By Marilyn Odendahl

The Indiana Citizen

January 4, 2023

Former Marion County Circuit Clerk Beth White is apparently launching a bid to unseat troubled Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, becoming the second Democrat to enter the race and drawing warnings about a convention fight.

White has not issued a public statement and did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday from The Indiana Citizen. However, she informed Democratic party leaders of her candidacy in a Christmas Eve email, according to reporting by Adam Wren of Importantville.

In November, Destiny Wells, the 2022 Democratic candidate for Indiana Secretary of State, announced her decision to run for attorney general.

Both White and Wells pointed to Rokita as their reason for running. White, as reported by Importantville, told Democratic leaders that Rokita is “too extreme for Indiana” and not doing the “job he was elected to do.” Wells said she wanted to return the attorney general’s office to serving Hoosiers and not “using the office simply as a platform for national talking points.”

Rokita, trying for a second term in 2024, continues to be dogged by ethical issues. The Indiana Supreme Court publicly reprimanded him in November, after the court’s disciplinary commission found he had violated the rules of professional conduct for comments he made about Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis OB/GYN, on national television. Currently, he faces another investigation by the disciplinary commission for comments he made in response to being publicly reprimanded.

The Indiana Democratic Party did not respond to a request for comment about White’s decision to campaign for attorney general.

Candidates for attorney general do not participate in the May primary. Instead, the nominee to appear on the November ballot is elected by delegates to the respective Democratic and Republican party conventions usually held in the early summer.

The 2020 Democratic attorney general nominee, Jonathan Weinzapfel, a former state representative and mayor of Evansville, defeated former state Sen. Karen Tallian, of Ogden Dunes, at the party convention by just 48 votes. He subsequently lost to Rokita in the general election, capturing 42% of the votes.

Weinzapfel said both Wells and White had contacted him, seeking his advice on running to be the state’s top lawyer. He cautioned them that a battle at the Democratic Party convention could deplete the resources and energy needed to win the November election.

“I’ve impressed upon them that I don’t think a convention fight is helpful, because you really are focused solely on the 1,000 or 1,500 Democrats who are going to decide who the nominee is,” Weinzapfel said. “So that’s time and money being spent in preaching to the choir, as opposed to getting out and talking to independent voter (and) moderate Republican voters who are disgusted with what they see from Todd Rokita.”

Public sector and nonprofit experience

White has been the president and CEO of the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault & Human Trafficking since January 2022.

At the time of her appointment to ICESAHT, Greg Zoeller, who served as Indiana attorney general from 2009 to 2017, was chair of the nonprofit’s board of directors. He said, in a press release, that the board was “thrilled” to have someone of White’s caliber leading the organization.

“Her energy, tenacity, and compassion will ensure the voices of survivors are heard, particularly in these challenging times,” Zoeller said.

In response to a request for comment about White’s candidacy for attorney general, Zoeller told The Indiana Citizen, “I encourage good people to run for public office.”

White, a native of Bloomington, holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Indiana University-Bloomington and earned a J.D. degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1990. With the exception of a two-year stint at Barnes & Thornburg, she has spent her legal career working in the public and nonprofit sectors.

In 2000, White joined Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson’s administration and served six years in a variety of capacities including as deputy corporation counsel and public access counselor. She then was elected to two terms as Marion County Court Clerk before becoming the executive director of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, a nonpartisan nonprofit that partners with leaders in the public and private sectors to address areas of concerns and opportunities.

This past summer, as leader of ICESAHT, White expressed concern about the state’s near-total abortion ban. In an interview with WFYI, she said the law’s 10-week post-fertilization exemption for victims of rape or incest was “meaningless” since the women, especially those underage, may not realize they are pregnant in that short of a time period.

“It is cruelty on top of trauma and I do not understand how, in the state of Indiana, we can find that acceptable,” White told WFYI.

Convincing GOP voters to cross over

Weinzapfel started his campaign for attorney general by initially focusing on Curtis Hill, the then incumbent who was accused of misconduct and facing a disciplinary complaint. Hill was accused of groping four women in a post-legislative session party in 2018 and, eventually, had his law license suspended for 30 days.

However, Rokita ousted Hill as the Republican nominee for attorney general at the GOP state convention in 2020. Reflecting on his campaign against Rokita, who had more statewide name recognition as a former Indiana secretary of state and U.S. congressman, Weinzapfel said he was frustrated because the raging COVID-19 pandemic prevented him from meeting voters, shaking their hands and talking about the issues in person.

Although the 2024 Democratic nominee will not be campaigning under COVID restrictions, she will have to focus on her message of what she will do as attorney general to convince Republicans and Independents to cross over and vote for her, Weinzapfel said. The nominee, he said, also will need help from the Democratic presidential and gubernatorial campaigns.

Already, White and Wells may be getting a boost from Rokita’s and Hill’s disciplinary troubles, Weinzapfel said.

He pointed to his tenure as a state representative from January 1999 to December 2003, when the Indiana House was controlled by Democrats and the Indiana Senate was controlled by Republicans. He said they found ways to work together to get things done which, in turn, kept the fringe issues off the governor’s desk.

“Now we have a state government that’s completely dominated by Republicans,” Weinzapfel said. “Using the evidence of the ethical challenges that Curtis Hill and Todd Rokita have presented in the context of complete Republican domination, I think it helps make the case that you ought to have someone else minding the store.”

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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