Columnists

Veto Override on May 24, But June 18 Could Be GOP Reckoning

Word out across the Hoosier prairie these days is that many House Republicans are angered about Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of the transgender athletic bill last month.

That was demonstrated not only by critical statements of legislators, but also three members of the Indiana congressional delegation as well as Attorney General Todd Rokita.

“Girls’ sports should be for girls, and allowing biological males to compete with them robs female athletes of a chance to compete and win,” said Sen. Mike Braun, who is considering a run for governor in 2024. “I’m disappointed Gov. Holcomb vetoed a bill to make this law in Indiana, and I support a veto override to protect women’s athletics.

Another potential candidate, Rep. Jim Banks, added, “I’m disappointed with Gov. Holcomb’s veto of a common sense bill that frankly doesn’t go far enough to save women’s pports. My hope is that the Indiana General Assembly will meet soon to override the veto and send a message to the rest of the nation that Indiana values women.”

The General Assembly’s super majority Republican caucuses are expected to easily override that veto during technical corrections day on May 24. But the more telling day on where the GOP stands could be June 18 at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis when the Republican Party State Convention convenes.

And look no further than the Indiana secretary of state race where Holcomb’s appointed incumbent Holli Sullivan attempts to fend off Diego Morales and Knox County Clerk David Shelton.

Sullivan quickly said she would support the veto override. “Generations of women have fought for equal rights in this country. HEA1041 is designed to protect those rights and the integrity of female sports,” Sullivan said in a statement.

Shelton is seeking the nomination on election issues. “Call me old fashioned, but elections are sacred,” Shelton told IndyPolitics. “I believe the state’s top election official should be have actual hands-on election experience. If you can’t have faith in election officials then how can you have faith in elections themselves?”

Shelton did not bring up the transgender veto.

Since 2008, GOP conventions have lashed out at even popular governors. In 2016, Gov. Holcomb and Chairman Kyle Hupfer pushed a new “Strong Families” family plank that recognized non-traditional families following the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court Obergfel ruling that legalized gay marriage.

It was overwhelmingly voted down on a voice vote by delegates in Evansville. A few days prior, Holcomb said, “The Indiana Republican Party is big and diverse, with many different perspectives on issues we all care about. The debate over the past week regarding this year’s party platform only reinforces that fact. Ultimately, though, the process of adopting a platform will end the way it always ends, with the delegates who attend and participate making the final decision.”

The social conservatives’ Victory Committee rallied to a packed conference room on the eve of the convention, drawing Senate nominee Braun, then-Attorney General Curtis Hill and U.S. Reps. Rokita and Banks.  There were rumblings in the convention hallways of a potential Hill challenge to Holcomb in 2020. Sexual harassment allegations against Hill made later in June 2018 ended any notion of such a challenge.

At the 2008 GOP convention, Gov. Mitch Daniels backed Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas for attorney general. But when the votes were counted, Greg Zoeller won the nomination by more than 300 votes. The Daniels hierarchy (including deputy chief of staff Eric Holcomb), retreated to the Columbia Club, angry and chastened by the defeat, perhaps fearing the wrath of the boss himself at such a loss, Howey Politics Indiana reported.

Daniels said, “If we had won, they would have said we were power crazy and if we lost, they’d say the opposite. I was just expressing a point of view.”

HPI observed in the June 5, 2008, edition: Indeed, most party leaders and delegates HPI talked to thought it was a one- or two-day news cycle story. Yes, there probably were some township assessors and sheriffs looking for a little payback (for the Kernan-Shepard Commission). Yes, they wondered why the governor decided to enter a battle he need not fight. No, he didn’t spend hours seeking out delegate votes for Costas, who had defended the governor on Major Moves two years ago. Many said that Zoeller had the experience, as Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi emphasized, and is one of the more likable guys in the party, who had served as Attorney General Steve Carter’s deputy for seven years after enduring his own defeat at the 2000 convention.

But the fact is, delegates were willing (and able) to confront a popular governor and mete out retribution to an ally.

In addition to his transgender veto, Holcomb has also taken GOP hits on the way he conducted the pandemic shutdowns in 2020. Holcomb won reelection in landslide fashion in November 2020, so he’s on stable ground with most voters, but not with the GOP’s social conservative wing.

So when Hoosier Republicans gather at the Indiana State Fair Grounds in June, it will be about much more than November’s mid-term elections. The coming veto override will still be fresh in the minds of many delegates. It will begin the big sort-out of who will be running for governor and U.S. Senate in 2024.

– The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com