Pence's inner circle includes old, new hands

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

As Indiana Gov.-elect Mike Pence builds his administration ahead of his January inauguration, his leadership style will define both his immediate staff and those who will lead Indiana's various departments and agencies. Asked last week about how his team would be different from outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels', Pence explained dryly: "Well, I chose them."

He then turned serious: "The challenge that we've had, and we've taken it in a deliberative way, is to be thoughtful and to be discerning about not only recruiting people to our administration, but also retaining men and women who have served us with great effect."

Pence's staff says he likes to chew over an issue extensively before presenting it to the public, and wants to hear from multiple sides before making up his mind.

Many of the department heads he's announced so far are carryovers from the Daniels administration.

But Pence's inner circle is one all his own. A top Pence staffer said the group consists of longtime aide and Chief of Staff Bill Smith, incoming First Lady Karen Pence, budget director Chris Atkins, political director Chris Crabtree and incoming Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann.

Each one brings a different strength, ranging from from longtime advisers like Smith to people Pence learned to trust during his campaign like Ellspermann. The staffer spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because Pence and his team don't divulge strategy publicly.

Atkins, a veteran of Daniels' budget team, played a central role in vetting policy proposals, the staffer said; and Crabtree, a former chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, worked with a network of local Republican chairmen during the campaign.

And Pence has long touted his close relationship with his wife, Karen, leading off his ad campaign with the story of how they met. The first lady's role in political advising will mark a 180-degree turn from the Daniels administration, where Cheri Daniels specifically asked to be kept out of the spotlight.

The inner circle has already helped Pence fill key posts, and will be there as he crafts his first budget and begins work on his first legislative agenda. They will also play a key role as he decides whether a White House run is in his future.

That circle has also been something of a mystery to many in Indiana politics, largely because Pence is new to the Statehouse. Daniels' insistence on keeping his own counsel on politics and policy is well-known in the Statehouse, but Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb and longtime Daniels friend Mark Lubbers have led a small group of trusted confidants.

Lubbers said it's hard to pin down similarities between any governor's inner circle because each one is so different and has to mesh with the executive they're working for.

"It's less a tale of the tape, than it is an assessment of the capacities of the individuals to work together. And, more than anything, to do what their boss what wants, not what they want," Lubbers said. He drew an analogy to former Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight's style of team-building, which focused on the dynamics between the players and less on individual superstars.

Lubbers cited former Gov. Robert Orr, who relied on a small, tight-knit group, during his eight years in office in the 1980s. Orr eschewed a chief of staff, he said, and instead had a group of top aides who split the duties. Lubbers worked the press; veteran Republican operative and RNC committee member John Hammond worked with lawmakers; and Ken Kobe, executive director for law firm Barnes and Thornburg, ran the budget.

"I've had a couple of opportunities to visit with Gov.-elect Pence, and I think he's very in tune with this. He certainly understands teamwork," Lubbers said. "I would be very surprised if they don't get off to a very good start."


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

  3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

  4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

  5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.