INDIANAPOLIS — After two decades of publishing Power 50 lists in the first week of January, this one comes in a true crisis atmosphere. As we watched in horror the U.S. Capitol being overrun by supporters of President Trump on Wednesday, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 8,000 Hoosiers and 350,000 Americans, shutting down our state and nation for nearly two months last spring.
While vaccines are coming, there will be a distinct BC (Before COVID) and AC delineations as this epic story comes to a close. It gripped like a vise key figures, from Gov. Eric Holcomb to Vice President Pence. It delayed an election, closed schools and restaurants, reordered the way we do business and buy things, and will set in motion ramifications that we can’t truly understand (like the virus itself) at this point in time.
There’s another crisis at hand. It’s our society’s civics deficit, fueled by apathy that transcends our schools and societal engagement, and allowed to fester by a news media in atrophy. That three members of the Indiana congressional delegation – U.S. Sen. Mike Braun and Reps. Jim Banks and Jackie Walorski – signed on to a protest this week, induced by losing President Donald Trump to “investigate” widespread vote fraud that doesn’t exist, is another indicator of the risks a polarized and undisciplined political spectrum brings to the fragile American democratic experience.
Most of us learned about how a president is elected by middle school. But there isn’t a textbook that exists detailing how Congress can thwart the will of 150 million voting Americans by casting doubt over the Electoral College.
During the 2017 Indiana Civics Health Index, former congressman Lee Hamilton observed, “In a democracy, it is not enough just to let politicians set the rules of engagement. As citizens, we need to know how to cultivate our own skills; to stay informed, volunteer, speak out, ask questions, make discriminating judgments about politicians and policies, and improve our neighborhoods and communities.”
The 2021 Howey Politics Indiana Power 50 list is shaped primarily by four dynamics: The COVID pandemic fallout, the biennial budget session of the Indiana General Assembly, an unprecedented consolidation of power under Gov. Eric Holcomb, and a decline of coherence of the Indiana congressional delegation, which since 2010 has lost Sens. Richard Lugar, Dan Coats, Evan Bayh and Joe Donnelly and now this year, U.S. Reps. Pete Visclosky and Susan Brooks.
Steady congressional leadership has been replaced by a Trumpian cult of personality, which may begin to recede following President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
This lack of coherence at the federal level is augmented by a decline of newspapers and local network TV affiliates, and the collapse of the Indiana Democratic Party. For instance, when HPI began publishing in 1994, there were a couple of dozen active weekly political columnists. Today, there are just a handful (myself, Jack Colwell of the South Bend Tribune, John Krull of the Statehouse File, Mark Bennett of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, James Briggs of the IndyStar and Nate Feldman of the IBJ).
On the political front, Indiana Democrats are no longer competitive in the majority of the state outside Lake County and Indianapolis, and the college towns. Some 88% of county offices are held by Republicans, and General Assembly GOP super majorities look to persist into the foreseeable future. St. Joseph County now has three Republican county commissioners. The General Assembly’s reapportionment process appears to be prepared to continue Republican dominance at the legislative and congressional levels with new maps for the next decade.
While Indiana Republicans tout themselves as the “party of purpose,” and ideas, they appear unable to find a comfort zone in creating truly competitive districts. For the first time in history, not a single congressional incumbent lost a U.S. House race with the current maps.
The dominance of the Holcomb administration is reflected in this year’s list. If there is any light for Democrats, it is the emergence of Hoosiers Ron Klain and Pete Buttigieg in influential positions inside the coming Biden administration.
Here is our 2021 HPI Power 50 List:
1. Gov. Eric Holcomb: He is poised to become one of the most powerful governors in Indiana history. He won a second term in landslide fashion. He has consolidated education policy with his appointment of Katie Jenner as the state’s first education secretary. He has had the support of two super majority legislative chambers through the duration of this administration, with no end in sight. And he has been the lynchpin figure in dealing with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic (during the 1918-19 pandemic, Gov. James P. Goodrich largely deferred to local health officials, who prescribed face masks and closed many public facilities). Holcomb generally earned high marks during the “hunkering down” phase of the pandemic last March and April. But his response was complicated by Vice President Mike Pence’s helming the White House Coronavirus Task Force and President Trump’s indifference to some of the easiest COVID mitigating factors (i.e. face masks). Holcomb established Stage 5 of the pandemic in late September, insisting that it had nothing to do with his reelection campaign, and took some criticism as November and December became the deadliest months. He and his health team now face the arduous task of getting the COVID vaccines to 6.7 million Hoosiers. In the upcoming General Assembly session, he faces conservative Republican legislators who will seek to chip and chop away at his executive powers. His masterful maneuvering over the past four years of a Trump White House got Indiana maximum attention and resources without putting Holcomb in a place where he must own any of the Trump craziness. As 2024 presidential discussion begins on the GOP side, a no-drama governor who has a record of good government execution may put Holcomb on VP short lists. If he pulls off one or two big, signature wins, you may quickly see him rise up in RGA leadership and/or be eventually added to lists of candidates who should be considered for higher political office.
2. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch: She could be in the right place at the right time to become Indiana’s first female governor of all time, even though that is four years away. In a December HPI Interview, she was asked about the 2024 race and said, “So much in politics is about timing. The next four years I’ll be focused on being the very best lieutenant governor I can for the state of Indiana and a great partner to Gov. Eric Holcomb. From a preparation standpoint, having served in local government, in the legislative branch and now in the executive branch of state government, the preparation will be there. Timing is always the issue. I will certainly be prepared for political opportunities as they arise, but for right now, I’m focused to what I am supposed to be doing, which is lieutenant governor. The rest will take care of itself.” Asked about her political timeline, Crouch said, “I am already zeroed in on my political future.” She was the governor’s second-biggest donor (next to the RGA) and she maintains a fundraising network that is as extensive as anyone in the state. She has great legislative relationships and an even larger network of local elected officials around the state. Her sprawling administration portfolio places her in the midst of housing, agriculture, rural and tourism policy. She is a loyal partner to Holcomb and continues to raise her profile appropriately as she talks about policy areas such as broadband expansion, local economic development, and mental health. Do not be surprised if you see a more visible LG presence at events around the state in 2021.
3. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain: The Indianapolis native and North Central HS graduate becomes President Joe Biden’s chief of staff on Jan. 20. He is the son of Stanley Klain (a building contractor) and Sarann Warner (a travel agent). He went on to graduate from Georgetown University in 1983 and Harvard Law School in 1987. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Byron White in 1987-88. Klain joined the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1992 and became Vice President Al Gore’s chief of staff in 1995, and later was fired by Tony Coelho for being perceived as too loyal to President Clinton. He served as an informal advisor to U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh. In 2008, he was named chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden. On Oct. 17, 2014, Klain was appointed President Obama’s “Ebola czar.” It was that experience through 2015 that positioned Klain to be Biden’s chief of staff during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
4. Speaker Todd Huston: After years of grooming under Gov. Mitch Daniels and then Speaker Brian Bosma, Huston took the helm of the House just as the coronavirus pandemic took aim at the state. Huston walked out of the Indiana House of Representatives on March 11 with the COVID-19 pandemic just beginning to get a death grip on his state, he recalled, “I remember leaving this chamber believing something historic could be taking shape. I severely underestimated the magnitude of the impact of COVID-19. You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” Huston has already prioritized business liability reform, with he and Senate President Bray fast-tracking it to Gov. Holcomb by the end of this month. Huston, who survived a bout with COVID last fall, explained on Organization Day, “As we continue to adjust to life living in a pandemic, it would be foolish not to consider what we’ve learned from it and what we can do better. We should never strive to return to a life similar to that of March 11, 2020, as that would mean we have not learned from one of the most monumental and informative experiences of our lifetime.” Huston previously served on the Hamilton Southeastern School Board, Hamilton Southeastern Schools Foundation Board, Fishers Planning Commission and Indiana Leadership Forum board of directors. Additionally, former Gov. Mitch Daniels twice called on Huston to serve the state, first with a four-year term as a member of the Indiana State Board of Education, and from 2006 to 2009 as a member of the Indiana Education Roundtable. Huston was instrumental in passing Daniels-era education reforms in 2011.
5. Senate President Pro Tempore Rod Bray: Not to be underestimated, Bray’s quieter style has strong allies among his caucus. His leadership on redistricting could have a longstanding impact on the makeup of the legislative branch. While former Speaker Brian Bosma had expressed support for an independent redistricting commission, Bray appears to be following long-time majority caucus opposition to those reforms. The Senate has been a GOP super majority for much of the last two decades. “Though this session will be challenging, we pledge to commit ourselves to the same level of transparency that we have sought to achieve in ‘normal’ years, and that applies to the redistricting process as well,” Bray said. “Redistricting is a duty assigned to the legislature by our state constitution, and we are committed to completing that task fairly and transparently.” Bray’s legislative priorities include COVID-19 business and not-for-profit liability protections, fully fund virtual students during the pandemic, codify telehealth expansions enacted during the pandemic, and improve local government accountability during the pandemic. Speaker Huston and Bray were signaling they were preparing to take the lessons from the 2020-21 pandemic to new levels. A business, school and non-for-profit liability reprieve is likely to pass with bipartisan support and head to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk sometime in January or early February. Bray is also backing a cigarette tax hike, saying, “We want to be very thoughtful on how the money will be spent on the front end,” adding that he wants it to be directed to “improve health standards.” Several HPI Statehouse sources have said that unlike his Senate predecessor David Long, Bray has ambitions that extend beyond the upper chamber, and he may seek the 2024 gubernatorial nomination. How he deals with this pandemic session, teacher pay and the biennial budget issues in just his second session will provide the necessary context for such ambitions.
6. Health Commissioner Kristina Box: Dr. Box, along with Gov. Holcomb, has been the week-to-week voice of reassurance during the coronavirus pandemic. To state the obvious, no one, outside of Gov. Holcomb, has had a more public role in Indiana’s response to the pandemic. She is about as close to Holcomb as any other person in the administration. She and several family members tested positive for the virus in October. During an HPI Interview with Gov. Holcomb in October, he choked up a bit when asked about Dr. Box’s health. “Dr. Box is resilient, she’s strong, she’s aware, she’s experienced,” Holcomb said. “I talk to her multiple times a day. She has a joyful heart and she’s a true servant leader.”
7. Transportation Secretary-designate Pete Buttieig: The former South Bend mayor commenced a long-shot Democratic presidential campaign, won the tormented Iowa caucus, barely lost in New Hampshire before his meteoric effort began to seize up. His early endorsement of Joe Biden, along with that of U.S. Rep, James Clyburn and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar in March, was critical for the moment, giving the future president-elect the necessary momentum to outlast socialist U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Buttigieg was rewarded with the U.S. Transportation cabinet position. When he was introduced by Biden, he was acknowledged in the same vein as the late Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden. Buttigieg recognized the historic context of where he’s been and where he’s going. “My hometown of South Bend, Indiana, was built by the power of American transportation,” he began. “From trade along the river at the bend that gives the city its name, to the rail lines which connected us to the rest of the country when we were considered the west, to livelihoods created by the good paying union jobs at ... Bendix and Studebaker. And now climate and infrastructure innovation are bringing my community into the 21st Century. I faced a constant battle with that natural enemy of all mayors, the pothole,” Buttigieg continued. “At its best, transportation makes the American dream possible, getting people and jobs where they need to be, directly and indirectly creating good-paying jobs. At its worst, misguided policies and missed opportunities can reinforce racial, economic and environmental injustice, dividing or isolating neighborhoods, undermining government’s basic goal to to empower everyone to thrive. Now comes a historic opportunity, this administration can deliver resources to create good jobs to address the climate challenge while equitably to empower all Americans.”
8. Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer: Hoosier Republicans now control 88% of all county elected offices, or 1,330 out of 1,509. This comes on top of holding all of the Statehouse constitutional offices, nine out of 11 congressional offices, 71 mayoral offices after a 19-office increase in 2019, while it has maintained super majorities in the Indiana House (71 out of 100) and Senate (40 out of 50). Hupfer’s partnership with Gov. Holcomb has led to four of the strongest years in party history, with $25 million raised. The Indiana GOP has set and broken fund-raising and voting records, made significant inroads with constituencies not historically aligned with their party, and expanded the map of elected Republicans throughout the state. In a December HPI Interview, Hupfer explained, “I had many folks, when I took the position, question where we can go with the party. We’ve proven in three successive elections that we could continue to broaden the relationship between the Republican Party and all Hoosiers, from the top of the ticket all the way down. It’s just reflective of the policies the Republican Party stands for in Indiana; a success Indiana as a whole has had under Republican leadership at the state and local levels. Voters in Indiana have come to trust the Republican Party to deliver on our commitments. If we say something during the campaign we strive to achieve it.” Hupfer just became a partner with Taft Law, is expected to seek a second term as chair later this winter (telling HPI, “I’m leaning that way”) and will take a hard look at the 2024 gubernatorial race. I’m not going to exclude anything,” he told HPI, “but I think it is not the time to be talking about 2024 for anyone who is a serious candidate. We’re heading into what may be one of the most complex legislature sessions we’ve ever had in Indiana from a basic task at hand, which is the budget and COVID response.”
9: U.S. Sen. Todd Young: Indiana’s senior senator has the most promising political future of anyone in the Hoosier congressional delegation. But, like almost all Republicans, he has been tarnished by mostly acquiescing to President Trump’s unfounded allegations of election fraud – at least until the last possible moment this week. As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he raised a record amount of cash for the GOP’s effort to hold onto its Senate majority, spoiled by Trump’s sabotaging the two lost Georgia seats Tuesday night, creating a 50-50 split with Vice President Kamala Harris giving the Dems the majority. But that gives Republicans plenty of leverage to disrupt President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda, a position they’ve maintained thanks to wins Young helped secure in competitive Senate races. Falling just short of a majority would be a significant accomplishment in a year where Republicans had many more incumbents up for reelection than Democrats did and were battling headwinds created by Trump’s daily volatility and his disengagement from the coronavirus pandemic. Young is earnest to a fault. He strives to be a policy wonk who can work across the aisle to advance legislation. He kept his head down and ignored most Trump tweets and stood up to Trump on some foreign policy issues. But you would have expected more pushback from someone who never misses a chance to tout his experience as a Marine. Trump surely violated Marine Corps standards almost daily with his tantrums and antics, and Young remained silent. But he supported the Electoral College results on Wednesday, putting him in alliance with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and likely giving himself a boost to move up in the leadership ranks.
10. Vice President Mike Pence: Four years of fealty to President Trump effectively ended when the veep was evacuated by armed police from the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday after the president fumed over his decision not to support the coup. It was entirely predictable that Trump would turn on his loyal vice president. You could ask any number of Trump business partners and past cabinet officers, many of whom have been fired by tweet, to predict this could happen. Where this leaves Pence’s political future remains to be seen. Wednesday’s MAGA storming of the U.S. Capitol may have finished off any notion of a Trump comeback in 2024. That would have been a roadblock for Pence, but if this mob riot ends Trump’s future political viability, it could prove to be an opening for the vice president, who had signaled he would not take part in the coup d’etat. Having said that, critics of Pence will note that Pence was mostly silent as events trended toward Wednesday’s fiasco. And Pence helmed the coronavirus task force, the Trump transition, and a Presidential Commission on Election Integrity that went nowhere. Pence is a politician, not a policy wonk.
11. Commerce Sec. Jim Schellinger: While the Holcomb administration has been fighting the global pandemic, Schellinger and his team at IEDC have put together what will likely be a record year of jobs and investment in Indiana, including a massive retention/growth opportunity with the Elanco headquarters across the White River from downtown Indy at the old GM Stamping Plant site. As one of Holcomb’s top advisors, expect Schellinger to maintain laser focus on setting more economic records, especially as it relates to federal defense development and attracting jobs from overseas companies.
12. INDOT Commissioner Joe McGuinness: The I-69 Finish Line project will be one of, if not the biggest, infrastructure programs going on in the country in any state in 2021. Another big project on the horizon is the siting for the I-69 bridge to Kentucky at Evansville. McGuinness has been close to the governor since before the Holcomb for Senate campaign so look for McGuinness to continue to be in the governor’s inner circle on the official side. He will likely have the opportunity to work with Pete Buttigieg as DOT secretary which could mean good things for Indiana’s infrastructure.
13. FSSA Commissioner Jennifer Sullivan: Though she has played a less public role in the pandemic response, the FSSA secretary is beloved by Gov. Holcomb and will likely play a more public role in Holcomb legislative and policy initiatives surrounding mental and public health as the state emerges from the pandemic in 2021.
14. OMB Director Cris Johnston: The pandemic gnawed a $900 million fiscal hole during 2020, with the state ending the fiscal year with $1.4 billion in reserves. Last July, Johnston called for “austere” budgeting, saying, “To not only meet and deliver sound services to our citizens but then the ultimate outcome is to restore the reserves.”
15. Ways & Means Chairman Tim Brown: Dr. Brown has made a remarkable recovery from a motorcycle accident two years ago. He shared the biennial budget stewardship with now Speaker Huston in 2019, and will have a decisive impact on the budget, which begins with his committee. After a year grappling with the pandemic, the December fiscal forecast projected the state will have about $360 million in increased revenue compared to the current budget, with a $2.3 billion surplus at the end of the current biennium. Brown said in December, “We’ll be looking at, are there one-time things we want to have in this government and what’s an appropriate reserve amount? We need a reserve amount for the next time we are in a situation like this.”
16. Senate Appropriations Chairman Ryan Mishler: This will be his second biennial budget at the helm of Senate Appropriations after long-time Chairman Luke Kenley resigned in 2017. Following the December fiscal forecast, Mishler said the coming biennial budget will have a split personality. “It is basically a flatline the first year, so we’ll have to be very careful the first year,” Mishler said. “The second year, if the economy continues to grow like they’re anticipating, we could have more revenue to work with.” As for increasing teacher pay, Mishler said, “A flatline is a win, even in K-12, when other states are making drastic cuts. So, in Indiana I don’t think you’re going to see a cut in K-12 like other states.”
17. Rep. Timothy Wesco and Sen. Greg Walker: These are the two chamber Election Committee chairs and this is the reapportionment year. So Wesco and Walker will play an instrumental role in determining the legislative and congressional maps for the next decade.
18. U.S. Rep. André Carson: Now the dean of the Indiana congressional delegation and in the House majority, we keep waiting for Carson to become more of a force among Democrats in the House. It hasn’t happened yet to the extent we were anticipating. Maybe he will become more of a player during the new congressional session that gaveled in this week. He’s a member of both the Progressive Caucus and the New Democrat Coalition – an interesting combination that allows him to put one foot in the liberal and moderate factions that will shape the Democratic Party. He’s on the Transportation Committee, which will give him a chance to work with incoming Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. He also serves on the House Intelligence Committee, where he chairs the subcommittee on counterterrorism. That puts him in a position to weigh in on the Russian cyberattacks that have penetrated several government agencies.
19. Attorney General Todd Rokita: His statewide role will give him a platform to raise his name identification around the state, crucial ingredients for a 2024 gubernatorial run. However, winning a primary for future statewide office will be more difficult than winning at a convention, as Rokita discovered during his 2018 U.S. Senate primary loss to Mike Braun. While he may have the ability to be antagonistic to Holcomb’s administration, it may not serve him well in the future given Holcomb’s popularity and potential opportunity to help pick his successor. Rokita does have an opportunity to focus on some policy issues which have broad appeal to Hoosiers and use those to drive his office’s external engagement.
20. Republican National Committee members John Hammond III and Anne Hathaway: It was Hammond who correctly told HPI in 2015 about the appetite for a “strongman” president. That’s what we ended up with from President Trump, who repeatedly displayed autocratic tendencies while completely taking over the GOP to the point where the Republican National Convention did not even attempt to pass a platform. The critical question for Hammond and Hathaway is whether Donald Trump recedes in the next four years, or attempts a comeback. If it’s the former, what replaces Trumpism?
21. Purdue President Mitch Daniels: The former Indiana governor and White House budget director became the collegiate face of the pandemic, insisting on reopening Purdue University after his famed “miles of plexiglass summer.” As he explained in his Washington Post column: “Like almost all hard calls, the choice had to be made with a less-than-ideal amount of information in hand. Experience warned us against procrastination; the operational difficulties of the task ahead clearly were going to require every possible day of planning and preparation. We did reopen Purdue University in late August, and with great relief just completed a semester with more than 40,000 students taking courses on campus. More than two-thirds of their classes were either partially or totally in-person. Their organizations sponsored more than 17,000 events and meetings, two-thirds of those in-person. Our residence halls were 86% occupied and, while dining shifted to mainly outdoor and carryout modes, we provided tens of thousands of meals each day. It was far from the typical resident experience, but our students’ educational progress continued uninterrupted.” Of the 2,770 positive coronavirus test results for students during the semester, 82% were either asymptomatic or had only one minor symptom. Less than 1% rose above even the fourth level of a six-level severity index. Daniels also backed the reopening of Big Ten football last fall.
22. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett: It’s been a tough year for the mayor after the downtown riots last Spring, the pandemic, and another record in homicides. But the Elanco deal for the old GM Stamping Plant site and news that the NCAA’s March Madness men’s basketball tournament will be played mostly in Indianapolis give Hogsett a path for revival. As the 2024 gubernatorial race unfolds, he will likely be on a list of Democrat alternatives, though as we’ve pointed out before, Indianapolis mayors beyond the late Sen. Richard Lugar don’t play well politically in outer Indiana.
23. Education Sec. Katie Jenner: Now that Gov. Holcomb will have direct oversight of education issues in Indiana, Jenner will play a key role in the ongoing conversations and action on teacher pay, etc. Is a turning point on the horizon for a GOP governor’s relationship with the public school establishment?
24. Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke: The three-termer is the GOP’s largest city mayor and knows everyone. He and Deputy Mayor Steve Schaefer have direct lines of communication with Gov. Holcomb and are regularly engaged in policy discussions. He will also be an ardent backer of a Suzanne Crouch gubernatorial bid.
25. Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry: The four-term mayor began the year hoping to make inroads on infant mortality, diabetes and obesity before the pandemic shut down Indiana’s second largest city, and then civil unrest following the George Floyd slaying in Minneapolis in May. “When the COVID-19 situation hit our community, a lot of that stuff was put on the back burner,” Henry told WFFT. He is now reevaluating racial justice. “What happened to George Floyd, we never want to happen in Fort Wayne,” Henry said. “So, let’s make sure we have policies and protocols to prevent that from happening.”
26. Indiana Gaming Commission Executive Director Sara Gonso Tait: With the legal troubles hitting Spectacle Entertainment impacting the Hard Rock casino in Gary and the new Terre Haute enterprise, there is speculation that the fallout will spread inside the Hoosier gambling landscape. Tait will play a key role in oversight.
27. Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness: His proactive leadership during the pandemic has earned him accolades from many Republicans and Democrats for working to lower the number of cases in Fishers and Hamilton County. The economic progress taking place in Fishers continues to make positive headlines and he should still be on anyone’s list of potential 2024 candidates for governor. His leadership on regional governance issues within Central Indiana is being noticed in other parts of the state as he was a guest speaker at a One Southern Indiana Chamber of Commerce event earlier this year. His call to action in a September op-ed in the IBJ also seemed to hit at a long-term interest in being part of a future leadership discussion. The question remains, however, would Fadness want to be governor at this point in his career?
28. Sen. Jeff Raatz and Rep. Robert Behning: The two chamber chairs of their respective education committees will play an influential role in the teacher pay reforms. They face a new day in education, with Gov. Holcomb’s first-ever appointment of a cabinet level education secretary. Sen. Raatz has introduced Senate Bill 2, which would provide full per-student funding for the remainder of the school year to schools who have students learning virtually due to COVID-19. It is a priority bill of Senate President Bray.
29. U.S. Sen. Mike Braun: After the Electoral College results were announced on Dec. 14, Braun gave a full-throated call to accept the outcome and acknowledge that Democrat Joe Biden had won the White House. It looked like a watershed moment for Braun. He put himself far in front of the rest of the Republicans in the Hoosier congressional delegation – including his Senate mate Todd Young, who, following the Electoral College outcome, only mumbled a line about working with President-elect Biden to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Then suddenly he did a comprehensive flip-flop, declaring that he would join about a dozen other senators to oppose the Electoral College vote count on Wednesday. He tried to make his stance sound like a benign call to conduct a quick audit of several states that Trump lost. What he was really doing was adding his name to an effort to disenfranchise millions of voters – a move he would have forcefully denounced had Democratic senators made it on behalf a Democratic presidential candidate. But Braun knew he could continue to curry favor with President Donald Trump – to whom he owes his Senate seat – and not really affect the election outcome because enough Republicans like McConnell and Young would accept the democratic results. After his disastrous flipping, Braun reacted to the mob on Wednesday, saying, “What we’re seeing at the Capitol is wrong, hurts the cause of election integrity, and needs to stop immediately. Rioting and violence are never acceptable.” After this stunt, Braun may not be taken seriously on his efforts to tackle major policy issues, such as climate change and health care. And this comes on top of last summer’s qualified immunity bill that brought criticism from conservative quarters. If he continues to genuflect to Trump, which seems likely, he will simply align with Trump rather than carving a distinct policy profile for himself.
30. U.S. Rep. Jim Banks: Unlike Sen. Braun, Banks had a clear political reason for doing President Donald Trump’s bidding in trying to overturn the election results. He signed onto an amicus brief supporting a Texas lawsuit that challenged the election outcome in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia. On Wednesday, he was among the House Republicans who objected to the Electoral College vote count. Banks could not have sat on the sidelines during those two crucial efforts and let any Republican get to the right of him in support of Trump’s unfounded allegations of voting fraud. As the incoming chairman of the Republican Study Committee, Banks is one of the leaders of the far right. In that role, he will help shape the policy agenda and develop the rhetorical artillery that Republicans hope will keep House Democrats off balance. With a narrow Democratic majority, a unified and aggressive far right wing in the House could cause more disruption than usual – and Banks will be in the middle of the effort. First elected to Congress in 2016, Banks has solidified his grip on his northeast Indiana district over the last couple elections while sharpening his partisan edge, as his rise to RSC chairman indicates. Banks is a potential 2024 Republican gubernatorial candidate, telling HPI last November that he will make that decision sometime after the 2022 election.
31. Secretary of State Connie Lawson: Considering the scrutiny of the 2020 election execution in other states, Lawson deserves a hero’s “thank you” for overseeing a largely flawless 2020 general election in Indiana. Could 2020 be the last general election overseen by Secretary Lawson? Lawson may look to play a significant role in identifying her successor should she consider resigning before her full term is complete.
32. U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth: He signed onto the amicus brief in support of the Texas lawsuit to challenge presidential election results in several swing states. He didn’t seem as if he needed the political protection in his district, where he has won the last two general elections comfortably and a serious primary challenger is not apparent. Hollingsworth has carved a niche for himself on the House Financial Services Committee as a strong proponent of making it easier for small businesses to raise capital in the public and private markets. His seat on the committee also gives him a nice fundraising perch. He is self-term limited, with several sources telling HPI that he will consider the 2024 Republican gubernatorial race. One of the wealthiest members of Congress (he won the crowded 2016 primary by self-funding), he could bring the family checkbook into what could be a crowded primary race. His problem on that front is that he is mostly unknown outside of the 9th CD.
33. U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski: She is another GOP member of the Hoosier congressional delegation who did not have a pressing political reason to go as far as she did in supporting President Donald Trump’s quixotic effort to convince America that the election was stolen from him despite his presenting no evidence of malfeasance. She has taken control of her north-central Indiana seat in a district that used to be competitive but has sent her back to Washington by comfortable margins in the last two elections. It’s hard to imagine a primary challenger who can beat her. She is a member of perhaps the most important House committee, Ways & Means, where she has developed a reputation as a strong proponent of free trade. She held her ground on that issue even when Trump implemented tariffs on much of the rest of the world. Yet, she genuflected to him when it came to resisting the presidential election results. In the new Congress that gaveled in this week, Walorski will serve as the ranking Republican on the House Ethics Committee, a post that could raise her profile in the chamber while also giving her a lot of work and headaches.
34. Earl Goode: It is impossible to find one individual who has had more years of influence on the executive branch in this century as Earl Goode. “Rumors” by a rival publication that Gov. Holcomb’s chief of staff is preparing to retire were shot down by the gov’s press office. Goode has spent a full decade in the role of chief of staff, six years under Gov. Mitch Daniels and now four with Gov. Holcomb. The governor’s chief of staff continues to have an incredibly strong command of what is happening in the Holcomb Administration as it heads into an important budget session.
35. Patrick Tamm: The president of the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association has been sounding the alarms of the pandemic’s threats to thousands of restaurants and bars. He will be a key voice once vaccinations progress and the pandemic lifts, revealing sprawling wreckage throughout Indiana’s hospitality industry.
36. South Bend Mayor James Mueller: The former protégé of Mayor Pete Buttigieg has spent the first year in office dealing with the pandemic, homelessness, and public safety issues in the wake of the police action shooting of a Black man in June 2019. The city is in the process of putting in place study recommendations.
37. Joe Donnelly: The former senator will play a role in any revival of the Indiana Democratic Party and could challenge either Sen. Todd Young in 2022 or in a rematch with Sen. Mike Braun in 2024. Donnelly weighed in on Braun’s embrace of the Electoral College challenge by Republicans earlier this week, saying, “Indiana has a long history of serious, hard-working U.S. senators. It is stunning Hoosiers now have a senator who is trying to overthrow the Electoral College results and Joe Biden’s election.”
38. U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon: The Bloody Eighth has become the Boring Eighth, as Bucshon has cruised to several easy reelects. He also has steered clear of the GOP civil war over supporting President Donald Trump’s unfounded assertions of election fraud. He continues to be a back bencher with a low profile in Washington and in Indiana. If Republicans get serious about developing a real alternative to the Affordable Care Act, Bucshon may have an opening to gain more attention. He could use his background as a physician to make some impact on health care policy.
39. Seema Verma: Though her tenure as director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid will soon be over, Verma will return to Indiana where her family has remained and where she remains a longtime friend and ally of Gov. Holcomb. She will likely field professional opportunities from Silicon Valley, among other places, including governors around the country who will seek her counsel on how their states can better navigate the relationship with the federal Medicaid system. Verma’s perseverance through reported criticism from HHS Secretary Alex Azar is proof of her toughness and staying power in the rough and tumble Trump World.
40. HHS Secretary Alex Azar: He oversaw the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. Several sources tell HPI that the former Eli Lilly executive is considering a 2024 gubernatorial bid.
41. Mike Schmuhl: He ran Pete Buttgieg’s meteoric $100 million Democratic presidential race last year and has become a director of Heartland Ventures, a Seed and Series-A fund with an investor base made exclusively of strategic middle-America business owners and CEOs with 500-15,000 employees based in South Bend. He put out a statement saying he wasn’t interested in becoming Indiana Democratic chair, but HPI sources claim that talks are on-going. John Gregg took himself out of the running for that job, leaving former legislator Karlee Macer as the only declared candidate, while Trish Whitcomb is making the rounds. Schmuhl will almost certainly be involved in any post-DOT political activities of Mayor Pete.
42. U.S. Rep. Frank Mrvan: The newly sworn-in 1st CD Democrat picks up the mantle of long-time U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, taking his endorsement to upset Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. in the delayed primary last June. Mrvan has asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a seat on the influential House Appropriations Committee. If he makes that committee, it will give him a big leg up in filling Visclosky’s big shoes.
43. State Sens. Mark Messmer and Ed Charbonneau: Messmer, the Senate majority floor leader, is carrying Senate Bill 1, the pandemic business liability legislation that General Assembly leadership and Gov. Holcomb have said they want fast-tracked during the early quarter of the session. SB1 would help protect businesses and individuals by giving them immunity from civil liability for damages if someone is exposed to COVID-19 on their property or during an activity they organized. This immunity does not apply if the party engages in gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct. Likewise, Senate Bill 4, authored by Charbonneau, would expand the existing civil liability protections that apply to health care services rendered during a disaster emergency. Charbonneau is also carrying another legislative priority of Senate President Bray, SB3, which would permanently codify many of the expansions in telehealth implemented during the pandemic to ensure that all Hoosiers have access to the health care they need regardless of where they live.
44. Zionsville Mayor Emily Styron: A talented female Democrat mayor in a doughnut county is not a common occurrence, but Styron’s “Leslie Knope-like” appeal and approach to good government and collaboration with state and local officials make her one to watch as she enters her second year. Her rise comes with the Democratic Party bench in Indiana extremely thin, particularly after the congressional defeats of Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott and Christina Hale.
45. Cam Savage: The principle founder of Limestone Strategies, he will play a key role in Sen. Young’s reelection campaign, which is essentially underway. It’s not clear whether Savage will manage the campaign, or continue his 2016 role as the key consultant.
46. Jodi Golden and Erin Sheridan: As two politically savvy co-chiefs of staff for the lieutenant governor, these two will have their hands full with an energetic Suzanne Crouch in 2021. Both have an understanding of the importance of a well-run official office operation when ramping up for a potential election, given their extensive experience working for previous statewide offices (Treasurer’s and Auditor’s Offices, respectively).
47. Lacy Johnson: As an advisor to the Biden Transition team after helping secure Congressional Black Caucus support of the Biden Campaign (putting him over the top in South Carolina), Johnson is one of the best positioned Hoosiers a few weeks out from inauguration.
48. Lawren Mills: The former policy and legislative director for former Gov. Daniels now chairs the Ice Miller Public Affairs practice group and has built one of the strongest executive branch lobbying practices in the state given her extensive relationships with Holcomb and his senior team.
49. LaPorte Mayor Tom Dermody: The former House Public Policy Committee chairman has moved to city hall, and his influence extends well beyond his northern Indiana city. He co-founded the nine-county Northern Indiana Advocates, which is pushing the Holcomb administration for a fair share of state resources, board and commission appointments from that part of the state.
50. Brian Tabor: As the COVID-19 pandemic surged last November, the president of the Indiana Hospital Association sounded the alarms. “The fear is that the system essentially gets overrun, and that sounds really scary, and that is why we are ringing the alarm now,” Tabor said then. The state will be facing a similar crisis over the next couple of months as the post-holiday surge fills Hoosier hospitals, so Tabor will be an important voice in the coming weeks.