Indiana Sec of State Connie Lawson’s eligibility for reelection challenged a second time

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Connie Lawson
61st Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson,

The eligibility of Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson to run for reelection is being challenged before the Indiana Election Commission for a second time tomorrow. According to the complaint, having already served as Secretary of State for six years Lawson should be prevented from running again by Indiana’s eight year term limits for statewide offices.

Connie Lawson: when did she become Secretary of State?

Connie Lawson was appointed Secretary of State for Indiana in 2012 by then Governor Mitch Daniels following the expulsion of her predecessor Charlie White. After being successfully elected for a full four year term in 2014, she is now seeking reelection in 2018. If she were to serve another full four-year term, she would be in office a total of ten years – more than the maximum eight years in twelve allowed in the Indiana Constitution.

In a previous challenge on the same issue, Lawson’s legal team argued that the first two years she served following the appointment were on a pro tempore basis. In another section of the Indiana Constitution, pro tempore service does not count towards term limitations.

But was Connie Lawson actually serving for two years as Secretary of State pro tempore?

Pro tempore is a Latin term that literally means “for the time.” According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the most widely used legal dictionary in the United States, pro tempore is defined as “For the time being; temporarily; provisionally.”

The Latin phrase is commonly used in the US Senate and State Senate chambers, where a Senator will serve as President pro tempore (or “pro tem”) when the Vice President or Lieutenant Governor is not present. It is also used in some courts when a judge pro tempore presides briefly when a judge is away. In both instances, those serving pro tempore do so on a provisional basis until the full office holder returns.

There does not seem to be any general legal definition in Indiana law as what counts as pro tempore service and what does not. Connie Lawson’s assertion that she served as Secretary of State for two years merely on an interim, temporary basis is not supported by any documentation that News Growl could find, however. Quite the opposite, actually.

Connie Lawson’s pro tempore status

The 2012 official announcement by Governor Mitch Daniels of Connie Lawson’s appointment makes no reference to her status being temporary or provisional. In fact, Governor Daniels goes out of his way to stress what a fantastic choice Lawson is for the role.

“Connie was an obvious choice. Indiana has probably never been served by a Secretary of State better prepared on day one,” he enthused.

Governor Daniels also thanks Jerry Bonnet for having served as “interim” Secretary of State. Bonnet had served on a temporary basis during the few weeks following Charlie White’s expulsion before Lawson’s appointment.

Regarding Lawson’s appointment, no qualification of her status (temporary, interim, pro tempore, etc.) is mentioned whatsoever. That makes sense, as Daniels considered Lawson possibly the most qualified Secretary of State in Indiana history. Why would he appoint her only on a pro tempore basis?

The argument that Lawson’s appointment was temporary could actually be interpreted as an attack on Governor Daniels himself. For this line of reasoning to be accepted, Daniels would be accused of appointing a second consecutive temporary Secretary of State and then failing to fill a key government office with a permanent replacement for two years.

Whatever Governor Daniels’ intentions, it appears Connie Lawson herself considered her 2012 appointment to be permanent at the time.

Within months of her appointment, Lawson opened a Twitter account, describing herself in her bio as “Indiana’s 61st Secretary of State.”

Connie Lawson's official twitter account circa October 2012
Connie Lawson’s official twitter account bio circa October 2012

Charlie White was Indiana’s 60th Secretary of State, so Lawson can only be counted the 61st if pro tempore Secretary of State Jerry Bonnet’s service is not counted.

In other words, Connie Lawson does not consider Bonnet worthy of being considered a full former Secretary of State, but did count her own service (under appointment) as the real deal. If her first two years of service were truly pro tempore because of her appointment, she should have waited until after the 2014 election to promote herself as the 61st Secretary of State.

But she did not wait, and the Twitter bio was not the only instance of this claim either.

Lawson also called herself 61st Secretary of State on her 2014 campaign website (published during a time when she was still serving only under appointment).

And after her 2014 election, Lawson celebrated on Twitter that she was returning to the role as full Secretary of State (not beginning it for the first time).

The challenges to Connie Lawson’s eligibility

A first challenge to Lawson’s eligibility was filed with the Indian Election Commission by Indiana political activist Andrew Horning in July. Horning was unable to attend the hearing, which was scheduled during a weekday on short notice. In his absence, and without hearing his argument, the Commission found in favor of the Secretary of State.

At that hearing, Lawson’s attorney William Barrett argued the initial appointment was pro tempore, saying, “The scope of any governor’s authority, the duration of it is only to fill the unexpired term. This fits the dictionary definition of pro tempore.”

News Growl has been unable to find any dictionary that has a definition similar to the one Barrett cited. We have also reached out to Barrett for explanation but as of publication he has not responded.

A few days ago a second challenge on the same grounds was filed by Earle Benton Tackitt III. Tackitt is unavailable to attend tomorrow’s hearing, but he has invited Andrew Horning to present his challenge in his absence. Horning hopes that now given the chance to present an argument, he can persuade the Indiana Election Commission to overturn their initial ruling.

While some will undoubtedly challenge Horning’s motivation, he has confirmed to News Growl that his only interest is supporting the Indiana Constitution and the rule of law.

“I’m a constitutionalist,” he said. “This is only one example of the continuous expansion of political powers and reduction of citizen powers and rights by unconstitutional legislation.”

Horning, like Lawson, is currently a member of the Republican party. Previously he has run for office as a Libertarian, but does not feel much love for either institution.

“I really don’t like parties, actually” he told News Growl.

The hearing is scheduled for 11am on Friday August 17th at the Indiana Government Center South, room E-204, in Indianapolis.

Secretary of State Connie Lawson, former interim Secretary of State Jerry Bonnet, and former Governor Mitch Daniels were invited to contribute to this article but did not reply to emails. A spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office did respond, but only to refer us to Connie Lawson’s reelection campaign (who in turn did not respond). 

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