Former VP Pence speaks to Columbus gathering at book signing

Former Vice President Mike Pence came home to Columbus on Tuesday to sign copies of his memoir “So Help Me God” and speak to an invitation-only audience of about 50 people at Zaharakos ice cream parlor downtown.

After John Kennedy and members of his family picked up a few signed copies, he said what Pence hasn’t yet, but what most political observers believe. “Oh, I know he’s running,” Kennedy said with a laugh, noting what to him seemed obvious given the surroundings and the event. He said he had no inside information, simply describing himself as a longtime friend of Pence and his family, many of whom had the same sense on Tuesday.

“When our publisher said that we wanted to be doing book signings in Indiana, I said, ‘I have to go to Columbus first,’” Pence said to applause. He spoke for about 15 minutes, largely paying tribute to local people and the support he has received from the community. He did not discuss his future plans or the portions of his book that have garnered the most attention, the final days of his time as vice president under former President Donald Trump.

“What was really a joy about writing this book was it really began here in Columbus. I had a chance to tell the story of the opportunities we’ve had in public life and be able to step forward and serve as your congressman and serve as your governor and ultimately the privilege of being vice president of the United States,” Pence said. “… I will tell you, I love this community, the support we’ve enjoyed from this community.”

Pence also paid tribute to the late Tony Moravec, the Columbus businessman, philanthropist and longtime supporter of him and local Republicans who died on election night at age 72. “We mourn Tony Moravec’s passing with a sense of personal loss,” he said. “He was a friend of ours, but he was a friend of Columbus. And he was a friend of Indiana, and he was a champion for America.

“Our last conversation we were debating whether we were going to have (Tuesday’s book signing) here or at the restaurant,” Pence said, referring to two local institutions Moravec helped revitalize — Zaharakos and Upland Pump House. “He said ‘whatever you need, wherever you need it to be,’ which is pretty much what he always said. … There have been men and women in this community who have left an indelible mark on Columbus, Indiana, and Tony Moravec’s name is now on that list.”

Pence read from his book detailing his early life here, noting it was unusual in a southern Indiana community to grow up next door to engineers and even a Hungarian dissident, as he did. Likewise, it was unusual for a community in southern Indiana to be home to two Fortune 500 companies, as was the case in Pence’s youth with both Cummins Inc. and the former Arvin Industries based here.

The former vice president read passages highlighting former Cummins chief J. Irwin Miller’s commitment to civil rights, among others. “The debt that I feel I owe to this community is hard to express,” Pence said.

Afterward, his wife Karenand mother Nancy joined the former vice president at the book-signing table and also signed copies for several people.

Among those who Pence singled out in his remarks was Ann DeVore, who served as Indiana’s elected state auditor from 1986 to 1994 and in a long career in politics also served for a time as a member of Columbus City Council. She said she has known Pence’s mother, Nancy, since Mike was a boy.

When asked if she thought Pence would run for president in 2024, she said haltingly, “I assume he is. … I don’t know why anyone wants to be president, personally, especially nowadays. … I mean every day, you get blasted, no matter what you do, what party you are, anything … you just can’t do anything right,” DeVore said.

She wished him “lots and lots of luck — and patience.”

Former Bartholomew County Republican Party chairwoman Barb Hackman was also among those wishing Pence well on Tuesday. “Kind of exciting,” she said.

Hackman said she has been watching Pence make the TV news show rounds defending the former administration and making the case for its policy successes. “Maybe just didn’t end the way he would have liked to in regards to his relationship with the president. But he was so loyal. And it really says a lot about Mike and how he always has been steadfast in his faith, in his beliefs and he has true integrity, always, in whatever he does.

“… So fortunate to have been part of his past and hopefully in his future,” Hackman said.

“I don’t have a scoop,” she said with a laugh about the speculation about Pence’s presidential ambitions. “… It wouldn’t surprise me if he did, but I would understand if he chose not to.” But she made clear she’s ready to support him.

So is Kennedy, the family friend. “I think his chances are excellent,” he said, should Pence choose to run. “The Trump name is done and baggage now. … Let’s give it a couple of years.”