It’s now obvious Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is exploring a presidential run. Next week he’ll be in Iowa again, at a closed-to-press–except-The-Washington-Post fundraiser for Gov. Terry Branstad. Last week he was in Texas at Americans for Prosperity’s (AFP’s) annual convention, touting some tax cuts here in the Hoosier state, which had been part of his campaign platform.
DC gossip rag Politico ran two assumption-heavy articles before Pence’s AFP appearance, aimed probably at pageviews more than truth because they weakly tied Pence into the Right’s smaller-pocketed, overhyped version of Bill Gates and George Soros: The Koch brothers.
We’re supposed to believe Pence has some magical line on Koch money because, like many other likely 2016ers, they’ve sent him some campaign money and speaking invites (the Kochs helped found and provide major funding to AFP). But the actual facts in the articles often undermine their headlines. One concludes with this quote from AFP President Tim Phillips: “Gov. Pence has a sterling record in Congress…[but] we disagree with his hybrid Medicaid expansion. And we’ve made that clear both within the state to our activist base and to the governor.”
Pence does have a sterling congressional record, but it doesn’t seem to have sustained his transition to executive office. The question for 2016 is what about Pence’s 18 months as governor he has to run on. And on that point, Pence’s actual policies so far actually tend to contradict AFP’s platform. Let’s just take three.
Overhyped Tax Cuts
Start with the tax cuts Pence championed and AFP-Indiana fought for. Low taxes are one of AFP’s policy pillars. And who can complain about that?
Well, it’s easy to look good next to Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio, and it’s not clear these tax cuts are much to crow about. The biggest shift was a reduction in the business tax from 6.5 percent to 4.9 percent, which will phase in over the next eight years. This analysis from in-stater Lesley Weidenbener (worth reading in full) adds some context: “Pence’s tax cut proposals were largely scaled back or rejected outright by a Republican-dominated state legislature. Lawmakers were already cutting the inheritance tax. The Senate insisted on the corporate income tax cut, which Pence had not requested. The individual income tax cut is half of what Pence requested, has yet to take effect and will eventually slice the tax burden for the average household by only about $75. And no part of the business tax cut will occur unless local officials approve it. Plus, most of the financial hit for the state budget will come in future years.”
Ouch. Again, no one’s against even small reductions in government burdens. Anything is certainly better than nothing. But to take that on the road to the presidency is more than a little premature.
The Federalist has already showed how Pence’s Medicaid expansion enlarges an entitlement for childless, able-bodied people, and the costs of this to Hoosier taxpayers like me will be something like $3,721 per household over its first three to five years, which massively outweighs the $75 Pence’s tax cuts will save us each year (once they phase in). It also was apparently engineered by a lady who gets six-figure government contracts while on the payroll for health companies that benefit from the Indiana policies she engineers.
Look, Mr. Governor. I’ve got kids. And our family pays their vaccination bills and dental visits for teeth chipped on the playground straight out of pocket (high deductible). That’s money straight from my babies to people who won’t pay their own way. Why should I have to delay my kid’s measles shots because Indiana taxed away the money for them for people who aren’t busting their butts every day like me and my husband? Why should we have to cut expenses everywhere so other people who won’t get preferred access to my money? I feel like the Little Red Hen.
Instead of having my governor actually fight for working families like ours, he’s fighting for not-working single people. Where is the Pence who voted against the Medicare expansion in Congress? That’s the gubernatorial candidate I thought I voted for. Since AFP also rabidly opposed Obamacare and expanding Medicaid, Ted Cruz’s remark about Pence at their Dallas event sums it up: “I would urge any governor not to be complicit in the disaster that is Obamacare. It is hurting the American people.”
Common Core Rebrand
A passel of Common Core opponents showed up to Pence’s AFP speech with signs, complaining because he stood by as our supposed Common Core rewrite cemented Common Core under a new name (even though Indiana’s former curriculum mandates were regarded as better than Common Core and among the highest in the nation).
Their compatriots held a Twitter rally that morning, insisting Indiana kids #DeserveBetter than the lower-quality version of Common Core Pence’s staff ushered through with his full knowledge and consent. It was so acceptable to the Obama administration that it earned Indiana continued federal favors, which comprise a set of regulatory nooses Pence earnestly sought and openly celebrated. Conference attendees even went home with goody bags including a Townhall magazine, which featured a critique of Pence’s Common Core sleight-of-hand by Michelle Malkin.
Oklahoman Ronda Vuillemont-Smith politely expressed her displeasure to Pence in person after his speech. She recounted their conversation to me: “I said, ‘I want you to know we were so proud that Indiana was the first state to repeal Common Core. It gave us hope and inspiration for our state. Then when it came to rewriting the standards all you did was copy and paste and rebrand Common Core.’ [Pence] said, ‘It’s not exactly like that, maybe some of it’s similar, but we need to have stuff for Hoosier kids and Hoosier families’ and all this other stuff. I said, ‘It’s really a big disappointment. I heard you were planning on running for a higher office, and I want to tell you right now that this is very important to citizens and mothers and fathers across the United States and you will not receive conservative backing if you continue to go this way. I’d like to see you go back and redo it.’ He told me, ‘We’ve done it, it had to be done pretty quickly, if we’ve made any mistakes we can go back and fix them. We can look at it again.’ I said, ‘I suggest you do that, because there are a lot of people very upset with you for signing off on the rebranding of Common Core.’”
An AFP donor who attended a private reception with Pence also put the governor on the spot, comparing his performance unfavorably against Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Jindal isn’t celebrating federal curriculum control. He’s suing the federal government over it.
Indiana’s AFP chapter joined parents in asking Pence to give us better than Common Core, and I’ve worked with AFP leaders across the country who have formed a welcomed counterweight to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on this issue. On this crucial issue, Pence again shows himself odds with his APF friends—and with conservative principles. Again: Where is the Pence who voted against No Child Left Behind when nobody else would? He foresaw that boondoggle, but as governor has encouraged its reach into our state. It’s confusing and disheartening.
Get a Rockin’ Governor’s Resume
Pence is not doing himself any favors for the primary or general election by trying to inflate his lack of a strong gubernatorial record. It’s weakness an opponent can easily exploit. The answer is to address the problem, not get angry at the truth-teller and pretend it’s not a problem. Pence has got essentially one legislative session left before 2016. Maybe this time he’ll work with legislative leaders beforehand to actually get some serious things done.
They could, I don’t know, actually cut taxes, or shift from income taxes to more efficient and fair sales taxes; think of a better solution to Medicaid bloat; release private schools in our voucher program from being the second-most-regulated in the country; stop listening to Common Core’s creators about how to create a managed economy; demand that bureaucrats destroy the 2 million sets of kids’ DNA they’re warehousing without permission as a promissory note towards true data protections; restore quality academic standards; get rid of our glut of education bureaucracy, starting by eliminating the elected state superintendentcy, and the unelected state school board, and administrative-state poster-child Education Roundtable and just letting the legislature deal with ed policy; end the ed-school mental monopoly by allowing independent organizations to credential teachers; and start getting suspicious about federal money and its accompanying chains. Oh, and Republicans could maybe stop playing stupid cowards on marriage and actually let the people vote it into our state constitution. It’s not like there are no ideas out there. I’m just getting started.
Here’s hoping Pence does do something worth campaigning on, because we all want Pence to succeed. No one benefits from a medical welfare expansion and low-quality academic mandates. As a Hoosier, I want the best state to live in I can get. If it improves even more under Pence than it had under Daniels, I’ll be the first one out there campaigning for Pence for president. But so far that’s not happening. Pence is wasting his opportunity.
So, Governor Pence, take some advice from a friend: Focus more on bringing your congressional record to Indiana politics before you try to go back to Washington.