A social media war over the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage last week showed Gov. Mike Pence is still learning that being the state’s top executive often means dealing with surprises — a sharp contrast from the role he previously played in Congress, where 435 lawmakers frequently respond to specific problems.
Pence’s Facebook post supporting a constitutional ban on gay marriage in Indiana drew fire after dozens of commenters said their criticism was being censored. Pence and his staff said they were only deleting comments that were derogatory, but angry commenters provided evidence it was more than that being deleted.
By the end of the week, a gay marriage supporter, Andy Markle of Indianapolis, had created a website where other supporters could post there scrubbed comments and dubbed the political phenomena “Pencership.”
“On careful review, it appears that this was not always the case and some comments were being deleted simply because they expressed disagreement with my position. I regret that this occurred and sincerely apologize to all those who were affected,” Pence wrote in a Facebook post Friday to the same page that became a surprise battleground.
Had he still been in Congress, it’s unlikely his team’s actions would have garnered as much attention. But as the focus of Indiana politics, the Pence staff’s errors on Wednesday stretched into a days-long fight ending with an apology from the governor and the creation of the smarmy new term.
Pence’s sharp comments and stark conservatism were on display throughout his dozen years as one of 435 U.S. representatives in Congress, but were muted as he ran for governor and ultimately took over the office from former Gov. Mitch Daniels at the start of this year.
Even his response to Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage was dry and consistent with most mainstream social conservatives. Instead, it was the sharper public scrutiny that became the abnormality for the former legislator.
The roles of critical lawmaker, with tightly scripted talks against the federal health care law and federal climate change rules in battles with the Democrat-controlled White House, and besieged executive were quickly swapped as he took the governor’s office.
From “Dani the Deer,” whose strange circumstances seemed uniquely fit to befuddle a state executive with arcane rules at a lower-profile state agency, to his intraparty battle with Statehouse Republicans to win a campaign-promised tax cut, the surprises have filled his plate as they would with any executive.
Pence declined last week to provide an off-the-cuff self-assessment, and said he would leave the prognostication to others.
“I’d leave it to others to say how we’re handling the transition,” Pence said Thursday, after taking questions on the deleted comments and other issues.
In Washington, it was often easier for Pence to stick to the issues he felt strongest handling and dodge some of the less well-defined problems that often trip up executives. He’s also had to craft his own agenda as an executive, instead of responding to others’ proposals as congressmen so often do.
Indiana residents were given a reminder of the lawmaker Pence in a piece on MSNBC that aired last week with conservative commentator S.E. Cupp. In one stretch, Cupp said Pence declined to answer questions about the Republican Party’s troubles on the national scene and instead talked about the successes of his campaign for governor.
Of course, that aired a few days before the gay marriage battle swamped state news for half a week.
Tom LoBianco covers Indiana politics for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter @tomlobianco.