Pence slowly dropping Washingtonian defenses
By TOM LoBIANCO The Associated Press April 7, 2013 12:52PM
Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., is surrounded by supporters after announcing his campaign for the Republican nomination for Governor of Indiana during an gathering of supporters in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, June 11, 2011. Pence promised to fight health care reform and federal climate change legislation. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Updated: May 9, 2013 6:34AM
INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mike Pence appears to be slowly dropping some of the guard he developed after more than a dozen years working in Washington.
A gentler, more easygoing Pence was on display last week with the unveiling of the Senate Republican budget proposal, which includes a slice of the tax cut the governor had long sought. Without acquiescing on his central agenda item, Pence acknowledged some relief that lawmakers had moved closer to his goal.
“I am pleased with the latest version of the budget,” he said. “I think we are getting on the same page but there are still details and differences in levels and priorities, and I believe those will be the subject of vigorous and respectful negotiations in the days to come.”
Just a few weeks ago, Pence openly battled with House lawmakers who opposed his tax cut. When the House budget was unveiled, Pence said he was “disappointed” it sacrificed his proposed cut for more spending. Then he continued an unconventional lobbying strategy, pushing for the cut at Republican fundraisers throughout the state while tea party activists rallied to his side, hitting House Republicans.
Pence appeared to be waging an all-or-nothing war. It was a hardened stance more common in Congress, where there’s often pressure to go down fighting and lose a crucial battle than there is to accept compromise.
Pence denied he had changed his approach between the release of the House and Senate budgets.
“We’ve been engaged in a consistent and respectful dialogue with members of the General Assembly,” Pence said.
But even if there was no intentional change in how he worked with lawmakers, his message unquestionably softened — sounding more Hoosier than Washingtonian for the first time in his young administration.
It’s not hard to understand the natural defenses one develops working in Congress. Sharp comments and message discipline are rewarded with play in partisan echo chambers like the ones Pence used to great effect while building his national star. And an errant comment pushed through those same amplifiers can just as easily wreck a career.
Two years ago, during battles in Washington over defunding Planned Parenthood — at the risk of defaulting on U.S. loan payments — Pence sounded like the firebrand that made him a hit with the conservative base at events such as the Conservative Political Action Conference.
He dropped much of the fiery rhetoric when he returned to Indiana for the governor’s race, but kept his guard up. Through much of the campaign, Pence avoided specifics and sometimes was hard to find, issuing public schedules only in the final weeks of the race. As he entered office, it was hard to pin down which measures he was pushing, which ones he was merely supporting and which ones he wanted nothing to do with.
But in the last few months, the more relaxed confines of the Indiana Statehouse have worked on him. He began issuing regular public schedules upon taking office and released a few lists detailing legislation he was pushing during the session.
And at least a few at the Statehouse seem to be obliging the revamped approach.
The $150 million cut to the personal income tax Senate Republicans wrote in their budget may not come close to the $500 million cut Pence wants, but it could be the most he gets from the Legislature. And it also provides Pence a convenient exit from the corner he finds himself in after months of taking a hard stance on the issue.
“I don’t know if he thinks he backed himself into a corner or not, but we looked at his plan and we looked at the plan that we already had in place and we agreed his plan had some merit taken in and of itself,” said Kenley, R-Noblesville.
The Senate Republican budget even gives a symbolic nod to Pence, saying it meets the needs of the “roadmap” the governor campaigned on.
The open warfare between Pence and House leaders even appears to be on hold, at least while Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, recovers from emergency knee surgery and budget-watchers keep their eyes on the Senate.
And Pence seems to be a little more at ease in the Statehouse. He ended a recent press conference with a call for more questions, saying he was feeling “chatty.” A final query about a controversial “ag gag” bill banning filming on farms and in factories did not get a very lengthy answer from the former Washingtonian, though.