Indiana attorney general candidates split over virus powers

Indiana’s attorney general candidates are divided over how the Republican governor has used the state’s emergency powers law to impose a mask mandate and other coronavirus-related executive orders that have stirred discord among conservative voters.

Posted: Oct 7, 2020 9:07 AM
Updated: Oct 7, 2020 3:47 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s attorney general candidates are divided over how the Republican governor has used the state’s emergency powers law to impose a mask mandate and other coronavirus-related executive orders that have stirred discord among conservative voters.

But it is the Democratic candidate who fully supports Gov. Eric Holcomb’s legal authority while the Republican candidate is emphasizing what he calls the need to curb that power.

Holcomb has faced criticism from some conservatives — including the current Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill — over the 44 executive orders that he has issued since first declaring a statewide public health emergency on March 6.

Some of that pushback has focused on Holcomb’s refusal to use his exclusive power to recall legislators to the Statehouse since their regular 2020 session ended March 11 — just as COVID-19 shutdowns started spreading across the country.

Republican attorney general candidate Todd Rokita calls the coronavirus very contagious and worse than the flu, but says he wants to work with legislators to revise the state emergency law, which was largely drafted in 2003 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Rokita said he believed it was meant for temporary situations such as floods, tornadoes or terrorist actions, even though epidemics are included among the 29 situations specified in the law.

“I don’t see in reading it that it’s at all meant for something with the duration as long as this pandemic,” Rokita said.

Rokita is a former congressman and Indiana secretary of state. He won the Republican nomination over Hill after the state Supreme Court suspended Hill’s law license for 30 days; Hill had been accused of groping a s tate lawmaker and three other women during a party.

Holcomb dropped any possible criminal penalties from the statewide mask mandate in July after Hill argued the governor was overstepping his authority and that only the Legislature could take such a step.

Democratic attorney general nominee Jonathan Weinzapfel said he wouldn’t have undercut Holcomb’s mask order and that Rokita isn’t supporting the governor’s mandate by wanting to kick the issue to the Legislature.

“He’s on the wrong side of science, the wrong side of public health,” Weinzapfel said. “He can stand with Curtis Hill. I will stand proudly, on this issue, with Governor Holcomb.”

Several members of the Republican-dominated Legislature have said they will propose limits on the governor’s emergency authority, such as capping the number of 30-day extensions he can declare without legislative consent.

Weinzapfel, a former Evansville mayor and state representative, said since Indiana’s part-time Legislature only meets a few months a year, the governor must be able to respond in emergencies.

“I would hope they will maintain that authority for the governor,” Weinzapfel said. “I’m sure there are plenty of things that could be changed to make it more reflective of what we’ve experienced over the last few months.”

The discontent over Holcomb’s coronavirus orders has some longtime Republicans saying they will vote for Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Donald Rainwater in November’s election.

Rainwater flatly opposes the mask requirement, while Holcomb's Democratic challenger, Woody Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner, has called for tougher enforcement of the mask mandate and called Holcomb’s easing of precautions in recent weeks “a huge mistake.” Indiana’s rates of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations have grown in the past month.

Rokita said he “absolutely” supports Holcomb’s reelection and that leaders across the country faced an unprecedented situation when the pandemic first hit the country.

“The governor was in a very difficult position and led in a way that, by in large, kept the state safe relative to other states,” Rokita said.

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Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 587049

Reported Deaths: 9287
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion810691296
Lake44121665
Allen31797541
Hamilton28178303
St. Joseph26684369
Elkhart24057340
Vanderburgh18519213
Tippecanoe17305121
Johnson14398284
Porter14342159
Hendricks13793241
Madison10509212
Vigo10432171
Clark10151129
Monroe9029108
Delaware8782129
LaPorte8721153
Kosciusko784677
Howard7834137
Warrick636790
Hancock633297
Bartholomew624294
Floyd6098105
Wayne5903156
Grant5799109
Dubois541670
Boone531467
Morgan512388
Marshall492484
Henry491164
Cass469060
Noble458757
Dearborn454544
Jackson413145
Shelby401178
Lawrence379475
Clinton363639
Gibson355056
DeKalb336363
Montgomery333851
Harrison326042
Knox325439
Miami308243
Steuben304940
Adams294435
Whitley292325
Wabash291645
Ripley290845
Putnam282447
Huntington281257
Jasper280733
White265738
Daviess260772
Jefferson248538
Fayette241348
Decatur241282
Greene232460
Posey230026
Wells228547
LaGrange223461
Clay216432
Scott216437
Randolph207540
Jennings191335
Sullivan188531
Spencer179917
Fountain178625
Washington175018
Starke170741
Jay162021
Fulton158829
Owen157837
Carroll151315
Orange150533
Rush148118
Perry145327
Vermillion144333
Franklin142533
Parke12788
Tipton127332
Pike113125
Blackford107022
Pulaski94637
Newton89020
Brown85530
Benton84110
Crawford7479
Martin69213
Warren6537
Switzerland6175
Union6063
Ohio4647
Unassigned0374

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