Opinion and Taking Issue

RUSTHOVEN: Tails ought not wag the dog

March 30, 2013

RusthovenMike Pence has been governor almost three months, so The Indianapolis Star’s Matt Tully has decided it’s time to quit stalling and simply declare Pence a failure.

A few weeks back, Tully said Pence looked like a governor from “central casting” but wasn’t doing anything—certainly not by pushing a tax cut Tully deems an ill-advised threat to government spending that Tully deems preferable. Tully returned a couple of days ago to blast the “lackluster” administration, saying “it must be tough to be Mike Pence,” living in Mitch Daniels’ shadow and doing nothing besides proposing an “arbitrary tax cut” nobody wants.

Goodness. Tully would likely tell you he “personally likes” Gov. Pence; and I can tell you I personally like Matt Tully, whom I’ve praised in this space. But his idée fixe on dissing Pence, especially on tax cuts, tells one more about the columnist than about the governor.

Indeed, Tully’s narrative doesn’t tell anything about the governor’s work on a range of fronts. Pence legislative initiatives on (among other things) regulatory reform, energy, college loans, vocational education, criminal reform and extending school choice to more Hoosier families are far down the road and will soon be law. Some of us think these matter, as we did Pence’s suspending business-harming new regulations when job creation needs to be job one.

That’s why Pence maintains an exhausting travel regimen focused on job development, including eight business roundtables with folks who make investment decisions that put people to work. Announcements total more than $420 million in investment yielding over 3,000 jobs, plus ground breaking for other projects totaling another $96 million and 1,375, respectively.

In the Indy cool-kids crowd—composed of many legislators, lobbyists and journalists—it’s true the only show that counts is at the State Capitol. It’s also true that some in that group’s echo chamber (including some in my party) seem to share Tully’s disdain for cutting taxes on Hoosier income earners.

It has ever been so. Differences between the two political branches can transcend differences between the two political parties. As a friend recently reminded, “Under the Statehouse limestone, the DNA is all the same.” Too often true.

When I first heard that phrase, an earlier generation of GOP legislators (Garton, Borst, Mills, others) dominated. They were smart, well-motivated and accomplished much. I enjoyed knowing and, on occasion, working with them, learning from each. Good people all.

But they, too, had bouts of “limestone flu,” which convinces legislators “they knows best”—certainly better than governors and other outsiders, including fellow party members—how things “have always worked” and must continue to operate. Symptoms flare on budget and tax matters, intensifying ordinary legislative impulses into a categorical imperative to preserve the status quo on revenue available for appropriation.

For a variety of reasons, most journalists today share this outlook, believing with Tully that nobody—well, nobody in the know—cares about cutting taxes when so much “good” can be done with government dollars.

Ronald Reagan famously disagreed, as does Mike Pence. “Nobody cares” about tax cuts other than ordinary Hoosiers who elected Pence in a campaign featuring that plan, and who rate their families’ own budget priorities above those of Statehouse lawmakers’.

Legislators in prior eras got confused about whose set of priorities should prevail. It cost them. Let’s hope this isn’t repeated.

As for columnists—well, as my friend Matt Tully will agree if he reads this, there’s just not much one can do to persuade those folks.•

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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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