Getting his groove back

Despite a rough start to 2015, I knew Gov. Mike Pence was starting to get his groove back when the biggest complaint I’ve seen in social media regarding Pence’s appointment of Democrat Jim Schellinger to head the state’s economic development and job creation arm is that Schellinger must not want to run for office as a Democrat again.

Let’s be honest, to say this year has been “challenging” for the governor would be like saying the Edmund Fitzgerald ran into some rough waters. We all know the storyline: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” the RFRA fix, bad poll numbers, etc.

In fact the polls showed Pence was so vulnerable that Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, who apparently can’t manage $30,000 in campaign funds, thought it would be a good idea to try to manage $33 billion and run for governor. All was not good on the second floor.

And, then, a couple things happened. The administration had some internal personnel changes, kept an open mind about adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil rights code, had more campaign cash in the bank at this time prior to re-election than any other candidate in history, got some good job numbers and then pulled the Schellinger appointment.

Of all those things, the Schellinger appointment is by far the biggest and more important. Here’s why.

First, Schellinger is a well-respected member of the business community and has been on the board of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. since 2013. So he understands jobs, economic development and what it takes to be successful in those endeavors.

Second, in an era where the average person is sick and tired of gridlock and partisan politics, it doesn’t hurt to have images of a Republican governor standing side-by-side with a Democratic appointee (who, by the way, ran for governor in 2008 and nearly won the primary).

Third, Schellinger is LGBT-friendly and can play a crucial role in the debate as Indiana moves forward in deciding how and whether to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its civil rights code. As Schellinger correctly pointed out, there are a number of factors that businesses take into account when looking to locate in an area, and while anti-discrimination language is important, it is not the only thing that’s taken into account.

Fourth, and this is the big one, while a lot of people in Indiana’s political circles are focusing on what Schellinger’s appointment does for the Democrats’ ability to raise money, the bigger political impact is that by making Schellinger the head of the state’s job creation arm it all but neutralizes the Democrats on the jobs issue.

Remember, unemployment was already under 5 percent for the first time since the Great Recession and the state was nearing record employment. With Schellinger at the helm, it will be very tricky for Democrats to attack Pence on the jobs issue, without attacking one of their own.

There are already signs of this when the Indiana Democratic Party put out a statement giving what I call “damning praise” to Schellinger’s appointment, saying the governor had to bring a Democrat on board to save his jobs agenda. And if you’re John Gregg, the likely nominee, how do you attack the guy whose job it is to bring jobs to Indiana when one of his prior jobs was to help raise money so you could get Pence’s job? I’ll give you a second to read that one again.

So in a nutshell, Pence’s appointment of Democrat Jim Schellinger is a clear sign — particularly to the political class — that the governor and his team are really headed in the right direction.

Now, there are always pitfalls, roadblocks and ample opportunities to get off track. And there will be plenty of bumps in the road between now and November 2016. However, if they can keep doing what they’re doing and stay focused, then Pence will really be able to get his groove on at the Inaugural Ball in January 2017.

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPolitics.Org. He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. He can be reached at abdul@indypolitics.org.

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of IndyPoltics.Org. He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. He can be reached at abdul@indypolitics.org.