INDIANAPOLIS — The cat and mouse game of Mike Pence and the “moral” issues that have been a virtual trademark of his meteoric political career are now beginning to come forward in his gubernatorial campaign against Democrat John Gregg.
Pence has been nothing if not disciplined in maintaining a steady focus on jobs and education in his campaign until this point, and in a state with an 8 percent jobless rate, that’s good.
But what is fueling interest in his relative silence on moral and cultural issues are several speeches before and during his gubernatorial run suggesting that when the Indiana General Assembly is gaveled into session in January, there will be a vivid agenda up for debate.
At the Values Voter Summit in 2011, Pence said, “We must not remain silent while great moral battles are being waged.”
In his 2011 campaign kickoff speech in Columbus, Pence said, “To restore our economy we must reaffirm our respect for the institutions and traditions that nurture the character of our people. As your governor, I will stand for the sanctity of life, traditional marriage and the importance of organized religion in everyday life. To build an even better Indiana, we must recognize every day that our present crisis is not just economic, but moral.”
Asked about specific issues or legislation, the Pence campaign goes into rote explanations, all leading back to the “Roadmap for Indiana.” The candidate and campaign clearly are not ready or willing to engage in a meaningful conversation about moral issues.
Despite this, information is gradually coming forward. He was asked about potential pro-life legislation. “I’m pro-life. If the Legislature sends me pro-life legislation, I’ll sign it,” he told WISH-TV on Aug. 24.
There were also the controversial comments of U.S. Rep. Todd Akin on “legitimate rape” that brought attention to a bill in Congress that Pence and U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly cosponsored that would have cut off federal aid for abortion-related services for statutory rape and incest. The bill established a separate category for “forcible rape” and allowed the services to continue for those.
Then Pence unveiled his “Roadmap for Indiana” which included: “Promote marriage by requiring a family impact statement for state regulations.”
In conversations with conservatives in the Indiana General Assembly over the summer, the emerging “moral/cultural” agenda appears to be centered on these issues:
1. Chemical abortion: Mike Fichter, Indiana Right to Life President and CEO, noted, “We are shocked by the rapid increase in the use of chemical abortifacients that are largely unregulated. This is an alarming trend that the Indiana legislature must address.” The issue gets murky when the “morning after pill” enters that conversation.
2. Personhood: This is the cultural and legal recognition of the equal and unalienable rights of human beings. Proponents of “personhood” link it to Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, “Nothing is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.” Proponents explain: “When the term ‘person’ is applied to a particular class of human beings, it is an affirmation of their individual rights. In other words, to be a person is to be protected by a series of God-given rights and constitutional guarantees such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Mississippi voters in November 2011 defeated a ballot initiative with 55 percent opposing. It would have declared that life begins at fertilization. The so-called “personhood” initiative — which conflicts with Roe v. Wade — would have fired up legal challenges. It was so controversial that Republican Gov. Haley Barbour wavered on support.
3. Creationism: The Indiana Senate approved a bill sponsored by Education Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, that would allow creationism to be taught beside evolution in the state’s public school science classes. “I believe in creationism and it’s worthy of being taught equally with evolution theory,” Kruse explained. The bill died without a vote in the Indiana House.
On these three issues, the Pence campaign released this statement from spokeswoman Christy Denault on Wednesday: “(Answer to 1, 2, and 3.) As governor, Pence would carefully review all legislation before making a decision. His focus is on the ‘Roadmap for Indiana’ goals, which he developed after listening to Hoosiers all around the state share their biggest concerns.”
At some point — perhaps during the three debates next month — I hope Hoosiers will hear in Pence’s own voice what moral policy issues will emerge that in the past he said should not be met with silence. It’s fair and appropriate voters understand what’s coming prior to Nov. 6.
Howey, a former Elkhart Truth reporter, publishes at www.howeypolitics.com.