Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

June 25, 2013

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

Pence's state party chairman pick expected soon.


Kokomo Tribune

---- — 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.

GOP Chairman Eric Holcomb announced he would be leaving to run U.S. Sen. Dan Coats’ state office and former Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman announced she was stepping down as a national committee member to focus on her new job as an economic development director in southwest Indiana.

It was a key reminder that Daniels no longer presides in Indianapolis. Both Pence and Daniels are prominent Republicans with political footprints stretching well beyond the state borders, but the current governor has walked a fine line trying to define himself as a conservative Republican who’s distinct from Daniels.

He now has another chance to place his stamp on the state with the coming pick of a new party chairman. That’s expected soon, well before Holcomb’s July 9 departure.

Tom LoBianco covers Indiana politics for The Associated Press. Follow him at twitter.com/tomlobianco.