EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Former Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel will be the Democratic Party’s nominee for Indiana attorney general this year.
Weinzapfel, who served as mayor from 2004 until 2012, narrowly defeated Northwest Indiana Sen. Karen Tallian in voting by more than 2,000 delegates to the Democratic Party’s Virtual State Convention last weekend in Indianapolis. State party officials announced the result — 1,057 votes for Weinzapfel and 1,009 for Tallian — just before 6 p.m. Wednesday.
The attorney general’s office has been held since 2017 by Republican Curtis Hill — and Weinzapfel lit into Hill during a virtual news conference.
Hill joined Indiana with 19 other states in 2018 to challenge the constitutionality of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Weinzapfel, a former state legislator, accused Hill of “actively trying to take health care away from Hoosier families by suing to overturn the Affordable Care Act.”
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Weinzapfel pledged to withdraw Indiana from the litigation “on day one.”
“We have record job losses, a staggering number of Hoosiers out of work, and with the death of George Floyd we are now confronting issues with our criminal justice system that have been ignored for far too long,” the former mayor said. “I’ll be an attorney general who fights to protect all Hoosier families.”
There is no guarantee that Hill will be Weinzapfel’s opponent this fall.
Hill returned to work on Wednesday following a 30-day suspension of his law license by the Indiana Supreme Court. Hill was accused of groping four women at a party at an Indianapolis bar to celebrate the end of the legislative session in March 2018.
But Hill’s renomination by Republicans is hotly contested. He has three intraparty challengers — Nate Harter, Todd Rokita and John Westercamp — for a nomination that will be decided by some 1,800 delegates to the Indiana GOP’s state convention. The voting begins next week and ends on July 9.
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Harter, Rokita and Westercamp argue that renominating Hill could hand the attorney general’s office to Democrats, setting back the conservative agenda in Indiana.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP State Chairman Kyle Hupfer have called for Hill to step down, but the embattled attorney general has hung on, arguing he still has substantial support.
Weinzapfel was asked Wednesday how he can win in a state that gave its votes in 2016 to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump by a 19-point margin.
The newly minted Democratic nominee slipped in another shot at Hill.
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“When I got into this race in December, I thought this would simply be a focus on Curtis Hill’s ethical transgressions and his efforts to decimate the Affordable Care Act,” Weinzapfel said.
But Weinzapfel acknowledged “a complete change in dynamics of what I think this race is going to be about” over the past few months. Hill’s issues will matter, he said, but the coronavirus pandemic, job losses, health care and other issues will resonate too.
Weinzapfel cited the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd, a black man who was in the custody of Minneapolis police.
“We have to take a new look at our criminal justice system,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.
“So the issues have changed quite considerably, and frankly, I think Hoosiers are going to be looking for answers instead of just simple partisan divide of Republican versus Democrat. I think they’re looking for leadership — and that’s what I hope to step up and do and provide.”
It has been an eventful past few months for the former Evansville mayor.
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On Nov. 6 Weinzapfel, then chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College Evansville Campus, announced he would leave that position to join local law firm Jones Wallace as a partner. The firm did much of the city’s legal business when Weinzapfel was mayor.
On Nov. 15 the Courier & Press reported that Weinzapfel was competing with other lawyers to be the new Evansville City Council’s lead attorney. Josh Claybourn, who has held the job since shortly after the 2015 city election, was reappointed.
Weinzapfel’s name has often been bandied about for higher office since he last faced voters in his 2007 re-election campaign. His political plans have been the subject of intense speculation in nearly every election cycle since, but the former mayor himself has spoken about it only intermittently.
While announcing his decision not to seek a third term in the 2011 city election, Weinzapfel kept the door open for a campaign for governor in 2012.
“I’ll take a good, hard look at that,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any secret that I enjoy politics.”
In 2018, Weinzapfel said in a written statement that he had decided “after much soul searching and deep discussions with family and friends” not to seek the seat in Congress now held by 8th District Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon.
This year’s attorney general campaign marks the first time since Weinzapfel was mayor that the prospect of him again running for office actually panned out.
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