INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Mike Pences first legislative session is in the books, and his agenda, though considered light by some, included a few key victories.
Aside from a 10 percent income tax cut, much of Pences agenda lacked pizazz. It focused on helping veterans and students while keeping Indiana on the fiscal straight-and-narrow.
And following any other governor but Mitch Daniels this might be enough.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said its almost unfair to compare the two governors since years of pent-up Republican ideas burst out through Mitch Daniels.
Democrats controlled the office for 16 years before his election.
Now, Gov. Pence is starting on a new list, but were in a far better place, Long said. So maybe it doesnt seem as dramatic.
He acknowledged it took Pence time to adjust to the rocket-like pace of the General Assembly, especially compared with the glacially slow pace in Congress, where Pence previously served.
I confess it was a slow warm-up period, but its a new team, House Speaker Brian Bosma said. He finished extremely strong and weighed in at the right time on a lot of the right issues. He was very successful.
He said its always a learning curve with a new governor. Indeed, Daniels had his own bumps in the road – such as initially proposing a tax increase and losing his temper a few times.
A few of Pences victories include procuring an income tax cut for Hoosiers, though less of a reduction that stretched out four years before implemented.
And he also staked his first session on a regional works council meant to reinvent career, technical and vocational education in Indiana high schools.
Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said Pence did not drive this legislative session.
In terms of leadership, unless it was his agenda to only get half of what he was asking for in terms of the tax cut, I cant imagine that you could judge getting half a loaf as really as what you set out to accomplish, he said.
Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center or Indiana Politics at IPFW, said having a short list of legislative priorities could have been Pences way of focusing his new administration.
I think he can lay a credible claim to having accomplished almost everything. Some things might be a bit watered down from what he hoped for, but not so watered down that he could not consider them to be victories, he said. The significance of what he wanted to accomplish should be the subject of debate.
Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, pointed to the work of Pences staff on the voucher bill as a high point. The legislature ended up with a moderate expansion allowing thousands more eligible students to immediately attend private school with a state-paid voucher.
The governor was very active in advocating for the expansion of vouchers. Thats a significant step forward for school choice, he said.
Pence released a statement late Friday applauding this and other education changes.
These bills will give our Hoosier students more opportunities for the kind of education that will help them be successful, he said. From expanding educational options for low- and middle-income families to taking steps to address key administrative priorities regarding higher education affordability and on-time completion, all Hoosier students and their families now have better educational options.
Pences staff declined interview requests for this story. He is meeting with the media Monday to assess the session.
Downs said he expects the governor to have a different approach next year – possibly more forceful.
I think many people expected a more aggressive effort on his part to influence legislation. It could be that he believes the executive branch is not supposed to play an outsized role in the legislative process. In other words, he was respecting the separation of powers, he said. It could be that getting into office after the start of the session and this being his first session resulted in a conscious decision to have a minimalist approach while the ropes are learned.
Indeed, Pence told reporters earlier in the year he does not consider himself legislator-in-chief. At the same time, there was a marked change in tone from the office about halfway through in which Pence began focusing closely on other topics facing lawmakers that werent part of his package. This included a push to stop live table games at racinos.
Temperament-wise, everyone – even the Democrats – seems to agree hes a nice guy.
I like Gov. Pence. He has all the qualities to be an effective governor, House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath said. I dont like many of his policies, but I do like that we are able to work together on things that we do broadly agree on.
Banks said Daniels and Pence couldnt be more different in nature and personality.
I always say that Gov. Daniels was intimidating yet in a respectful way. Gov. Pence is much more affable and more of an easy-going personality. Youre more comfortable around him, Banks said.
He said that he never knew what to say or how to act with Daniels but that with Pence you feel very much at ease and I think thats allowed him to be effective here in his new role.