Mark Souder: Grateful Mike Pence was governor
Thursday, February 16, 2017 9:54 AM
FORT WAYNE – Earlier this week, I went to the license bureau. Back when mastodons roamed our state, (before Mitch Daniels became governor) it was a miserable experience. Generally, now I do it on-line and even on a crowded Tuesday morning it is about like a grocery store on a Saturday.
When Mitch took over the state government with radical plans to run it like a business, he quickly became “Ditch Mitch.” His popularity dropped to incredibly low levels. The Democrats perceived a bright political future that could recapture Indiana, going back to making it great again. Gov. Daniels brought in people not trained to go slow. They thought “tactful” meant taking people who resisted change and using tacks to pin them on the wall.
After suffering through nasty publicity which impacted his strategy somewhere between zero and zero percent, he emerged after eight years as “Saint Mitch.” When Mike Pence became governor, he was in a difficult position.
Because Daniels transformed Indiana government did not mean that the unionized teachers and labor movement didn’t have the long knives out looking for any sign of Republican weakness. In fact, analysis of Gov. Pence’s term inevitably mentions his war on public education. It’s as though Dr. Tony Bennett was his creation, and the backlash that elected an accidental superintendent of education was a Pence-caused event.
Regardless of how you view the choice issue, it is irresponsible to imply that it was solely something conceived by Pence. Both men deserve credit. They felt, I believe justly, that our education system needed to be challenged.
And then there’s the “Jesus thing.” Gov. Mike Pence may never receive a fair review of his time as Indiana governor. So many in the media were obsessed over the religious liberty debate that it has colored all coverage of him. It was a media-generated blip in our state’s history. The manufactured crisis was presented as a catastrophic event, which it was not. The voters of Indiana obviously sent Republicans to victory last fall by wide margins.
Then, to top it off, Mike Pence became the liberal Satan’s vice president. This has led to some confusion in media coverage: Is Pence the only thing that stands between America and destruction, or is he part of the effort to ruin us? Or maybe just useful window dressing for the real president, Steve Bannon?
Mike Pence actually has a consistent ideological, legislative, and executive record. But, like the president, our vice president is also a salesman. On radio and other forms of messaging before he became a congressman, he sold conservative ideas. In Congress, he was the top (in position and in skill) Republican messenger in the House.
This led to a common false statement that is treated as a “fact” when it was not: Everything Mike does is part of his goal to become president someday. When he’d say that he was open to the opportunities that God gave him, it has been treated as if it was a deliberate deception. The fact is that Mike believes it as a core foundational fact. Obviously, based upon one’s talents and experiences, you can be better prepared when such an opportunity comes or not be prepared, but you enjoy and accept where you are as the possible end position.
I, for example, approached Mike about running for president in 2008. His reasoning as to why he was not going to was sound. In other words, he obviously was thinking about it but not obsessed. Sound reasoning seldom slows down the over-ambitious who convince themselves that they have a chance. Mike saw being governor of Indiana as one of the highest honors a Hoosier could possibly achieve. If he could become president, or vice president, so be it. The obsession didn’t drive him.
Even more difficult is to separate when a person’s desire to win a position is the primary motivator versus the desire to serve or advocate for a particular point of view. Any politician who denies this tension is, quite frankly, lying.
In politics, it is fairly easy to identify those who seek fame versus those who have a cause. Do they make hard decisions that could put their careers at risk? A second major way is this: Do they explain their positions within the framework of a consistent belief system or does the system alter to fit political opportunities?
I knew Vice President Pence before he was a successful politician. His views have not varied much. He never trimmed his sails to adjust to winds from different directions. He didn’t bail out on his views on moral issues, on how a government should work, the importance of balanced budgets, or issues of safety.
As an executive – whether you agree with him or not – he took years of advocating more purist conservative ideas and his legislative history of general conservative principle advocacy and then applied his ideas to divisive issues including education and health care. His education views certainly represent a conservative approach. His adaptation of health care within a flawed Obamacare system is likely to become a national model.
I expect that commentators who opposed him for election in the first place will continue to remain opposed to him. I expect that others who hoped he’d actually become an ambitious politician seeking higher office by trimming his sails to the prevailing winds will find his term as governor lacking.
However, like the majority of Hoosier voters, I found that Mike Pence, like Mitch Daniels, took risks in order to advance his vision of how our state should be governed.
It has also resulted in the mixed blessing of being the current vice president of the United States. If he becomes president, Mike Pence will be grateful. And if the vice presidency is the highest level of government he achieves, Mike Pence will be grateful for the opportunities that he has had to both advocate his views and to be an example, however imperfect, for his faith in Jesus Christ.
And he will also be thankful that he was governor of Indiana, and so am I.
Souder is a former Republican congressman from Indiana.