Not-so-great expectations

I know we’re right in the middle of Oscar season, and I know I have plenty of films to see and share with you, but this week I must take a break and discuss something I hadn’t planned to mention for a while. It was one year ago this month that Hoosier voters propelled U.S. Congressman Mike Pence into the governor’s office, and at the time I said I couldn’t think of any Indiana governor ever coming in with lower expectations. After a year in office, I’m prepared to say he hasn’t disappointed. Well, actually he has, but it’s all in the wording of the statement.

Pence started with a surprising focus (at least in terms of his verbiage) on jobs and education, as opposed to the moral and ethical issues which made him a darling of the far-right during his time in Washington, D.C. While his predecessor, Mitch Daniels, stated from the outset that he would personally stay out of the abortion and gay-marriage debates, we heard no such promises from Pence. Given his reputation, I fully expected him to jump right in head-first. I was pleasantly surprised last January when he wisely chose to stay away from these divisive matters.

Unfortunately, by the end of the legislative session, it had become apparent that Pence would offer no leadership whatsoever. He didn’t push for any specific legislation the way Daniels did; he simply let the legislative chips fall where they may. Then he signed some bills and not others. He did fulfill his duty as governor, but here in the 21st century, we’ve come to expect a little more guidance from on high. Heck, if it hadn’t been for Daniels, we still wouldn’t observe Daylight Savings Time in Indiana, the I-69 extension would still be floundering, and the new U.S. 31 Kokomo bypass would still be a pipedream. While I certainly didn’t always agree with him, Daniels got things done. Not so with Pence. Most of us believe Pence has his eye set on higher office (say, President of the United States), and that he’s merely using the governor’s office as a stepping-stone. But that’s no excuse for lack of leadership.

Given the above, you’d think I would give Pence a straight C or perhaps a C+ at this juncture in his young career. But recently, several of his actions have dropped his letter-grade to a disappointing D. First, he publicly commented that adopting Indiana’s constitution to strengthen our existing ban on gay marriage would actually help the Indiana business climate. When I read that, I did a double-take. Did he really say what I thought I heard him say? After two of Indiana’s largest employers and mayor of its largest city (himself a Republican) came out against the ban? He did. And provided our two legislative leaders, Brian Bosma and David Long (whose seats, thanks to recent Republican gerrymandering, are safer than a lawn mower at the North Pole) will allow this divisive issue to go to Hoosier voters, he fully intends to sign it. Hmmm … Three of our progressive Midwestern neighbors, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois, have recently approved gay marriage, Pence and his buddies in the legislature have every intention of dragging Indiana in the opposite direction. Try to guess how many new job opportunities and young workers such action will attract.

And God forbid, Pence chose politics over Hoosiers’ health, by denying Obamacare’s Medicaid funds for Indiana residents – costing the state not only healthy residents but thousands of jobs related to the Medicaid expansion approved by most states.

If all this weren’t bad enough, Pence’s worst move yet has been his creation of the Center for Education and Innovation, designed to continue the supposedly creative and successful policies of former Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett – policies so unpopular he was defeated even by conservative Hoosier voters. Still stinging from Bennett’s defeat, Pence and the Board of Education (whose members have all been appointed by Republican governors) have put up roadblocks to everything Bennett’s successor, Glenda Ritz, has attempted to do, including running board meetings without constantly being interrupted. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Pence’s Center for Education and Innovation was created merely to usurp any power Ritz has left. Rather than reach out to the state’s only publicly elected Democrat (save for U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly), Pence and his GOP lackeys have stood in the way of her every move – at the expense of the education of our children. Pence has even recommended making the State Superintendent of Public Education an appointed position – just to insure something like this (read: election results they dislike) never happens again.

Remember, Pence signed legislation supported by Bosma and Long which redesigned the make-up of the Indianapolis City Council to favor Republicans. He’ll apparently stop at nothing to get his way, even though he presents himself as a nice, personable guy. Meanwhile, Pence can still brag that Indiana’s taxes are the lowest in the Midwest, while the reality is that Hoosiers are provided fewer government services than darn near every other state north of the Mason/Dixon Line.