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Governor's race goes negative as GOP group weighs in with anti-Gregg ad

June 7, 2016

The Republican Governors Association has thrown down the gauntlet in Indiana’s gubernatorial race, coming out with an attack ad that calls Democratic candidate John Gregg a “wasteful-spending, tax-loving, former lobbyist.”

The race is expected to be competitive, with an April poll from WTHR and Howey Politics showing that Gov. Mike Pence’s rematch with Gregg is essentially neck-and-neck. The poll found Pence leading with 49 percent of the vote to Gregg’s 45 percent, with 5 percent undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

The RGA says in the ad that Gregg, as the former House speaker, "helped turn a $2 billion surplus into a massive deficit.” It also says Gregg supported higher taxes while in office, and said he worked for “scandal-ridden” Enron while he was serving in the Legislature.

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported last week that the RGA is using ad time that Pence had originally reserved.

"Public data on political advertising purchases shows the RGA taking over Pence for Indiana's space on WRTV in Indianapolis starting June 6. Another document obtained by the Journal Gazette shows the same thing for WNDU in South Bend," according to the story.

Gregg’s campaign called the ad a “clear sign of desperation.”

“Mike Pence has failed as governor,” said Gregg campaign manager Tim Henderson. "His record is one that has brought scorn and embarrassment to Hoosiers, hurt our economy and set us all back. Now, he’s not even man enough to put his own name on this attack.”

As for the content of the ad, Gregg did do some work for Enron through his law firm, but most lawmakers work in Indiana because the Legislature is part-time.

But RGA’s attacks on Gregg’s fiscal record are pretty misleading. Through much of Gregg’s tenure as speaker, the state’s reserves were massive at 24 percent of state spending.

IBJ Managing Editor Lesley Weidenbener explained the history in 2012 in a thorough post over at TheStatehouseFile.com, where she previously worked.

She wrote that “many taxpayers were less than thrilled” with the huge surplus.

“They accused the state of acting like a bank and pressure mounted for lawmakers to return some of those dollars to Hoosier workers.

"The result was a period during which lawmakers cut taxes. With the support of Republicans and Democrats, the General Assembly cut taxes for homeowners, parents, and businesses. Lawmakers eliminated the property tax on business inventory.

"Those tax cuts reduced state revenues even as lawmakers were boosting spending on education and other programs.

"As a result, there were several years during Gregg’s tenure as speaker when the state outspent its revenue—sometimes significantly. But tax cuts were as much to blame as increased spending.

"By 2001, the state’s reserves had fallen to roughly $909 million or about 10 percent of spending—an amount then Gov. Frank O’Bannon said was a prudent total. Then a recession hit. The dot.com bubble burst. And the Sept. 11 terror attacks sent the economy tanking.

"At the end of fiscal year 2002, as Gregg was leaving office, the state’s reserves had dropped to $162 million, according to the [Office of Management and Budget]. That’s less than 2 percent of spending.”

The tone of RGA’s ad may be a sign of things to come in the race when it comes to tone. Though Pence long ago largely swore off negative campaigning, he signaled early in the campaign that “for those expecting a campaign like 2012, they will be disappointed.”

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