Monday, September 24, 2012

Mike Pence's Political Dilemna: Balance Support for Governor Daniels While Distancing Himself from Administration Problems

Over the weekend, the story broke about Judge Jim Payne, Director of Department of Child Services, involvement in his department's handling of a case involving his grandchildren. The Star opines that Judge Payne crossed ethical lines which Judge Payne and his Department vehemently deny.
Judge Jim Payne, Director of the
Department of Child Services

I was more interested in the responses from the gubernatorial candidates.  Democratic candidate John Gregg called for Judge Payne's ouster.  Meanwhile Mike Pence responded by deferring to the Governor. The Governor's office claimed no knowledge of the controversy.  Of course, if that is true, it begs the question, why not?  While I am a big supporter of Governor Daniels' policies, I have pointed out that his Achilles' heel is administration.  He has not seem interested in supervising chiefs that he appointed to the various agencies.  Inevitably many of them have ended up doing things that end up embarrassing the Governor, things that could have been easily nipped in the bud with better supervision (to steal Barney Fife's catch phrase) before they got out of hand.

This isn't the first time DCS has made the state's biggest newspaper, putting Governor Daniels' administration in a bad light.  DCS has been a troubled agency from the first day Governor Daniels appointed Judge Payne nearly eight years ago.  Very early on under Judge Payne's leadership, then Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi announced plans to investigate the agency's handling of a case that result in a death of a little girl, Tijuana Bailey. The investigation was quickly and mysteriously dropped.

Things have gotten so bad that the Republican majority in the House and Senate, bucked the Governor, and voted to hold a study committee reviewing the DCS's practices.

This is not the first time that Republican legislators took the lead in challenging Republican Governor Daniels on problems at the state's agencies.  In January 2009, following the 2008 landslide win for Governor Daniels, Republican State Representative Suzanne Crouch and Republican State Senator Vaneta Becker introduced a bill to to suspend the FSSA's Medicaid privatization rollout.  At the time, Governor Daniels was furious, suggesting Crouch and Becker were not being good Republicans.  Crouch and Becker refused to buckle and eventually Gov. Daniels had to concede his privatization effort had failed.

Nobody, even Republicans, understand why Daniels has for years refused to change the leadership at DCS. 

Gregg this campaign season has been like an NFL running back with a bad offensive line.  Every time he gets the ball, there is no daylight for him to run to.  Now he seems some daylight with the DCS-Judge Payne flareup.  Pence is put in a position of having to defer to the Governor.    I believe I long ago argued that Gregg's best political strategy was to put Pence in a position where he has to defend the Governor on administration problems like the Lottery Commission's lavish spending, the failed Medicaid privation, DWD unemployment compensation troubles, several million dollar accounting errors, and state agencies paying millions of dollars in late fees on their bills. 

In the end, it might make the most political sense for Pence to look for a middle ground - while not criticizing the Governor's leadership and alienating some Republicans, emphasizing that he intends to do a thorough review of the operation of the various government agencies and make changes where needed. The first place he should start is at DCS.

But regardless of the political strategy in the gubernatorial race, a Governor Pence or a Governor Gregg needs to be more active in administration oversight than Daniels has been.  The next Governor needs to surround himself with staff who will impose oversight and demand accountability from the agencies and those chosen to lead them.  That unfortunately hasn't been the case under Governor Daniels.

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