Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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June 25, 2013

TOM LoBIANCO: Pence slowly putting his stamp on Ind., GOP

Pence's state party chairman pick expected soon.

Perfor-mance metrics and “key priority items” sound like dry management talk, but they provide insight into how Gov. Mike Pence is slowly taking the reins of the state and crafting Indiana’s govern-ment with his own priorities.

Pence as governor has lacked much of the definition former Gov. Mitch Daniels established over eight years in office — and the image Pence crafted for himself as a social crusader over a dozen years in Congress hasn’t stuck around.

But his agenda is slowly emerging, in ways both obvious and oblique.

Budget Director Chris Atkins delivered new priorities last week during a “lull” around the Statehouse, focusing on infant mortality, youth smoking and obesity and a slew of “jobs” metrics, including employment among Indiana’s war veterans.

In some cases, Atkins pointed out they are how Pence will determine whether state government is doing its job.

“They are the chief means by which the governor will hold agencies accountable,” Atkins said at a Statehouse briefing, where he added Pence will award agencies with more money depending on how they perform.

The Pence team is done dancing with the Legislature, for the most part, until next session. And 2013 is a rare off-year, without statewide elections to draw the young administration out across the state.

In many ways, Pence has been hampered by a political reality he has acknowledged in catchphrases like “good to great,” inherently recognizing Daniels’ continuing popularity. And Pence has just had a slow start grasping state government. Like Daniels did in 2005, Pence came into the Statehouse “cold” following a stint in Washington.

The new governor’s first-term legislative agenda slowly trickled out over the four-month session, with some confusion over which items were his, with the stark exception of the income tax cut. Pence signed a series of executive orders on his first day in office, placing a hold on new state regulations and establishing “family impact statements” across state agencies.

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