MERRILLVILLE - Vice President Mike Pence appears to be one who has considerable clout in Washington. After all, he often is seen hanging onto the coattails of President Donald Trump.

With gray hair atop a blue suit and red tie, Pence looks quite presidential. But when you come right down to it, Pence – the former Indiana governor and congressman – is pretty much an empty suit.

When the acting director of the National Park Service told a Senate subcommittee last week that the Department of the Interior does not support turning the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore into a national park, it begs the question, “Where was Pence?”

Doesn’t the vice president have enough clout to see that the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is converted to the nation’s 61st national park? One would think so, especially given that the proposal was written by U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky and is backed by all Hoosier congressmen and Sens. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, and Todd Young, a Republican.

Visclosky said he remains confident that House Bill 1488, which he sponsored and was approved by the House last year, eventually will be approved by the Senate. Visclosky and local economic development officials say the national park status would provide a lift for the Northwest Indiana economy.

Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism in Porter County, said the dunes “has over 15,000 acres of woodlands, prairies, savannas, bogs, wetlands, beaches and shoreline and is the birthplace of ecology.”

Yet, P. Daniel Smith, acting director of the National Park Service, said his agency prefers national parks to be larger than the dunes. Go figure. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is 15,000 acres while St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, which is 193 acres, was designated a national park in February.

One call from Pence to the Secretary of the Interior would guarantee that the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore would become Indiana’s first national park.

So, where is Pence while a key proposal in his state is in disarray? I guess he is too busy trying to look presidential while he follows Trump around like a puppy dog.

Rich James has been writing about politics and government for 40 years. He is retired from the Post-Tribune, a newspaper born in Gary.