Ousted candidates say they're committed to removing Duckworth as GOP chair

EVANSVILLE — Making a day of reckoning for Vanderburgh County Republican Chairman Mike Duckworth actually happen would demand patience and persistence from those who seek his removal.

Duckworth is at war with party conservatives enflamed by his use of Indiana's "two-primaries" law to remove their candidates from the May 7 GOP primary ballot while giving waivers to violators of the law who he does support. It's all legal, but Duckworth's crticis believe the GOP was needlessly divided by the chairman's decision to waiver in an otherwise ineligible challenger for longtime Republican County Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave.

They also didn't like his complaints that got three of his most prominent intraparty critics − Michael Daugherty, Ken Colbert and Cheryl Batteiger-Smith − banned from seeking office as Republicans for five-plus years, just 27 days after they won intraparty elections. It happened June 3.

More: GOP official: Party rules more important than votes for 3 who were banned

Duckworth has said repeatedly that these Republicans are not good party members and are too critical of GOP leaders. In turn, Daugherty, Colbert and Batteiger-Smith have vowed to seek the necessary two-thirds of precinct committee members and vice committeemen to remove Duckworth before his term expires in March.

But it won't be easy.

According to Indiana Republican State Committee rules, the first thing that has to happen is a meeting of the "County Committee" — elected and appointed GOP precinct committee members and the vice committee members that they appoint. Given that Vanderburgh County has 135 voting precincts, that's potentially as many as 270 people.

But it wouldn't be up to Duckworth alone to call such a meeting, something he would be unlikely to do anyway.

It could be called, according to the rules, "upon notice signed by at least twenty-five percent (25%) of the members of the County Committee." But they have to have been members for "at least thirty (30) days prior to the meeting date (whether elected or appointed)."

The 84 precinct committee candidates who were elected in the primary after being recruited by anti-Duckworth conservatives were certified by the Vanderburgh County Election Board on May 15. But the rules say they have to have been in office for 30 days before the meeting date — not the date they took office.

More: Daugherty, Colbert and Batteiger-Smith forbidden to seek office as Republicans until 2030

Anyone collecting signatures to call a meeting to move against Duckworth would have to work relatively quickly. And then bide their time.

"If a meeting is called by members of the County Committee, it must be called within twenty (20) days from the date the first signature is obtained," the rules state. "A notice, signed by every member joining in the call shall be communicated at least ten (10) days in advance of such meeting."

If Duckworth's opponents do make a meeting of precinct committee members and their vice committeemen happen, one of them must then motion to call for a special meeting to consider his removal.

Ken Colbert gives his speech that he will read during the closed hearing set to remove him from the Republican party to the protesters outside The Foundry on Main in Evansville, Ind., Monday, June 3, 2024.
Ken Colbert gives his speech that he will read during the closed hearing set to remove him from the Republican party to the protesters outside The Foundry on Main in Evansville, Ind., Monday, June 3, 2024.

If the motion is adopted by a majority vote, the rules state, "the County Committee shall convene at a date, time, and place set under Rule 4-32." The committee's secretary must first file a notice of the need for a special meeting with Indiana's secretary of state no later than seven days afterward.

So what's Rule 4-32?

Rule 4-32 says a special meeting to consider a party officer's removal would be presided over by the Indiana Republican Party's chairperson. That high-ranking GOP official may be a political ally or friend of the officer whose removal is sought — in this case Duckworth — but he or she would have to set a date, time, and place for the meeting to consider Duckworth's removal.

The state chair would have to notify the precinct committee members and their vice chairs within 10 days after the Indiana secretary of state receives the committee secretary's special meeting notice. The meeting has to be conducted within 30 days of the notice being sent.

It's a lot, but Daugherty and Colbert say they're ready to jump through all the hoops.

"I think within two weeks you could start the process and go through the first step," Daugherty said.

Colbert said following the prescribed steps, no matter how cumbersome they may appear, is necessary.

"We have to," he said. "If for some reason we don't follow all the policies and procedures, then that could be a legal technicality later on."

'This is a thankless job'

Daugherty ran for mayor of Evansville as a Libertarian in 2023, which put him in opposition to GOP mayoral nominee Natalie Rascher. That's a violation of state party rules defining a "Republican in good standing," and it was the primary evidence Duckworth cited to persuade the four-member 8th District Republican Congressional Committee to ban him from seeking office as a Republican until 2030.

Batteiger-Smith ran against Republican State Rep. Wendy McNamara as an independent in 2022, and Colbert was accused of making at least 17 social media posts deemed critical of other Republicans. Colbert also supported Batteiger-Smith's campaign against McNamara.

Duckworth hasn't returned recent messages from the Courier & Press, but he did address how he regards his critics before the May 7 primary election.

Michael Daugherty
Michael Daugherty

They "have done nothing for the Republican Party other than sit back and second-guess and bash people that are out there working for us," Duckworth said. Colbert, he said, seems to spend the bulk of his time attacking other Republicans.

Duckworth said he has spent his own money to promote the party and facilitate its activities.

"This is a thankless job, and anybody that’s ever done it understands that," he said.

Duckworth critics won't be convention delegates

On Thursday, a credentials committee for the June 15 state GOP convention ruled, as Daugherty and Colbert had predicted, that they are not Republicans in good standing and may not be delegates to the convention. They had been elected to those positions, with Daugherty finishing fourth in a field of 24 Republicans seeking 10 seats.

Daugherty said afterward that Republican Party officials will back Duckworth to the hilt no matter what.

"It's the elite that want to stay in control, that's all it is," Daugherty said.

Daugherty and Colbert said they are mulling possible legal actions to fight the 8th District committee's decision to ban them for more than five years — but for now, they said, removing Duckworth remains the objective.

'We don’t have to talk at all about this'

Monday's closed hearings at local GOP headquarters brought about 50 anti-Duckworth protesters who couldn't believe the 8th District committee really would remove Daugherty, Colbert and Batteiger-Smith after they had won elections to serve as precinct committee members.

The trio and their supporters may be vowing that the battle has just begun, but the 8th District GOP officials who banned them say there's no reason to continue any dispute now that they have made their decisions.

Brenda Goff, Posey County-based chair of the committee, would not answer questions about the support Daugherty, Colbert and Batteiger-Smith garnered from Republican voters in the May 7 GOP primary.

"At this point, we hope the party members move forward to the November election. This election is an important one," Goff said by email.

Protesters cheer as Cheryl Batteiger-Smith leaves the closed Republican party hearing at The Foundry on Main during a closed hearing in Evansville, Ind., Monday, June 3, 2024.
Protesters cheer as Cheryl Batteiger-Smith leaves the closed Republican party hearing at The Foundry on Main during a closed hearing in Evansville, Ind., Monday, June 3, 2024.

Linda Painter, the 8th District committee's Knox County-based treasurer, said Tuesday that the 8th District committee is under no obligation to answer questions.

"We don’t have to talk at all about this, you know. We can just keep it quiet," she told the Courier & Press.

The media "has picked it up, even though they probably shouldn’t have," Painter declared.

"They made a big spectacle out of something that should have never been a spectacle," she said. "This is a private political party meeting. This is not a legal court process. The only reason for any attorney involvement is to make sure that we do follow all the laws of the state of Indiana."

Daugherty isn't so sure.

"I have reached out to a couple of attorneys about filing an immediate injunction to their ruling," he said. "I haven't got any information back yet. I've also submitted a request to the ACLU."

Colbert says "furious" conservative precinct committee members have submitted complaints about Duckworth to the state and 8th District GOP and have gotten nowhere. But that's not the end of it, he vowed.

"There's more to this story," Colbert said.

This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Ousted candidates say they're committed to removing Duckworth