By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

1. Pence's relationship deficit

Here is your final Atomic! for the wild and wooly 2018: When Howey Politics Indiana did a deep dive into Vice President Mike Pence's 12 year congressional career in 2013, one thing that struck us was how few relationships he had with Democrats. He didn't work on key legislation like Sens. Dan Quayle and Ted Kennedy did. Pence was an ideological voice  and that was about it. Pence has fewer relationships across the aisle than Barack Obama. When Donald Trump chose him for the ticket, part of the rationale was his congressional relationships. But they're really not there, as the late Sen. John McCain's famous thumbs down on the Obamacare repeal/replace showed after hours of talks with Pence.

Politico writes about the government shutdown talks between Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer this month, with this key point: "The back channel talks never stood a chance." Why? Some observations: The two men had "little shared history and no apparent personal chemistry." And: "Schumer didn’t entirely buy that Pence had authority from the president to negotiate." And: "Pence, by all appearances, has little sway over Trump’s bottom line." And: "Schumer had left the House by the time Pence was elected in 2000. And though Pence, as Trump’s No. 2, frequently comes to the Capitol for weekly Senate GOP lunches, he doesn’t stop by Schumer’s office  and rarely speaks to him by phone." And, finally, this: "Asked whether there are any Senate Democrats with whom the vice president shares a close working relationship, a senior White House official deadpanned, 'He has a good relationship with Jeff Flake,'  the outgoing Republican Trump critic from Arizona." Doink-doink. Bottom line: Other than political funders and President Trump & Clan, Pence does very little to build and sustain relationships.

2. Bray and Rules

The Senate Rules Committee is often seen as a place where controversial bills go to die. So new Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray raised eyebrows with this statement: “At this time, I have decided to assign all bias crimes-related legislation to the Senate Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedure. This does not meanthese bills are dead by virtue of their assignment to this committee. My intention is to use the Rules committee to hold all proposals related to this issue until our caucus has had the opportunity to fully discuss each proposal and decide which aspects, if any, of the offered legislation have support to move forward.” So this should be seen as a control mechanism for a fledgling leader, as opposed to a rebuke to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is prioritizing hate crime legislation in 2019. Republican Sens. Mike Bohacek and Ron Alting will be sponsoring such legislation.

3. Civics and graduation

When I sat down with Purdue President Mitch Daniels last month, our early conversation centered on a growing civics deficit with young Hoosiers. Many believe this is a crisis in the making  as fewer and fewer people understand how or why government should work. State Sen. Dennis Kruse has proposed SB132: "Civics test as a graduation requirement. Requires the state board of education to provide to a public school, including a charter school, or an accredited nonpublic school a United States government course exam  that contains material that is identical to the material tested on the United States Civics Tests administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to each applicant for United States citizenship." This is spot-on legislation.  Take the citizenship test yourself.

4. Donnelly's parting shot

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly had a warning for Democrats in one of his final interviews on CNN over moving toward a single payer health system. "We have not made enough of a connection ... that the people of my state understand culturally. When you talk 'Medicare-for-all' ... you start losing the people in my state. When we start talking about, 'Hey, we're going to work together with the insurance companies to lower premiums,' that's what connects. The talk on the coasts just doesn't get it done in the middle." As for a potential 2020 Democratic presidential nominee (with Sen. Elizabeth Warren entering the race today), Donnelly said, "Who wins the primary is not necessarily the best person in a general election."

5. Gridiron redemption

It was a gruesome bowl season for the state as Purdue and Notre Dame tanked. Then came Sunday where the Colts became only the third team in NFL history to start 1-5 and then make the playoffs. They join the Chicago Bears, who finished 12-4 with a dominant, Monster of the Midway defense and a promising young offense (including IU's Jordan Howard). Colts QB Andrew Luck has been resilient, and he now has a stout offensive line and an innovative defense filled with young studs like LB Darius Leonard, who is playing with a max shoulder chip after a Pro Bowl snub. The Monsters face the defending champs Philadelphia (4:40 p.m. Sunday), while the Colts have a rematch with Houston in Luck's hometown at 4:30 Saturday. Luck has pinned more than 860 passing yards on the Texans and won there in December. Not only do we like the first round chances for both these teams that Hoosiers love, but you just can't rule out a 2007 Super Bowl rematch between the Colts and Bears. Bring it on. Make Coach Ditka contemplate one more cigar.

Have a safe New Years Eve, folks. It's The Atomic!