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Column: Seven strategic suggestions for governor to consider

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INDIANAPOLIS – One of the best things about being elected governor of Indiana is that it means every Hoosier gets to give you free advice as you prepare to assume office.

Most of the counsel Mike Pence gets from these folks will be worth every penny he paid for it. I’m hoping mine will be the exception to that rule.

My advice won’t focus on policy. I’ve known Mike Pence for more than 20 years. He knows his own mind and knows what he cares about. (Besides, on many policy issues, we probably wouldn’t agree, anyhow.)

Instead, I’m going to offer some suggestions on how he should get the things done that he wants to get done – how he should lead.

Suggestion One: Focus on the big things. Indiana’s state government is a huge enterprise that depends upon the contributions of thousands of elected officials and employees — and millions of citizens — but there’s really one person who can drive transformative change. That’s the governor. In your first term, pick three, maybe four major initiatives and make sure you do something to drive those initiatives every day. That drive won’t — can’t — come from anyone else. It has to come from the governor.

Suggestion Two: Don’t count too much on the fact that you’re the governor to help you get the job done. The Indiana governor’s office doesn’t have broad constitutional powers.

The Indiana General Assembly can override a governor’s veto with a simple majority, which, in practical terms means that the state’s chief executive doesn’t have a veto at all. So you’re not going to be able to stop anything on the back end. If you don’t make your voice heard early in the process, it likely won’t be heard at all.

Suggestion Three: Take advantage of the stage on which you operate. In the words of longtime Indiana Senate leader Robert Garton, the Indiana governor “has the biggest microphone in the state.” Use that big microphone to frame the discussion of your major initiatives. No one else can command the state’s attention the way the governor can. That’s where your power is.

Suggestion Four: Take the fight outside. Don’t let the discussion of the issues that matter most to you get trapped within the walls of the Statehouse. No lawmaker gets to speak for every Hoosier. The governor does.

Selling your ideas to the public will help you in two ways. The legislators who support your initiatives will be grateful that you made the case for them when they go back to face the voters. And then there are the lawmakers who will oppose your initiatives.

Their leverage is exclusively within the Statehouse’s limestone walls; and, in many cases, within those walls it will be greater than yours. Governors who fight legislators on lawmakers’ terms and turf lose. Don’t be one of them.

Suggestion Five: Don’t try to be Mitch Daniels. Daniels came to the governor’s office after Republicans had been in exile from the big chair for 16 years, which gave him a grace period with the various factions of the GOP that you won’t get.

With the governor’s office in their possession and supermajorities in both the Indiana House and Senate, not many Republicans are willing to be as patient as they were when Daniels first took office. They think every day should be Christmas and they all should get everything on their wish lists. Daniels could direct Republicans. You will have to herd them. Your job will be tougher.

Suggestion Six: Be Mike Pence. In many ways, the challenges confronting the next governor are communications challenges, explaining difficult or nuanced positions, so you can enlist widespread support. No governor in the state’s history has been better prepared for those challenges than you. Make use of your extensive history as a talk-show host and allow Hoosiers to welcome you into their family rooms.

Last suggestion: This one is the most important. Have fun. Americans and Hoosiers like happy warriors. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan come to mind.

Only 48 other human beings in history have had the privilege of being governor of the state of Indiana. This is your moment in history. Make it what you want it to be. If you enjoy your governorship, chances are Hoosiers will, too.

Good luck.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and executive editor of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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