By Marilyn Odendahl

The Indiana Citizen

November 20, 2023

Saying she wants to restore the office to the “highest ethical standards” and “get back to serving Hoosiers,” Destiny Wells, former 2022 Democratic candidate for Indiana secretary of state, announced her candidacy Monday for Indiana attorney general.

“We’ve seen the last two Republican attorneys general both have their licenses reprimanded for ethical violations,” Wells said during a virtual press conference announcing her candidacy. “We believe that the population does not have the time for the sideshow.”

Former Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill had his law license suspended for 30 days in 2020 for groping a legislator and three legislative aides at an end-of-legislative session party at a bar in Indianapolis two years earlier. Hill lost in the 2020 Republican Party caucus to Todd Rokita, now the current Indiana Attorney General. Rokita was recently public reprimanded by the Indiana Supreme Court for speaking publicly about an investigation into Indianapolis OB/GYN Caitlin Bernard.

“We want to make sure that we are using our resources the best way that we know how; that we are supporting our line deputies in the office and that we are not using the office simply as a platform for national talking points,” Wells said. “We want to get back to serving Hoosiers.”

Wells said her campaign will focus on three priorities: protecting medical privacy; supporting workers’ rights; and getting back to serving Hoosiers. She said the Indiana attorney general’s office has broadened its scope over the last couple of years, taking positions on national issues from other states, rather than attending to the needs of Indiana residents.

Wells made her announcement for attorney general little more than a year after she lost the race for Indiana secretary of state. A lawyer and military veteran, she was seen as a strong candidate who had great potential to take the office that has long been held by Republicans.

However, Wells lost, pulling 40 percent of the vote, below the 54 percent captured by the winner Republican Diego Morales. Libertarian candidate Jeff Maurer received 6 percent of the vote.

Wells said she learned a lot from the Secretary of State race and is optimistic about her chances in 2024. In particular, she said, Hoosiers will be able to judge Rokita on his record as attorney general.

“We will have had four years for the incumbent attorney general to show his performance and quite frankly, I think it has been extremely lacking,” Wells said. She noted Rokita’s stance on abortion has made the state a national focal point on women’s rights and medical privacy, and has inserted Indiana into fights around the country, including a pipeline in Montana and a climate bill in California and added that he has even visited the U.S.-Mexican border in Texas.

“We are everywhere but here,” Wells said, “and I believe that we have a record to show that change is needed.”

Her stance on abortion

Wells does not mention abortion specifically in her platform, but she acknowledged reproductive rights are part of her push for medical privacy.

During a special session in 2022, the Indiana General Assembly was the first state in the country to enact new restrictions on abortion, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned the constitutional right to an abortion. Republicans in the Indiana Statehouse passed a near-total ban on abortion with exceptions for rape, incest, physical health of the mother, and lethal fetal anomaly.

Wells said she, personally, would like Indiana to return the state’s abortion law to what it was before Senate Enrolled Act 1 was enacted.

“I’ve heard a lot of things thrown around about how, personally, that Destiny Wells wants third trimester abortions. I’ve never said anything of the sort,” Wells said, “and was quite satisfied with what the law previously was.”

While Wells said as attorney general, she would have to defend the state’s current abortion restrictions, she would not use the powers as an “overzealous witch hunt.” She said she would not exercise the authority of the office as Rokita has in asking for termination-of-pregnancy reports from the Indiana Department of Health or using subpoena power against hospital corporations.

Aaron Dusso, chair of the political-science department at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, sees abortion as the key issue for Wells.

“This might be a red state,” Dusso said of Indiana, “but what we’ve seen over the last two years now as far as the issue of abortion, it’s not a winning issue for Republicans.”

Most recently, Ohio voters supported adding language to their state’s constitution protecting the right to abortion.

Dusso said Wells should capitalize on the backlash against abortion restrictions by hammering on the issue and highlighting Rokita’s stance on abortion.

“He’s been more extreme than what it seems like the country wants and, my guess is, even within the state,” Dusso said of Rokita. “She can make that case, ‘Look this person isn’t just a regular Republican, this is a person who’s on the far right Republican (side). He’s the one that’s going to want to deny anyone – even a 10-year-old child who has been raped – the right to access an abortion.’”

Dusso was referencing the 10-year-old rape victim who had to travel to Indiana for abortion care last summer because of the restrictions on abortion in her home state of Ohio. After Bernard, the OB/GYN, confirmed the story to an IndyStar reporter, Rokita made several public appearances as well as statements that targeted Bernard and revealed his office was investigating the doctor.

For his remarks on Fox News – calling Bernard “an abortion activist acting as a doctor with a history of failing to report” – Rokita was publicly reprimanded by the Indiana Supreme Court.

Promotes workers’ rights effort

Wells said Indiana has not had a Democratic attorney general since the General Assembly enacted right-to-work legislation in 2012. She wants to introduce a workers’ bill of rights and collaborate with state agencies like the Indiana Department of Labor and local prosecutors to prevent wage theft and worker misclassification.

“We believe that the needs of the population have changed and we want to take the resources that the office has to better serve workers,” Wells said.

During her run for Secretary of State, Wells raised significant financial support from labor unions.

Wells, herself, has not been a union employee.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Indiana University Bloomington and holds a J.D. degree from the University of Texas School of Law. She served for more than 20 years in the United States Army Reserve, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel.

As an attorney, she has experience as a deputy attorney general in the correctional litigation section in former Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill’s office and as an associate corporation counsel in the litigation section. Also, she has worked in private practice.

Dusso said Wells is going to have to work hard to break through the hoopla that will come with the 2024 election. Along with the presidential contest, which may pit President Joe Biden against former President Donald Trump, Hoosiers will be picking a governor and U.S. Senator.

If a strong Democrat steps up to challenge the presumptive Republican candidate, U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, for the Indiana’s U.S. Senate seat, currently held by Sen. Mike Braun, that could create a momentum for would-be straight ticket voters to shift, Dusso said. Those Republican voters who switch parties to vote for the Democrat in the Senate race may then be inclined to pick Wells for attorney general.

Wells said the straight-ticket voting in last year’s secretary of state race “blew us out of the water.” She and her campaign did not realize the number of rural Indiana Republicans who were voting straight ticket.

Going into 2024, Wells said she and her team have a better understanding and a focus on voter education.

“Last year was my first time running and we came out of the gate in January (and) started everything up from scratch. I was just kind of getting acquainted with the party,” Wells said. “So we sit in a much better position now. Our team is already in place from last time. And we have set up that network throughout the state that we spent a lot of time establishing last year so, we’re very well-positioned, much better than we were when we kicked off the last campaign.”

Dwight Adams, a freelance editor and writer based in Indianapolis, edited this article. He is a former content editor, copy editor and digital producer at The Indianapolis Star and, and worked as a planner for other newspapers, including the Louisville Courier Journal. 

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