the Illinois state legislature and had intended to retire peacefully with his wife close to the grandkids in Hamilton County. However, the former teacher saw issues in Indiana that he had worked to fix and address with our neighbors to the west and decided he needed to serve the public again, this time in Indiana.
When it comes to what each candidate plans to do once elected, the choices are vastly different. Mitchell plans to educate Indiana on fiscal literacy if elected, from balancing a checkbook to saving for retirement and personal disaster.
Boland, however, believes the Treasurer’s office can generate funds for the state without raising taxes through greater returns on investments. Boland says under Mourdock’s leadership, the state has only gotten .091% interest return on investments. He says he thinks the state should be able to get at least 1.5%.
Boland is also in favor of investing the state’s money in local banks and companies instead of Wall Street. Both candidates see a need to promote Indiana’s College Savings 529 plan more in the state. That really hasn’t been done since State GOP chair Tim Berry was State Treasurer.
Countdown to Election Day
In terms of the statewide candidates, there really hasn’t been much controversy. The District 29 State Senate race between incumbent Republican Mike Delph and Democratic challenger JD Ford has been relatively mild (much to the chagrin of the Twitter nation). The most profound conflict in this election cycle hasn’t been any particular candidate, but rather a brand, specifically the Republican brand.
“Republicans have been rather silent this election cycle because they are battling a broken brand,” says Zody. “Combined with ethics issues, there is a lot they have to be silent about.”
Zody’s comment refers to the ethical questions surrounding District 32 state Rep. Eric Turner and his announcement that win or lose on election day, he is headed to another job out of town. Other issues that could be disheartening to the Republican Party include Mourdock’s decision to resign as treasurer to avoid a hit to his pension and the entire party standing on the losing side of marriage quality. But Chairman Berry doesn’t see any of that standing in the way of GOP victories around the state.
“Localized elections deal with localized issues in localized communities,” says Berry. “We are faring well in legislative races across the state and I expect to have large majorities in a number of races.”
Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, the lone statewide Democratic office holder, has been on the campaign trail almost as much as the candidates. Ritz has been tapped for everything from county dinners to candidate fundraisers to get out the vote efforts. U. S. Senator Joe Donnelly has done the same for the statewide candidates as well as legislative races.
Absent from the campaign trail has been Governor Mike Pence, the highest-ranking Republican office holder in the state. Recently, Pence has been “working” for Indiana in states considered strategic for a presidential run like Iowa and New Hampshire. When asked if this was hindering the 2014 election or if there was any indication of when the governor would formalize his presidential run, GOP Chairman Berry made only one simple statement.
“The election is in eight days,” said Berry. “And the governor is focused on this election as well.”