As Indiana House Republicans prepare to elect a new majority leader, they are standing by their decision last fall to give that leadership post to a representative with known ethical issues who abruptly resigned from his seat.
Speaker Brian Bosma told The Associated Press that Republicans knew of the issues surrounding Rep. Jud McMillin when they elevated him to the chamber's No. 2 post last November, but were satisfied he had addressed them.
"I heard them and there are explanations for them all," Bosma said, adding that McMillin was chosen because he is "articulate, well-spoken, thoughtful—those are some of the key ingredients for a floor leader."
McMillan, 38, surprised colleagues when he stepped down from his House seat last week, later posting on Facebook that he had made "mistakes" that needed to be remedied with his family. It came a week after he sent a text message to acquaintances, apologizing for "anything offensive" sent to them from his cellphone, without elaborating. IBJ reported that he stepped down after a sexually explicit video was found on his phone
He has not responded to phone calls, voicemails or texts from the AP.
The resignation left Republicans with the embarrassment of having to replace on Tuesday an outspoken House leader who was a vocal proponent of the state's religious objections law, which drew a national backlash over concerns it could lead to discrimination against gay and lesbian couples.
Among the ethical questions McMillin faced was an accusation that in 2005, while a county prosecutor in Ohio, he had a sexual relationship with a victim in a domestic violence case he was handling. McMillin acknowledged the relationship but said it occurred only after he resigned.
And two years ago, media reports said he had steered a $600,000 grant to a hometown business in Brookville that he previously owned but later transferred to family members and friends. The grant was cancelled after his ties were revealed.
Bosma said McMillin, who has a wife and young family, was not asked to resign but made the decision on his own, "which was the right thing to do." He said he did not have firsthand knowledge of the "offensive" cellphone messages, but assumed they were serious.
"I don't think it was (about) a baseball game," he said.
Republicans picked the charismatic yet untested politician from southeastern Indiana for the leadership role just four years after he was first elected. His quick rise to prominence came amid a massive turnover as Republicans seized control of the House from Democrats and established a supermajority. In addition to the religious objections law, he helped rewrite the state's criminal code, pushed to shift authority away from the Democratic state schools superintendent and advocated to drug-test welfare recipients.
"When I met Jud he was already a chairman," said Rep. Dave Ober, R-Albion, who was elected in 2012. "I saw him as a serious guy working on serious issues."
McMillin also listened to rank-and-file concerns and sought to help them get legislation passed, lawmakers say.
"When lawmakers have certain strengths, these kinds of flaws are not given significant weight," said David Orentlicher, a former Democratic lawmaker who now teaches law at Indiana University. "Then something like this happens and people realize you pay a price for not being more scrupulous."
Democrats made ethics a campaign issue against McMillin in 2010 when they ran TV ads attacking him over the relationship he had with a domestic violence victim. McMillin resigned as a prosecutor just weeks after he withdrew from the case. The woman sued him for legal malpractice the following year, but eventually dropped the suit.
McMillin said in court documents that the relationship was voluntary and started after he left the prosecutor's staff. But the woman said in a sworn affidavit that the relationship began before that, and that he had courted her. She claimed the two texted cellphone pictures of each other that were "sexual in nature."
These ethics issues did not come up in the closed-door elections for majority leader last November and his candidacy was not questioned when Bosma included him in his preferred choices for leadership roles, said Rep. Ron Bacon, R-Chandler.
"No one contested the team," Bacon said, adding that previous leadership elections were similar.
Bosma noted that McMillin had broad support and insisted his selection was "not by coronation of the Speaker." He said the GOP looked into the Ohio relationship and felt comfortable defending McMillin when he first ran for the seat.
Ober said the next majority leader will likely have more years of experience.
"I'm looking for someone who has been around and has a good long history," he said.