INDIANAPOLIS — Three years ago, Curtis Hill was a Republican rising star, capturing the nomination for attorney general in a spirited convention floor fight, then leading the ticket that November in votes.
He became a rare African-American Republican, working in a building where the rest of his party was white. Hill gave a racial component to Republican politics that had seen females win the constitutional offices, save governor, when Holcomb edged out U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks for the nomination following Gov. Mike Pence leaving his nomination to join Donald Trump’s presidential ticket.
But this past week, Hill was fighting for his political career and his law license. His reputation has taken a beating.
He faced a Supreme Court disciplinary hearing over allegations of sexual harassment and groping at a 2018 sine die party. The ensuing headlines were a politician’s nightmare.
There was a parade of 26 witnesses, including Democrat state Rep. Mara Candaleria Reardon, four Republican legislative staffers, and an Elkhart County employee of Hill’s when he was prosecutor there, who testified under oath that her boss sought sex, saying, “We need to -- — because it would be hot.” Hill was described as a “creeper” who was “grabbing butt” and sliding his hands down Reardon’s backless dress.
The “Me too” era passed the Indiana Statehouse over the past couple of years with no official taking a fall. That Hill’s alleged conduct came after movie moguls, media anchors and U.S. senators had been swept from power was an indicator of being tone deaf.
Hill took the stand twice, first to explain office procedures, and last Thursday, to defend his conduct at the sine die party. He denied the allegations. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette’s Nikki Kelly described Hill as “relaxed and conversational.” He said he “was shocked” and “troubled” by the allegations. “Apparently, there were ... women out there who believed or perceived that I had done something inappropriate,” he said. He later described what he believed was a “political attack.”
Prior to the sine die revelations, Hill was creating a buzz that unsettled the GOP establishment. Hill may have overplayed his political hand at the 2018 Republican convention in Evansville, where he joined social conservatives to oppose a platform marriage plank backed by Holcomb and GOP Chairman Kyle Hupfer. There were rumblings of a possible 2020 Hill primary challenge to Holcomb in the convention hallways and alcoves.
Within a couple of weeks, Hill’s political career careened into controversy when a General Assembly memo was leaked, detailing the groping allegations. There was the July 2, 2018, meeting with Speaker Brian Bosma and then-Senate President Pro Tem David Long, when he was told “the situation has gone from bad to worse.”
“My attitude in the meeting started to change,” Hill testified. “I was unable to see the report and I was getting agitated.”
Within days, Gov. Holcomb, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and bipartisan legislative leaders, as well as future Sen. Mike Braun, called on him to resign, citing a Me Too era “zero tolerance” of sexual harassment, though these same people readily appear with President Trump, who has faced more than two dozen allegations of sexual harassment and assault.
Hill’s fate could take months to determine. Hearing officer Myra Selby, the first African American Supreme Court justice, will make a recommendation. It could range from a reprimand and probation to suspension of his law license or disbarment, in which he would have to resign. Either way, the five Supreme Court justices will likely make Hill’s final determination in 2020. It could come within months or weeks of the June Indiana Republican Convention, where Hill is expected to seek a second nomination.
If Hill is disbarred and resigned, Gov. Holcomb would make the replacement, a growing trend in Indiana’s constitutional offices. Holcomb, Crouch, Secretary of State Connie Lawson and Auditor Tera Klutz all rose to constitutional office with a gubernatorial appointment as opposed to nomination and winning an election.
If Hill is forced out, who might Holcomb tab to replace? If he were to go with an interim figure, there are former AGs Steve Carter (who ran against Hill at the 2016 convention) and Greg Zoeller. Deputy Pulaski County Prosecutor Randy Head also sought the nomination while in the Senate.
Other names we’re hearing include current AG candidate John Westercamp, Harrison County Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk, five-term Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings, Washington County Prosecutor Dustin Houchin (husband of Sen. Erin Houchin), DNR Commissioner Cam Clark (he was the DNR’s chief legal counsel), and Cynthia Carrasco, deputy general counsel to Holcomb. The gov not only knows her work, but she checks off gender and diversity boxes when it comes to a potential 2020 ticket.
Another is former secretary of state and congressman Todd Rokita, who is pondering a 2020 convention run for the office. He finished third to Holcomb in the July 2016 nomination contest with the Republican State Central Committee.
Short of disbarment and resignation, Hill could mount a bid for a second term, which would make for an extremely interesting GOP convention next June.