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Indiana focus could propel Pence upward


Like most politicians with their eyes on the presidency, Mike Pence has a lot of fun with his non-denial denials.

“Some people say that the next president ought to be a governor,” he said to laughter at a gathering of the Federalist Society in Indianapolis earlier this month. “I’m certainly sympathetic to that view.”

The pre-maneuverers for the Republican nomination are a large and varied crowd, and it’s far too early for a meaningful 2016 road map.

But the pre-run clearly has Indiana’s governor thinking nationally and internationally. He took on Russian aggression against Ukraine while on a trade mission to Germany and was warmly received by the National Rifle Association during its convention in Indianapolis. Yet this month, he’s planning to speak to two more state GOP conventions.

Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin, who interviewed him in Washington, D.C., last month, wrote that Indiana’s governor “appeared genuinely undecided, if not downright skeptical. But plainly he’s a governor immersed in state-led reform with a strong grasp of foreign affairs. The GOP could do worse …”


And, there are encouraging signs that Pence’s Washington daydreams have led him to seek more palatable alternatives to confrontational conservatism. HIP 2.0, the governor’s alternative to Medicare expansion, is a creative approach to closing the health care coverage gap.

He’s made some marked improvements in the state’s approach to child safety and welfare and even started Indiana down a hesitant path toward state-guaranteed pre-school availability. He’s still just as adamantly against sensible gun regulations as other Republican leaders, but Pence resisted the temptation to toss red meat to the NRA crowd. He wisely turned low-key during the legislature’s disastrous effort to amend the Indiana constitution to double-ban gay marriage, and he’s stopped short of endorsing the Indiana-led effort to tinker around with the U.S. Constitution for a few ideological yuks.

Though his views are unapologetically conservative, Pence comes across as a caring man who respects people he disagrees with and who wants to find ways that don’t conflict with his political philosophy to help Hoosiers in need.

If pre-running for president has led Gov. Pence to soften the sharp edges of the old “the Obamacare ruling was as bad as 9/11” Congressman Pence, perhaps he should keep pre-running for, like, forever.

The challenges that confront Indiana in the year ahead, though, should be the governor’s focus.

Low wages and persistent underemployment make for a less-robust economic outlook than pre-candidate Pence would like to believe. Cities and towns are struggling to make sense of tax cuts that may be attractive to some apocryphal outside company but are imperiling good roads, libraries and services at the local level.

Clearer leadership and clearer thinking are needed on educational policy – replacing Common Core with virtually cloned state standards doesn’t absolve responsibility for declining state support for public schools.

More needs to be done to help at-risk kids.

And if it’s approved by the federal government, HIP 2.0 needs to be quickly implemented – a huge and daunting task.

The argument for Pence as presidential candidate will ultimately turn on Pence’s performance as Indiana’s governor in the year ahead.