Brian Howey: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence goes nationwide
Friday, September 09, 2016 7:16 AM
INDIANAPOLIS - Let me make one thing perfectly clear: Gov. Mike Pence is still being paid by Indiana’s hard working taxpayers even while on his excellent, vice presidential adventure.
Gov. Mike Pence gives his Republican National Convention vice presidential acceptance speech July 20 in Cleveland. (HPI photo by Randy Gentry)
But Mike Pence is no longer acting like an Indiana governor. Since he was officially selected by Donald Trump on July 16, he’s gone national.
He’s come back to Indiana to ride his motorcycle with ABATE, he opened the Indiana State Fair, he’s had several cabinet meetings, campaigned with Eric Holcomb in Columbus, opened a Trump campaign office in Carmel and hosted Trump fundraisers in Evansville and Indianapolis. At none of these events was he willing to field media questions.
He hasn’t taken live questions from the media since the vice presidential speculation was growing in early July, with the exception of one interview with WTHR-TV’s Kevin Rader where a seat on his jet cost thousands of dollars. On the public policy front, it’s been June since he took questions.
Pence didn’t meet with the press when he accepted his second gubernatorial nomination in early June. During the Republican National Convention, Pence didn’t have time to stop by the Hoosier delegation’s hotel in Cleveland to rub shoulders with the faithful. On the day after his acceptance speech, he spent about 20 minutes with the delegation at a country club, and then he was gone.
When a politician “goes nationwide,” there’s a tendency for point of departure. His Indiana stepping stone had served its purpose. Instead of dealing with roads and bridges or budgets, he’s now talking about Hillary Clinton’s state department, military spending and translating to us where Trump actually is on immigration and mass deportations (telling us that his new boss has been “completely consistent” on the topic).
Communicating with the governor has devolved into something akin to unsubscribing from an internet scam or a porn site. The remnants of the Pence reelection campaign won’t respond to phone calls, texts and emails. The governor’s Statehouse office refers reporters to the campaign.
Meanwhile, messy life goes on in the Great Hoosier State. And there are an array of issues that the governor should be discussing. Since Gov. Pence can’t find the 30 to 45 minutes to answer questions, let’s do it in this conspicuous fashion, here in a public forum.
Governor, how would you respond to the . . . .:
East Chicago lead poisoning crisis: There are some 1,000 East Chicago residents who have been forced out of their homes at the West Calumet Housing Complex, the site of a former Anaconda Lead Products smelting plant. This was the scene where children were experiencing head and stomach aches and vomiting. The EPA originally said the site would be cleaned up at no cost to them, but residents later saw it bulldozed after Mayor Anthony Coleman came to the conclusion the place couldn’t be cleaned up without further exposure to nearby residents. “This is a potential catastrophe that could be approaching the same level as Flint, Michigan,” observed State Sen. Lonnie Randolph. The Pence administration has been a no-show.
Southeast Indiana carfentanil/heroin epidemic: Cincinnati and southeastern Indiana are now in the midst of a new, sinister chapter in a horrific heroin epidemic. An elephant tranquilizing drug carfentanil has arrived, a new four-state research project by the drug cartels. There were 78 reported overdoses in the Cincinnati area in just two days, and during the same time span, another 15 in Indiana counties. Like the Scott County HIV/opioid epidemic of 2015, this is expected to ripple across southern Indiana. Gov. Pence has not addressed this issue.
I-69 construction meltdown in Bloomington: On Saturday, IU and Ball State football fans will get to experience Indiana’s latest road construction snafu. The I-69 Section 5 interstate project has ground to a halt. A “notice of non-performance” has been issued by the Indiana Finance Authority after several subcontractors haven’t received payment from Isolux Corsan. Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton said on Wednesday, “My first job as mayor is public safety. The seemingly ever-delayed nature of this construction and the danger it poses to travelers are unacceptable.” Hello, Gov. Pence?
Lease of the state’s communications infrastructure: On Tuesday, the Pence administration announced a 25-year leasing of its statewide communication system to Ohio-based Agile Networks. The state is expected to make $260 million from the deal, which it says will expand broadband services to rural areas. While these are worthy goals, this one popped up out of nowhere. Is it a good deal? No one knows. Contrast this with 2005, when Gov. Mitch Daniels announced his Major Moves program, which leased the Indiana Toll Road and brought it $3.8 billion. But Daniels and key members of his administration were on hand for the announcement, commencing a process of more than six months where it was extensively deliberated by the Indiana General Assembly, passing by small margins. Gov. Pence announced this with a press release and has discussed none of it. Asked about the deal, AT&T President Bill Soards told me he had “no clue” on the impact of the program.
Governing a state is a tough endeavor. It requires hands-on work and communication skills, even when you’re running for vice president.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.