With the Republican National Convention nearly upon us—the four-day celebration of conservative and Republican ideals, and potential shit-show that it is—it was about time that Donald Trump chose his running mate on the GOP ticket. “The Donald” had his pick of the litter when it came to white males. There was Chris Christie, governor of my home state of New Jersey (approved of by fewer than three in ten of its residents) and recent Trump manservant. There was Newt Gingrich, who is not only a politician, but also a semiaquatic amphibian of the family Salamandidrae. Which is good, I guess. Better a newt than another jackass—though many would have their doubts Gingrich doesn’t also qualify as the latter.
In the end, however, Donald Trump, according to reports, has selected Mike Pence for his vice presidential pick. Pence, like Christie, is a governor, in this case, the proud state of Indiana. He also is popular only with a minority of his constituents, in a better position than Chris Christie in this regard, but that’s not saying much. Mike Pence, unlike his apparent VP also-rans, does not possess perhaps the same Republican star power, but he makes sense as an assistant trainmaster on the “Trump Train,” if you will. In particular, Pence should help burnish the conservative credentials of the GOP ticket and appeal to the coveted evangelical vote. Sweet, sweet evangelical vote. So juicy and delicious.
Certainly, the Trump campaign vetted their running mate extensively. Which, I imagine, is standard practice now for GOP candidates after the Sarah Palin debacle. For our purposes, though, because of his relative anonymity outside of the Midwest, we might not be as familiar with the party pick. So, who is Mike Pence? And, if you’re like me, a registered Democrat with a general distrust of politicians, why might he be deserving of your scorn? The answer might surprise you. Actually, it probably won’t, but they always say that on the news. Listen, it sounded good at the time! OK, OK, without further ado, let’s vet Mr. Pence in our own right.
WHO IS MIKE PENCE?
Michael Richard Pence, 57 years old and a native son of Indiana from the city of Columbus, is the son of Edward J. Pence, Jr., an owner of a gas station chain, and Nancy Jane Cawley. Growing up in Columbus, Pence would graduate from Columbus North High School in 1977, and later would emerge from Hanover University with a Bachelor of Arts in History in 1981, and a J.D. from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in 1986. Prior to serving in public office, Mike Pence served as an admissions officer at Hanover; an attorney in private practice; president of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, a think tank with an emphasis on free-market economics and law; and a radio talk show host and political commentator who helmed The Mike Pence Show, which I’m sure was as exciting as it sounds.
After unsuccessful bids for Congress in 1988 and 1990 and his talk radio career in Indiana, Pence finally made it to the big show in 2000 as a Representative for the Hoosier State’s Second Congressional District, since renumbered as the Sixth District, and would serve five more terms in this capacity, holding the dubious distinction of introducing 90 bills or resolutions in the House in total, but having none of them pass. Not one.
From there, Mike Pence set his sights on Indiana’s gubernatorial seat. That’s a fun word to say. Gubernatorial. Huh, where was I? Oh, right! Mike Pence! In a tightly contested race for the governorship in 2012, Pence defeated Democratic challenger John Gregg and Libertarian challenger Rupert Boneham (heh, heh—Boneham) to become the state’s 50th Governor. During his tenure as governor of Indiana, Mike Pence had these beliefs and policies to his credit:
Tax cut: Phew! Now that he was out of Congress, Pence could actually cut loose and pass some things! True to his conservative principles, Mike Pence was instrumental in effecting an income tax cut—not as high as the 10% drop he had advocated, but still 5%—as well as an abolishment of the inheritance tax.
On the other hand, Pence’s veto of a tax “fix” in Jackson and Pulaski Counties, which retrospectively classified an effective overcharge of some $6 million all told because these county taxes were not lowered as they should have been, was overridden by the state legislature on the grounds the administration costs and other expenditures related to a refund would’ve cost taxpayers more than they what they stood to gain. Which to me sounds like a pretty shitty excuse—we screwed up, so you don’t get your money back—but that’s government for you. It’s interesting to note that mostly fellow Republicans voted against the veto, an idea which doesn’t necessarily mean that their choice was the wrong one. But it did work against average taxpayers. Just saying.
The needle exchange flip-flop: It’s always a gamble when evangelicals and science mix. In the case of an HIV outbreak in Indiana beginning late in 2014 related to injections of the painkiller Opana, Mike Pence was initially opposed to needle exchange programs that allow users to trade in used syringes for sterile ones, in spite of, you know, evidence they work. Pence later reversed his stance opposing needle exchange programs, but, of course, wouldn’t authorize lifting a ban on funding these programs. In doing so, Mike Pence contributed to what evidently is a new trend among conservative Republicans: not giving a shit about science, and keeping money away from those who do. Great job, Mike!
JustIN: A planned state-run, taxpayer-funded news service about events in Indiana called JustIN envisioned by Pence, about as quickly as word got out about it, was scrapped by the Indiana governor. Mike Pence had this to say about abandoning the idea: “However well-intentioned, after thorough review of the preliminary planning and careful consideration of the concerns expressed, I am writing you to inform you that I have made a decision to terminate development of the JustIN website immediately.”
Yeah, state-run news services are the kinds of things associated with places like China, Russia and Syria, countries known for abrogation of people’s civil rights and other hallmarks of authoritarian regimes. David A. Graham had this commentary to make in a piece for The Atlantic: “It would be even more pernicious if Indiana press outlets opted to run pre-written news stories alongside standard reportage, giving the state a chance to co-opt the free press’ authority.” I guess I’m glad Pence saw the light. Unless he just wanted to avoid the attention and negative publicity that came with such a stupid proposal. But that doesn’t sound like something a politician would do: deflecting blame. No, not at all.
Medicaid expansion: I’ll give Mike Pence some credit—like Chris Christie, John Kasich and other GOP governors with half a brain in their heads, he didn’t reject the expansion of Medicaid in the state of Indiana under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act. At least he doesn’t believe in letting principle get in the way of something that could potentially help his constituents.
Religious Freedom Restoration Act: And I take that credit back immediately. Mike Pence signed RFRA into law and has repeatedly defended this bit of policy, which allows businesses and people to use their “religious freedom” as a legal defense against doing something they don’t want to do in the course of business. Like, say, provide contraceptives to employees, because apparently pregnancy and the risk of sexually transmitted infections is a great alternative; or serve the LGBT community, because evidently they are not human beings. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been met with widespread criticism in Indiana and around the country. As it should be, if for no other reason than it led to boycotts from companies and other organizations, and reportedly cost Indiana some $60 million in lost revenue as a result.
Pence, about a week after passing RFRA, signed an amendment intended to guard against discrimination in business practices, saying in a statement the law had “become a subject of great misunderstanding and controversy.” What misunderstanding? It allowed for discrimination, necessitating a fix. As with JustIN, that Mike Pence quickly reversed his decision is thankful, but that it even was considered is disheartening, not to mention Pence doesn’t seem to acknowledge the Act in its original form was an awful idea. This is one of the hallmarks of Mike Pence’s legacy as governor, and is likely a key reason why more Indianans disapprove of him than approve. For someone as widely disliked as Donald Trump, though, he somehow makes perfect sense.
Over the years as someone in the public eye or at least subject to public scrutiny, Mike Pence has put forth a number of opinions in line with present-day conservatism. Though it likely goes without saying, Pence opposes funding for Planned Parenthood. He also has been on the record in favor of a flat tax, the Iraq War, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and opposed to amnesty for undocumented immigrants, birthright citizenship, gay marriage, Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, and recognizing that climate change is, um, a thing. So, yeah, by and large, not very progressive stances. In the brief time that he has been recognized as Donald Trump’s running mate, meanwhile, Mike Pence has also backtracked on other professed viewpoints. Though he has opposed Syrian refugees settling in his state, Pence once stated that a ban on Muslims entering the United States would be “offensive and unconstitutional.” Now, as Trump’s VP pick? “I am very supportive of Donald Trump’s call to temporarily suspend immigration from countries where terrorist influence and impact represents a threat to the United States.” Sigh. Mr. Pence, you disappoint when expectations for you from me already are quite low.
Statistician supreme for FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver, explained in a piece why Mike Pence was Donald Trump’s “least worst choice” for a running mate. As Silver himself acknowledges, this is faint praise, and there are other downsides to a ticket with Pence, such as the notions Indiana is already expected to go for Trump, the Hoosier State’s governorship could well go to someone like Democrat John Gregg with Pence having to forgo consideration as a vice presidential pick, and most of America likely had never heard of him before being announced as such. On that last count, however, now Mike Pence is in the national spotlight, and either way, he and his policies are fair game. As a liberal-minded fellow, I, to no great surprise of yours, find most of Pence’s views disagreeable, if not downright repugnant. What’s more, I am sure I am not alone in this thinking. In fairness, I wasn’t likely to approve of any individual who voluntarily would accompany Donald Trump on a presidential ticket, but be that as it may, from what I now know of Mike Pence, from a public policy standpoint, I’m not terribly impressed. Again, from a strategic standpoint, Pence is a fair option for the Trump campaign. But for America? I submit we are none the richer for his efforts.