Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

Sunday, September 03, 2017 1:00 am

Ex-Rokita aides recall politician's belittling

BRIAN SLODYSKO | Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS – Staffers in tears. Pay cuts for small mistakes. Aides who walked out of the office – and never came back.

Working for four-term Republican Rep. Todd Rokita of Indiana is an exacting job with long hours, made more difficult by a boss known for micromanaging and yelling at his staff, according to 10 former aides who spoke to The Associated Press.

All but one of the former staffers spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern of retribution from the congressman, who is in a competitive GOP primary for the chance to challenge first-term Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in next year's midterm elections. They include five former congressional staffers, three who worked for Rokita when he was Indiana's secretary of state and two who worked on his political campaigns.

In response, Rokita said in a statement to The Associated Press: “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.”

Meticulous and driven, Rokita was the youngest secretary of state in the country when he was first elected in 2002. He served two terms before winning a seat in Congress in 2010, representing parts of western Indiana.

But even in Congress, where ambition and ego can go hand-in-hand, Rokita's behavior is outside the norm, according to the former aides, most of whom have worked for other elected officials.

“Todd's a hard boss to work for. He's got some staff turnover issues,” said Tony Will, who was a constituent service representative for Rokita for nearly three years. “But he is a very hard worker.”

During the 2010 campaign, a worker was booted from a staff meeting and instructed to clean Rokita's vehicle, which included scrubbing the carpets, according to two people with direct knowledge of the incident.

The reason?

A volunteer driver had body odor the night before, they say.

Rokita's campaign said the congressman did not recall the incident.

Some aides witnessed fellow workers reduced to tears after he yelled at them. Others said they were expected to work late nights and weekends and regularly worried about angering their boss if they did not quickly respond to an email or phone call during off hours.

Three former congressional staffers said that if Rokita was working, the expectation was that his staff would as well.

Many also felt obligated to do volunteer political work, the three staffers said.

One moment Rokita could charm at a GOP fundraiser. The next he would belittle his aides or question their competence over the route they took to the next event, or their choice of parking spot, three former staffers said.

“It's unfortunate that anonymous, disgruntled ex-staffers are making exaggerated claims that only tell half the story,” said Rokita spokesman Tim Edson, who described his boss as honest and blunt.