In its continuing work to bring high profile interviews and reporting with and about some of our most interesting citizens, public and private, Current presents the following exclusive one-on-one discussion with embattled Indiana Secretary of State, Charlie White. The conversation, which included his new bride, Michelle, raised questions ranging from the personal to his all-too-public legal and political battles. The following is a transcript of their words – edited only for space and flow. The words and opinions are entirely theirs. The interviewer arrived with a list of 10 questions. Because of the on-going litigation, the questions were intentionally not aimed at legal strategy, precise legal issues or the attorney representing White, Former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi. Instead, they were intended to allow the Whites to share their story.
Current: How did the two of you meet and fall in love?
Charlie White: We were set up on a date. Obviously it was a blind date, and so we had our first date at the movie theater. It was that second James Bond movie with Daniel Craig. And after the movie was over, she was very professional and said, “I think this is the end of our evening.”
Michelle White: He didn’t ask soon enough to ask me out to dinner, so I kind of made the move. I mean even though our professional lives are completely different, what we believe in for our family and what we like to do for fun is the same. And, he wanted a normal [non-political] life when he comes home from work; and, he found that in me.
Current: What attracted you to Charlie?
MW: His sense of humor, he made me laugh… it lightens the mood in your everyday life. One of my rules was, the man that I love has to love his mother and beyond that he loves, you know, his ex-wife. They got along so great and that just kind of immediately broke down so many barriers.
Current: As newlyweds, what’s next for your family?
CW: First of all, let me go back to when we were newlyweds. Michelle was very understanding that I was gone all the time – and the whole process of actually getting married, meaning, when can Charlie slow down enough to get a wedding together and miss being [Hamilton County Republican Chairman], Fishers Town Council, trying to do stuff for my former employer and running for state-wide office and trying to keep a relationship together while you’re thinking about getting married and getting all the logistics together. We had to postpone it to Memorial Day weekend 2010, and it was one of the best days of my life. You know, it still is. We did it then because of my schedule. We had about 2 or 3 days to have a honeymoon where we ran up to Saugatuck, Michigan and always thought we’ll do something after the election is over like a real honeymoon.
Actually, I knew she was the one because I was willing to give up politics for her. Whatever I had to do, it was okay, it’s okay now, so I knew she was the right one. So I thought in my mind, whether I won or lost this race in November of 2010, it didn’t matter because I had Michelle and two new kids as well as my own son and it didn’t matter.
I thought what we were planning on as newlyweds… you remember, when all of this came up we had only been married for three and a half months, and I was just wanting to get this done, after I’d been on the road for two years, you just want to get this done. Six weeks before the election was over, I was just looking forward to leaving town and having a real honeymoon.
That’s what I was planning on doing. I didn’t plan on this. Michelle has been so mature and supportive from the very beginning it’s been hard to deal with, especially when you’re not used to getting any media attention. It didn’t sit well with me and I was more worried about that than anything, just them embarrassing her. I thought that after Nov. 2010, win or lose, I was going to have a normal life. I didn’t think that we were going to have something that has never happened in Indiana history before for the next 10 months. So, we haven’t really gotten to our newlywed stage yet. We’ve always said that when this is over, we’re going to get remarried and we’re going to start this over again and just press the reset button and do a do-over.
MW: It just feels like our life has been put on pause, and it’s always lingering in the back of our mind this whole process that we have to go through. It’s frustrating that these people think it’s so important and that it’s entertaining and that it’s important to spend the tax payers’ dollars on something that’s political.
CW: When I set my mind to researching law, I get pretty focused. I’ve spent so much time—I’m not going to say this is a good thing, but to help clear my name, my reputation and to show people that I will not encourage this kind of behavior in the future for anybody running for public office—we don’t have the time to go anywhere anymore and I don’t do anything with my son anymore. I mean I’m with him, but I’m not really with him. I feel very guilty for that, but I have to for his name’s sake as well. This is not just a fight for me; this is a fight for my whole family. That’s what my parents also remind me. This is a fight for our family name.
Current: How has this affected your personal life most directly? When you look back on this, what will you most remember?
MW: You know, just the struggle and just trying to get my family back in order. Trying to get our life back. Just seeing that my husband is very resilient and he doesn’t give up. I’m just thankful that it’s made us more solid as a couple and as a family as a whole. But, it’s definitely going to take me a long time to recover even after this is all said and done.
Current: What do you tell your kids about this period?
MW: Well, you know we don’t watch the local news and we’re hoping that they’re still oblivious. My oldest daughter is the one that gets feedback from her friends, but they are very supportive. She’s 14 now and it’s actually kind of sad because one of her good guy friends wanted to be in politics until this thing came up. My son is so young that he’s just happy-go-lucky; and with Charlie’s boy, I know his mom talks with him. I just try to make it as normal as possible for the kids even though after work Charlie’s at home doing his research. I try to at least take the kids out to the park, just trying to keep it as normal as possible for them.
CW: [Michelle works with] her two children and then with my 10 year- old son, his mom explains stuff to him. Whenever I’m with him, I’m not with him so to speak. I’m working on stuff. Whenever I feel like I’m being an absent father, I do apologize to him and just say, “I’ve got something to work on that’s very, very important and one day this will be over with, but until then I can’t take you to things. I can’t take you to movies, I can’t take you to the ballpark. I can’t go to the Reds games like we always used to go to. I can’t do it. And of course that’s what happened during the campaign, thinking I’d make it all up once the campaign was over. Of course I still can’t do that yet. So that’s half of what I’m fighting for.”
At this point Michelle White leaves the interview to go to work.
Current: How did the case unfold?
CW: Before we get to that, one thing I want to point out, which is rarely reported, is my original home down around Corydon and New Albany. I’m originally from a Democrat family. I was politically aware at a young age in general, but because I’ve got a large Democrat family that helped me to, number one, if there was a difference of opinion about politics, I was always respectful of that because you had to be if you wanted to be invited back to Christmas dinner. Number two, I was always under the belief when you have a mixed family politically that… and I’d say this as a county chairman to anyone who wanted to run against anybody, people would come to me against various mayors, whatever, and I’d always say the same thing whether it was Democrat, Republican, independent, Libertarian, I would say the same thing, is that, if you want to fight about the issues and beat each other over the head about the issues, if there’s something someone has done, you can bring that up as an issue, but I’d always tell people, I don’t want any of you to do anything that’s going to hurt someone’s livelihood. I don’t want anyone to do anything like file for a prosecutor or attorney general, or the disciplinary commission, because that is what is what gets people not to want to run for office and that is what gets people not to want to vote. I said, no matter how bad things get, it can get bad to a certain point, but there’s a certain point to where you don’t go past. Because then it becomes uncivilized. You need to honor the people’s vote and not try to determine elections in criminal court.
Now, as to the timeline. You know, the one thing I did that probably did not help me, and as a citizen I’m very proud to have done this… when I was told by Judge Judy Proffitt in 2008 on the telephone that she was sick of hearing rumors that she wasn’t running again and she doesn’t want to hear about it anymore, and she is in fact running again, I said I’m sorry Judge Proffitt, I will make sure we put those rumors down.
Then, three weeks later after she tells me she’s definitely running again, then she announces that she’s not running again. Then a day later, Sonia Leerkamp who, I was friends with her for years but I felt that she burned a lot of bridges with the county council when she called them extortionists because she was the only office that would not file work reviews for their employees, and I thought she had a horrible record on rape victims, including Chaucie Quillen, and the National Guard recruiter who raped a lot of women, as well as I still think the Carmel bus rape was poorly handled. She was very unequal with putting people in jail who were non-violent offenders, and she got a lot of pushback from the county council about building more jail space for people who were non-violent offenders. I believed as a citizen and as a county chairman that she and her executive staff were incompetent, they didn’t work well with the county council, and there was a feeling among many factions that she needed to just retire and go away. And that’s why I met with a man named Paul Felix several times, and I said because of a situation where Proffitt had gotten out at the last minute during the filing period and Leerkamp just happened to be interested, I felt there was collusion going on. Had Proffitt announced the year before I probably wouldn’t have gotten involved. With the 90 days left, I felt I had to get Paul Felix to run at this time. Sonia told one of my good friends that, “I’m going to get him someday for this,” meaning me. And she sent letters to every precinct committeeman attacking me for supporting Felix, even though in past years I’d supported her. And then she lost that primary, and everybody was fairly happy.
[By the next primary election, White supported another candidate to directly compete with Leercamp in the GOP primary.]
Within 30 days of us all getting him out there, and him getting himself out there most importantly, she announced that she was not going to run again. It wasn’t just me. I think there was a little bit of resentment that I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to because I was already on the road every day running for secretary of state.
When the charges were filed against me by Greg Purvis and then by Vopp Osili, one thing to understand is that this practice had been done by Democrats in the past against other local officials and nothing was ever done, no matter what the merits of the case were. One day I will list them in a very specific line of people, it didn’t matter if you were a county chairman, or if you were an elected official currently, Sonia never went after anybody. It didn’t matter how bad it was. She simply didn’t do it. Or she called a grand jury and found a way to make sure they were given a no bill.
So at the time I thought, here they go again filing yet another thing and this is ridiculous because number one, I didn’t do anything wrong and number two, I mean I did everything right but besides that, prosecutors across the state have priorities. They go after people that are dangers to society. They don’t spend their time letting three special prosecutors go after somebody for something like this.
It’s always enjoyable to have a person call me two hours before they decide to pick a special prosecutor and say, “Charlie, I think it’s payback time.” In light of that, if you’re told by other very much larger elected officials, they talked to my prosecutor, and you kind of get the impression of what’s going to be happening around the turn… you start understanding that, for example, I’ve received a lot of threats. And I’m not a very good person to threaten. If I feel that I’m in the right, I will not quit. But when you get threats, and two or three days later things happen legally, for example, when someone says, “If you don’t get out, then things will be worse for you and your family than if you were homeless.” Now, that doesn’t sit well with me, and I don’t give up for that. I thought I lived in America. And so, three days later my wife is given a target letter to the grand jury two hours before I go down to the courthouse before my initial hearing. Or, people say they’re going to find ways to impeach me, and then two days letter the special prosecutor files something with the inspector general that has zero credibility with the law. It seemed like something would always be threatened, and then something else would be done.
So here we are. I get this phone call to tell me that Vopp, my Democrat opponent was in my office and Channel 6 was there with him. The caller’s observation, or point to me was, ‘Charlie, I think it’s payback time.’ And then a couple hours later, they announce they’re going to pick special prosecutors. Now you have to understand, this is six weeks before statewide election. Nobody does this. [Leerkamp’s] office doesn’t do anything quickly. I mean, look at their record on protecting rape victims. They don’t work this quickly. They worked with greased lightning on this one.
They decided to pick one so quickly, right before the election, so the Democrats could run ads like the ‘Sorry Charlie’ ads and have all the headlines they created, but here’s the thing though, and this will come up in the future, there is no case law on this, but there is a current law, and we’ll give you the site, there is a current law that’s a Class D felony for a person to influence anyone thinking about being a candidate or a candidate from number one attempting to collect a debt, number two threatening to evict or evict you from your home if you’re a voter or a candidate, number three beginning a criminal prosecution, number four damaging someone’s trade or profession, and number five threatening someone with bodily harm. It was amended in ’99 and it was amended and signed in by [Governor] Mitch Daniels in 2005. So if we’re going to talk about ignorance of the law on their part, we have a five year statute of limitations on some of these things, what was the big hurry six weeks before an election to start on this when no prosecutor in the state would? Most would tell you that it’s very common for the perceived loser to start filing stuff because they know they’re going to lose, so they just have to start throwing stuff out. Voters don’t want prosecutors making comments or decisions that are prejudicial that get in the way of the elections process, especially when there are no victims, so to speak. Whether its me or a common guy on the street, Democrat or Republican, you’re decision to prosecute should have nothing to do with whether or not reporters are bugging you. If we’re going to be a nation-state of the law, it needs to be laws applied evenly and fairly.
Current: Some have claimed that this prosecution is disproportionately aggressive. If you agree, why do you believe it to be so?
CW: Well, number one, we’ve always maintained, I’ve maintained from the beginning that we’ve broken no laws and we’ve done everything correctly and the law was there to protect people that are in transition. And that’s why I won the recount decision three to nothing with three judges. The three judges on the case were all attorneys and one of them was a former Democrat judge here in Hamilton County, Buddy Pilot. So when you look at the law and you apply all of the current controlling case laws, it’s all on my side. But the problem is, when the media will not report what the law is. Now, they didn’t mind that Evan Bayh—all this law that we have today is because of Evan Bayh— he was secretary of state and an attorney when he ran for governor when they were saying he did not have residency because he lived in Washington D.C. during part of that time. He said in front of everyone that whenever he came home he lived in his dad’s condo in Marion County. Then the Republican Party said then why are you voting there even though you haven’t lived there since you were seven. So [Bayh] was claiming that he was living in Marion County, and [former Indiana State Republican Chairman]Gordon Dernil, who was on the recount board for me, claimed that he committed voter fraud and voter registration fraud, and the media attacked Republicans for nitpicking. They all canonized Evan Bayh for being a victim. All the same newspapers that went against me, including the [Indianapolis] Star. All the same newspapers on this residency issue, and we’re talking about a 15-minute drive between precincts for me, versus states away for Evan Bayh, said we needed a choice, you don’t need to nitpick. So nobody wanted to prosecute Evan Bayh criminally so they still went for the civil candidacy challenge, which Evan Bayh won, which is still controlling case law on the residency issue. Now every time I bring up Evan Bayh’s name the same people in the media who covered that case want to have amnesia and act like it never happened because my dad wasn’t a senator and I’m just a regular average middle income citizen. I don’t have a political pedigree. And every time I talk about Evan Bayh they say “Well that’s Evan Bayh.’ Well who cares, he’s a citizen.
But most importantly, if we’re all concerned about this now… remember on Evan Bayh’s case that he stopped being a senator on Dec. 31, 2010. He lives in D.C., his wife lives in D.C., and the man voted by absentee ballot in Indianapolis. He claims as a homestead an $80,000 home in Indianapolis that he does not live in. He lives in D.C. in a $2.3 million home. My point is, I’m not saying Evan Bayh is committing voter fraud, I’m saying, if Evan Bayh is allowed to do that, then every citizen of Indiana should be allowed to have that flexibility. Why do Evan and Susan Bayh get to have more rights than the rest of us?
Why does Pete Visklosky, which the Huffington Post reported last weekend, why does Pete Visklosky get to claim his homestead in Tacoma Park, Maryland, with his wife the last two years, but he’s voting out of Merrillville? What we’re talking about here, and what the main prosecution case is, is homestead versus voting. Now, in general, what I will say is this; when it comes to selective prosecution, our legislature, we’ve got an inch and a half thick book of election laws that the legislatures that vote for them don’t know what’s in it. The people that are signing the laws don’t know what’s in it, but they don’t have to live it. We have poll workers, and they don’t even realize it today, in every precinct in Hamilton County, that are committing felonies and don’t realize it because they’re not trained well enough. We have voters that are committing felonies when they vote because they didn’t fill out this form versus another form. There are so many felonies stacked up in that book that people are not aware of, that even election attorneys that I’ve talked to didn’t realize that half that stuff was in there. What I’ve been screaming about is, how can you start enacting a lot of felonies, I mean hundreds of felonies in a book, things that aren’t intrinsically bad, and not give anyone any notice?
Current: What would be an idea resolution for the case?
CW: Well an ideal resolution to this case would be that the case be dropped. I want to get on with my life. I want to start the marriage that I began. I haven’t even been able to have a honeymoon yet. I’d like to be able to go on a honeymoon. I’d like to be able to spend time with my son again. I’d like to be able to spend time with [Michelle’s] kids again. And just my whole family…my cousins, my mom and my dad, I mean, we’ve all been on hold, even her parents and everyone has been on hold because of this. So, I want to start my life again. The other thing that’s still very important is that the longer that this drags out, this is not good for our elections process or our campaign process because the more this goes on…we can’t have people not wanting to vote or run for office because of what happened to me. The one thing I don’t want people that want to run for office, I don’t want them thinking that they’re going to have to talk to their wives and their family if they think they’re going to win and you have someone who’s sour grapes who might lose and they’re going to end up being like me and spending nearly $200,000 in legal fees. But between the legal fees, between the $45,000 spent by the taxpayers for the recount commission to their executive director and what will eventually be paid special prosecutors, this will be the most expensive vote in Indiana history.
Current: Regardless of the outcome of this case, how do you move on with your lives?
CW: Well first of all, when I first began to know my wife, she was a very shy person, and this has caused both of us to become much stronger in our determination and resolve. It’s obviously been challenging. Having said that when we’re done with this, no matter what the outcome is, we’ve always said it’s wherever God wants us to be. And we’ll get on with our families’ lives. We have to decide as a family, for future generations, no matter what your party, that we cannot encourage this kind of savage behavior by quitting. And you don’t give up just because it’s hard.
You don’t give up just because, to a lot of the mainstream media, it’s entertaining, or that they’re getting bored with it or they don’t understand the law and they don’t want to report it. Part of their story is that they just want this guy to go. They literally, the Democrats and some of the people in the media, I think the fairy tale end to their story would be if me and my family would just simply curl up into a ball and die. We will not do that for their entertainment.
Current: What is your greatest personal disappointment?
CW: My disappointment in the system is that, I really thought that as the next secretary of state, I was going to be the guy that helped tone down the partisan rhetoric about certain election issues and focus on the core functions that the legislature has allowed us to work on. For example, our business services division, our securities division that protects investors as well as regulating 8,000 car dealers in Indiana. That’s what the law allows the secretary of state to work on, and partially election issues. My disappointment was that I wanted to be able to be that guy that could calm down the partisan rhetoric on a lot of election issues and this has caused me not to be able to do that, number one. Number two, I’m very disappointed that I feel like I was kind of like a hot potato. The local prosecutor’s office, whether they had malice or not, they just had a bad media week and they just wanted to pass the hot potato to somebody else so they wouldn’t have to deal with it.
Then I feel as if any elected official, and there are only two or three who have said things, they were just afraid of how it would look if they didn’t say something bad, even though they didn’t know about the case. So let’s just make outlandish comments even though we know nothing about the case just to protect ourselves. And now after I’ve won the recount commission and now that things have died down to some degree, some of them wish they hadn’t said anything. But that should go to show you, if you don’t know about a legal case you should simply say “I don’t know” and “Every citizen deserves their day in court,” or, if you’re going to make a comment, you ought to get yourself educated instead of making an off-the-cuff remark.
I’m disappointed with a system that singles out one person and makes a mountain out of a mole hill, that doesn’t take all the evidence into account and tries to do it through a shock and awe system with a grand jury. That is something that, no matter what happens to me, good or bad, I will spend a portion of my life or the rest of my life in Indiana trying to get my friends in the legislature to either abolish or reform the grand jury system. There are no rules, there is no judge, prosecutors can say anything they want and it’s all secret. And they hide behind grand juries so they can act like they didn’t make the decision.
The thing I’m personally disappointed about is that, you know, when I came to Hamilton County there was a lot of resistance to me getting involved when I was in high school because they knew I came from a Democrat family down south, so there weren’t a lot of open doors to me in the beginning. And of course, over time I got more involved. I’ve helped so many people locally. I’ve helped people at the state level. It’s a great personal sacrifice helping them out.
I regret the time I’ve spent away from my family. I regret all of the vacations I’ve missed, all of the weddings I’ve missed, the time I missed with my son, helping other people who, at the first sign of trouble, ran. I think that should be a lesson. If you ever help people get elected to office, try to just help people you’re friends with. It makes me think, my God, I’ve spent 25 years of my life helping other people locally and statewide and what did it get for me? That’s what my relatives keep asking me. Why did you help all of these people? It didn’t do you any good.
Current: What do you personally most regret?
CW: I personally regret that I always feel like I am responsible for a lot of different organizations and people and helping others. First of all, when it comes to the Fishers Town Council, there had been some misconceptions and ambiguity over the years…not always involving me but I will say over and over again, I had a misperception about the fact that every time you run in Fishers all the citizens elect you. You come from districts that change often, but we’re beholden to every citizen, all seven of us who were always on the ballot. I did not understand that it meant that you had to resign, legally had to get out [if you moved out of your district]. And it wasn’t like I was even thinking about the district. Your districts aren’t important. We were responsible to all the people. If someone asked you a question, you didn’t say “Where do you live? Where’s your council member?” All of the citizens vote for you or vote against you.
You have to understand that all I wanted to do was stay for the budget. That was all I intended to do because, win or lose, I had already been on there for almost ten years. We’re talking about a few months out of ten years he remember, when I was in transition. When you’re on the Fishers Town Council one-quarter of your life and you’re just wanting to get through the budget process… and whether I won or lost, I was either going to, one, win secretary of state and resign or, two, if I lost, soon thereafter I was going to leave so that I could… I lost a lot of money not representing clients in front of the town council. You lose a lot of money being on the town council when you can’t represent developers and other people in front of the town council so I either needed to be in politics or not.
Number two, when it comes to my life in general as a county chairman, I had been in the county party for 25 years and I should not have kept as many positions as I did. But again, this has been a part of my life since I was 12 years old. It’s not something I take lightly, to quit as a county chairman or to quit as an officer in the party; it’s just been a part of my life. The problem is when you have too much on your plate, when you’re in a car running all over the state, and when you’re trying to figure out when you’re going to get married and you push it back and you’re trying to keep your relationship together, and when you’re never around and you’re trying to be a decent dad…it’s too much for anyone to deal with. But the thing is, even with all that, I still didn’t do anything wrong.
The problem is, and the biggest regret I have, and I don’t know how I would have dealt with this differently, but what I really regret is the fact that I didn’t take a step back.
And, it’s been widely reported out of the entertainment of the Indianapolis Star abut my wife’s debts. My wife had a hard life. She had a foreclosure and she had an unpaid emergency surgery with no health insurance. She had to take her kids to the Hamilton County Health Department to get their shots. I wanted to take care of the woman I intended to marry and all I was trying to do was keep my relationship together and prior to getting married I was trying to take care of the woman I loved and her two kids the best that I could. When you’re a guy and you’re in love, sometimes you do things that are a little unorthodox when you’re in love. I don’t regret helping my fiancée, but what I do regret is that I should have taken a step back and realized, for example, that the fact that someone did use her name and social security number to set up bills in places she never lived, or racked up bills in places she no longer lived, that it would mean I would have to put my name on bills, which they’re now using against me. But, none of that would have had to happen if she hadn’t had bad credit.
Now, the sad thing is that the only reason we chose this place is because it is close to her new job. I wasn’t thinking about districts, I was just running around the state. I was within Fishers and I was serving the council which I’ve served for almost ten years.
When you’re trying to help somebody that needs help, when you know you’re going to get married— and this is something the media will not report—when she has two children and I have a child, a 6 year old, a 10 year old and a 14 year old, you need to do what is in the best interest of those children. There is no darn way that I’m going to live [out of his district with Michelle before they wed]every day until I get married. That is just the right thing to do. I respect the wishes of the women I love, even if it’s inconvenient. I did what was right for the children.