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EDITORIAL: Republicans miss an opportunity

August 6, 2016

Indiana Republicans seem to have a knack for choosing good candidates to run for lieutenant governor. If only the state GOP were better at letting its best talent rise to the very top.

By most accounts, state Auditor Suzanne Crouch is a good choice to serve as Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Holcomb’s running mate. Crouch, who was appointed auditor by Gov. Mike Pence in 2014 and elected to the position later that year, was previously a state representative and local government official. Besides having demonstrated the ability to win elections, she’s considered by most to be a sharp, collaborative elected leader.

Similarly, Sue Ellspermann, who ran with Mike Pence and was elected lieutenant governor in 2012, was a highly regarded former state representative before joining the statewide Republican ticket. Ellspermann was considered a steady hand in a Pence administration marked by controversy. When she resigned earlier this year to pursue the presidency of Ivy Tech Community College, political insiders said it was because she and Pence clashed over fundraising, campaign tactics and the governor’s embrace of divisive social issues.

All that came after Becky Skillman, a former state senator and local official, served eight years as Mitch Daniels’ lieutenant governor. She opted not to run for governor for what she said were “minor” medical issues, although the decision came as Republican leaders appeared to be coalescing behind Pence.

Though Hoosier Republicans are fortunate to have people the caliber of Crouch, Ellspermann and Skillman available to run for statewide office, the party faithful might legitimately ask why such talent never seems to rise to the top.

The question is especially timely after GOP officials late last month chose Holcomb, who replaced Ellspermann as lieutenant governor, to run for governor after Pence was tapped to be Donald Trump’s vice presidential nominee.

Pence, who had been engaged in a tough rematch with Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg, endorsed Holcomb to take his place. Party officials listened, even though Holcomb has never won an election and hadn’t held public office until being appointed lieutenant governor.

In choosing Holcomb, Republicans passed over 5th District U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, who would have been the first woman to lead the Indiana Republican ticket. Brooks was favored by moderate Republicans, who saw her as the person most likely to be an effective nuts-and-bolts governor who could mend party divisions caused by Pence’s focus on divisive social issues.

Choosing Brooks seemed like a no-brainer. But Holcomb, well-liked and well-known among party operatives, got the nod. Once a top aide to former Gov. Mitch Daniels and U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, Holcomb earlier this year ran to become the Republican nominee for Coats’ Senate seat, but his campaign got no traction and he dropped out of the race early.

In choosing Holcomb over Brooks, state Republicans lost an opportunity to both heal the party and elevate an experienced, respected woman to the top of the ticket.•

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