Rokita finds election law expertise useful as he adjusts to life on Hill

When Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) came to Washington he thought the chapter of his life dealing with election laws was over. But members of Congress have been proposing and debating voter identification laws — something with which he’s all too familiar.

Rokita is the only former secretary of state in the freshman class. He held that office when Indiana defended its voter ID law — the first in the nation to require a photo ID — before the Supreme Court in 2005.

Now several other states have followed suit, with five such laws taking effect in 2012. Democratic lawmakers have raised concerns about the issue on the floor of Congress, but Rokita said they should “get over themselves.” They aren’t truly representing the views of the people they claim to be defending, he insists.

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“They’re saying that their members — or whoever they’re claiming to represent — are too unsophisticated, too uneducated, too removed from the mainstream of society to produce such a simple document — and that’s offensive,” Rokita said.

Some Democrats have compared voter ID laws to a poll tax and said they tend to disenfranchise the elderly, young, minorities and people with disabilities who are less likely to have a photo ID and perhaps can’t afford to produce the necessary paperwork — such as a birth certificate — to get one.

Rokita said the photo ID is key to fighting election fraud.

“A lot of states said you could bring a photo ID and if you don’t have that, bring a utility bill. Well, those two documents do different things,” Rokita said. “One definitively proves you are who you say you are and the other says you may or may not have paid a utility bill. So that’s why a photo is the linchpin of this ballot security, and that’s really what this is about, ballot security.”

As Indiana’s secretary of state, Rokita didn’t make too many friends in the legislature when he suggested the redistricting process was corrupt and needed to be changed so lawmakers couldn’t gerrymander their own districts.

“The secretary of state in Indiana didn’t have anything legally to do with redistricting, but there was a moral argument to be made for good government,” Rokita said. “And I was tired of people calling my office because they didn’t know who their representatives were because these lines were going through backyards. It was a mess. My current congressional district is a mess — it makes no sense — they call it the ‘Frankendistrict.’”

In a redistricting year, Rokita has paid the price by being drawn out of his district by 500 yards by these state legislators. He will still seek reelection in it, as members are only required to be residents of their states, not their districts.

“I’d like to live in my district … but the lines in Indiana are much better because of our efforts and if one day [my wife] Kathy and I have to move or decide to move for that, then that’s fine, that’s a good price to pay,” Rokita said. “Plus I’m more petty than they are.”

Rokita said he wants to stick around Washington because his prior experiences as secretary of state can help reduce government bureaucracies.

“There are very few of us around here in Congress that have ever run a bureaucracy, that know the right questions to ask and know how these folks hide and move money around and flim-flam with answers before committees,” Rokita said.

“I’m not saying that in the bowels of bureaucracy there are evil people. But they’re not accountable, they’re unelected and because of congresspeople not doing their job, our duty has been abdicated in a lot of ways to this unelected, unaccountable group of people,” he said.

Rokita showed his leadership skills early on when he was selected to serve on the House Republican Steering Committee. He promised his fellow freshmen that, if selected, he would pick his committees last. He stuck to his word. Rokita was left with the Administration, Budget and Education and the Workforce committees — which pleasantly surprised him.

“Who knew on Education and the Workforce that all these union issues were going to come? We had Wisconsin, we had Boeing, we have an NLRB that is now in my opinion an advocate for unions instead of being a neutral referee,” Rokita said. “These fights have come to me and if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my public service it’s [that] I’m a fighter, not a lover so I’m enjoying it.”

The bureaucracy Rokita has in his crosshairs now is the Transportation Security Administration. Nearly all of the bills the commercially licensed pilot has introduced have been to limit TSA, especially its union rights.

“I’m just tired of being abused at the airport. It has nothing to do with being a pilot,” Rokita said. “When you come to public service, you’re coming to serve others and you frankly don’t need a union, especially with this much control and power in search-and-seizure power specifically over others. The last thing we need is to have them have collective-bargaining rights and union rights.”