INDIANAPOLIS — The Republican-controlled General Assembly next year is unlikely to try to remove from office Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. in connection with allegations that he drunkenly groped four women March 15 at a capital city bar.
Instead, lawmakers may act to prevent Hill from seeking a second term in 2020 by making the position of Indiana attorney general governor-appointed, rather than elected by Hoosier voters.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, told reporters Monday that he's essentially ruled out pursuing Hill's impeachment, calling it an "unneeded distraction" during the four-month period starting in January when other issues, such as school safety and state spending, will be paramount at the Statehouse.
"My honest opinion on this is it will be such a distraction. It would be all we did this session," Bosma said.
Nevertheless, Bosma indicated that if a state representative files an impeachment resolution — as three Democrats already have vowed to do — it will be referred to a House committee and proceed like any other legislative proposal.
"It will be up to the members of the General Assembly to determine if the facts on the table warrant that type of extraordinary treatment," Bosma said. "I personally think probably not. But we'll see."
The only impeachment under the current Indiana Constitution came in 1927, when the House voted to sanction a Ku Klux Klan-affiliated judge from Muncie.
The Senate, however, declined to follow through and remove the judge from office, according to state records.
Bosma said the limited procedural precedent and the seemingly conflicting impeachment processes outlined by the Constitution likely would complicate any attempt to remove Hill from office.
Hill has been accused of inappropriately touching the backs and/or buttocks of four women, including state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, at a late-night party following the end of the 2018 legislative session.
A special prosecutor last month declined to file criminal charges against Hill, though the women are pursuing civil remedies.
Hill repeatedly has denied doing anything wrong.
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Kevin Brinegar, CEO of the influential Indiana Chamber of Commerce, announced Monday that the state's leading business organization will press the Legislature in January to make attorney general a governor-appointed position, instead of elected.
He said the proposed change is not targeted at Hill specifically, but is based on the chamber's belief that "the attorney general should be the governor's lawyer and represent the executive branch."
"We've had several in a row now that sort-of had their own agenda and gone off in different directions," Brinegar said.
Bosma's initial reaction to that idea was a single word: "Awkward."
He later said he doesn't oppose the policy — "But the message that might send right now would be one that I think would not be well-received, perhaps by the public as well, and certainly by certain elected officials."
Indeed, Hill promptly noted in a statement that 43 of the nation's 50 state attorneys general are chosen by the citizens of their states.
"We have a rich tradition in our democratic republic of respecting the people’s wisdom in choosing their leaders," Hill said.
"There will always be those who prefer to concentrate the levers of government in the hands of a powerful few, but I believe most Hoosiers value the freedom of electing their public servants by casting ballots."
Senate Majority Leader Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, said he doesn't think lawmakers will act to make Indiana attorney general a governor-appointed position, despite last year agreeing to convert the state superintendent of public instruction to an appointed post.
"It's always best for the governor and the attorney general to be ideologically on the same path," Messmer said. "It's an issue that at some point down the road can be considered, but it probably won't happen right now."
A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said the state's chief executive has not contemplated Indiana having a governor-appointed attorney general.