The 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly barely has started and Gov. Mike Pence’s flirtation with running for president already casts a shadow over it.
Days before the session opened, the news broke that Indiana Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, planned to push a bill that would allow Pence, also a Republican, to run for president and stand for re-election as governor at the same time. At present, Indiana law prevents a person from running for a state office and a federal office simultaneously.
It’s hard to know how seriously to take this push of Delph’s.
As soon as the news broke, Pence’s press office took some pains to emphasize that Delph’s bill wasn’t on the governor’s agenda and that Pence wouldn’t be commenting on it. The GOP leaders in the Indiana Senate and House of Representatives also said they wouldn’t be commenting on it – hardly a ringing endorsement.
And then there’s the matter of Delph, who found himself pretty much banished from the Senate Republican caucus for lambasting his colleagues and party leaders in a marathon Twitter rampage and press conference a few months ago. Delph was upset because one of his pet measures, a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions, had been altered, which meant the constitutional amendment process had to start all over again. The courts later struck down Indiana’s ban on gay unions.
Unless Delph and his GOP colleagues have done some serious family counseling to repair their relationship, it’s difficult to believe he’s the vehicle they would use to carry a measure they were serious about.
But, clumsy as it might be, Delph’s proposal does illustrate the dilemma in which Pence finds himself. Like a monkey in a jungle, he can’t swing to the next tree – the presidency – without letting go of the vine he currently holds, the governor’s office.
That’s the piece that pundits and partisans who counsel Pence to position himself for a vice-presidential nod tend to miss.
Years ago, the national party conventions at which vice presidential candidates were chosen came in the summer. That gave state parties time to select another candidate for the fall election if a governor found himself or herself on the national ticket.
Now, though, the national conventions come late in the process, often after Labor Day. That means a state party can be left with a huge problem if a governor running for re-election gets tapped for a vice-presidential bid.
In Indiana, for example, having Pence become the Republican vice-presidential candidate while he was running for re-election as governor would leave the state GOP with the challenge of finding a strong candidate for the general election less than 10 weeks before the voters would go to the polls.
Unless the law is changed, that is.
Delph’s solution is not a new one, even if he does push the idea to new extremes. (The man’s not a fan of moderation.)
Indiana law already has a provision that allows candidates to run for two federal offices at once. Indiana lawmakers put that provision in place when former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, and U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, were under perpetual consideration as vice-presidential possibilities.
It’s also been done elsewhere – the most notorious examples being in the South when all the states in Dixie were both determinedly Democratic and solidly segregationist. Lyndon Johnson, for instance, ran for re-election as a senator in Texas the same year that he was elected John F. Kennedy’s vice president.
The southerners’ reason for making moves like LBJ’s possible was similar to Delph’s stated motivation – to allow state bigwigs to influence national politics without jeopardizing their power bases back at home.
That also was the objection to such laws.
Many devotees of representative government don’t care for the notion that any elective office – governor, senator, representative or dog catcher – would be treated like the ante in a high-stakes political poker game. They tended to believe public service should involve, well, service, not just ambition.
Mike Pence has some difficult decisions ahead of him. Mike Delph apparently wants to make a few of those decisions easier.
The next few months will tell us whether Delph helped or hurt the governor who maybe, possibly, sort of, might be running for president.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.