Gov.-elect Mike Pence’s appointment of Jeff Espich understandably has unnerved some good-government advocates. But any concerns about revolving-door influence are tempered by the unusual nature of the appointment and the fact that the new administration needs solid state government experience.
In Espich, a 40-year veteran of the Indiana General Assembly and former House Ways and Means Committee chairman, the newly elected governor will have a senior adviser in the truest sense of the title. It says much about the Wells County Republican’s character that he accepted an appointment in the administration instead of waiting out a one-year ban from lobbying the legislature in a high-paid lobbying firm.
Yes, his position as an adviser on legislative affairs is uncomfortably close to the legislative director or legislative liaison position addressed by the General Assembly’s ethics law. Statehouse observers who have watched as legislators switched sides to represent gambling, alcohol and other business interests are justified in any cynicism when it comes to the lucrative afterlife of an Indiana legislator.
But Espich’s role in the Pence administration appears advisory. Given his record, Espich can be counted on to offer brutally honest counsel to the new governor, who has never held a job in state government or come any closer to the General Assembly than managing the Indiana Policy Review.
It’s somewhat refreshing, in fact, to see Pence turn to a well-respected fiscal expert instead of an outsider determined to bring a business perspective to state government. The turmoil at the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles when it was headed by retail executive Joel Silverman was one of the more benign effects of that approach; the failed privatization of welfare eligibility services and the ongoing ethics scandal at the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission are some of the worst.
Pence would do well to follow Espich’s advice on the proper role of state government. If the new governor insists on pushing a social agenda, he’s likely to see some pushback by his senior adviser. The former legislator never strayed from a small-government approach and never hesitated to challenge powerful interests within state government, including institutions of higher education.
As he considers additional appointments, Pence would do well to consider promoting others from within. Indiana government has plenty of dedicated and hardworking individuals who know the state’s needs and have ideas worth exploring. Appointments that more closely resemble the state’s population also would be a welcome change. Minority and female representation is sorely lacking at the highest levels of state government.
Espich’s appointment is a good sign that Pence recognizes where he needs help and how best to find it. If his appointments continue in that vein, Hoosiers will be well served.