Indianapolis, 8 May 2008: After I concluded an interview with Indiana’s Gov. Mitch Daniels, his political operative Cam Savage took me out on the lawn of the state capitol and introduced me to two lobbyists. To no one’s surprise, we started talking about that day’s presidential primary in the Hoosier State.
Suddenly, we were interrupted by shouts of “Mr. Gizzi! Mr. Gizzi!” as a gentleman in a business suit dashed across the lawn to join us. Savage and the lobbyists were startled to find someone hailing me by name in Indianapolis, especially when they saw who it was: Todd Rokita, Indiana’s two-term Secretary of State.
“I was his intern back in ’92,” the Republican Rokita breathlessly recalled to the group. He began regaling them with stories of my office, piled high with newspapers and files, and featuring ashtrays full of half-smoked Camels (Rokita and Savage were happy when I told them that I’d quit smoking in 2002).
When I spoke to Rokita last week as U.S. Representative-elect from Indiana’s 4th District, he was busily planning his campaign to secure one of the two spots reserved for freshmen on the House GOP Steering Committee (the 33-Member panel that selects the committee assignments for House Members).
“Young Man in a Hurry”
To say the least, the Wabash College graduate had come a long way since his internship at HUMAN EVENTS and a subsequent internship with his state’s Republican Sen. Dan Coats, who returned to the Senate this November after 12 years in a dramatic comeback.
After earning his law degree at Indiana University, Rokita spent five years in private law practice. He went to work for the Indiana Secretary of State, became her top deputy, and then beat four convention opponents and a Democrat in November to become the youngest secretary of state in the nation. As his state’s top elections officer, Rokita sculpted a bill requiring photo identification as a requirement to vote. The Indiana legislature enacted it, opponents filed suit, and it was argued all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld it.
Ever the passionate “small government conservative,” Rokita reminds all that his office is operating on a 1987 budget, unadjusted for inflation, “and we have no more employees than we did in the early 1980’s.”
When nine-term Rep. Steve Buyer (R–Ind.) announced his surprise retirement this year, Rokita declared his candidacy for his 4th District seat. With help from campaign quarterback Savage, he rolled up 43% of the vote over thirteen opponents in the GOP primary. Last month, the 40-year-old Rokita took the election with 69% of the vote—the highest victory margin of any Indiana GOP House Member.
“Right now, I’m one of four congressmen[-elect] running for the two freshmen seats on the Steering Committee,” Rokita told me after emerging from a meeting of House Republican freshmen in Baltimore, sponsored by the conservative FreedomWorks group. He noted that, with his election in the fall assured, he had given more than $50,000 to fellow House hopefuls directly and through the National Republican Congressional Committee and had raised $100,000 separately for candidates.
I mentioned to Rokita a lunch I’d had earlier that day with a colleague, who wondered whether House Republicans would compromise if Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate went part of the way.
“On what?” he said, “If he wants to extend the tax cuts on the highest incomes for two years, would I go along with it? Not at all. No, I’m committed to bringing down taxes permanently for everyone and to repealing the Democratic health care. The American people do not want more money spent by government or more money taken from them. So there will be no compromising on these two issues at all.”
Assuming that a Republican House could pass repeal of “ObamaCare” only to have the repeal thwarted in the Senate, I asked how Rokita would feel about his “no-compromise” stand then?
“The American people know more about process than ever before, so a House repeal would demonstrate to the American people who has their interest in heart,” said the congressman-elect, “and who’s on their side and who is not—a watered-down Senate and a Socialist President. And please print that!”
More than the critical issues he will deal with in a few weeks as U.S. Representative, Rokita is concerned about oversight in the next Congress. Reminding me that he had served as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State in 2007-’08, the Hoosier conservative said, “a secretary of state is a referee and an honest broker for people in terms of regulation. With Nancy Pelosi’s power soundly diminished and [Senate Democratic Leader] Harry Reid[’s] weakened, Obama will try to do more through the agencies to advance his socialist agenda. So it will be the duty of Republicans in Congress to increase oversight tremendously. That’s where my experience in Indianapolis will be most useful.”
Not only is Todd Rokita a young man in a hurry, he is also a strategic thinker who understands the importance of a long-term agenda and a long-term fight for conservative issues. In that sense, he shows every sign of becoming a leader in the next step of his lightning political career.
And, yes, he now calls me “John” and not “Mr. Gizzi”—and I call him “Congressman.”