Indiana Senate Candidate’s Own Staff Couldn’t Stand Him

Darron Cummings/AP
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Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) has long had a reputation around Indiana and the U.S. Capitol for sharp elbows and a short temper. Now, some his own former staffers are going (semi)-public to criticize his temperament as he looks for a big promotion.

Rokita is running in the GOP primary against fellow Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) and others for the right to face Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) next year. But 10 of his former staffers talked to the Associated Press about what a difficult boss he was, with examples that make him appear more than a little petty and vindictive.

“Todd’s a hard boss to work for. He’s got some staff turnover issues,” Tony Will, who was a constituent service representative for Rokita for nearly three years and the only one who went on record to talk about his old boss for the story, told the AP. “But he is a very hard worker.”

Examples of why Rokita was “a hard boss to work for” include his decision to dock workers’ pay for minor errors, forcing a staffer to leave a meeting to clean his car and scrub its carpets because a volunteer with B.O. problems had been in the car the night before, and his repeated outbursts of fury and belittling of staff for minor decisions like what route to take to an event — or even where to park. He fired at least two staffers when they told him they were quitting, and multiple staffers were reduced to tears, they told the AP on background.

Rokita, unsurprisingly, has been known to have rapid staff turnover in D.C. — and an AP analysis confirms this, finding twice as much staff turnover in his office as the average Indiana congressman’s.

The lawmaker didn’t save his wrath for just his staff (or the numerous Republicans in the state who’ve long viewed him as a prideful hothead and have long looked to sandbag his political aspirations).

He blew up in front of a class of high schoolers because they hadn’t been taught about “American Exceptionalism” and berated their teacher for not including it in the curriculum, according to the report.

“Mr. Rokita got very angry and said, ’You have an American congressman in your class, what are you doing?’” Marcus Kidwell, 19, a Donald Trump supporter who was a senior at the time, told the AP. “He seems like a pretty hot-headed guy. That disappointed me because he’s a Republican and I was pretty excited to meet him.”

Rokita’s treatment of staff had already made embarrassing headlines recently when an eight-page memo describing in meticulous detail what to do when chauffeuring him around the district leaked to Politico. That memo included emptying the trash and always having coffee ready for him, as well as not interrupting him with “unnecessary conversation.”

Rokita’s response to the AP: “I have a lot of great employees, and I demand excellence and hard work of them, and myself … Hoosiers who break their backs putting in 12 and 14 hour days to provide for their families should expect the elected officials and public servants they are paying to work just as hard.”

Early polls have found a tight race between Rokita and Messer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.
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