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Principled ruling

Groundbreakings and ribbon-cuttings rank high on every public official's list of favorite things to do – public testament to their job-creation efforts.

So consider it an act of political courage for Gov. Mike Pence to revoke the package of state incentives offered to a company promising 2,500 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs in Mount Vernon, in southwest Indiana.

A 48 percent share of Midwest Fertilizer Corp. is owned by the Fatima Group, a Pakistan-based company cited by U.S. Department of Defense's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization for failing to cooperate in efforts to reduce the IED threat in Central and South Asia.

"Economic development is important, but the safety and security of our soldiers in harm's way is more important," Pence said last week. "Without assurances from our Defense Department that the materials which have been misused by the enemy in Afghanistan will be permanently removed from production by Fatima Group in Pakistan, I cannot in good conscience tell our soldiers and their families that this deal should move forward."

Pence's decision was clearly shaped by meeting some of those soldiers during his travels as a six-term congressman, but it didn't appear to have been made lightly. He directed the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to place the $1.3 billion incentive package, approved by the previous administration, on hold the day after his Jan. 14 inauguration. In a news release last week, his office indicated the state had worked closely since that time with the Department of Defense and other federal agencies to review the company and its efforts to ensure its product isn't sold in areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.

Midwest Fertilizer Corp. officials said they were disappointed by Pence's decision and noted that its affiliates with Fatima Group had been working with U.S. military leaders "to share their breakthrough development of a reformulated ammonium nitrate fertilizer" that is "more inert, less explosive and therefore less susceptible to misuse by insurgents and terrorists."

The company also noted, interestingly, that it would look for other options in proceeding with its $1.8 billion project in Mount Vernon, even without incentives. If the administration's scrutiny of the project pressured Fatima Group to ensure a dangerous product would not fall into the wrong hands, Pence's reluctance to proceed with the state aid is more than justified.

The governor probably won't be invited to the ribbon-cutting, but he should take satisfaction in knowing his decision to place principles over politics hasn't gone unnoticed.

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