Opinion and Statehouse Dispatch

FEIGENBAUM: Key issues not illuminated in Pence address

January 26, 2013

Through the 2012 gubernatorial campaign—at stops along the stump or on stage during the formal debates—Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence referred Hoosiers to the extensive “roadmap” his campaign had posted on his website.

The roadmap was not a typical campaign platform replete with puffery, but rather would be a governing document, he insisted.

Upon being sworn in, he delivered his inaugural address, traditionally a message about the journey the new governor would embark upon with Hoosiers and where he intended to lead them. As expected from a first-term governor, the speech was long on platitudes and short on details.

But the rubber hit the road when Pence and his team had to quickly submit a proposed budget to the General Assembly that more clearly laid out his priorities. And after receiving feedback from lawmakers, the media, the electorate and lobbyists, Pence on Jan. 22 served up his maiden State of the State address.

Many lawmakers and other observers had expected this speech to add key details to the roadmap—effectively serving as a GPS of sorts for lawmakers seeking to divine the route taken and the destinations visited on the journey promised on inauguration day.

But if they were looking for specifics and a surprise new initiative or two not already laid out or even broadly hinted at, they were sorely disappointed.

Yet they probably should not have expected too much.

Sixteen years ago, the last time a governorship remained in the hands of the same party after eight years, Democrat Frank O’Bannon also failed to deliver any true surprises, merely reiterating his campaign calls for tax cuts, education improvements, increased highway funding, and more cash for public safety.

And, of course, Democrats said Hoosiers could have all of that and the state would still be left with a billion-dollar reserve.

Sound familiar?

Outside of Pence’s strong ability as a communicator (he didn’t use a Teleprompter), there was little to distinguish his remarks from those of O’Bannon, the last elected Democratic governor. O’Bannon even railed against burdensome school regulations and advocated a reorganization of work-force initiatives.

Job creation and fiscal responsibility were the cornerstones of the Pence speech, with a strong emphasis on education and work-force skills. He made a special point of deflecting criticism of his education budget by highlighting the increases, calling for voucher expansions, and using some of the same percentage metrics as his immediate predecessor, Mitch Daniels, to demonstrate his commitment.

If there were any unexpected areas of emphasis, they were Pence’s advocacy of veterans and strong words on preventing poverty. Critics will suggest he introduced the latter topic to back traditional families and denigrate same-sex marriage. An intended reference to school safety (deleted due to time constraints) would have dismissed “well-worn arguments over gun control.” But the words were not gratuitous, and no different from those he has emphasized over 12 years in public office.

Lawmakers could not have been pleased that Pence used his bully pulpit to appeal at length for his “affordable” 10-percent individual income tax cut. He lobbied hard for this, laying out a four-point argument. But he didn’t seem to find much enthusiasm from a chamber packed with 150 different ideas as to how to better direct any surplus.

And while Pence argued that Indiana has better ideas for moving forward than the federal government does, and should be left alone to lead, he didn’t proffer a lodestar for evaluating his proposals, as O’Bannon did when he called in 1997 for every decision to be measured against the question: “Does it leave our children and our grandchildren better prepared for tomorrow?”

Absent from Pence’s speech were statements that would clarify his stands on key issues—such as mass transit, criminal sentencing reform, utility plants, gambling law changes—and tort reform that may occupy much of the legislative agenda.

Perhaps 75 percent of the speech was directed toward his budget proposals. And it was largely devoid of “social issues,” suggesting a more workman-like governance style than many had expected.•

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Feigenbaum publishes Indiana Legislative Insight. His column appears weekly while the Indiana General Assembly is in session. He can be reached at edf@ingrouponline.com.

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