Just minutes after he sat down in my office on Wednesday to talk about his incoming administration, Gov.-elect Mike Pence hit on the very subject I had been thinking about.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had a great rookie season following a legend – Peyton Manning.
“Luck did pretty well,” Pence said with a smile.
It will take a full decade for Gov. Mitch Daniels to fully cement himself as a truly “legendary” Indiana governor. We won’t know how his education reforms, his Major Moves Toll Road lease and the true impact on things like the telecommunications reforms will fully play out.
There was no question that his intellectual capacity, his willingness to use all available political capital and his ability to project ideas into profound change and sprawling reform served him well. Daniels certainly had his detractors, but in our final Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll last October, Daniels had a 58 percent approval rating.
After losing two congressional elections in 1988 and 1990, Mike Pence recreated himself, winning a seat in 2000 and, in the next 12 years, rising to the No. 3 position in the U.S. House Republican conference.
While he made a reputation for himself as an ardent social conservative – instigating, for instance, the Planned Parenthood defunding movement – he was also a profound deficit hawk who lashed out at his own party and President George W. Bush for the drunken spending that has resulted in trillion-dollar deficits.
So on Jan. 14, Mike Pence becomes Indiana’s 50th governor, a race he won with less than 50 percent of the vote, but he refused to use the negative TV ads that could have rolled up better numbers.
His critics fear he will be an ideologue. But once we got past the football analogies, the Pence message was one of inclusion. “I truly believe the first characteristic or leadership in a free society is humility,” he said. “I intend to approach this job from the standpoint of servant leadership. I am grateful for the majorities that the people of Indiana awarded our party in the House and Senate. But I intend from day one to reach out to the leadership of both political parties in both chambers and make it clear our door is open.”
Pence comes into office swaddled in history. You have to go back to the FDR landslide year of 1932 to find an Indiana governor – Paul McNutt – with super majorities in both the Indiana House and Senate. There were super majorities in 1974 after the Republican Watergate debacle, but while the chambers were profoundly Democratic, Republican Doc Bowen was governor.
Pence, with all apologies to Joe Donnelly, could take a “my way or the highway” approach, but at least rhetorically he’s not.
A good example was his meeting with incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, the Indianapolis Democratic school teacher who upset Tony Bennett in November. Bennett and Daniels had achieved the sprawling education reforms two years earlier, but changes like A through F grading of local schools proved to be too much change.
Pence and Ritz have since charmed each other. “We talked particularly about making career-oriented vocational education in high school a goal,” said Pence, who will resist rolling back the Bennett reforms. “We found out this was something she was talking about completely independently from what I was talking about.”
Ritz, too, found common ground with Pence. Her M.O. won’t be to roll back the laws – impossible with the GOP super majorities – but to work on literacy and Pence’s goal of expanding vocational education to match regional employment needs.
“There’s a paperweight that I’ve had on my desk for about 10 years,” Pence said. “I’m told the saying on the paperweight was on Ronald Reagan’s desk. When I move in Saturday afternoon bringing in a few boxes, I’ll put it right there. It says, 'There’s no limit what a man can accomplish as long as he doesn’t care who gets the credit.'”
Pence continued, “The attitude that I hold is reflected throughout our administration on the very first day. Let’s bring everybody together and let’s look for areas where we can agree on goals; where we can find common ground. Where there are differences, let’s work on those differences that reflect civility and the courtesy that Hoosiers always afford their neighbors.”
Pence also grasps the differences between being a legislator and an executive. “As a legislator, you are an advocate,” the Columbus Republican said. “You represent your constituents and your ideals. You carry those into the debate to the best of your ability. An executive ought to be someone who demonstrates the capacity to listen to all sides, to reflect, to cast a vision and then create a proposal to advance that vision on a consistent basis.”
Despite the transformative successes of Gov. Daniels, we live in a state with a persistent 8 percent jobless rate. There are jobs available, but the “skills gap” finds many employers unable to find trained employees to do the job.
There is much work to do.
Godspeed, Mike Pence and the 150 legislators. Hoosiers need you to work in concert.