I find myself teaching this simple lesson with more enthusiasm lately: elected positions in American government exist as opportunities to serve. “Yea, yea, old man, we know that” is often the expression I see on the faces of my students when I start. Occasionally, one of them might actually say it out loud.
Students are usually reluctant to school the teacher that way. Good thing. Mainly because this is not that simple anymore.
When I was a young state employee and was learning my way around the Indiana Government Center, I recall wondering why anyone would want to be the Indiana Secretary of State. To me, especially way back in the mid-1990’s, and before my thirtieth birthday, I couldn’t think of anything more boring than the “chartering of new businesses,” or the “commissioning of notaries public.” Forget about the oversight of state elections too. That would be like wanting to be a referee in the NFL. No one ever celebrates the lowly football referee, and I feel strongly about this, no one ever should.
In 2022, hiring a new secretary of state is upon Indiana voters, and the historically business-as-usual decision is anything but that. Oversight of elections is just about as serious and under threat as it has been since the post-Civil War era. The once perfunctory role has become a battleground for the commitment to honestly count the votes and abide by the honest results.
No longer is the job a resumé builder, but it could well be the job that matters most. Who would have ever dreamt that could be true?
Diego Morales, as the Republican Party’s nominee, has struggled with questions about his resumé, including specifics of his military service record. James Briggs of the Indianapolis Star and Adam Wren of Politico have both reported and written about Morales’s career, which includes issues with his veteran status and departure from the Secretary of State’s office he seeks to represent twice before.
All three candidates have military service in their backgrounds, with Democrat Destiny Wells a Lt. Colonel in the Army National Guard, having enlisted 19 years ago while a student at Indiana University. She deployed to Afghanistan in 2016-17.
There’s that word again: service. Wanting to be Indiana’s Secretary of State requires a primary desire to serve, really serve, in that role. And to do it without an eye on the next thing, or any number of other things, is what this time in our history requires also.
Morales has sought public office before, losing in the primary running for Indiana’s CD-4 in 2018. As a candidate for secretary of state, he initially rejected the 2020 presidential election results, calling it a “scam,” according to the Associated Press. He has since said President Biden is the legitimate president.
Wells, who announced her candidacy for secretary of state in January, told the Indiana Capital Chronicle that the 2020 election was not stolen and peddling that theory is a threat to democracy.
Libertarian Jeff Maurer announced his campaign in August 2021 and is currently serving a six-year commitment in the Indiana Air National Guard. He is a development officer for an international Libertarian nonprofit with experience in the technology industry. He has expressed doubts about the 2020 election, saying he accepts the results though it is hard to prove it was right.
Both Wells and Maurer have never run for office before.
The secretary of state is a service job of vital importance at this moment. In my view, a primary part of the service is to do the things that raise confidence in our voting systems. A necessary component to accomplish that goal would seem to be the need for the chief oversight officer to believe in it themselves.
Raising confidence in our electoral processes is easier when we have confidence in the qualifications of those we put in charge. It shouldn’t be a partisan decision to choose who is best suited for a job that is charged with being fair.
National polling data would indicate that many Americans believe that our democracy is at risk. For many of us, an assumption has been made that our way of governing is too established to significantly erode. Or, as was once erroneously presumed in certain financial markets, it is too big to fail. That is simply incorrect. It takes a commitment to public service for our system to survive.
One of Indiana’s great statesmen, U.S. Representative Lee Hamilton once said that “the best medicine for cynicism is involvement” and I couldn’t agree more.