I was out to breakfast last week discussing politics with a prominent conservative local academic. He said he spoke to a Republican who knows Mike Pence and said one of the problems with the Governor is that he's surrounded himself not with the "B" team but with the "C" team. I don't disagree though I would, and will later, expand on that observation.
I too know Mike Pence. Our paths crossed briefly at Hanover College, but where I grew to know him
the best was at IU-Indianapolis Law School. (I refuse to call it the McKinney Law School.) Pence was a year ahead of me. He drew cartoons for the Dictum, the newspaper for which I was editor my second year. (He is a very talented cartoonist.) Because Pence and I were both well-known at the school for our conservative views and were often targets of resident liberals, we often discussed political issues.
|Governor Mike Pence|
The Mike Pence I knew in law school was smart, very personable and open-minded to listening to other views. While disagreeing with his conservative politics, even liberals at the school couldn't help but like him. When I hear liberals today talk about Governor Pence being cold, heartless, and not very bright, I am disappointed. That is not the Mike Pence I know. It is a shame that Pence has kept his warm, gregarious personality and his intelligence, bottled up. I am baffled by the political strategy Pence's handlers are using in presenting Pence in such a way that he appears to be little more than a cold-hearted robot spouting empty slogans. That strategy is clearly not working.
My friend is right. Shortly after entering the Governor's Office, Pence surrounded himself not with the "B" team, but rather the "C" squad. Political advisers are supposed to be schooled in the skills one associates with playing chess. Anticipate what your opponent is going to do several moves ahead and be ready with a response. How in the world could the Pence people have not prepped the Governor for the inevitable, albeit irrelevant, RFRA question George Stephanopolous asked about the Governor's support for LGBT rights? How could they not have prepared the Governor for how RFRA might be misrepresented by opponents? How could Pence's people not have anticipated that calling JustIn a separate news agency might spin into a public relations disaster?
Those PR failures are not the result of failing to anticipate four or five moves ahead. They are PR failures from not anticipating one move ahead. One move. The labeling of Pence's political advisers as the "C" team is spot on.
Unfortunately the problems with Pence's administration are not confined to a few remarkably unskilled political advisers. Pence has also incredibly retained Governor Daniels retreads throughout his administration, many of whom are scandal-prone and have absolutely no loyalty to Pence. Two and half years into the Pence administration, most of those Daniels' appointees remain. Pence has also become surrounded by profiteers, people whose only interest in his administration is how they can use the Governor to make more money. Those profiteers don't have any loyalty whatsoever to the Governor Pence and certainly have no commitment to conservative values.
The good news is there is time for Mike Pence to rehabilitate his political career. But he needs to act quickly to clean house by giving the profiteers and Daniels retreads their walking papers. He also needs to put the "A" team in, political professionals who know their craft and who, while loyal to him, are unafraid to give the Governor brutally frank political advice.
Sadly one of Pence's strengths - that he is actually a very nice guy - is also his weakness. Taking control of his administration means doing some mean things like firing people and telling the leeches who surround him stuffing taxpayer money into their pockets to take a hike.
Pence needs to also push a reform agenda. Here is what I would suggest that would advance worthy goals while putting increasing his popularity for re-election.
- Work on reorganizing the state's bureaucracy that is filled with redundancy and waste. See here.
- Push for changes to Indiana's outdated media shield law. See here. Also, see here.
- Push for improvements to the state's toothless whistleblowing law which has done nothing to protect state employees who wish to blow the whistle on wrongdoing. See here.
- Push for reforms to the Inspector General's Office so that it no longer operates to aggressively target minor offenses by politically powerless state employees while forgiving, and giving cover to, transgressions of politically-connected state officials. See here. Also, see here.
- Push for changes to the Public Access Counselors' Office so that the PAC is actually an advocate for the public to obtain public records and has enforcement authority. Also, insist on more government records being available on-line. See here.
- Push for election reforms like voting centers to make voting easier while improving the integrity of the ballot. See here.
- Push for no brainer campaign finance reform such as requiring that LLCs be treated like corporations when it comes to contribution limits. Support more transparency in campaign reporting and an end of the increased use of third parties to shield the source of contributions and expenditures.
- Push for limits on runaway corporate welfare, especially at the municipal level. See here.
None of these proposals would diminish Pence's conservative credentials one bit and, in fact, would enhance them.. But they also would be very popular with voters and the media.
Here's another thing I would suggest. Have the Governor go down to the employee cafeteria in the State Office Buildings and have an open dialogue with those who work in state government. Listen to their gripes and ideas. The Governor would learn so much about how state government operates, and doesn't operate, simply by listening to lower level employees who work in the trenches.
Listening to people, of course, shouldn't be confined to those in state government. The Governor needs to get out to the public, listen to the people talk about their problems and concerns, even when they're saying things he doesn't want to hear. So many politicians forget that listening, and occasionally taking abuse from opponents, is part of the job of a politician. Doing so gains respect, a commodity of which Pence is in short supply. And mixing with the public would provide the opportunity for Pence to finally show off his No. #1 political asset, a warm, engaging personality that leave even his opponents saying that, while they disagree with him politically, they like him personally. That's the Mike Pence we all knew in law school.
Can Mike Pence make a political transformation and rescue his political career? Absolutely. Will he? Frankly I think he might be too nice of a guy to do what needs to be done.