On Saturday morning I was having breakfast with a few political friends, when I had gotten word that Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White might be stepping down. As someone who trades in political gossip and rumor, this was good stuff. Let’s face it. The Friday news conference outside the Hamilton County Courthouse was not one of White’s finer moments. And his chief of Staff, Sean Keefer, has turned in resignation the same day. And from everything I’ve been able to gather, that news conference was the reason why. I immediately sent White a text message and threw that information up on Twitter. Within five minutes I heard back from White telling me he was neither stepping down nor stepping aside. A few minutes later he called and so we talked for about 30 minutes.
White did not talk about the facts of the case, simply once again repeating that he was innocent and there’s a lot more information out there that will back him up. He also said he had no concerns that that Friday’s news conference would hurt his case. And that the office could function, despite his indictment. He declined to comment on why Keefer stepped down. Nor would he comment on the news that his Press Secretary, Jason Thomas, may be resigning on Monday. He did say the office’s other 75 employees are doing a great job serving the people of Indiana.
White spent quite a bit of time disputing the claim that the Indiana Secretary of State is the “Chief Election Officer”. He said most of those election functions are carried out at the County level and most of what the Office does is ministerial in nature.
He did admit to being out of his main office a couple days last week, but said one day he worked from home and the other day he spent in the Securities Division, which is in the Government Center. When I asked if he will be back in the office Monday he said, “Yes, I love my job and I love coming into work. I’m a fighter and I’m not going anywhere.” He also expressed concern that the ordeal was having on his family.
When we concluded our conversation and I was going through my notes, I tried to run through my mind an analogy that would fit all this. I wanted to keep the Charlie Sheen/Japanese nuclear reactor meltdown references down to a bear minimum if at all. And I all I could come away with was your typical Shakespeare character, whose drive, determination and ability to focus on one thing, bring him to power, but those same character traits are what become his downfall.
I understand wanting to fight. If I was in White’s shoes I’d mount a vigorous defense as well, but there are different ways to do it. And I’m not convinced that White can successfully fend off his charges and carry out his duties at the same time as Secretary of State. I’m not sure anyone could do that in that position. This is part of the reason why the law allows the Chief Deputy Secretary of State to take over should the elected officeholder temporarily step down. That fact also ties into some speculation as to why Keefer may have resigned. In addition to being upset about White’s performance on Friday during his news conference, a number of Republicans have expressed concerns about him taking over the office since he was White’s campaign manager and Keefer taking over the office would not have done much to quell the controversy. In fact, it would have only added to it.
At the end of our 30-minute chat, I am more convinced than ever that White should temporarily abdicate his office and turn it over to the acting chief Deputy Secretary of State. He should fight the charges and if the grand jury did not get the whole story and there are boxes of documents that will prove his innocence then he should be back by the end of the year. But there’s no reason to try and fight this kind of war on two fronts. It never ends well, and sometimes when you win, you still lose. There’s no reason to take this almost Shakespearean tragedy and make it worse.