GREENFIELD — Monday’s inauguration of Mike Pence as Indiana’s 50th governor will mark a new era of leadership but not necessarily a new direction in state government, local observers say.
Hancock County’s elected officials and political observers say the new Republican governor will follow the same direction of his predecessor, Gov. Mitch Daniels. With a nod to differences in leadership style and a few new areas of focus, locals expect a spotlight on the state’s economy and vocational education from the fiscally conservative Pence.
“In some respects, the focus has to be different because when Daniels took office, we had some serious deficits, so that had to be job No. 1,” said Beverly Gard, former state senator. “When (Daniels) improved our fiscal condition, he could really work on job creation, from transportation infrastructure to Daylight Savings Time. Mike Pence has inherited the situation most governors come into: a situation where the state is in such good shape.”
Thousands of people are expected to attend events this weekend leading up to Monday morning’s inauguration ceremony. About 1,500 people have registered to attend the swearing-in outside the Statehouse.
Pence said throughout the gubernatorial campaign last year that he wanted to build on Daniels’ strengths. Even as early as the May 2011 Lincoln Day Dinner in Hancock County, Pence used an Indy 500 racing analogy that the state was poised to speed past other states in economic development when the recession is over.
Gard, who plans to attend the praise and worship service in honor of Pence Sunday, said while Pence may have a different leadership style than the business-minded Daniels, the focus of the next four years will be the same: poise the state for economic growth.
“His challenge is going to be to keep that momentum moving ahead and build on what’s already there,” she said. “There’s always room for improvements.”
House Speaker Brian Bosma has been a political friend of Pence’s since the two went to law school years ago. Bosma said his daughter’s first political event was as a newborn “strapped to Daddy’s chest” at a Mike Pence spaghetti fundraiser.
Bosma, who represents the northwestern part of Hancock County, said while he respects Daniels’ leadership over the past eight years, the first couple were a little rocky because the new governor, who came from a business background, had to learn to work with legislators.
But Pence, a former congressman, should have an easier transition in dealing with the Indiana General Assembly, Bosma said. That’s not to say there won’t be bumps along the way. Lawmakers are already concerned about his proposed income tax rate cut and what that will mean for state revenue.
“Pence will have a very different perspective,” Bosma said. “He comes from legislative experience at the federal level, understands that the governor can propose quite a lot … but if you want to get something through, you must convince members it’s a good idea.”
Bosma will probably only file one piece of legislation this session, and it’s something he’s working on with Pence. They want to encourage state agencies to work together to make sure skills are being taught at state colleges that will align with jobs coming to the state.
Pence’s victory over Democrat John Gregg in November assured the GOP of a 12-year hold on the governor’s office. Daniels had been the first Republican to hold the office in 16 years when he was elected in 2004.
While many local Republicans are eager to see what Pence will bring to the governor’s office, others are more cautious. Phil Miller, founder of the Hancock County Libertarian Party, said he appreciated some aspects of the Daniels era. But he always is on the lookout for ways state government may be getting larger.
Miller said he was disappointed when Pence appointed two directors this week to oversee economic development. The position had been previously held by one person, but the Indiana Economic Development Corporation has faced criticism under Daniels for touting the attraction of thousands of jobs that never materialized.
“He’s not even in office officially and we’re growing government,” Miller said. “And this is from the party that’s made noises about making government smaller. It ain’t gonna happen. It depends on what’s important to him.”
Education reform could be a key issue in the coming years. The inauguration of Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz will be held Jan. 19 at the Statehouse, and after running on a platform of change from Republican leadership, local lawmakers said she may face an uphill battle.
Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, said the Republican-controlled Statehouse – the House and Senate will have GOP super majorities – may be willing to listen to Ritz’s ideas for change. But that’s only if her ideas are tweaks to improve on the previous administration’s changes.
“It just depends on what agenda she’s pushing,” Crider said. “I think there will be a lot of resistance to rolling back what most folks view as major enhancements in education reform. If she’s really going to push a start-all-over agenda, she’s going to be met with quite a bit of resistance.”
Gard points out that Pence has appointed a Republican education policy director, which will serve as a liaison to the Democratic superintendent. Gard expects Pence to be tactful and cautious when it comes to changes in education.
Both Crider and Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, plan to attend Pence events this weekend and Monday. Crider said Daniels “brought a real business mind and a business sense to the operation.”
“He was a personality that when you left the room there was really no question as to what the expectations were,” Crider said.
While it’s hard to pinpoint how Pence will lead until he actually takes office, Crider said he followed Pence enough on the campaign trail to recognize there won’t be major changes in direction for the state.
Cherry said while Pence is socially conservative, he doesn’t expect social issues to be a focus in his administration. Economic growth, he said, will be a focus.
“I think he’s going to find state government in a lot better shape because we’ve got a surplus; we’re giving tax relief to every Hoosier; and (with) unemployment we’re one of the better ones in the Midwest and companies are locating here now,” Cherry said. “We don’t have to sell Indiana; Indiana sells itself.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.