Commentary: Pence gets an ‘I’ for incomplete


By John Krull

John Krull, publisher,

John Krull, publisher,

INDIANAPOLIS – The grade card for new governors is, depending upon one’s point of view, either a journalistic tradition or a journalistic cliché.

Commentary button in JPG - no shadowPundits, such as yours truly, give the beginning governor grades after his or her first year in office. The scores are almost always weighted by the pundit’s ideological thumb on the scale.

For example, in the case of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, his fellow Republicans and conservatives have given him As and high Bs while citing the small tax cut package he managed to coax out of a reluctant Indiana General Assembly. Democrats and liberals have handed the new governor Ds and Fs and focused their fire on his refusal to have Indiana take part in the federal health care system, a decision that has left roughly a quarter-million Hoosiers without health insurance.

I wonder, though, if there’s not another standard by which we can judge Pence’s first year as governor – a standard that he set for himself. In his inaugural address, Pence said:

“I am humbled by your trust, honored that you have chosen me to serve, and I am eager to be the governor of all the people of Indiana-young and old, city and country, rich and poor.”

There always is a temptation to dismiss such statements from politicians as platitudes – rhetorical bits of puffery that they don’t really mean.

That’s not the case with Mike Pence. I’ve known him for a long time. While he is at least as ambitious as the next politician – and, in fact, more ambitious than most – he is not the hater that some political figures on both the left and the right are. He got into politics because he likes people, even those who disagree with him.

That’s why I would ask what Pence has done in his first year to serve as “governor of all the people of Indiana” – not just those who voted for him. What has he done to reach out to the more than 50 percent of the state’s citizens who did not vote for him?

What I’m talking about is a different kind of leadership than, sadly, many governors or presidents look to provide these days. Too often, governors and presidents see themselves as legislators-in-chief rather than figures who preside over a fractious state or nation. They look for wedge issues to divide us rather than seek out opportunities to conciliate.

There’s no doubt that Mike Pence has done much – the tax cut, the health care decision – to please his conservative constituency. And that is appropriate. He (and they), after all, won the election.

But Indiana’s education system now is in a state of chaos. The state’s elected superintendent of public instruction, Democrat Glenda Ritz, has been at war with the state’s Republican-appointed board of education. Rather than position himself to play peacemaker, Pence often – too often – has waded into the combat himself.

Is there no word – no gesture – that Pence could think of to show the more than 50 percent of Hoosiers who voted for Ritz that he heard them? That he cares about what they think?

Similarly, Indiana is about to enter into an ugly and likely year-long war of attrition over a proposed state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Millions of dollars will be spent by both sides trying to convince Hoosiers to demonize each other.

Mike Pence is a social conservative. It is both expected and understandable that he will line up with those who support the ban.

But, again, is there no way for him to reassure those who disagree with him on the issue that he still is their governor and that this state is still their home? Is there not a way for the governor to help calm the furies of the moment rather than exacerbate them?

Great leaders manage to find ways to unite us without betraying their own principles or convictions. They pull us together by convincing us that we all have a share in the greater good.

That’s a tougher standard than a simple ideological or partisan score card, but it’s the one that really matters. And it’s the test that Mike Pence will have to meet in the coming months.

That’s why my grade for him so far is an I for incomplete.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.



  1. I think Pence is probably doing the best “politics” possible for someone with his social views on the marriage equality. He is keeping a low profile and letting the legislators take the flak. It’s going to be interesting to see how that all shakes out, but there are going to be a lot of far-right, single issue voters who will be a thorn in the side of Republicans who oppose the Amendment.

Comments are closed.