INDIANAPOLIS — Democratic Attorney General candidate Jonathan Weinzapfel answered questions Thursday about healthcare, equal rights and Indiana’s criminal justice system, all leading issues in the weeks before the general election.
Weinzapfel appeared as part of a virtual town hall hosted by Hoosier Action, a non-partisan coalition that advocates for citizen rights, especially in rural areas of the state. His Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. and Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, was invited but could not attend.
The race is intensifying as the attorney general’s office, in Indiana and beyond, gains new prominence in major lawsuits challenging public healthcare and laws implemented by the Obama administration. Hoosier Action’s goal Thursday was to reframe the attorney general as “the people’s lawyer,” beginning the event with a brief presentation about the responsibilities of the office and expectations from participants.
Speakers throughout the event shared what were often tragic stories. Some discussed difficulty in maintaining healthcare or qualifying for health insurance because of preexisting conditions like sickle cell anemia and lupus. Others shared stories of loved ones lost to addiction, cancer likely caused by environmental contamination and gun violence.
Weinzapfel said his first priority if elected is to remove Indiana from an ongoing lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, which is scheduled for arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court after the Nov. 3 election. Several states are involved in the lawsuit, led by Republican attorneys general nationwide, and many are concerned that if the law is overturned then people with pre-existing medical conditions could lose access to health insurance.
“What we have seen is attorneys general throughout the country, really, being weaponized and attacking some of the federal rules, regarding clean air, water and especially the fight against climate change,” Weinzapfel said. “It’s instigated by the Trump administration, but we’re seeing Republican attorneys general take part in the fight.”
Rokita and Weinzapfel are competing against each other, but also against the legacy of the embattled incumbent, Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill. Hill narrowly lost his re-election bid to Rokita after facing two years of scandal. An Indiana Supreme Court disciplinary officer found Hill groped four women, including a state legislator and staff, at a bar in March 2018 while celebrating the end of that year’s legislative session. The finding led the disciplinary commission to temporarily suspend Hill’s law license.
Hill remains active in the months leading up to the election, sharing regular commentary and opinions on the state’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, political speech on social media, abortion laws and more.
Other outside groups are also following the race for Indiana attorney general. The Republican Attorneys General Association, or RAGA, has contributed around $796,000 to Rokita while sharing statements in support of his campaign. That’s more than half of Rokita’s $1.5 million total contributions, according to public campaign finance documents.
Weinzapfel has raised nearly $1.8 million in the campaign to date, around $800,000 of which came from third-quarter fundraising. Weinzapfel reported 2,894 individual contributions, a fact his campaign says demonstrates his popularity among ordinary Hoosiers.
Erica Irish is the 2020 Russell Pulliam student editor for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.