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Column: Pence’s approach to role as governor differs from Daniels’


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INDIANAPOLIS — As I was thinking about Republican Mike Pence’s inauguration ceremony, I decided to look back eight years to 2005, when Gov. Mitch Daniels was preparing to do the same thing.

It was a reminder of how much things have changed in Indiana and how different these two politicians are.

Daniels came to the governor’s office after Democrats Evan Bayh, Frank O’Bannon and Joe Kernan had served for 16 years. Republicans were incredibly hungry for the office, and GOP lawmakers were dying to be led. Daniels, with his overwhelming list of ideas and do-it-my-way attitude, was just the guy for the job.

On Jan. 3, 2005, the week before his inauguration, Daniels released a legislative agenda absolutely packed with proposals big and small. He wanted a series of tax breaks to help bring companies to Indiana, to put all of Indiana on daylight saving time, to move the date of student standardized testing, to change when kindergartners would start school, and the list went on and on.

And even before the General Assembly’s session began, Daniels had secured pledges from legislative leaders to reorganize the Indiana Economic Development Corp., a group it had just created, so that he would essentially control the agency’s board.

Then on inauguration day, more than 8,000 people came to the Pepsi Coliseum to see Daniels — a former White House budget director for President George W. Bush and political adviser to President Ronald Reagan — swear an oath to take his first public office. The governor then went back to the Statehouse and signed 13 executive orders, including one that stripped public employees of their rights to bargain collectively.

Fast-forward eight years. Pence, who served 12 years in the U.S. House, comes to the Statehouse in a completely different situation.

Republican legislative leaders have matured and no longer look to a governor for leadership. They’ve already pushed many of their dream agenda items into law, including private school vouchers, right-to-work legislation and property tax caps.

And the state is not in the difficult fiscal shape it was eight years ago. Daniels is leaving Pence a $2 billion surplus, and taxpayers will be getting credits as they prepare their tax returns in the coming months.

So perhaps it’s only appropriate that a guy more like Pence takes office now. His experience is as a legislator, not an administrator, which means he’s grown used to negotiating to get what he wants, rather than simply running roughshod over those in front of him.

And Pence comes to the Statehouse without the aggressive and often impatient attitude of his predecessor.

In fact, he held his legislative agenda close. Rather than pushing publicly at every turn, he opted not to announce what he’ll be asking the General Assembly to do until after he took the oath. Many lawmakers said they had had only limited contact from him or his staff, even though the House and Senate had been back to work for a week.

It’s an approach those legislative leaders might not be used to after eight years with Daniels, who liked to try to tell them what to do. But that less aggressive approach might just serve Pence better.

Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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