Pence taps former lawmaker Espich as top lobbyist

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Gov.-elect Mike Pence tapped a retired lawmaker with four decades of legislative experience Thursday to guide his agenda through the Statehouse as he continues assembling his new administration.

Pence announced that former state Rep. Jeff Espich would serve as his top adviser for legislative affairs. The Uniondale Republican chaired the powerful House Ways and Means Committee before he retired from the General Assembly this year and will have a central role in helping Pence push his agenda.

The veteran lawmaker said his new job will consist of advising Pence on the intricacies of the General Assembly and developing relationships with lawmakers. Both will be essential for Pence, who's more experienced working the halls of Congress than the Indiana Statehouse. It will also be an asset as legislative leaders look to assert their own power.

Espich pointed out that in the 40 years since he started in the Legislature, lawmakers have gotten savvier about dealing with the respective governors and have hired more staff to help them come to their own conclusions.

"I think an increasing professionalism and competency give them a sense of independence," he said, adding that Democratic and Republican caucuses were not nearly as ambitious as they are now. "No caucus had an agenda 40 years ago. They weren't capable of it."

Lawmakers typically have to wait one year after they leave office before returning to lobby their former colleagues, according to state ethics laws. The question arose earlier this year when Gov. Mitch Daniels was picked as Purdue University's next president. State ethics officials determined the one-year "cooling off" period did not apply to an executive branch official departing for a university.

Espich said he didn't believe moving from the legislative branch of state government to the executive branch would violate that law, because it applies to lawmakers who leave government to aid private interests.

The inspector general's office did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.

Espich will have numerous strong relationships among House and Senate lawmakers to trade on as he lobbies for Pence's priorities. Pence has yet to detail his first-year agenda, but has said he would like lawmakers to cut the state's personal income tax by 10 percent. Espich said he, like other lawmakers, was skeptical when he first heard the idea. But since then he has reviewed the numbers and believes it's a feasible move, given the state's fiscal footing.

Espich joins Atkins and Chief Counsel Mark Ahearn on a Pence team that is still shaping up. Longtime congressional Chief of Staff Bill Smith is leading the transition team with an assist from some of Daniels' top lieutenants, including Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and Daniels Chief of Staff Earl Goode.


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