The Greatest Hits of Gloria Estefan must have been playing when Governor Mike Pence got up this morning. The theme of his press conference was “Cuts Both Ways.”
After signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, Pence took to the podium to announce his declaration of an emergency order for Scott County in the wake of what is now being called an HIV epidemic. More than 70 people have been confirmed HIV positive in a county with a population of just 24,000 people. The outbreak is entirely attributed to the sharing of needles for illegal drug use.
Pence explained the state’s response along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an effort to stop the disease’s spread and educate the public. He asked the members of the media to assist in spreading the word about the situation as well as helping to educate the public in the region on self-protection and resources for testing and treatment.
Pence practically pleaded for the press to report on the situation stating that they played a pivotal role in stopping the spread of HIV in Indiana.
Then, once all of the questions regarding HIV, healthcare and Scott County were exhausted, the patiently waiting press turned their collective attention to the big issue of the day: RFRA.
Pence gave a statement (reportedly the same statement he gave during the private signing ceremony) about why he signed the bill. He repeated several times that the bill was not about discrimination. He said (at least three times) that if he thought it was about discrimination he would have vetoed it.
Following his statement, the questions began. So did his criticism.
Questions ranged from if the letters and statements from prominent businesses and convention organizers were considered to why he signed the bill in private. Each response included the phrase, “ I believe there is a lot of misunderstanding about this bill.”
Then the knife came out.
“I understand how some Hoosiers feel based on how the press has covered it.”
Pence spoke that sentence more than once.
Pence said the law is about government interests only and doesn’t apply to private individuals. He said the law is about government overreach and not about discrimination. However, when asked if there was any concern about businesses using the law to discriminate even though that isn’t the supposed intent, Pence replied, “That’s a question for the judiciary.”
He then turned the attention back to the ill-intended reporting of the press for causing this “misunderstanding” in the first place.
Another question: Since there is so much concern about discrimination, specifically regarding the LGBTQ community, why not pursue designating that group as a protected class under civil rights law?
Pence responded that the issue wasn’t a part of his agenda and he would not pursue it, then quickly laid the blame, yet again, at the feet of the press.
“I have a sense that the way people have read about this and seen it covered on TV, they have a misunderstanding about it,” said Pence.
The sharpest slap in the face of the media came after a question about the overall promotion and information about the bill from those who supported it.
Could those who wrote it and sponsored it in the General Assembly have done a better job at explaining the true intent of the bill?
“I’m not going to point a finger at those people who did or didn’t do a good job explaining it or at those who didn’t do a good job reporting it.”
That was the last question taken and the second to last statement made.
The last statement was the plea for assistance in spreading the word of HIV education in Scott County.
To paraphrase: "I need your help – you suck, it’s your fault – don’t forget to help."
That pretty much sums it up.