Democrat Jonathan Weinzapfel On Attorney General's Office, Health Care And Police Reform

Oct 16, 2020

Jonathan Weinzapfel looks to become the first Democrat to win the attorney general's office since 1996.
Credit Alan Mbathi / IPB News

There’s a brighter-than-usual spotlight on the race for Indiana Attorney General this year, mostly because of a person who’s not in the race – the current AG Curtis Hill. Hill’s sexual misconduct while in office led to Republicans choosing a new candidate, former U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita.

Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Brandon Smith sat down with the Democratic candidate, Jonathan Weinzapfel, to talk about the race’s big issues and how he’d approach the job differently than its current occupant.

Brandon Smith: As you step into the office of attorney general if you win this race, what do you differently? What is your priority, in terms of changing how that office is run?

Jonathan Weinzapfel: I had the opportunity to talk to some former deputy attorneys general. You know, what they have told me is that his ethical issues have been a huge distraction. His real focus on some partisan, national issues has been a real distraction. There really hasn’t been a focus on Indiana and I think what I would offer is something completely different. I’m not interested in getting Indiana involved in national lawsuits. I’m not interested in playing the D.C. political games. I’m only going to get involved if it has a direct impact on Hoosiers.

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Smith: The lawsuit that Indiana, led by Curtis Hill, is involved in trying to permanently strike down, across the board, the Affordable Care Act – what do you see as the future of health care as it relates to how you would lead as attorney general?

Weinzapfel: First and foremost, we’ll pull Indiana out of that lawsuit on day one. I think, symbolically, it’s important to stand up and say, 'This is not good policy. This is simply just about someone’s partisan political agenda.' Killing the ACA would have a profound impact on Hoosiers. We’re talking about 2.7 million who have some type of pre-existing condition – whether that’s high blood pressure, diabetes, a positive test for coronavirus. That means you, if Todd Rokita and Curtis Hill are successful, that means these individuals are going to have a very difficult time finding insurance in the future. Or they’re going to have to pay exorbitant rates. In addition, you have 550,000 Hoosiers who have received health care through the expansion of the Healthy Indiana Plan, which was enabled under the Affordable Care Act. These are folks who are going to immediately lose their insurance, right in the middle of a global pandemic. This makes zero sense and frankly, I find it unconscionable.

Smith: There’s perhaps nothing that has dominated headlines over this year, obviously, more than COVID-19. What would you do as attorney general to confront this pandemic?

Weinzapfel: Probably one of the more important things that has transpired over this last several months is the governor’s public, statewide mask order, right? Curtis Hill issued an advisory opinion basically saying that he doesn’t have the legal authority to do that. My opponent, Todd Rokita, says we ought to just have the legislature deal with it. Frankly, I’m the only one who stood up and actually supported the Republican governor because, frankly, we have to get this virus under control. You know, the consumer protection division, I think, would be incredibly important as we’re protecting seniors from fraud and abuse. Also, the Medicaid fraud division, making sure we’re holding nursing homes accountable.

Smith: How do you see your role in the discussion around police reform and what would you push for?

Weinzapfel: We have to give law enforcement the utmost respect and, frankly, they need to be involved in these discussions. But with that, I think we ought to start with what the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus has put on the table; I think there are some good ideas there. I think several things we ought to be doing is requiring police officers throughout the state to wear body cams.

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Smith: I think a lot of people don’t know or misunderstand what the office of the attorney general does. What do you see as the most important duty of the attorney general?

Weinzapfel: Basically, it is to be the people’s attorney. But it means representing the people. Especially in this case, with coronavirus, making sure we’re protecting them – protecting their health care, protecting their wages, trying to create a better future for them. There are a lot of people that say, 'Well, let’s get back to normal.' Well, there’s no going back. Life has changed dramatically and what this creates is an opportunity for us to really shape our future, right? And I’d like to be a part of those discussions in leading Indiana to a place where there’s greater opportunity and that we have a more just and fair system for everybody.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.