Former Pence aide clears up doubts about Indiana’s post-election bid

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A former aide to Mike Pence sidesteps earlier support for tougher voting restrictions and doubts about the 2020 presidential vote as he tries to avoid turmoil in his campaign for what would typically be a little-noticed election victory for a Republican seeking Indiana. high office of elections.

Since Diego Morales beat Indiana’s current secretary of state for the GOP nomination in June, he has given little explanation for dropping his criticism of early and mail-in voting while Democrats slam Morales as one of many Republican « election deniers » seeking to win state offices across the country.

Indiana Democrats, who last won a statewide race a decade ago, see a chance to defeat Morales in the Nov. 8 election. They point out that he twice quit low-level secretary of state posts after being criticized for poor job performance and questions about whether he overemphasized his military service.

Morales largely focuses his campaign on appearances at county Republican events and local festivals, brushing off criticism. He did not join candidate forums with Democrat Destiny Wells and Libertarian Jeff Mauer and skipped a debate last week with them that aired on Indiana’s public television stations.

Wells said Morales was « sowing seeds of fear and doubt » about the election and that the secretary of state should focus on improving Indiana’s problems with low voter turnout.

« I think Diego is being very dishonest where the secretary of state has to take Indiana on electoral reforms, » ​​Wells said. « We don’t need to make it harder to vote to make it safer and he only wants to make it harder by reducing the opportunities to vote. »

Ahead of Morales’ victory at the June Republican convention over current Secretary of State Holli Sullivan, he wrote an online column in which he called the 2020 election a « scam » while pointing out unsubstantiated claims by former President Donald Trump and his allies about other states. He called for voter restrictions that included halving Indiana’s 28-day early voting period, eliminating several reasons people can apply for mail-in ballots, requiring new voters to prove their US citizenship during registration and the creation of an « election task force » that would investigate the « schemes ».

His single-page campaign website included no mention of such plans, and they do not appear in his frequent social media posts greeting voters.

When asked in an interview to explain his changes, Morales didn’t give a straight answer.

“When I travel all 92 counties, I have listened to all of the Hoosiers, including the county clerks, and I have meetings with them and I think early voting works and it will continue to be the same” , Morales told The Associated Press. .

Indiana’s Office of the Secretary of State oversees statewide electoral politics, which is conducted by elected county officials under laws enacted by the Republican-dominated Legislature. Winning the GOP nomination for the job equates to an election victory, as Republicans have won by double-digit percentages in six of the last seven times he has been on the ballot.

Morales, 43, leans heavily on his life story of immigrating from Guatemala with his parents and sisters, completing high school in the southern Indiana town of Sellersburg, and then moving to go to college at Indiana University Southeast and enlist in the military before becoming a US citizen.

Morales briefly served as secretary of state in 2009 and 2011 until he earned poor performance marks that the AP first reported during his unsuccessful 2018 bid for a seat. in the Indiana Congress. He returned to state government as an aide to Pence’s governor’s staff for four years until Pence left to become Trump’s vice president in 2017. Other Pence staffers have defended his work and Pence spoke at a fundraiser for the Morales campaign last week.

His campaign’s social media pages feature photos of Morales in a camouflage uniform and videos highlighting his service as an Army infantryman.

Military records released by the Morales campaign, however, show that he completed approximately 3½ months of Army infantry training in 2007 and was transferred to the Indiana National Guard. Records show that Morales left the National Guard in 2013 without advancing beyond his initial specialist rank or undergoing additional military training.

Morales said he was proud of his military service but declined to discuss it in detail.

“My reasoning for joining is just to give back,” he said. « I believe I signed a blank check to be ready, if necessary, for this great country. »

Morales also declined to say why he never sought promotion or was not activated when his National Guard unit was deployed to Iraq in 2008.

“Feel free to call the National Guard or the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense. I’m sure they would explain all of this to you,” Morales said. “You can call them because they are the experts. , they will tell you every detail about it. So the proof is there that I am honorably discharged and I am very proud of it.

A spokesperson for the Indiana National Guard, however, responded that the only information permitted to be released under military regulations are records regarding « service status, character of discharge, length of service, awards, education and professional specialty ».

Democratic candidate Wells, a 38-year-old lawyer, has released records of her service in the military since 2004, including her promotion to her current rank of lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, her stint as as an intelligence officer and his active duty deployment to Afghanistan in 2017. .

Wells brings the discussion of military service back to what she calls an erosion of women’s rights with the statewide abortion ban approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature. Wells said the action resulted from the full control Republicans now have over state government and that greater balance between the two parties is needed.

« I’ve been to the ends of the Earth to protect the notion of democracy abroad, to protect women abroad in third world countries so that they have rights like ours guaranteed, » Wells said. . « But now I’m at home and I see my own rights taken away. »

Tom Davies, The Associated Press


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