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Mixed performance from Pence in first legislative session

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At the end of his first session as governor, Mike Pence's influence at the Statehouse remains tough to assess.

On the easy items, such as a bipartisan measure creating a jobs council that would match out-of-work residents with unfilled jobs, Pence won quick and clear victories. On seemingly easy items, such as his "loser pays" tort reform measure, Pence lost the battle before it even began as the bill didn't even make it to the floor.

And on his signature item, a 10-percent cut in the personal income tax, Pence had to claim victory while walking away with a piece of the tax cut he sought, while accepting new tax cuts that legislative leaders proposed. It was only a few days before the end of session that Pence dropped his hard-line lobbying on the issue and accepted he would have to walk out of the 2013 session with a smaller victory — or no victory at all.

As he ticked back over the 2013 session, which wrapped up early Saturday, Pence quoted Russell Kirk, who deemed politics "the art of the possible."

"I'm very grateful for what we were able to move in this Legislature, on the broad legislation, whether that be expanding school choice program, whether that be career and vocational education in high school, whether it be making higher education more affordable," he said Monday. "I think in all these areas, as well as the budget, which I've talked about at some length, I'm very grateful for what we were able to come together around."

Legislative leaders, who spent the last eight years of working with former Gov. Mitch Daniels, graded the new governor as off to a good start, but with plenty of room for improvement. House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, praised Pence's attitude, but thought the freshman governor could have been more effective.

"I think that he's had a little bit of a struggle getting on top of his own agenda, and then having to negotiate his way through the maze of the shops run by (House) Speaker (Brian) Bosma and (Senate President Pro Tem David) Long," Pelath said at an end-of-session news conference. "I think he's still learning."

Throughout the Statehouse lawmakers from both parties gave Pence high marks for establishing a positive tone and maintaining civility. It's a change from the last two years under Daniels, which were punctuated by Democratic walkouts and union protests as Republicans pushed sweeping and divisive changes in education and labor laws.

Daniels' presence during session was never questioned, but for Pence it's been much harder to determine. The new governor did not come in with a well-defined legislative agenda, dropping some issues that looked like losers and latching onto others as they gained steam.

Pence campaigned broadly last year on a promise to maintain state autonomy on issues like education, but only recently did that pledge turn into support for a "pause" on the adoption of national Common Core education standards.

Throughout his campaign, Pence said he would be open to reviewing the state's plan to buy gas from the developers of the Rockport coal-gasification plant, but refused to explain whether he would seek a review. By March, midway through the legislative session, Pence said state regulators should review the project.

Bosma, who battled privately and publicly with Pence during the session, attributed Pence's slow start to needing to get acquainted with the Statehouse.

"Most of (his) key advisers are new to state government; most, but not all. And there was a little bit of a transition warm-up period, and that's not to be unexpected," said Bosma, R-Indianapolis. "They hit the ground about halfway through the session, and hit it hard, and dived in on a lot of key issues, at just the right time as bills crossed houses."

Bosma credited the governor with influencing decisions on Common Core, Rockport and the ultimate package of tax cuts. Bosma's fight with Pence over the tax cut — Bosma approved a budget with more money for roads and schools — spilled out of their private meetings in mid-March. The House Republicans and Pence's national tea party supporters engaged in a sparse, but spirited on-air ad war.

But the two Republicans, who attended law school together three decades ago, quickly found common ground by the end of the session.

"We felt good about the way they finished, entirely," he said.

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  • Joe
    Ha - you are railing on conservatives for correctly bashing the total lie of global warming! Hmmm - just so happens this is one of the colder Springs on record.
  • Tim
    Really? Facts and substance is a conservative strength!? Like when they talk about global warming or evolution or keynesian economics or gold standard or deficits...facts and figures, right...
  • Joe
    Joe - why do liberal always have to call names, never discussing any facts or substance.
  • Unfortunate
    That's cute, the right wing nuts got along and screwed us all.........well, except for their financial supporters.

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