INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Rep. Todd Rokita has started a new feud in Indiana’s bitter Republican
Senate primary, attacking a rival - whom he calls “Tax Hike Mike” Braun -
over the former state lawmaker’s vote for a GOP-backed infrastructure plan
that raised fuel taxes.
The issue offers
considerable upside for Rokita, who is trying to present himself as a
conservative outsider despite nearly 20 years in elected office. There’s
just one problem: It wasn’t long ago that Rokita called for the same kind of
That opens Rokita
up to charges of hypocrisy as he campaigns against Braun, fellow Republican
Rep. Luke Messer and several others. Already he’s been accused of a
willingness to do - or say - anything to win the race that will decide who
faces Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly next year.
attacked Mike Braun for supporting a permanent solution to fix Indiana’s
roads and bridges,” said Braun spokesman Josh Kelley. “It is typical of
career politicians like Todd Rokita to say one thing and do another.”
infrastructure became a political fiasco in August 2015. An Interstate 65
bridge in Rokita’s district sank several inches, forcing a month-long
emergency closure. As traffic snarled and accidents piled up, Rokita weighed
in on the issue during an interview with Indianapolis radio host Abdul
been 19 or 20 states that have raised their gas tax, because the federal
government won’t, and as a result are going to have a better
infrastructure,” Rokita told Hakim-Shabazz, a conservative commentator. “And
by the way, I don’t know of a politician that’s been unelected for that yet.
So, I encourage all those in elective office - from the federal, to the
state, to the local level - to look at these ideas.”
That’s exactly what
Braun and his fellow Republicans who dominate the Indiana Statehouse did
this year with their plan that increases fuel taxes by a dime-a-gallon while
raising dozens of fees. Once fully phased in, it’s projected to raise $1.2
billion a year.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has barnstormed the state promoting road and
bridge work that is underway. And many Republicans, including GOP Speaker
Brian Bosma, said it’s a responsible way to pay for much-needed road repairs
after years of tax cuts elsewhere.
That hasn’t stopped
Rokita, whose aides have whispered for months about Braun’s tax vote. More
recently, those attacks became overt against the independently wealthy
candidate, who stepped down from the Legislature in October to run a largely
self-financed Senate bid.
“Hey Tax Hike Mike,
authoring the largest tax hike in state history is not ‘living conservative
values,’” Rokita campaign spokesman Nathan Brand tweeted Thursday. “It just
makes you another tax & spend establishment politician.”
said there is more nuance to his beliefs than reflected in the 13-minute
interview with Hakim-Shabazz that was devoted to infrastructure funding
issues. They also argue - accurately - that lawmakers sat on a nearly $2
billion budget surplus when they raised taxes.
Still, the state’s
Rainy Day fund would be drained before accomplishing a fraction of the road
work planned. The surplus was also touted by Vice President Mike Pence as
fiscally prudent and necessary when he was still Indiana’s governor.
Many of the same
concepts Rokita discussed favorably in his interview - like imposing tolls,
or making those who use roads most pay for them through increased gas taxes
- either were adopted, or are being considered by Statehouse Republicans.
But in what’s
already proved to be an intense campaign, Rokita appears to be betting that
many GOP voters either won’t pay attention, or won’t care, about his
“Todd Rokita has
never voted to raise gas taxes,” Brand said in a statement Friday. “By
contrast, even with a $2 billion dollar surplus ... Mike Braun voted to
raise taxes and fees 45 times in 2017, including the $1 billion tax hike on
Hoosiers he continues to celebrate.”