Opinion and Taking Issue

RUSTHOVEN: The 'Hee Haw' candidate distorts again

September 29, 2012

RusthovenJohn Gregg is at it again. In a gubernatorial campaign marked by dishonest attacks on GOP nominee Mike Pence, Gregg’s newest ad shows him under an umbrella with water running off it. Gregg, speaking in Mr. Folksy mode, tells us Pence wants to spend Indiana’s entire “rainy day” fund. Citing his experience as former Vincennes University president, Mr. Folksy warns this is a bad idea, one more way Pence threatens education.

Gregg’s affected persona is more reminiscent of “Hee Haw” than a university. But he’d earn failing marks on research at Vincennes or elsewhere.

Gregg “documents” his charge by flashing a news story quoting Pence as saying, “My inclination would be to spend past our reserves.” Note where Gregg puts the period, evidently trusting no one will read the story.

Doing so shows the snippet is lifted from a video of an informal conversation. It also shows the full sentence: “My inclination would be to spend past our reserves, spend the surplus on growing the economy, not growing the government, right?” So, it seems Pence is really chatting about the options of more spending or returning money to taxpayers.

But wait (as the “gadget ads” put it), there’s more! The story also shows that “spend past our reserves” references funds “other than” or “beyond” the reserves—which Pence is calling the “surplus”—not the reserves themselves. Indeed, the story says Pence favors reserves of 10 percent of operating revenue (a margin that detailed Pence policy proposals now peg at 12.5 percent).

The story also quotes Gregg: “Having been in the state Legislature, I’m real familiar how that surplus can disappear in a pretty quick hurry when the economy gets a sniffle, a cold or pneumonia.” Indeed. When Gregg was speaker of the House, we went from a $1.5 billion surplus to a $760 million deficit.

Pence is winning handily, so the race is getting back-burner media treatment. One reason I’ve written on it more than once is that Gregg has been getting a “media pass” on untruthful attacks that would receive more scrutiny were the race competitive.

But another reason is that Pence is a good friend and a good man. Persons of his faith and character are rare, and rarer still in politics.

In 1990, when a much younger Pence lost his second challenge to then Rep. Phil Sharp, he did some reflecting on the race—which included questionable attacks on Sharp—and on himself. He wasn’t happy with all he saw. I know, because our friendship included candid talks about it.

Pence had no expectations of seeking public office again. But he had learned that the “destroy your opponent” approach was not for him. Whatever there had been in Pence of the burning personal ambition that consumes so many had been burned out of him at an early age. As Pence knew, it was one the best things that could have happened to him.

A decade later, when he unexpectedly found himself urged to seek the congressional seat being vacated by David McIntosh, he approached that campaign as he has every campaign since: focused on ideas and issues. Thoroughly positive in tone. No attack ads, no matter how an opponent was attacking him.

He’s maintaining that approach in 2012. It’s one of many reasons he’ll be a good governor, just the type of person one wants in public life. And it’s why those of us who know him best will keep defending when he’s attacked by politicians of a different stripe.•

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Rusthoven, an Indianapolis attorney and graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, was associate counsel to President Reagan. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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