INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill announced Wednesday that he is hiring the state's former child welfare chief, who resigned from her post last month in a blistering letter that accused Gov. Eric Holcomb of making changes and cuts at her agency that "all but ensure children will die."
The move by the Republican attorney general to hire former Department of Child Services Director Mary Beth Bonaventura raised eyebrows at the Statehouse. But it's not the first time Hill has broken with Holcomb, who as governor is de facto head of the state GOP.
Since his 2016 election in which he became the single greatest vote-getter in state history, Hill has sought to test his political strength as well as build up his profile, though he has not indicated what aspirations he may have beyond the state attorney general's office. Hill notably opposed a law Holcomb pushed last year to expand a needle exchange program and spoke out against a law the governor signed allowing children with severe forms of epilepsy to be treated with oil derived from marijuana. He has often issued news releases trumpeting his appearances on Fox News, or his views on issues that have a seemingly limited connection to the businesses of his office.
Bonaventura, a well-respected former juvenile judge with more than 30 years' experience in the field, was appointed to lead the Department of Child Services in 2013 by then-Gov. Mike Pence, who is now vice president. Problems quietly festering at her former agency erupted into public view last month when she penned her scathing resignation letter accusing Holcomb's office of mismanagement and cuts in the midst of a surge of caseloads fueled by the opioid crisis.
"I choose to resign, rather than be complicit in decreasing the safety, permanency and well-being of children who have nowhere else to turn," she wrote.
Holcomb's allies have accused her of poorly administering the office and blowing through money budgeted for the agency. However, Holcomb himself has refused to publicly address the specific allegations Bonaventura has made against his office.
Hill's office did not respond to a question over whether he is deliberately trying to stoke a feud with Holcomb by hiring her.
"I'm extremely pleased to bring aboard a leader of such caliber as Judge Bonaventura," Hill said in a statement. "Her breadth of experience and depth of knowledge will continue to prove indispensable assets to the citizens of Indiana as she steps into this next phase of her distinguished public service."
Holcomb's office declined to comment on Hill's hiring of Bonaventura.
"We wish her well in this new chapter," said spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson.
Bonaventura will be paid $125,000 a year. Her "special counsel" position fills a senior adviser vacancy created when a staff member left in December, Hill spokesman Bill McCleery said in an email. He added that her work portfolio will span several agency divisions and focus on addressing drug abuse, including the opioid epidemic.
Bonaventura was not made available for an interview.
Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist and former state lawmaker, said it could be "a mercy hiring" or it could be that "Hill is trying to stake out ground as the most powerful Republican officeholder in the state."
"What he doesn't understand is the governor always wins," Murphy said.
The GOP-controlled Legislature last year ultimately passed an expansion of expansion of needle exchanges to combat outbreaks of disease among intravenous drug users, despite Hill's objections.
As for the sale of cannabidiol, which is derived from the marijuana plant but doesn't contain the component that makes you high, Holcomb wants the Legislature to clarify that it's legal after Hill issued an advisory opinion saying it's not.