Democrats are calling on Gov. Mike Pence to cancel a trip to New Hampshire, home of the first presidential primary, and to release documents about his decision not to apply for a federal pre-kindergarten grant.
But the governor’s press secretary said Pence’s presence is needed to help other GOP leaders with issues in their states.
Pence is scheduled to campaign this month with Republican gubernatorial nominee Walt Havenstein and to make other campaign stops in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
“With all of the success Indiana has been having and his leadership role at the Republican Governors Association, Gov. Pence is in high demand to assist others in their efforts to bring conservative solutions to their states,” said Kara Brooks, a spokeswoman for the governor. “And he will continue to work on behalf of Republican governors as his schedule allows.”
But Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody said Pence needs to stay home.
He called for the governor to spend his time searching for other creative ways to pay for an expansion of preschool rather than campaigning on the East Coast. Last week, Pence opted not to apply for as much as $80 million in federal funding for pre-kindergarten over the next three years, saying there were too many strings attached to the money.
The state is preparing to launch a pilot program that will make state-funded preschool available to children in five counties. No expansion is currently planned.
Democrats have been critical of the decision not to seek federal money. They say it’s a sign Pence is trying to appease conservatives who are influential in the GOP presidential primary and dislike federal intervention in education.
Pence has insisted his focus is on Indiana but he has not ruled out a presidential bid in 2016. And Pence recently traveled to Iowa – another early primary state – to speak at a Midwest-Japan economic conference and at a fundraiser for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican seeking a second term.
“If he’s willing to take a pass on funding for early childhood education, he should spend all of his time at the Statehouse coming up with a solution that will help ensure more Hoosier children have a healthy and substantive start to their education,” Zody said. “Instead, he’s campaigning in New Hampshire and four other states.”
The Indiana Democratic Party also filed a public records request asking the Pence administration to release all correspondence with groups that lobbied him on the pre-kindergarten grant issue. The conservative group Hoosiers Against Common Core had called for its supporters to urge Pence not to apply for the federal money.
“The governor’s office said they would not be ‘bowed’ by lobbying – so prove it,” Zody said in a statement. “Hoosiers deserve to know if their governor is more beholden to the interests of the tea party or the interests of the thousands of Hoosier children who will go without pre-school because of his political decision.”
Pence said in a guest column last week that “more federal dollars do not necessarily equal success, especially when those dollars come with requirements and conditions that will not help – and may even hinder – running a successful program of our own making.”
Hannah Troyer is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.