Daniels names longtime state senator as secretary of state

March 16, 2012

A moderate Republican Indiana state senator will take over the embattled office of secretary of state, which has been rocked for more than a year by voter fraud allegations against the ousted elections chief.

Gov. Mitch Daniels announced Sen. Connie Lawson's appointment Friday.

"This new opportunity to serve all Hoosiers Republicans and Democrats across the state is a responsibility I take very seriously," she said Friday morning in the governor's office, flanked by Daniels, Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and her family.

The decision came a day after the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Secretary of State Charlie White's 2010 candidacy had been valid despite the Feb. 4 conviction on voter fraud and other felony charges that forced him from office.

The court ruling dashed Democrats' hopes of having runner-up Vop Osili named to the job and cleared the way for the Republican governor to appoint a successor.

"Senator Lawson has a tough road ahead of her to restore integrity to an office stained by the record of the convicted felon who most recently occupied it. We hope, for all Hoosiers, that she is able to successfully rebuild," Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker said in a statement Friday.

Daniels called Lawson, a Republican from Danville who has served in the Senate since 1996, an "obvious choice" for the job.

"Indiana has probably never been served by a secretary of state better prepared on day one," he said.

Lawson is one of Senate President Pro Tem David Long's top lieutenants and part of an ever-shrinking group of moderate Republicans in the Senate, where she has served since 1996.

Lawson, only the second woman to hold the office, will serve the remainder of White's term, which runs until 2015. Sue Anne Gilroy was elected in 1994 and served two terms.

Before joining the Senate, Lawson was a local elections administrator. She said she views her new office as the "chief election officer" for Indiana, a description that White disputed when he was battling criminal charges. Daniels said he could not find a better choice for the job, based in large part on her elections experience.

White, a Republican, was sentenced Feb. 23 to one year of home detention.

He was charged after he listed his ex-wife's address instead of his new condo on his 2010 voter registration form, when he already was claiming the condo as his home on other legal documents. Prosecutors said he wanted to avoid giving up a town council salary after moving out of the district he was elected to represent.

Democrats contended the conviction proved White ineligible to run for office and that state law requires a winner whose candidacy is declared invalid be replaced with the second-place finisher, in this case Osili.

The Supreme Court disagreed and unanimously overturned a Marion County judge's decision ordering the state recount commission to certify Osili, who finished about 300,000 votes behind White. The commission had upheld White's candidacy last June.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote that Democrats could have filed an official challenge to White's candidacy before the election instead of waiting until after the election. Under Indiana law, he said political campaigns must "investigate and vet their opposition before the pre-election time limitations expire."

Long, who joined the Senate with Lawson in 1996, called her pick a loss for the Legislature, but said he advised her to embrace the role.

"I don't care how old we are, you can never shy away from new challenges and opportunities," he said Friday. If you're good and you're right for the job you should take it."


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