Tag Archives: Todd Rokita

Rokita Again

I really try to ignore Indiana’s Attorney General, Todd Rokita, and his pathetically obvious ploys for attention–part of his persistent effort to position himself for a gubernatorial run. But it’s hard.

I have previously posted about his (mis)behavior as a Congressperson, about his improper private employment while holding elective office, and about episodes in his constant pandering to the GOP’s right wing. I’ve ignored his anti-vaccine rants, since I really thought  my previous posts would be enough to give readers an accurate picture of this sorry little man.

But he continues to bait me….

Rokita has evidently watched the recent governor’s race in Virginia, and is trying to adopt a strategy that worked for Glenn Youngkin, the Republican who won that contest. Youngkin, as you may recall, made Critical Race Theory and “inappropriate books” (i.e., written by Black people) a centerpiece of his successful campaign. Rokita–who never met a dog-whistle he didn’t like–immediately latched on.

As an article in the Northwest Indiana Times reported:

Attorney General Todd Rokita is taking his unprovoked battle with Indiana’s local school boards and the state education establishment to the next level.

The Republican, originally from Munster, recently issued a second, expanded edition of his “Parents’ Bill of Rights” that in 54 pages goes well beyond his initial 16-page screed over Critical Race Theory (CRT) and other “Marxist ideologies” that he originally claimed are “consistently being backdoored into Indiana classrooms.”

Rokita’s new handbook practically is a call to arms for Hoosier parents to swarm school board meetings, school administrator offices, teacher classrooms and the Indiana Statehouse demanding answers about everything their child may potentially encounter in a school building on any given day.

You may wonder–as I do–why the Attorney General is sticking his nose in an arena that is very clearly under the jurisdiction of Indiana’s Department of Education, especially since Indiana citizens no longer choose the head of that department. (When a prior, elected Secretary of Education proved unwilling to follow the party line down various rabbit-holes, the post was made appointive; presumably, occupants of the position are now more obedient.) But then, as my previous posts have demonstrated, Rokita consistently shows little or no interest in the enumerated duties of the Attorney General’s office unless those duties offer him a PR opportunity.

In this latest screed, he writes

“Having your child’s school and its employees work against you as you raise your family according to your Hoosier values shouldn’t be allowed.”

And what are those “Hoosier values”? Whatever they are, they are evidently under attack. Rokita enumerates a series of GOP wedge issues that parents should be particularly be concerned about because–or so he tells them– they have a “polarizing effect on education instruction.”

Those “polarizing” topics include: Critical Race Theory, Critical Theory, Critical Gender Theory, “Teaching for Tolerance,” “Learning for Justice” and gender fluidity.

Rokita also observes that, unlike other states, Hoosier lawmakers have not taken steps to prohibit instruction on these topics in Indiana classrooms, and he reminds parents they have a right to petition the Republican-controlled General Assembly to take such action….

Rokita’s guide also delves into the rights of parents to make health care decisions on behalf of their minor children, advises parents how to complain about school face mask requirements amid the COVID-19 pandemic and discusses the abstinence-only foundation of Indiana’s human sexuality instruction.

“It should be noted that schools are prohibited from asking students about their gender identity or sexual behaviors or attitudes in sex education classes, or any other classes,” Rokita said.

The entire “Parents Bill of Rights” is a “look at me–I’m with you” message to the angry and misinformed parents who have descended on school board meetings to demand a curriculum with which they can feel comfortable. I will refrain from characterizing their desired curriculum, except to note that historical accuracy and civics education–especially study of the First and Fourteenth Amendments (Separation of Church and State and the Equal Protection clause)– are not what they are demanding.

If we’re looking for the causes of “polarization,” we need look no farther than Rokita, the lawmakers who agree with him, and the parents that they and the other Republican culture warriors are gleefully manipulating.

I would love to believe that the transparency of Rokita’s pandering, along with his other off-putting behaviors, will repel Indiana voters and dash his gubernatorial ambitions. He is, after all, held in considerable disdain among Hoosier politicos– very much including Republican ones.

But this is Indiana.

 

 

Critical Race Theory

I was really hoping I could avoid ever posting about the asinine debate over Critical Race Theory–but the other day, I saw that our bootlicker-to-the-Right Attorney General had entered the fray, a clear sign that the racists and their enablers think they’ve found a winning formula for 2022.

So I guess I do need to weigh in, in a (probably useless) effort to clarify what all the noise is about.

I didn’t encounter Critical Legal Studies and its cousin, Critical Race Theory until I was a college professor. Both approaches were–and are–relatively arcane, primarily the preoccupation of a subset of legal scholars. As Heather Cox Richardson recently explained it,  Critical Race Theory was a theory conceived in the 1970s by legal scholars trying to understand why the civil rights legislation of the past twenty years had not eliminated racial inequality in America.

They argued that general racial biases were baked into American law so that efforts to protect individuals from discrimination did not really get at the heart of the issue. While this theory focused on the law, it echoed the arguments historians have made—and proved—since the 1940s: our economy, education, housing, medical care, and so on, have developed with racial biases. This is not actually controversial among scholars.

While CRT explicitly focuses on systems, not individuals, and while it is largely limited to legal theory classes rather than public schools, Republicans have turned this theory into the idea that it attacks white Americans and that history teachers are indoctrinating schoolchildren to hate America. In the past three and half months, the Fox News Channel has talked about CRT nearly 1300 times.

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked to discover that people who couldn’t define either “socialism” or “capitalism” if their lives depended on it are having trouble distinguishing between their fear of being “replaced” by Jews and scary Black people and a graduate-level study of how and where racial stereotypes are reflected in the country’s legal system. (I guess they never heard of redlining…)

Assertions that CRT is being taught in America’s elementary and high schools is ludicrous–as I have been complaining pretty much forever, schools aren’t even teaching the most basic concepts required for civic literacy, let alone a theory that requires a familiarity not just with the Constitution and Bill of Rights, but with significant elements of America’s legal structures.

The GOP-hyped hysteria over Critical Race Theory is just another effort to mask garden-variety racism  by pretending that the fight is really about something else. It takes its place beside the party’s rejection of “political correctness” (i.e., I refuse to abide by your social expectation of basic civility) and “cancel culture” (i.e., I should be free to spew my venom but you shouldn’t be free to respond by signaling your disapproval).

 One of the biggest disappointments of my adult life has been my reluctant recognition of the extent and depth of American racism, and the degree to which it infects our politics. That said, despite the evidence of the past few years–the hysterical reaction to Obama’s election, the subsequent election of an ignorant blowhard willing to demonize the “other”– I  still refuse to believe that the majority of Americans are in thrall to hate and fear.

The problem is, the rabid racist minority–thanks to gerrymandering,  vote suppression (and let’s be honest, voter apathy) and the Electoral College– has seized outsized control of America’s government. And when it comes to turnout, rage is a great motivator. If dishonest and dishonorable politicians can drum up fear and anger by emphasizing culture-war issues like the “threat” of a mischaracterized CRT, they may yet overwhelm the majority.

We live in an incredibly dangerous time.

Speaking Of Blowhards And Scoundrels..

In yesterday’s post, I argued that, when politics is considered the refuge of blowhards and scoundrels, blowhards and scoundrels are who it will attract. Which brings me to Todd Rokita–elected in November to be Indiana’s Attorney General.

I have previously posted about Rokita–several times, in fact. In 2013, when he was in Congress, I explained why he was more embarrassing than then-Governor Mike Pence. In 2014, I explained why he was dangerous and anti-American. Also in 2014, I highlighted his comparison of himself to Earl Landgrebe, whose most famous quote, “Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve got a closed mind” was perhaps more telling than he had intended.

And just last year, I posted a compendium of Rokita’s positions and suggested that Indiana had once again elected a guaranteed embarrassment to the position of Attorney General. (We have a habit…)

That prediction has already been proved correct–and it’s only February!

On Valentine’s Day, Rokita sent out a “tongue in cheek” Tweet supporting Trump’s allegation that the election was stolen from him. As the Star described it, the tweet “featured a meme with floating red hearts and the text ‘You stole my heart like a 2020 election.’ Below the text is a cartoon-like portrait of Donald Trump.”

Twitter declined to see the “tongue in cheek” humor, blocked activity related to the tweet, and warned that it posed a danger of inciting violence. This was no aberration; Rokita has been an all-in Trumper,  urging the Supreme Court to hear election challenges that 60 courts–and every competent lawyer who read them– found bogus.

But hey! You can be a competent lawyer, or a culture warrior–and in Indiana, culture war is what gets you elected.

But all of that history pales against the discovery that Rokita is still employed by the health benefits firm he worked for prior to the  election, notwithstanding the fact that he now has a “day job” (which most lawyers consider a 24-hour-a-day job) as Indiana’s Attorney General. A day job that coincidentally gives him investigative jurisdiction over what we now know is his “other” job…

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is moonlighting as a strategic policy adviser for the health benefits company that has employed him since 2019, his office confirmed Tuesday morning, raising questions about whether the arrangement violates state ethics rules.

An Apex receptionist said Rokita was still employed with Apex Benefits and transferred a reporter to his extension. Rokita’s Apex email and voicemail inboxes were still functioning Tuesday morning.

According to his job description, Rokita “advises Apex and its growing roster of clients who employ thousands of hard-working people on public policy initiatives, internal corporate strategies, and employee benefits compliance outcomes. In the best interest of the company’s clients, he also collaborates with industry experts to drive positive transformation of healthcare and benefits issues.”

Aside from the inherent conflict of interest, there’s another small problem: Rokita’s dual employment violates even Indiana’s weak ethics law. (You’d think a lawyer–especially the state’s lawyer–might have noticed that.)

Indiana’s Ghost Employment Rule —found at 42 IAC 1-5-13–is summarized by the office of the Inspector General as follows: “Don’t work on anything outside your official job duties.”

If that seems too complicated to understand, the IG offers some helpful examples:

  • In addition to your employment with the State Library, you also edit drafts of books for a publishing company. You may not review these drafts while engaging in your official duties during working hours.
  • You are an employee of the Criminal Justice Institute who would like to take advantage of State Personnel’s Community Service Leave to volunteer at a local elementary school. You may volunteer at the school in accordance with its guidelines since it has been permitted by a written agency regulation.
  • You work as an administrative assistant for the Civil Rights Commission. You may not assist the director on a case he has taken on pro bono for a non-profit legal service during your working hours since it is not part of your official duties.
  • You are a Family & Social Services Administration employee. You leave work early one afternoon to have your nails done. You may not claim a full day’s pay on your timesheet.
  • You are an Indiana State Police Officer. Your cousin is having a birthday party when you are scheduled to be on patrol. You may not stop patrol and attend the birthday party instead.

Granted, the examples don’t include “You are the Attorney General of the State of Indiana. You may not simultaneously function as an employee and paid advisor for a private firm while collecting a salary as Attorney General.”

Rokita evidently did have some concerns about this patently unethical arrangement: he hired the Inspector General to join his office (the Attorney General office, not the Apex office) in a senior (and undoubtedly well-compensated) position, after allegedly obtaining from that individual’s office an opinion that his conduct didn’t violate Indiana’s seemingly straightforward ethics statute…an opinion that, for some reason, his office declines to make public.

Rokita is evidently as big a fan of Trump’s swamp as he is of Trump’s Big Lie…

 

Another Embarrassing Indiana AG

Indiana has a habit of elevating legal embarrassments to the position of Attorney General. I still remember pompous Theodore Sendak, who made people call him “General.” Sendak led the fight against revamping Indiana’s archaic criminal code, arguing that modernization would “just make defense attorneys rich,” and he was a major proponent of capital punishment.

Curtis Hill, our outgoing AG, was initially known for his Elvis impersonations and more recently for groping female legislators and staffers. When he did take legal positions, they were equally embarrassing: the sorts of anti-choice, anti-gay, last century arguments we’ve come to expect from Republican officeholders playing to the GOP’s base “base.”

Todd Rokita, who will assume the office in January, is arguably even worse. There has never been a Republican derriere Rokita wouldn’t kiss in his ongoing efforts to feed at the public trough.

As Secretary of State, Rokita helped to write the nation’s first Voter ID bill–despite the fact that, like the rest of the country, Indiana had never experienced a problem with in-person voter fraud. (In Rokita’s worldview, we do have a problem with “urban” people actually being allowed to vote…)

More recently, he enthused over Texas’ bonkers lawsuit, insisting that measures in other states making it easier to vote during the pandemic somehow diluted the votes of Indiana citizens. (Presumably, he sees no problem with the state’s “winner take all” allocations of Electoral Votes, which totally erase Democratic ballots cast in the state..)

What else has Rokita opposed or supported? Let us count the ways:

  • He has compared African Americans who vote Democratic to slaves., and ran an ad against Colin Kaepernick that was widely considered racist.

  • He has opposed allowing migrant children to be placed in American homes, claiming they carried Ebola.

  • He’s certainly no friend to women: he opposes abortion even in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother, and NUVO has reported that Rokita does not support equal wages for equal work for women.

  • He doesn’t believe in climate change, and he doesn’t believe that immigration reform should include a path to citizenship.

There’s much more. When he was in Congress, ten former staffers accused him of maintaining a “toxic work environment,” abusing staff members and insisting that they perform menial tasks like cleaning his car and emptying his trash.

The Chicago Tribune accused Rokita of violating ethics laws during his tenure as Secretary of State. And for truly bizarre positions, it’s hard to beat his insistence that the FAA should be privatized (because, he asserted, the federal government cannot do anything as well as private-sector businesses), and his opposition to rules requiring pilots to get periodic medical exams. (He said he trusted the pilots to decide whether they were medically-fit to fly.)

In Congress, Rokita authored a bill that would have reduced the availability of subsidized lunches for public school students. But he sure supported “feeding” students his brand of “Americanism.” According to the Chicago Tribune,

A Jasper County teacher asked Rokita to leave his high school civics class in November 2016 after a talk that was supposed to be about the Constitution got off on the wrong foot, according to two students. Rokita had asked the class if they were taught about ‘American Exceptionalism.’ But when a number of students seemed puzzled by the concept, he had a testy exchange with their teacher, Paul Norwine, whom he criticized for not including it in the curriculum, the students said. Tensions eased and the talk proceeded, but the class was dumbfounded, the students said. ‘Mr. Rokita got very angry and said, ‘You have an American congressman in your class, what are you doing?’ said Marcus Kidwell, 19, a Donald Trump supporter who was a senior at the time. ’He seems like a pretty hot-headed guy. That disappointed me because he’s a Republican and I was pretty excited to meet him.’” 

Sources for the foregoing–and much more–are at the link. The organization, Restore Public  Trust, says his past behaviors disqualify Rokita for public office.

But not in Indiana, a state that is getting steadily closer to its goal of displacing Mississippi as the laughingstock of states.

THIS Is What’s Wrong With America

A Facebook friend who lives in Todd Rokita’s Congressional district attended his recent Town Hall. In a post following the event, she reported on an exchange she had with the Congressman:

My question was “What evidence do you require in order to revise your opinion on climate change?”

His response was “No evidence could ever exist that would change my mind. It’s all Liberal science.”

If the constituent who posted this conversation transcribed it accurately–and I have no reason to doubt that–this is a disturbing and revealing admission. Don’t confuse me with facts. I’m a zealot who’s impervious to evidence. 

This one exchange is a (horrifying) example of what is wrong with Rokita, with today’s Republican Party, and –to the extent people of this ilk dominate our government–what’s wrong with American politics.

As appalling as I find the sentiment–“I’ve formed an opinion that cannot be altered by evidence or reality”–what is truly illuminating about this exchange is the immediate resort to labeling. Rokita and those like him find no need to engage in reasoned debate, no need to defend their positions; instead of providing grounds for their opinions, they simply dismiss opposing perspectives by labeling them “liberal.”

(Perhaps that response is inadvertent confirmation of the snarky observation that “reality has a well-known liberal bias…”.)

I cannot think of any position more disqualifying for public office–or for any responsible job–than one that refuses in advance to even consider evidence that might be inconsistent with one’s prejudices.

Of course, I shouldn’t be so surprised: evidence has never been Rokita’s strong suit.

Todd Rokita was the Indiana Secretary of State whose discovery of (vanishingly rare) “voter fraud” led to his championing of the state’s Voter ID law, which (entirely co-incidently, I’m sure) disenfranchised poor minority voters who had a deplorable tendency to vote Democratic.

I really never expected to live in a country where science and empirical research required defense, but evidently Luddites aren’t simply historical oddities. So later this morning, I will join other Hoosiers at the Statehouse to participate in a “March for Science.”

As the website for the March explains,

The March for Science is a celebration of science.  It’s not only about scientists and politicians; it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.  Nevertheless, the march has generated a great deal of conversation around whether or not scientists should involve themselves in politics. In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense?

People who value science have remained silent for far too long in the face of policies that ignore scientific evidence and endanger both human life and the future of our world. New policies threaten to further restrict scientists’ ability to research and communicate their findings.  We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely.  Staying silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford.  We must stand together and support science.

The application of science to policy is not a partisan issue. Anti-science agendas and policies have been advanced by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they harm everyone — without exception. Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions. At its core, science is a tool for seeking answers.  It can and should influence policy and guide our long-term decision-making.

As Neil DeGrasse Tyson likes to say, science is true whether we believe it or not. What he implies, but doesn’t say, is that rejecting reality is a prescription for disaster–and so is continuing to elect people who find science unacceptably “liberal.”