Governor and State Government and Government & Economic Development and Mike Pence and Government

Pence taps Bush, Daniels advisers to shape policy

June 7, 2012

The team of policy advisers assembled by Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence reflects his efforts to assuage social and religious conservatives who have built him into a national brand while catering to business-minded conservatives who have ruled under outgoing Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The group includes Ryan Streeter, a former domestic policy adviser to President George W. Bush who helped define "compassionate conservatism," a pair of former senior aides to Daniels and the former counsel to Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration.

A list of 14 advisers and their areas of focus obtained by The Associated Press shows Pence is reaching deep into Indianapolis legal circles as he prepares to roll out specifics of his campaign platform this weekend at the GOP's state convention. Each adviser leads one or more policy groups for Pence.

Pence, who is widely known for his conservative views and federal efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, must walk a delicate line. He has to win over conservative voters who just ousted longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in the May primary because he was too moderate without alienating the fiscal conservatives aligned behind Daniels.

Pence has sidestepped social issues for the most part, saying he is focused on job creation. But two of his policy groups focus on issues near and dear to the conservative movement's heart: federalism and family policy.

Asheesh Agarwal, a member of the Federalist Society, a loose-knit network of conservative lawyers nationwide that advocates broadly for decentralizing power, is running the federalism and judiciary panels. He said Pence's first order to him was to "focus like a laser beam on economic development."

Agarwal has worked as legal counsel on Daniels' campaign and Daniels' outside fundraising group, Aiming Higher PAC. He and other Pence policy advisers declined to discuss specific policies Pence is considering ahead of his speech at this weekend's convention. But he said the federalism panel has been broadly looking at ways to decouple the state from the federal government and cited the battle against the federal health care overhaul as a good model for understanding the group's focus.

The family policy group is being run by Streeter, who in a 1999 op-ed for The Washington Times defended Bush's "compassionate conservatism" and calls to invest in religious charities, which ultimately became one of the hallmarks of the Bush administration. He said he was charged with seeing how family structures help or hurt Indiana's economy.

"It really is about economic conditions of Hoosier families," he said. "What is the relationship between healthy families and a healthy economy?"

Streeter said his group's work would probably manifest in Pence speaking throughout the state on the benefits of family structures.

That hasn't assuaged activists who are concerned Pence's vision of families may exclude many Indiana residents.

Mary Byrne, executive director of the Indiana Youth Group, which counsels gay teens, said it's hard to know exactly what Pence means by family policy but said it is unlikely to be friendly toward Indiana's gay community.

"I think they would come up with a very narrow view of families and that would be very scary," said Byrne, whose specialty license plates were revoked earlier this year at the urging of social conservatives in the state Legislature.

The narrow definition would not just be a problem for gay families but also for straight men and women who are either divorced or live together but are not married, she said.

"The mom and dad and two kids at home, with the mom staying home, that's just not a reality anymore," Byrne said.

Pence has said he generally would like to build on Daniels' last eight years in office, and his selection of two former Daniels aides reflects that. Former Daniels policy director Lawren Mills helped lead Daniels' overhaul of the state education system last year and is leading the education policy group. Former Daniels legislative director Mike O'Brien is leading the group focusing on transportation and infrastructure.

Pence himself has given a few hints of what he would do. His initial call to cut the state's personal and corporate income taxes along with eliminating the state inheritance tax carried an estimated price tag of $1 billion a year. Since he first floated the idea last summer, state lawmakers agreed to phase out the inheritance tax over the next 10 years. Pence has talked about cutting the state sales tax as well, but campaign spokeswoman Christy Denault says none of those proposed cuts are set in stone.

In the absence of specifics from Pence, his Democratic opponents have spent the past week campaigning throughout the state with what they call the "Pence Plan." Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg and running mate Vi Simpson have said Pence's previous work for the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and public statements show he would likely limit women's access to health care and cut aid for low-wage workers.

Denault disputed the Democrats' statements, saying that Gregg and Simpson have wrongly attributed statements from other Indiana Policy Review authors to Pence.

The groups that have been shipping policy ideas up to Pence include more than 200 Hoosiers representing a broad swath of Indiana. Agarwal and Streeter both praised the process.

Many of Pence's advisers are lawyers and lobbyists from Indiana's most powerful law firms, which either do business with the state directly or represent business interests seeking state contracts and new laws.

Edwin Bender, executive director of FollowTheMoney.org, which tracks spending and influence in Statehouses, said that's not necessarily a problem because lobbyists often represent some of the most intimate knowledge of government because of the revolving door between government jobs and lobby shops.

But he said it's important that their interests aren't the only ones considered.

"When you can get people from very specific industries in and if they have very specific goals, then they're probably going to be able to work to get the answers they want, and that's not necessarily what is in the best interest of the public," he said.

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