Departing House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner, who has been the focus of an ethics probe, has effectively become a "ghost" candidate on November's ballot after saying he will step down if he wins, his Democratic opponent said Monday.
Turner's announcement Friday that he would resign from office in November if he is re-elected came just three weeks after Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma of Indianapolis said he would remove the embattled Turner from his leadership team after the election. If Turner, R-Cicero, does win, a caucus of precinct committee officials in District 32 will choose his replacement.
Democratic House candidate Bob Ashley said the way in which Turner is leaving the General Assembly effectively means the voters in his central Indiana district have a choice between Ashley and whichever official local Republicans pick for the seat.
"I think they have a better choice of voting for me than they have of voting for a question mark," Ashley said.
Ashley said he asked Turner to resign immediately during a phone call earlier Monday, but that Turner declined. Turner, 62, has no choice but to stay on the ballot. Candidates had to withdraw by July 15 to remove their names, according to the Secretary of State’s election calendar.
Turner said he was taking a job with Equip Leadership Inc., a Georgia-based not-for-profit organization specializing in mentoring and equipping Christian leaders. In a lengthy statement Friday, he ticked down a list of accomplishments from his 24 years in office but made no mention of the ethics scandal.
An Associated Press investigation found that Turner worked behind the scenes to help defeat legislation earlier this year that would have been disastrous for his family's nursing home business. Turner, through an ownership stake in Mainstreet Property Group, stood to lose millions in possible profit if a ban on nursing home construction was approved, according to Mainstreet documents obtained by the AP.
Throughout the past few months, Turner has said he did nothing wrong.
The House Ethics Committee cleared Turner of technical wrongdoing in April, but determined his lobbying on the issue in private exposed loopholes in the state's ethics rules. A few months later, Turner's son announced that one of the Turner family companies was being sold to an Ohio real estate investment company for $2.4 billion.
Shortly after the sale was announced Bosma said that Turner had "irreconcilable conflicts" and would be removed from his leadership team following the election.
Turner's determination to run, despite the fact that he will not serve if elected, exposed some loopholes in the state's election laws. Turner and another state lawmaker, Rep. Steve Braun, R-Carmel, announced they would be leaving the Legislature after the Aug. 15 deadline for removing their names from the ballot.