When I first met Mike Pence back in the mid-1990s, he was working as a radio and TV talk show host in Indianapolis. I was a guest on his public affairs program many times and came to know the future governor as an affable and evenhanded host who made room for all points of view while clearly stating his own.
Then he had to spoil it all and get elected to Congress, where he became one of the glibbest congressmen ever, issuing endless press releases but managing to not say much at all.
So I guess it’s with a talk-is-cheap attitude that I process Pence’s state of the state announcement that he plans to make the Indiana Economic Development Corp. more transparent and accountable.
Ironically, on the morning of his speech, the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, at the request of Pence’s newly appointed IEDC President Eric Doden, gutted a bill that would have forced the state’s economic development arm to be more forthcoming with information about their deals.
It’s still early in the process, so the public has time to demand that the administration lend more than lip service to open government and support a bill that will give the public the information it needs to judge how well the state is really doing with the tough task of luring good jobs.
Pence’s predecessor was the master of talking the talk but not walking the walk on transparency. Daniels started his first term with the promise that his administration would be the most transparent in our state’s history. While there are numerous examples of failure to live up to these lofty promises, it’s IEDC that has become the poster child for opaqueness.
IEDC achieved this status for refusing to release documents that would verify the claims it makes about the amount and kinds of jobs attracted to the state in exchange for incentives paid by taxpayers.
While IEDC is right to point out that most of the deals allow the business to collect only after it proves jobs materialized, that is not always the case. Numerous examples exist of monies expended for infrastructure and other local improvements that were ultimately wasted because the deal never panned out.
But this issue is about more than just how carefully IEDC spends public money. It’s about having integrity to admit mistakes as well as crow about achievements. It’s about having courage to back up pretty promises made in press releases with hard numbers.
As a former member of the media, Pence should leave the politics behind and force IEDC to be straight with us.
In addition to restoring Senate Bill 162 to its original language, Pence should order IEDC to turn over documents an Indianapolis TV station requested more than a year ago. If Pence expects Hoosiers to trust his version of IEDC, he should quit protecting the Daniels administration and its too-good-to-be-true jobs numbers and let citizens see the true outcomes.
The version of the bill that passed out of committee Jan. 23 will do nothing to lift the veil of secrecy. And it’s troubling that Doden told lawmakers he considers even basic information like number of employees to be a “trade secret.”
It appears IEDC will continue the attitude that job creation and transparency are incompatible, despite the fact that most surrounding states require more information to be reported than Indiana. All Hoosiers should be asking what IEDC has to hide.•
Vaughn is policy director for Common Cause/Indiana, a nonpartisan citizens lobbying organization that works for open, honest and accountable government. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.