Pence a polarizing governor in Indiana

  • Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump announced Friday that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is his choice as vice presidential running mate. He is pictured addressing the crowd the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans in 2010. TNS

Published: 7/15/2016 8:31:15 PM

Throughout his 3½-year tenure as Indiana governor, Mike Pence has signed controversial legislation on issues ranging from religious freedom to women’s reproductive rights, repeatedly focusing national attention on the Hoosier State.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump announced Friday that Pence is his choice as vice presidential running mate.

With his socially conservative stance, Pence has polarized Hoosiers.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Pence signed into law in March 2015, caused an uproar in the LGBT community. The same thing happened a year later with a comprehensive anti-abortion act that drew outrage from activists for woman’s reproductive rights.

Pence also banned Syrian refugees from entering the state, and advocates for teachers claim he does not support public education.

Here is a closer look at some of the major issues Pence has faced since he took office in 2013.

Religious freedom act

The act made it legal for businesses to refuse to serve individuals based on their sexual identity.

In a press release the governor’s office issued on March 26, 2015, Pence said he signed the bill because he supports freedom of religion for Hoosiers of all faiths.

“This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it,” he said in the statement. Protests erupted outside the state capitol building. Twitter exploded with hashtags such as #boycottindiana and #impeachmikepence.

Doug Bauder, coordinator of Indiana University GLBT Student Support Services, said Pence did not seem to recognize the problem he had caused by signing the act, or even really care.

“I don’t know anyone in Indiana, who I know, who either identifies as lesbian, gay or an ally of the LGBT community, who likes (Pence) at all,” Bauder said.

Pence later called on the Indiana General Assembly to make a “fix” to the act — to clarify that it “would not create a license to discriminate or to deny services to any individual as its critics have alleged.”

Neverthless, Bauder said Pence “bumbled” the issue. “People still aren’t quite sure what this so-called ‘fix’ was to the legislation,” Bauder said.

‘Pro-life measure’

National attention again this year was focused on Indiana after another controversial law was adopted, this time about abortion.

Pence signed the law on March 24, referring to it as a “comprehensive pro-life measure.”

“Throughout my public career, I have stood for the sanctity of life,” Pence said in a press release issued that day.

The legislation bans women from having an abortion based on the fetus’ sex, race or disability, requires medical practitioners to bury or cremate fetal remains and mandates that women must wait 18 hours after viewing an ultrasound of their fetus before getting an abortion.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana to file a lawsuit challenging the bill, and a federal judge in June blocked the law from taking effect.

Dawn Johnsen, an Indiana University law professor who also served as the head of Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton administration, said the law was clearly unconstitutional even before a federal judge blocked it.

Johnsen described it as “one of the most far-reaching, anti-abortion laws in many years,” furthering Pence’s reputation for being hostile toward women’s reproductive rights.

If the Trump-Pence ticket is elected Nov. 8, Johnsen said she would be concerned about the future of the Supreme Court as it is clear that Pence wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision protecting women’s right to an abortion.

Conservative Christian 

However, Amy Schlichter, the spokeswoman for a similar bill that was not approved by the General Assembly during this year’s session, said she fully supports the law signed by Pence despite the controversy surrounding it.

“It is an incremental bill in the smallest sense,” Schlichter said. “He took a lot of heat over a bill that I feel doesn’t really save a big majority of kids.”

Schlichter said she hopes that a Trump-Pence administration would work to appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices.

Schlichter, who described herself as a conservative Christian mother, said Pence appeals to her.

As for the election, Schlicter said she definitely won’t vote for Hillary Clinton in November, but she’s still not sure if Trump will get her vote.

However, Trump’s choice of Pence for vice president gives her some comfort.

“I think that it reassures me a little bit that he’s surrounding himself with Christian conservatives,” Schlichter said.

Pence “tends to be a very just, level-headed guy,” Schlichter said. “I like that about him — that he doesn’t race forward on emotion.”

Public education

Teacher advocates in Indiana claim Pence has it out for public education.

Glenda Ritz was elected Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction four years ago and is responsible for overseeing the state’s public schools.

However, when Pence became governor, he took quick action to remove her control of the Educational Employment Relations Board.

He also used his executive authority to create a committee (and then later dissolved it) that transferred some of her job responsibilities. Ritz has said that she believes Pence will never stop trying to thwart her.

“The governor’s tried his best,” Ritz said at a March campaign fundraiser in Bloomington, Indiana. “He will continue to attack me. You can expect it.”

Pence did sign a bill this year, however, which would phase out the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress, the state’s standardized test that has drawn heavy criticism for its ineffectiveness.

And while he also initially rejected federal funding for pre-kindergarten in Indiana, he has since shown a willingness to consider expanding the state’s first state-funded pilot pre-K program.

Still, Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer, a Bloomington, Indiana, teacher advocate running for the local school board this fall, said throughout his tenure as governor Pence has damaged public education in the state by promoting the micromanagement of teachers, encouraging high stakes testing, cutting funding and showing a lack of respect for public educators.

“You’re going to have a vice president who is all about seeing education not as a public good, not as children’s civil rights, but as a marketplace,” Fuentes-Rowher said. “And that’s how he’s shown in Indiana that he cares more about schools as a for-profit venture than he does as a social responsibility, or more of the common good.”

Alexa Chryssovergis of Cincinnati is a student at Indiana University who is interning at the Daily Hampshire Gazette this summer.


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