I don’t care where you’re from, it is hard to imagine a more beautiful city than Indianapolis in the Spring. The flowering trees, the carpets of creeping phlox and now, the yard signs saying PENCE MUST GO.
As outrage over Gov. Mike Pence’s signing of the “religious freedom” act percolated throughout the country, friends from other states called me to commiserate about what had befallen Indiana.
The first thing I told them was that this retrograde insult to our state’s well-being was far from the worst thing that could happen. The grassroots protests it sparked were actually inspiring. I had never seen so many people mobilized in favor of social justice in these parts.
But then I told them something else: Watch out.
As tempting as it’s been to see Pence and his ilk as representing some kind of throwback that’s passed its sell-by date, this battle’s just begun. What’s happening in Indiana could just as easily be a preview of coming attractions.
While the RFRA debacle made Indiana appear out of step to most people, a small but powerful contingent still thinks of this place as a model for the way things should be. They loved the way Mitch Daniels corporatized the state, never mind that Hoosier incomes remain among the lowest in the country. As far as this crowd’s concerned, Pence’s mistake was more about style than substance.
This is why Pence and his Republican fellow travelers in the Statehouse seem more flummoxed than chastened by the blowback over RFRA. Instead of passing legislation making equal rights available to all Hoosiers, in every part of the state, they hired a public relations firm. Indiana, they want you to know, “welcomes everybody.”
This especially includes the Koch brothers. This billionaire brother act, whose fortunes are derived in large part from fossil fuels and chemicals, have recently declared their intention to contribute almost $900 million to candidates in the 2016 national elections. This is more money than the Republican National Committee and that party’s two congressional campaign committees raised in 2012.
The Kochs have also backed ALEC, the bill-writing factory that supplies conservative Indiana legislators with material concerning environmental regulations, agriculture and industry.
When Christy Denault, Gov. Pence’s communications director, resigned in the wake of the RFRA meltdown, Pence immediately filled that position by hiring a fellow named Matt Lloyd. Lloyd, whose history with Pence goes back to the governor’s days in Congress, “is leaving his job running communications for Koch Industries,” according to the Indianapolis Star.
It turns out Lloyd is not the only Koch connection in Pence’s camp. Marc Short, Pence’s former chief of staff, is now president of Freedom Partners, the political piggy bank the Kochs will use to distribute all that money they intend to spend in 2016.
With friends like the Kochs, it’s no wonder some people thought Gov. Pence could be presidential material. Whether or not his embarrassment over the RFRA is any more than a speed bump remains to be seen.