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FEIGENBAUM: Pence's 'road map' puts Legislature in driver's seat

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Ed FeigenbaumEach Hoosier governor brings his own style to his legislative agenda and relationship with the Indiana General Assembly.

For eight years, we watched a governor who was largely a creature of the executive branch dominate state government. Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels was never an elected legislator. He came from the federal executive branch, accustomed to conceptualizing and executing, not to the art of compromise and shaping policy.

Daniels decided what he wanted, told lawmakers how he wanted it done, and expected that same package on his desk for signature and implementation without any further meddling by those who simply didn’t understand his vision for the state or how government should work.

Lawmakers had a sense that Daniels was dictating an agenda that offered little opportunity for them to make an impact and, after his first-year stumble on an individual income tax surcharge, he typically got his way. Even on such big initiatives as the Indiana Toll Road lease and Major Moves road-building, ethics reform, property tax caps, and daylight saving time, there was only minimal legislative tinkering.

Each governor also has a tough time putting an imprimatur on his first legislative session. Only two weeks separate the election and the largely ceremonial Organization Day. The period from Election Day to the opening of the legislative session is a mere two months, an all-too-brief interim that an incoming governor must devote to organizing an administration that will hit the ground running.

Last year, Republican Gov. Mike Pence, conforming to the pattern of every incoming governor, struggled to present and advocate a meaningful legislative agenda. Few new governors are able to assemble a team of legislative advocates who can jump right in and articulate what the governor wants in terms of specifics, what he will trade things for, and what he will settle for—and perform those tasks with credibility.

But year two of an administration is a big one in an agenda-building sense, and one in which a governor’s style emerges. As 2014 opens, we can begin to make a few observations about that with respect to Pence.

Unlike his predecessor, Pence is a legislative animal. He spent more than a decade in a legislative body, the U.S. House of Representatives, and didn’t come to that post from a top post in the traditional business world or with executive branch experience in government. He understands the legislative mentality and the role of the legislative branch in government. More important, Pence respects and embraces it.

Daniels had little tolerance, publicly or privately, for the third floor of the Statehouse. He was impatient with the General Assembly and its members, and he seemed to care about the judicial branch only when it was in a position to pass judgment on one of his initiatives or when he could appoint a judge to uphold his programs.

But after witnessing eight years of all good ideas germinating only on the second floor, Hoosiers watched Pence use his legislative background and first year as governor to inform him about how to advance an agenda. He has adopted a collegial approach in which the Legislature (admittedly populated by a Republican super-majority in each chamber) is effectively an equal partner with whom he is quick to share credit. We suspect this might also allow him to off-load some of any resultant blame down the road.

You see a governor who admits he doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas (his ill-fated 2013 attempt to wade into the tax-cut fray with the individual income tax cut was modified by skeptical lawmakers with a surprisingly bigger-picture view than the chief executive on this issue). Using his favored “Road Map” metaphor, he’s pointing out to legislators his destination, and he will afford them latitude to determine the best route there.

This buys him good will with legislators who aspire to play a meaningful role in the process instead of being told both what to do and how to do it, and also generates some political cover for him.

Instead of being forced up front, for example, to reveal where cuts will be made or other taxes and fees will be raised to fund a business personal property tax cut, Pence can simply say he wants the tax cut and let legislators do the dirty work.

Think of Tom Sawyer not painting the fence when you watch the governor and the 2014 General Assembly … and you’ll realize that the work will get accomplished in a genial and collegial fashion.•

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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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  • Collegial?
    Ed, Fascinating description for Pence's approach - "collegial". From Merriam's: marked by power or authority vested equally in each of a number of colleagues. He usurped the power of the only democrat elected at the statehouse by establishing a center through executive order which eliminated any discussion with his colleagues. It would seem you are providing him with the ground cover to navigate a tax shift from businesses on to individual taxpayers in Indiana. Most journalists are zeroing in on how his first year tax cuts have already hurt the previous surplus, and once his poor decision on Medicaid expansion hits the state, expect even more losses in revenue. I wonder how apologetic you'll be in January 2015.

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