Will Trump Have a Hoosier in His Cabinet?
“Now, Indiana is becoming very important,” said President-elect Donald J. Trump on the eve of the state’s unexpectedly decisive Republican primary. “You folks belong where you belong; it’s called Importantville, right?”
Indiana continues to play an outsized role in 2016—The Year of Trump—as three bold-faced Hoosier names swirl in Trump’s Apprentice-style cabinet selection process, one of the great Washington parlor games. A parlor game that we here at IM are, admittedly, not above.
Among Trump’s possible Indiana picks: former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, Congressman Luke Messer, and Lucas Oil Products founder Forrest Lucas.
Here, a handicapping of each Hoosier’s likelihood of serving in the Trump cabinet, which CNN has reported could be unveiled as early as today.
Tony Bennett, Secretary of Education:
Why the buzz? In many education-reform circles, Bennett is still regarded as a kind of folk hero for his work as Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, ushering in a massive school-choice program in 2011 and 2012 before decamping to a similar job in Florida in the wake of his stunning loss to Democrat challenger Glenda Ritz. In 2011, The Fordham Institute named him Education Reform Idol—a title that actually exists.
Why it’s a bust: Since his ouster as Florida Commissioner of Education, Bennett has been consulting for an Indiana-based testing company. To leapfrog to Secretary of Education would be a Norman Dale–like comeback, a heavier lift than getting Hickory to the state tourney. During the Senate confirmation hearings, Bennett would likely face some tough questions about his hard-charging Indiana tenure and the controversy surrounding his work on the state’s A-F ranking system.
Overall likelihood: Trump hasn’t met with Bennett—at least that we know of—in his recent cabinet meetings. The Donald did, however, meet with Michelle Rhee, the former public school chief of Washington, D.C., whose appointment would be seen as quite a coup for Trump among ed reformers.
Luke Messer, Secretary of Education:
Why the buzz? Messer, who represents the state’s 6th Congressional District, has a seat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and lent one of his advisers, Rob Goad, to help Trump build out his school-choice agenda.
Why it’s a bust: Like Bennett, Messer hasn’t had a highly publicized meeting with Trump, as far as we know. Messer has said in a statement he does not know whether he’s under consideration.
Overall likelihood: While it’s very much a possibility, Rhee appears to be the front-runner at the moment.
Forrest Lucas, Secretary of the Interior/Secretary of Agriculture:
Why the buzz? The 74-year-old’s ties to Pence, who is leading Trump’s transition effort, are significant. The Lucas family has donated $50,000 to Pence’s war chest. His appointment would be a boon for the oil industry.
Why it’s a bust: Picks for Interior typically come from Western states. Lucas would have to relive his wife Charlotte’s controversial remarks in 2014 when she posted to her Facebook, “I’m sick and tired of minorities running our country!”
Overall likelihood: Of Trump’s potential Indiana picks, this one feels the most likely to happen. “It’s a very important position and you need to have someone in there who knows what they’re doing,” Lucas told the IBJ in September.
Related: IM‘s 2007 feature profile of Lucas.
Again, this is pure tea-leaf-reading. As Trump himself tweeted earlier this month about forming his cabinet, “I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!”