Pharos-Tribune

November 14, 2012

KITCHELL: We're at a crossroad


— We’re at the crossroads of America, and the crossroads of Indiana governors.

In a few weeks, Mike Pence will take over for outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels. While some may be expecting four or eight more years of Daniels-style leadership, no two people are exactly alike and no two public officials govern exactly the same way either.

With the dust settling from last week’s election when Pence made the transition from being elected to a federal office to a state one, speculation begins on how a Pence administration will lead from here and what priorities he’ll have in the next four years.

Looking ahead, here’s what Hoosiers could be in store for beginning in January:

1. Persona. Daniels was an authoritarian, autocratic figure, but Pence appears to be less of a top-down leader. If his congressional experience served him well, he’s had several doses of humility because he’s had 334 colleagues who don’t always think or act in the same way.

2. Tax cut mania. The centerpiece of Pence’s campaign is a 10 percent income tax cut he said would put more money back in our pockets. But has he cleared this with House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President David Long first? Depending on the revenue stream for the state, it may not be feasible in 2013 or 2014. If the economy continues to rebound, Pence might be able to squeeze it through in 2015. Still, Long and Bosma will have to scramble to replace the revenue lost.

3. Regionalism. Daniels was the first Indiana governor from Marion County and his reign showed it. Indianapolis boomed while much of the rest of the state idled under  his tenure.

4. Health care. Pence has already gone on record as saying that he will not implement the state health exchanges established as an option through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. But Indiana is rich with insurance companies, and as the law is gradually phased in, expect them to lobby Pence and legislators to keep more Indiana insurance  premium money in the state. It can only help the state economy.

5. Interstate 69. Pence has a $100 million headache on his hands that might be settled immediately if he decides to make Bloomington-to-Evansville a toll road.

6. The tea party. Pence hasn’t shied away from supporting the movement, but now it won’t shy away from him either and will expect some favors.

7. Education. Less than a week after Democrat Glenda Ritz defeated Daniels-supported Tony Bennett for state school superintendent, Republicans are already talking about making the superintendency an appointed position again, and they’re also claiming Ritz won’t be able to alter changes made under Bennett’s watch. But a telling statistic for Pence is that Ritz won more votes than he did, despite being outspent and getting a relatively late start. Retaliating against Ritz may only fuel voter angst over education reforms.

8. Supermajority. Pence has it to work with in the legislature, but given state funding, no one caucus can have it all. There will be some friends and enemies made and new coalitions formed. How that plays out is yet to be determined.

9. Back Home Again in Indiana effect. One of the little-reported story lines from the recent  campaign is the fact that Indiana’s seniority in Congress is near the bottom of all states. The Indiana Republican with the most “seniority” is Marlin Stutzman who is starting his second term in January. With Richard Lugar gone, Dan Coats has only two years of seniority in the Senate, and he’s the state’s “senior” senator. Without clout on Capitol Hill, Pence  and his party will have to look within the boundaries of the state to accomplish what leadership positions have elsewhere.

10. Timing. How long Pence will have the luxury of a super majority is anyone’s guess. Historically, the governor’s party tends to lose seats in the first cycle after taking office, but Democratic leadership in the House is still very much a work in progress. Scott Pelath of Michigan City was a logical choice for Democratic leadership and should be a refreshing change. How his style and Pence’s mesh with voters and legislators will be a key thing to watch in the next two years.

Looking ahead at the crossroads, there’s always the opportunity for politicians to take the Yogi Berra advice: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Many officials try to be all things to all people. Pence and his faithful can’t be, and despite all the funding advantages he had in the last election, he still managed just half the popular vote.

Pence is at the fork. From here, he has to lead his own way.

Dave Kitchell is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached through the newspaper at ptnews@pharostribune.com.