He’s the Hamilton County Republican chairman – one of the most influential GOP posts in the state – and was able to parlay that position into becoming the only party candidate, and subsequently nominee, to succeed the term-limited Secretary of State Todd Rokita. To put that into context, the last time the office was open, in 2002, Rokita had to win a convention floor dogfight against three tough candidates: eventual State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, future State Sen. Mike Delph and Dr. John McGoff, who gave U.S. Rep. Dan Burton the challenge of his life.
Charlie White worked the party circles to get the nomination and then figured he could ride the Republican wave into this stepping stone office.
The secretary of state’s office has had a pretty good pedigree in modern times. Evan Bayh used it to jump into the governor’s office. His buddy Joe Hogsett succeeded him, defeated Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut for his own term, and went on to unsuccessfully run for Congress and attorney general before landing the Southern Indiana district attorney job a few weeks ago. Republican Sue Anne Gilroy tried to make the leap to mayor of Indianapolis. And there’s Rokita, who is heavily favored to win the 4th Congressional District next month.
Rokita is an astute and strong secretary of state. He steered Indiana’s 92 counties through the fallout from the Bush vs. Gore 2000 debacle in Florida, which prompted Indiana to upgrade all of its voting equipment. He modernized the state’s voter files and eliminated tens of thousands of old names, which put a crimp in the cemetery vote in Lake County. He created indianavoters.com, a user friendly website portal for new voter registration (and updating your registration if you move), find your polling location, learn in advance who will be on the ballot, and check campaign finance reports. Rokita ushered in the pioneering voter identification law, which has survived a U.S. Supreme Court challenge. He is an advocate for new redistricting methods.
Rokita will be a tough act to follow for either candidate. But Charlie White has a big problem in his race against Democrat Vop Osili.
When you run for public office, you’ve got to have your act together. You’re up- to-date on your child support payments. You make sure your nanny isn’t an illegal alien. You don’t owe back taxes or misuse your homestead exemption. You don’t send racy or bigoted emails to friends. You don’t deceive your business partners. You follow campaign finance laws.
And, you make sure your voting credentials are in order, particularly when you want to be Indiana Secretary of State, who not only guards the state seal, but presides over the Indiana Election Division.
White’s problem is that he moved out of his Fishers City Council seat after a divorce and then a new marriage, but kept serving on the council even though he lived five miles away. He kept voting in his old precinct using what is called a “fail safe” provision in 2009, but didn’t use it in last May’s primary.
White says he “forgot” to update his voter registration because he was busy. He resigned his council seat once he knew Democrats were on to him. It reminds me of an old “Saturday Night Live” skit when comedian Steve Martin did not pay his taxes: “I forgot.”
Now White is in big political trouble. The Hamilton County prosecutor has appointed two special prosecutors, including Dan Sigler of Adams County who recently served in that role during the Matt Kelty case in Fort Wayne.
Rokita is conducting his own investigation and will forward his findings to the special prosecutor. In what was to be a slam dunk campaign, a recent WISH-TV poll found White leading Osili by a 39-29 percent margin, with some 30 percent undecided. That’s a huge pool of question marks this late in the game.
The political press has barely heard from the White campaign until he put out a release late last week lambasting WISH reporter Jim Shella for “ignoring our statement” on the poll.
“Voters have shown in this poll, and will show on election day that they need a leader who will put their concerns first and find innovative solutions to help Hoosiers get back to work,” White said. Well, at least 39 percent of them do.
Osili observed, “If he is unable to police himself by the rules he would be sworn to uphold if elected, how can he, without creating cynicism on the part of the electorate, enforce the election laws on the other millions of voters in this state?”
That’s a question that White should fully address. Republicans counter that Osili has failed to fully account for “in-kind” donations to his campaign.
Can Charlie White pull this one out?
Possibly. There appears to be a Republican wave brewing that could sweep White into office, whether he’s prepared or not. Rokita himself came within two percent of being upset by Democrat Joe Pearson in 2006 in what was a nominal Democratic wave year. So this can be a competitive race.
Charlie’s prospects would be better if acted like he was really running for Secretary of State and not Secretary of Hack.
(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com)